Downtown Watkins is now a historic district
WATKINS GLEN—The Watkins Glen commercial district, including 34 buildings, has become the second recognized historic district in Schuyler County.
The area, which is predominantly Franklin Street between First and Fourth Streets, was recognized by the state at the end of 2011. Brian Williams, economic and community development specialist for Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED), explained that once on the state list, the district was also submitted to the National Park Service registry. It was added to the parks’ list the week of Jan. 13.
Andrew Tompkins, Schuyler County Historical Society executive director, said the historic district creates another draw for tourists. He added now people can learn more about the historic looking buildings in downtown Watkins.
According to the nomination for the National Park Service: “The Watkins Glen Commercial Historic District is architecturally and historically significant as the core of the business district of Watkins Glen during its years of growth and development as a transportation, industrial, and tourism hub ... with notable examples of Federal, Classical Revival, Colonial Revival, Second Empire and Richardsonian Romanesque. The contributing buildings date from 1844 to 1939.”
The county’s new district includes buildings such as the village municipal hall, Hotel Kendall (currently the House of Hong), the Flatiron Building (former post office), Freer Opera House (Jerlando’s), and the Durand Building (former location of the Seneca Lake General Store). Tompkins said his favorite is the Flatiron Building, on the corner of South Madison and Fourth Streets.
“You hardly ever come across that style,” he said of the triangular-shaped building.
The Flatiron Building was shaped to fit the curve of Fourth Street, and was designed similar to the same-named building in New York City. In addition to originally housing the Watkins post office, the Cornet Band had a practice room upstairs in 1877. The building was owned by William Kelly during the first part of the 20th century, and his “Glen Springs Sanitarium and Hotel Livery and Taxi Service” operated from here.
Tompkins pointed out the Freer Opera House was owned by George Freer. He said, “after Samuel Watkins, he was the most important person to the village.” According to national register nomination, the opera venue was on the third floor, it also served as a major meeting hall throughout the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th century. It was known as Love’s Opera House in the 1890s.
The former Watkins State Bank, located at 221 N. Franklin, is one of the most prominent buildings in the historic district with its Classical Revival features. The structure was originally a bank, established as the Watkins’ Branch of the Marine Midland Trust Company in 1911. Charles M. Durland, a well known village merchant, served as its president until his death in 1929.
Williams said the designation means that area of Watkins Glen is eligible for some state and federal grant programs. One he pointed out is the New York Main Street grant, as well as tax credits. Williams added there are plans to hold workshops about applying for the tax credits.