LOCKPORT – The nomination of the High Street-Locust Street neighborhood for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places illustrates Lockport’s rich history during the 19th century.
“The main thing is the architecture, but we discovered the people for whom these buildings were built were so active in the state and in the nation,” said Clinton E. Brown, a Buffalo architect specializing in historic preservation, whose firm submitted the detailed nomination to the state. “We had governors and secretaries and other prominent people, and I don’t think anyone knew that.”
The state Historic Preservation Board approved the nomination, along with 27 others across the state, including Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls. Now it’s up to the U.S. Department of the Interior to decide which will be admitted to the national roster.
Addresses listed on the official nomination are 143 to 399 High St., 119 to 224 Locust St., 23 to 54 Park Place, and 23 to 43 Spalding St.
That doesn’t mean every building within those boundaries is considered historic. Some are too new or have been altered too much from the original. But there are only 32 “noncontributing” buildings out of a total of 153 within those borders, according to the application.
The application, edited from Brown’s original by the state Historic Preservation Office, emphasizes the 19th century architectural styles found in the neighborhood: Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Classical Revival and “Bungalow/Craftsman/American Foursquare.”
The 38.87-acre district is located just south of the downtown business district and the Erie Canal. It’s characterized by wide streets and lots of trees, with many of the homes set back unusually far from the curb by modern standards.
“They were well-built by people who were interested in quality,” Brown said.
He said successive owners have kept most of them up well, perhaps because of neighborhood pressure, spoken or unspoken, to maintain the caliber of the area.
“And they were spared urban renewal,” Brown said in sardonic reference to the Great Society-era federal program that nearly wrecked the downtown areas of Lockport and many other small cities across the country.
Although many parts of Lockport have large 19th century homes, the concentration in the High-Locust area enabled it to be singled out when the city Historic Preservation Commission first obtained state funding for a “reconnaissance survey” of the neighborhood.
Lyman A. Spalding, namesake of Spalding Street, is credited as one of the founders of Lockport. In the mid-19th century, he was the largest landowner in the proposed historic district, although his house at High and Locust streets was sold and demolished as early as 1868.
The atmosphere in the district was somewhat rural for many years. By 1851, there was a fruit orchard at High and Washburn streets, and many of the estates were very large in the early years. Park Place was built through Spalding’s old estate in 1868, and subdivided into smaller home lots.
The Lockport Home for the Friendless was founded on High Street in 1871. It remained in the neighborhood until it moved to Wyndham Lawn, Gov. Washington Hunt’s former estate, in 1892. Wyndham Lawn Home for Children remains in operation today as a residential school for troubled children and teenagers.
Two buildings in the neighborhood already listed on the National Register are 19th century houses that are now part of the Lockport Presbyterian Home, 327 High St. They went on the register in 2008.
One of the homes was that of Edward I. Chase, brother of Salmon P. Chase, the Ohio politician who was Abraham Lincoln’s treasury secretary and later U.S. chief justice.
Edward Chase’s law partner, Richard Crowley, lived next door and was Lockport’s first city attorney in 1865 before being elected state senator in 1866. He served two terms in Albany and then was appointed U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York by President Ulysses S. Grant.
Among the other homes in the area that were built by notables of the second half of the 19th century is the John H. Buck house at 143 High St., a large home with Greek columns. Buck served as mayor in 1873-74.
Another 19th century mayor, Thomas Oliver, who served from 1888-89, built a Queen Anne house at 175 Locust St., which is now used as a parish house for First English Lutheran Church. The church itself was built from 1954 to 1956 and is too new to qualify as historic, but its Gothic Revival style fits in well, according to the application sent to Washington.
Oliver’s day job was as head of a company that manufactured brass beds.
A third mayor, Ambrose S. Beverly, who served in 1881-82, also selected a Queen Anne style for his brick 2½-story home at 196 Locust. Beverly is credited with establishing a police system for the city.
At 345 High St. is the John E. Pound House, built in 1875 in an Italinate style, with a period carriage house on the property. Pound, an assistant U.S. attorney, also had an elementary school on High Street named after him.
At 119 Locust St., Charles H. Squires, who was city clerk from 1882-84, built himself a two-story brick Queen Anne-style house with a three-story tower.
Two doors away, at 131 Locust, Dr. Charles N. Palmer, a physician at Sisters Hospital in Buffalo, erected a big Queen Anne house for himself, with a columned porch.
Several houses in the neighborhood were built by owners of manufacturing firms or other businesses, men with names such as Horatio Kilbourne, F.N. Nelson, William E. Jenney, Alonzo J. Mansfield and F.W. Trevor, all of whom have something in common: none of their companies is in business anymore.
The area was first developed around 1840, as far as Brown could tell. That was 15 years after the Erie Canal opened, and successful Lockport resident looked for large, comfortable homes on big lots.
The district’s historic period ended with the Great Depression of the 1930s. The last substantial house in the district was that of Allan Potts at 381 High St. He was CEO of Simonds Saw & Steel Co.
Potts’ home was built in 1936, the same year the city removed the streetcar tracks from Locust Street.
Robert J. Hagen, chairman of the city commission, said a National Register designation would bring the area a “pride of place. Economic investment might be made.”
If that investment lies in fixing up a historic home, tax credits are available.
Hagen said if a home-improvement project worth more than $5,000 is carried out, the state will allow 20 percent of the cost to be written off as an income tax credit.
There is a 20 percent federal tax credit, too, but that’s only available to commercial property or multifamily dwellings.
Kevin J. McDonough of the city Planning and Development Department said all work must be preapproved by the state Historic Preservation Office, and to qualify for the tax break, at least 5 percent of the value of the work must be performed on the exterior of the structure, even if most of the plan calls for interior improvements.
But the improvements inside don’t need to have anything to do with maintaining historic character. A new furnace would be eligible, for example.
Although there was talk when it was formed that the city preservation commission would have a veto over building renovations done in historic districts, Hagen said, that’s not strictly true.
“If we named a district or a building as a local landmark, we could do that,” he said. “We haven’t matured to that extent.”
No such local landmarks have been formally named, but the commission looks forward to a National Register designation ensuring that the High-Locust area’s character remains set.
The city is seeking grants from the state and from the Preservation League of New York for what is projected as a $30,000 job of carrying out another historic survey, this time in the northwest part of the city, including Lowertown.
“They’re overdue,”Hagen said, “and we might hear something soon.”