Bedford Road Historic District
The Bedford Road Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Bedford Road Historic District is located in Armonk, New York, a small hamlet in the town of North Castle in central Westchester County near its border with Fairfield County, Connecticut. Armonk and its environs developed as an agricultural community in the eighteenth century due to its favorable location in a fertile valley watered by the Wampus and Byram Rivers and in close proximity to population centers in New York City and Connecticut. Once an integral link in the regional overland transportation system, Bedford Road was the initial focus of the hamlet's subdivision and building in the early nineteenth century. Severed and bypassed by modern highway construction, Bedford Road has been relegated to a village street and, on its north side, retains the setting and architectural character of its ascent period in the 1840s.
The boundaries of the Bedford Road Historic District define an intact, surviving row of buildings reflecting Armonk's formation and early growth. The Bedford Road Historic District is a linear assemblage of seven contiguous properties on the north side of Bedford Road containing nine contributing resources: eight buildings (one church, six houses and one outbuilding) and one site (a cemetery). There are also three non-contributing detached garages (buildings) and a non-contributing addition to the church.
St. Stephen's Church (1842) anchors the Bedford Road Historic District on its eastern end at the intersection of Bedford Road and Maple Avenue. The church was the first building erected in the hamlet and its appearance together with the subsequent subdivision and controlled development of church lands by the vestry set the pattern for community growth. East of the church, Bedford Road continues a short distance before terminating at Interstate Route 684. A public park is located on the east side of Maple Avenue opposite the church property but does not contribute to the Bedford Road Historic District in either period or design. St. Stephen's Cemetery and six residential properties compose the balance of the Bedford Road Historic District extending west from the church on the north side of Bedford Road. Beyond the western boundary are properties fronting on Armonk Road (NY Route 128) which is the present-day commercial thoroughfare in the hamlet. The street is characterized by modern buildings or older buildings dramatically altered to meet the contemporary aesthetic of the streetscape. A large commercial building of modern design and construction is immediately adjacent to the district boundary and No. 12 Bedford Road.
The south side of Bedford Road was not developed as densely as the north side in the nineteenth century, remaining as farmland for most of that period. As a result, architecture on the south side of the street is of a much later period than that in the Bedford Road Historic District. Large tracts of land remain and have been put to municipal and commercial purposes. They do not contribute to the Bedford Road Historic District in period, design or association. The town of North Castle Town Hall, erected in 1948-49, is situated close to Bedford Road in the front of a large (more than seven acres) parcel used for playgrounds, parking and a Department of Public Works garage. A historic Federal period house was moved to the rear of this property in 1971 when IBM Corporation built a corporate headquarters in the town. This house was subsequently enlarged and altered and was not included in the Bedford Road Historic District. A twentieth-century American Legion Hall and a commercial nursery are located east of the town hall.
The Armonk United Methodist Church is located at the southwest corner of the Armonk-Bedford Road intersection. Built in 1872, the church has been excluded from the Bedford Road Historic District due to alterations and additions and synthetic siding which disfigure and conceal its architectural character.
The residential buildings in the Bedford Road Historic District were situated on lots generally 100 feet wide at the street and 200 feet deep. In 1888 the lot containing No. 12 Bedford Road was subdivided into two lots, each with 50 feet of street frontage. At this time, No. 16 Bedford Road was moved into the new lot from the lot of No. 24 Bedford Road (adjacent) and converted from a shoemaker's shop into a residence. The lot of the former St. Stephen's rectory (No. 40 Bedford Road) has surrendered some of its property and frontage to accommodate the construction of No. 44 Bedford Road (c.1880) and a right-of-way to a large parcel in the center of the block adjoining the north boundary of the district. Because its associations are unclear and its two buildings are altered utilitarian forms, this interior parcel has been excluded from the Bedford Road Historic District with the exception of the portion within the streetscape and containing No. 44 Bedford Road. The northern boundary of the Bedford Road Historic District has been drawn to continue the rear property lines of Nos. 12 through 40 Bedford Road through the parcel containing No. 44 Bedford Road to its junction with the western property line of St. Stephen's Church and Cemetery. Thus, the boundaries of the Bedford Road Historic District contain all of the properties identified as Nos. 12, 16, 24, 30, 40 Bedford Road, a portion of the property containing No. 44 Bedford Road extending 200 feet back from Bedford Road, and the property containing St. Stephen's Church and Cemetery.
The Bedford Road Historic District is orderly and symmetrical reflecting the unique aspects of Armonk's origins and development. The visual quality of the streetscape is enhanced by the uniform spacing and set-back of the buildings and the regularity of the Greek Revival style forms and design. St. Stephen's Church is the architectural focal point. The wooden temple form with its entrance in antis behind a pair of massive Doric columns is a distinguished example of the Greek Revival style church design prevalent in New York and New England in this period. Broad pilasters and friezes demarcate the intersecting planes of the building and extend up through the pinnacled bell tower.
The cemetery provides an appropriate historic and visual setting as well as additional space for viewing the monumental church structure. Approximately two acres in size, the cemetery fills space on the west and north sides of the church. It contains nearly 450 graves that include most of the nineteenth century population of the hamlet, including notable figures in the history of the town and church. The stones are evenly spaced in a regular pattern of north-south rows. The small modest gravestones reflect the changing taste from the classical white marble forms and Greek styled embellishment of the settlement period graves to later Picturesque granite forms with Victorian iconography to plain, contemporary markers. There are no crypts or major monuments. Fenced groupings are non-existent. Plantings are associated only with grave sites; overall landscaping was not designed.
West of the church property at No. 40 Bedford Road, the original rectory is the most imposing residence in the Bedford Road Historic District. Two and one-half stories tall with a central entry, five-bay facade, the house embodies the characteristics of the Greek Revival period, especially in its distinctive entrance, which uses the popular post and lintel motif of Greek architecture to outline the doorway sidelights and transom. The two and one-half story scale is unusual in rural areas and is emphasized by stylish windows in the frieze.
Neighboring houses at Nos. 24 and 30 Bedford Road are of a reduced scale (two stories) and a restrained design. More representative of the regional vernacular, both houses exhibit features attributable to the earlier Federal style, such as the narrow gable profile and more articulated entranceway of No. 24 Bedford Road and the less weighty cornice molding and unconventional plan of No. 30 Bedford Road. The reduced scale of No. 12 Bedford Road with its two-story, three-bay facade introduces another popular Greek Revival style form into the streetscape. Although a converted shop building, No. 14 Bedford Road retains the qualities of its Greek Revival period origins. Essentially the same house plan as No. 12 Bedford Road, the roof has been oriented with its gable facing the street in the familiar Greek Revival style device to accentuate the raking roof edge as a pediment.
Victorian period alterations are unusual in the Bedford Road Historic District and aside from the moving and conversion of No. 16 Bedford Road, the addition of a bay window to No. 24 Bedford Road and the construction of No. 44 Bedford Road in a compatible design, changes have been restricted to porch design and siding materials. The small, one and one-half story house at 44 Bedford Road is a late example of a traditional frame residence in a three-bay, side entrance configuration typical of vernacular buildings in settings throughout New York and New England. While its novelty siding, porch and porch detailing reflect post Civil War taste, the form, scale, orientation and facade organization of this house reflects a much earlier house type. Four of the six houses are sided with synthetic materials that cover and replicate their original wooden clapboard sheathings. While this alteration affects the material integrity of the Bedford Road Historic District, the form, details and association of the district components are dramatically evident particularly in the light of the extreme alteration of buildings and settings in the rest of the hamlet.
The Bedford Road Historic District is historically and architecturally significant as the last intact grouping of distinctive nineteenth-century buildings that reflect the architectural character of Armonk during the period 1842-1888. A surviving streetscape of six historic buildings and a cemetery, the Bedford Road Historic District is anchored by the Greek Revival style St. Stephen's Episcopal Church (1842), the first building erected in the hamlet and the basis for its subsequent planned development. With one exception, the houses were erected within the next fifteen years and reflect the taste for unornamented, Neoclassically-inspired buildings that characterized many hamlets in the region. With examples ranging from the monumental and distinguished architecture of the church, to the pretentious house designs of the parsonage (c.1850), to traditional vernacular house forms and, finally, to smaller village house types, the small Bedford Road Historic District is particularly illustrative of the Federal and Greek Revival styles in Westchester County and the surrounding region. As a group these buildings demonstrate the persistence of the Neoclassical taste in the local vernacular architecture, well after picturesque styles had become fashionable elsewhere.
The town of North Castle was first settled in the early years of the eighteenth century and included until 1745 what is now the town of Pound Ridge (to the north) and until 1791 the present town of New Castle (to the west). The choice of name for the new town, encompassing land conveyed in three patents (East, West and Middle) was left to the colonial governor and first appears in Westchester court records in 1721.
Although much of the land was initially purchased on speculation, it was ideally suited for agricultural purposes and was resold during the 1700's for this use. The fertile loamy soil was "exceedingly well watered" and supported small dairy farms and the cultivation of general products. Small concentrations of settlement grew up within the town, primarily around mills; these included, at the end of the eighteenth century, the hamlet of Kensico, the village of North Castle, and Sands Mills, near Wampus Brook. There were also small communities at Banksville, and near Mile Square, the present village of Armonk. By 1790 North Castle was the most populous town in the county, with the possible exception of Bedford.
Many of the town's residents were of English and Protestant Episcopalian heritage. In the early years of the nineteenth century, however, there was still no Episcopal church within the North Castle boundaries and communicants from Mile Square and neighboring villages had to travel to Bedford, Mt. Kisco or White Plains to attend church services. In 1831 the Reverend Robert William Harris became rector of Grace Church, White Plains. Reverend Harris soon added to his pastoral duties the gathering and tending of other congregations, including one at Mile Square. By 1841, services were being held in a log cabin near the present location of St. Stephen's.
Formal organization took place on October 10, 1842. The Reverend Harris was appointed rector and it was determined that the church "shall be known in law "as St. Stephen's Church North Castle, Westchester County, New York." One committee was appointed "to procure a plan of a suitable edifice to be erected as a House of public worship..." and a second to solicit contributions toward the church's construction.
At subsequent meetings the vestry adopted a "draught" of a church, and the building committee, directed to supervise the construction, was expanded to include three more members. One of these, Elisha Sutton, offered a quarter of an acre of land at the northeast corner of his farm for a church site and his offer was "gratefully accepted." The building committee was further authorized to proceed with construction and "to expend no more than two thousand dollars on said building." Vestryman Ziel Eggleston served as the builder, contributed timbers for the frame, and "very generously gave off his usual profits."
Vestry minutes reveal no more about the structure, but Robert Bolton, in his History of the Protestant Episcopal Church..., quoted an 1843 report:
"A beautiful church of wood (42 x 36) with a handsome tower, and a vestry room (12 x 18) in the rear, and a gallery across, has been thoroughly finished by day work, of the most substantial materials and workmanship, and completely painted with several coats of paint for the modest cost of $2,000."
Money, as indicated by the vestry minutes, was a continuing concern of the congregation. The Reverend Harris originated a plan to put the church on firmer financial ground and to attract a rector whose only parish was to be that of St. Stephens. The plan involved obtaining a suitable house and lot "to be owned by the wardens and vestrymen and all others interested in the measure in shares of one hundred dollars each." The new clergyman was to occupy the house and could "at his convenience" purchase shares from the stockholders at the original valuation. He was also to establish and maintain "a good Female Institute in said building with a view to the benefit of this church and vicinity."
The plan was in operation by February of 1850, when a lot adjacent to the church "of about 13 acres more or less" was purchased from the estate of Elisha Sutton. The parcel was divided into forty lots with Lot No. One set aside for a burial ground and No. Two for a parsonage. Construction costs were not to exceed $2,000 and work was to start when two-thirds of that amount was subscribed. The other lots formed were later called "the Armonk Square." Lots within the square "were promoted by the officers of St. Stephen's Church" and houses to be constructed on the lots were "to cost at least $1,000."
In 1851, the Reverend Isaac Dychman Vermilye was invited to become assistant rector and the principal of the Chester Female Institute. Reverend Harris's resignation was accepted in April of 1853 and at the same meeting the vestry approved an addition to the seminary building for school rooms and dormitories "to accommodate no less than 32 pupils."
In May, 1855, the vestry adopted a plan whereby the Reverend Vermilye, not the congregation, would eventually own the parsonage/seminary (as outlined several years earlier by the Reverend Harris) and would receive the proceeds of sale of the remaining development lots. The Reverend Vermilye died in 1864; his widow, Josephine, continued to operate the seminary for several years. The property allocated to her husband in 1855 was formally conveyed to her in 1865. She was still living in the house in 1884 when the vestry negotiated the purchase of additional lots from her to expand the cemetery.
The exact dates of construction of the other structures in the Bedford Road Historic District are not know. At the time the church was constructed, it was the only building (with the exception of the log cabin where the first services were held) on that section of (Old) Route 22. Two of the houses in the Bedford Road Historic District have associations with the church, No. 40 Bedford Road having been the original parsonage (and seminary), and No. 30 Bedford Road serving as the parsonage at the present time. Church records indicate that the seminary building was standing by 1852 on land acquired by the congregation in 1850 and by 1867, all of the major structures in the Bedford Road Historic District except No. 44 Bedford Road were standing. They are related chronologically (having been built at most twenty-five years apart), stylistically (being Greek Revival in design or detail), and by their common history; the structures west of the church all standing on the former Elisha Sutton property purchased for development by St. Stephen's vestry. The approximate construction dates for the Bedford Road Historic District's secondary structures range from c.1840 to c.1910.
St. Stephen's Church is an unusual vernacular manifestation of Greek Revival religious architecture. Although no architect of record has been found, it is known from the vestry minutes that a plan (or "draught") was obtained by the building committee and used in the church's construction. Of particularly distinguished proportions, the church incorporates academic components of the Doric order in its main facade and tower (columns, pilasters, full entablatures) and other more eclectic elements on the side and rear facades (window surrounds and vestry room).
The 1842 construction date places the church at the apex of the Greek Revival period in America (1825 to 1860) and the unknown architect of St. Stephen's would have had available to him many examples of the style. It is also likely that the architect was familiar with contemporary pattern books, particularly those of Hills, Benjamin and Lafever.
The St. Stephen's facade is derivative in some respects of John Haviland's Deaf and Dumb Asylum, Philadelphia and shows the influence of Lafever's St. James Church, New York, and the Carmine Street (New York) Church by Town and Davis "with its recessed porch and two Greek Doric columns in antis, a front much copied, so that it became almost a standard church facade, with recessed porch between two solid enclosed areas for stairs and storage and with coupled antae on each side, thus creating a five-part composition..." The building also closely resembles the facade on Calvin Pollard's elevation for a Petersburg, Virginia church.
Within Westchester County, the design is related to the Methodist Church of Mamaroneck (1845), the Banksville Baptist Church (1853), and the Middle Patent Untied Methodist Church (1847). Because of the geographic proximity of the communities of Armonk, Middle Patent and Banksville and the construction dates, it is probable that St. Stephen's influenced the design of the other two buildings. St. Stephen's is the most stylistically successful of the three and remains the most intact. Further, the Armonk church is unique among Westchester County churches of the period in that the entrance doors are located on the side walls of the recessed porch, facilitating an interior plan without a center aisle.
People of particular note were associated with St. Stephen's during the heights of its nineteenth-century prosperity. These included Major General Alexander Hamilton (grandson of the first Secretary of the Treasury); Israel Townsend, descended from one of the oldest families in the county; and the Reverend Cornelius Winter Bolton, called to St. Stephen's in 1867. C.W. Bolton who served St. Stephen's until 1880, was the son of the Reverend Robert Bolton, rector of Christ Church, Pelham, (author of History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the County of Westchester...), and younger brother of Robert Bolton, Jr., who wrote A History of the County of Westchester from Its First Settlement to the Present Time. During his tenure, stained-glass windows replaced the original ones of clear glass, the 1842 pew doors were removed, and a new rectory (to replace the one serving Mrs. Vermilye as a private residence) was built across Bedford Road. Following the Reverend Bolton's departure, the church gallery was removed and the Gothic Revival style chancel installed (1888).
Built between 1850 and 1867, the five earliest houses in the Bedford Road Historic District illustrate both the Federal and Greek Revival taste as it was interpreted in the regional rural vernacular. The remaining house (44 Bedford Road), built in the 1880's, contributes to an understanding of this vernacular in its continuation of a traditional frame house form with the application of Victorian period ornament. Ranging from the substantial, pretentious former parsonage at 40 Bedford Road to the modest residence at 12 Bedford Road, the Bedford Road Historic District components include examples of house forms typical of the region. Their intact survival as a unit in a streetscape is especially significant because such a documented concentration of surviving mid-nineteenth century architecture is rare in the metropolitan region.
The former parsonage (40 Bedford Road) is a substantial, two and one-half story residence with a balanced five-bay facade with central entrance. Its cubic form and broad planar detail based in the post and lintel construction of classical Greek architecture is a significant aspect of the design and denotes its departure from earlier Federal period buildings. As distinctive and example as this house is in its context, it also reflects the conservative approach to changing national styles in the regional vernacular. Overall, the building exhibits a restraint in scale and ornamentation typical of earlier Georgian architectural traditions.
The houses at 24 and 30 Bedford Road are more restrained in their expression of Greek Revival characteristics, retaining more of the vertical forms and lighter proportions of the Federal style. This fusion of styles, incorporating more classical architectonic elements into a traditional Federal form, is characteristic of rural farm architecture in New York and New England during this period. This pair of houses offers an effective contrast to the purer Greek Revival taste illustrated by the parsonage and indicates the more elevated status in which church and church related architecture was conceived. The fact that both interpretations are sited on adjacent parcels indicates that the choice of designs was based upon taste and symbolism rather than awareness. The house at No. 30, presently serving as the St. Stephen's parsonage, is historically known as the Nehemiah Searles House. Searles, elected a vestryman in 1843, served the church in that and other official capacities for a total of thirty-five years. St. Stephen's purchased the Searles House in the 1940's when the parsonage across Bedford Road was demolished to provide a site for town offices.
Still smaller scale Greek Revival period buildings are located at 1 and 16 Bedford Road and embody the characteristics of a popular period form for village houses: a three-bay house with side entrance. The house at No. 12 Bedford Road is a classic representative example of the type with its rectilinear form and restrained detail similar to the larger examples in the district. The building at No. 16 Bedford Road differs slightly in that it accentuates the Greek Revival theme by orienting the gable end to the front elevation suggestive of a pediment. These two variants of the detached rowhouse plan are types repeated in villages and hamlets across the state in the early nineteenth century. Formerly a shoemaker's shop located on the property of No. 24 Bedford Road, the building at No. 16 Bedford Road was moved to its present location and converted to a residence in 1888.
The latest building in the Bedford Road Historic District, No. 44 Bedford Road, contributes to the historic district's architectural quality in its form, scale, design and materials. As a house built in the 1880's it indicates the persistence of a traditional house form well into the Victorian period. Unlike many communities in the region, the Bedford Road Historic District reflects very little of the picturesque taste which pervaded the region after 1845. Growing out of a conservative Connecticut-based building tradition, rather than the Romantic eclecticism of the Hudson Valley context, Armonk perpetuated the classical taste rather than experimenting with Victorian period embellishments.
The Bedford Road Historic District, which formed the nucleus of the community's first settlement, contains a 136-year-old cemetery and a grouping of eight nearly intact primary structures, including a fine vernacular Greek Revival church and seven contributing residences. The Bedford Road Historic District dictated the present configuration of the village and subsequent development taking place primarily west and north of Bedford Road. Cohesive in its scale, enhanced by setbacks, mature trees, and low plantings, the Bedford Road Historic District remains visually evocative of the community's early growth and serves as a reminder of the strong influence of the rectors and congregations of St. Stephen's Church on the village of Armonk and the town of North Castle.
Benjamin, Asher. The American Builder's Companion. Boston: R.P. and C. Williams, 1826.
Bolton, Robert. History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the County of Westchester from its Foundation, A.D. 1693 to A.D. 1853. New York: Alexander S. Gould, 1848.
Bolton, Robert Jr. A History of the County of Westchester From its First Settlement to the Present Time. New York: Alexander S. Gould, 1848.
Hamlin, Talbot. Greek Revival Architecture in America, 1944; reprinted. New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1964.
Hills, Chester. The Builder's Guide. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1836.
LaFever, Minard. The Young Builder's General Instructor. Newark, New Jersey: W. Tuttle and Co., 1829.
North Castle, New York. Landmarks Preservation Committee. Research Files. Richard Lander, "Historical Aspects of the Buildings on Bedford Road," n.d.
North Castle, New York. Landmarks Preservation Committee. Research Files. Lyman Seeley, "History of North Castle, New York," n.d.
North Castle, New York. Landmarks Preservation Committee. Research Files. Thomas R. Parker "Armonk Village: Town of North Castle 'Holy Experiment' or the History of the Origins of Armonk and Landmark District," 1980.
Sanchis, Frank. American Architecture: Westchester County, New York. Dobbs Ferry: North River Press, Inc., 1977.
Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Westchester County, Ne York. Philadelphia: L.E. Preston and Company, 1886.
† Larson, Neil, New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, nomination document, 1985, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.