Bicentennial Walking Tour of Athesn 2003

Bicentennial Walking Tour of Athens - 2003

Contributed by Sharon Palmateer

The Village of ATHENS (front of pamphlet)
{Picture of Lighthouse}

Athens Walking Tour Guide (back of pamphlet)

The Village of Athens nestles on the west bank of the Hudson River about 100 miles north of New York City. As Hendrick Hudson made his way upriver in 1609, he ran aground on middle ground flats and his crew made first contact with Mohican Indians from Potach Village, just west of Athens. The first European settlers in the Hudson Valley were Dutch. While they ruled their colony for only fifty years, submitting to English rule by 1684, their cultural influence persists in some measure to this day. By 1685, most of the current village was owned by Jan Van Loon and called Lunenburg (or Loonenburgh). In 1794, speculators including members of the Livingston family hired a French architect, Pierre Pherous, who devised an elegant and ambitious Neoclassical plan for the town known as Esperanza. The scheme proved too ambitious but a more successful plan was developed in 1800, combining the villages of Loonenburgh, Esperanza and Athens and so the present day village of Athens was incorporated in 1805.

The waterfront in Athens was a busy place from the 18th through the mid 20th century. Shipbuilding, ice harvesting, brick making, pottery making, ice-tool manufacturing, laundries and the Saratoga and Hudson River Railroad all converged to establish this once bustling community. Strategically located near the head of navigation on the Hudson River on the way West, Second Street was brimming with hotels, boarding houses, restaurants, barbershops and retail shops serving locals and travelers alike.

Abundant historic architecture in Athens reflects this vibrant history. Athens boasts two historic districts, with over 300 buildings on the National and State Historic registers exemplifying all styles of American architecture from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Most notable are fine examples of Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Stick, Queen Anne and American Foursquare style homes.

(Map with panoramic picture looking north on S. Washington St. encompasses two portions of pamphlet.) 

(Inside of pamphlet)

Start your tour at the foot of Second Street at the RIVERFRONT PARK(1). The inlet to the north was the FERRY SLIP which was used from about 1816 to 1947. Originally, the ferry was propelled across the river to Hudson by horses walking on a track to move paddle wheels. Later steam-powered ferries were operated. Often the line waiting for the ferry would stretch to the head of Second Street. A waterfront fire in 1935 and the opening of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge contributed significantly to the demise of the ferry.

THE STEWART HOUSE(2), 2 Second St., was built in 1883 as a hotel and still houses a bed and breakfast, restaurant and bar. A fine example of the late Italianate style. It has a well-preserved, ornate bracketed cornice and tall, hooded windows. Room 8 was the setting for Meryl Streep’s death scene in the film ‘Ironweed’ in 1989.

Standing on this corner, with the Hudson River at your back, you see the village as people arriving at the ferry saw it for over 150 years. Looking to your left you will see the brick Lydia Coffin House about a block south and beyond that, a modern ship yard.

The LYDIA COFFIN HOUSE(3), 12 S. Water St., is one of two high-style brick Federals in Athens designed by the renowned architect Barnabas Waterman, who also designed the House of History in Kinderhook, N. Y. It was build by Anthony Livingston, kin of Philip Livingston, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Originally, the two story porch columns were immense Corinthian columns. {old picture noting former columns}

The tour continues left onto South Washington Street which is lined with Federal style brick row houses from the early 1800s (Picture on map depicts the Every House, row houses, and Dernell House in the distance.)

The DERNELL HOUSE(4), 10 S. Washington St. sits in the midst of the rowhouses and was built in the Victorian Stick style in the 1860s. Hallmarks of this architectural style are the applied ‘stick work’, square tower, contrasting shaped shingles, and decorative trusses. German immigrants, the Dernell family’s ice tool manufacturing business (1861 to 1936) was the largest in the nation in the late 19th century.

The EVERY HOUSE(5), 18 S. Washington St., was built in the 1870s in the Italianate style and was home to Harrold Robert Every. Over his lifetime, he was a building contractor, icehouse manager, baseball pitcher, politician, Post Master and served as Sheriff for Greene County from 1931 to 1933. Every is credited with capturing such underworld figures as Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond, Vincent ‘Mad Dog’ Coll, Dutch Schultz, the Big Harp and others and ‘cleaning up the Catskills’. His son, Dernell, was a member of the Olympic Fencing Team in 1928.

The WILLIAM H. MORTON HOMESTEAD(6), 22 S. Washington St., was built circa 1860 in the Second Empire style, Morton was a nephew of Isaac Northrup and kin to Levi P. Morton, 31st Governor of the State of New York and Vice President during the Benjamin Harrison administration. Morton created a successful ship building business in 1828.

The NORTHRUP HOUSE(7), 32 S. Washington St., was built in 1803 by Isaac Northrup, ‘founder’ of the Village of Athens. Purchasing 200 acres of property from Jan Van Loon’s grandson in 1800 for $3,000, he is credited with establishing the final street layout and attracting ‘men of superior class’ to build in his settlement. The brick home was built in an Early Classical Revival version of the Federal style boasting a typical 5 bay structure, fanlight over the front door, delicate dentil moldings at the cornice as well as a large portico with massive Doric columns across the front. {old picture included}

The JAN VAN LOON HOUSE(8), S. Washington St., bears a marker identifying it as built in 1706 by Jan Van Loon, chief holder of the Loonenberg Patent for which the village was originally named, but in fact, it more likely dates to the early 19th or perhaps the late 18th century. The early vernacular house may have been part of a Van Loon farm or perhaps built on the site of a much earlier house.

Formerly rising from the river to the Southeast is Black Rock, where Indians of the Algonquin nation, mostly Mohicans and Delaware, congregated.

The HUDSON-ATHENS LIGHTHOUSE(9), (pictured on the front) can be clearly seen from the triangle commemorating the military service of Athenians. Built of brick in 1874 in the Second Empire style, it is the northernmost of only seven lighthouses remaining on the Hudson River. It was continuously occupied until 1953. A painting of it graced the cover of The Saturday Evening Post Magazine in 1946.

The HAIGHT-GANTLEY HOUSE(10), 38 S. Franklin St., is the best known building in Athens, as it is referenced in several publications as a particularly fine example of Federal architecture designed by the architect Barnabas Waterman. Commanding a panoramic view of the Hudson River. This impressive structure was the dream of Catskill soldier and merchant, General Samuel Haight. However, before the house was completed in 1812, the General was called into active service and his wife finished the task, adding the oval ballroom to the rear. The front facade is asymmetrical and dominated by an impressive recessed front door flanked by carved medallions and delicate tracery over the fan and sidelights.

SOUTH FRANKLIN STREET was the main road through the village of Athens before Route 385 existed. As you walk on this tree-lined street back towards the business district at the center of Athens, you can see some of the finest homes in town. Almost every architectural style is represented, but a flurry of building activity is apparent around the 1870s when the Second Empire and Italianate styles were in vogue.

37 S. FRANKLIN ST. & 19-21 S. FRANKLIN ST. were built around 1860 and exemplify Greek Revival with their massive Doric columns and temple-like pediments.

32 & 34 S. FRANKLIN(11) are both Second Empire houses built around 1870 and retain their bay windows, bracketed cornices, slate mansard roofs and decorative iron cresting. Houses such as these were not designed by architects, but most likely created by builders from pattern books. 32 South Franklin operated as a boarding house until the 1930s.

The BEDELL-NICHOLS HOUSE(12), 26 S. Franklin St., a bit further down the street, is yet another perfect embodiment of Second Empire on an impressive scale. Build in 1873, it was owned at one time by John Nichols, nephew of General George S. Nichols and owner of a tugboat fleet on the Hudson River.

The MATTHIAS VAN LOON HOUSE, 30 S. Franklin St., was built in 1850 and is a transitional house in the Italianate style incorporating the unmistakable elements of large Doric columns of the Greek Revival period.

The GENERAL GEORGE S. NICHOLS HOUSE(13), 16 S. Franklin St. is one of several high style Federal brick houses built in Athens around 1800 probably by the original speculators to attract investors. This house was built in 1803 and originally had an uncovered veranda that spanned the front facade. General Nichols was born in Athens in 1820. He was Captain of the sloop ‘Science’ and worked in several of his family’s businesses which included brick making and sailing vessels. He served his country during the Mexican War and entered the Union Army as a Major of the 9th NY Cavalry rising through the ranks to become Colonel in 1864. At the close of the war, he was made Brigadier General. He served in the NY State Senate and lived to be nearly 100 years old. {old picture included}

The former TRINITY EPISCOPAL CHURCH(14), 12 S. Franklin St., was dissolved in the late 1970s and was sold to a private owner. Built in 1887, it is an example of Stick Style Ecclesiastical architecture.

Turning left onto Second Street finds you back in the center of town which was once a bustling commercial district.

The BROOKS OPERA HOUSE(15), 21 Second St., instantly became a center for the community when it was built in 1889. At various times, it has housed theater productions, teacher conventions, local contest, a bowling alley, barbershop, pool hall, knitting mill and an antique store. It still retains its elaborate performance space on the second floor. Theodore Roosevelt spoke on the cast iron steps during his famous’ whistle stop’ campaign in 1912. {old picture included}

The EPENETUS TITUS HOUSE(16), 35 Second St., is yet another grand brick structure built in 1803 in the Federal style. In 1870, the Titus brothers were farmers, and arguably among the wealthiest citizens in Athens as their combined wealth was listed as $200,000.

64 Second Street(17), is typical of a simpler vernacular timber frame Federal house common in Athens in the early part of the 19th century. Note the small columned portico in the Greek Revival style; after 1825, many houses in Athens were ‘improved’ in a similar way. This house served as the Lutheran Parsonage and, around the turn of the 20th century, housed a fish market in the basement.

The D. R. EVARTS LIBRARY (18), 80 Second St., built in 1907 is a jewel-like example of the Beaux Arts style of architecture so popular in public buildings of this period. It was built due to the generosity of Daniel Redman Evarts, who spent his formative years in Athens longing for books to read.

Turning right onto North Church Street is the FIRST REFORMED CHURCH(19), 18 North Church St. dedicated in 1826. The Rev. David Abeel was the first pastor and remained for two and one-half years before becoming an early missionary to China.

The ATHENS RURAL CEMETERY on N. Church St. and the MOUNT HOPE CEMETERY(20) on Market Street contain many early markers. By the North Church St. entrance to the Athens Rural Cemetery you can find a small slate marker with the Dutch name Coonradt Aaron Flaake, Sept 6, 1713-May 4, 1789, aged 76 yr. 4 mo. In 1778, Flaake was the first to operate a ferry, which consisted of two canoe-shaped boats. He rowed passengers and wagons while the horses swam to Hudson from the landing at the foot of Market Street.

On Market Street, note two houses constructed of Athens brick and a NYS historical marker indicating the site of the CLARK POTTERY KILN(21). This stoneware has a distinctive ‘Dutch blue’ design and is currently very collectible.

Turn right onto North Franklin Street and walk back towards Second Street, past residences in the Federal, Queen Anne as well as Folk Victorian styles. The FIREHOUSE(22), built in 1889 to house the William H. Morton Steamer Company and the W. C. Brady Hook and Ladder Company, was used until 2003 when the three village fire companies combined and moved to a new firehouse on Third Street. {old picture included}

The FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS(23), 18 N. Franklin St., was built in 1832 in the Greek Revival style. The American Baptist and Methodist Churches combined making it the second oldest combined church of its kind in the United States.

At SECOND STREET, turn left past Federal and Victorian style row houses that houses some of Athens’ first shops, hotels and boarding houses. The Hudson River lies in front of you and concludes your tour

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