High and Locust Streets Historic District

Lockport City, Niagara County, NY

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The High and Locust Streets Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

Developed as an upper middle-income neighborhood beginning in the mid nineteenth century, the High and Locust Streets Historic District became a popular location for many of Lockport's notable professionals, politicians and business people during a period of significant growth in the city. A number of the residents in the district were managers or owners of Lockport's thriving financial and manufacturing industries who enjoyed living in close proximity to the downtown commercial and civic center of the city in a suburban setting that featured quiet tree-lined streets and large landscaped lots, as opposed to the working classes who lived in the more densely settled sections of the city closer to the factories.

The District is reflective of a mid-19th century trend of wealthy urban enclave development that transitioned into upper and middle class housing by the turn of the 20th century. It is a highly intact and contiguous collection of residential styles dating from ca. 1840 through 1936 that includes examples of Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Shingle, American Foursquare, and Craftsman styles. The area first developed around 1840 with the construction of large estate houses and, as more people were attracted to the area, High and Locust Streets were continually redeveloped and lots were subdivided with houses being built in a number of styles to suit the tastes of the owners. This wave of development in the district from 1840 lasted through the mid-1930s when the Great Depression had a serious impact and building in the area literally came to a halt. In 1936, the High and Locust Streets' dominance as a suburban enclave ended with the removal of the Locust Street streetcar line and the construction of the last substantial house in the district, the Colonial Revival style Alan Potts House. This also signaled the extent of the district's full development, as well as a shift to personal automobiles as the preferred form of transportation. New construction increase in the city after World War II, when materials were once again available and a demand for housing increased, but most of the new construction was at the outskirts of the High and Locust Streets area. The core of the district remained relatively intact with only a few intrusions, such as the demolition of the former C. L. Van Valkenburgh estate at 185 Locust for the construction of the First Lutheran Church in 1954-1955 and the 1957 ranch house at 357 High Street (both non-contributing due to age). The High and Locust Streets Historic District retains a high level of historic and architectural integrity, reflecting the fortunes of its residents from Lockport's beginnings as a canal port [see Erie Canal] to its growth and prosperity through the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as a center of manufacturing, industry and government.

Development on High and Locust Streets began around 1840 with the construction of large estate houses in the Greek Revival style and continued with fashionable Italianate and Queen Anne houses on subdivided lots in the second half of the nineteenth century. The area known as Lowertown was the first to develop in the first half of the nineteenth century, located in the northeast section of the village along Market Street and the Erie Canal. High Street was a contrast in both elevation and density. Being heavily forested at that time, it failed to appear on David Burr's 1838 Map of Lockport, which has a southern extent of Genesee Street, even though Locust and Washburn Streets were established by that time.

With the rapid growth of the city and availability of undeveloped land, the High and Locust Streets area attracted those who had the interest and the means to explore new ideas of residential city living that centered on open space, fresh air, planned landscaping and modern amenities. By 1851, a residential enclave began to take shape along High and Locust Streets with the subdivision of land into large, deep, rectangular residential lots. At this time, only the most affluent of residents were building in the district, being those who could afford the land and the luxury of being further away from their place of employment. These estates often included stables and carriage houses for horses and carriages required for traveling into the city. Beginning in the 1840s, prosperous families began building large estates in the district, including Lyman A. Spalding at the northwest corner of High and Locust Streets, Daniel Van Valkenburg at the southeast corner of Spalding and Locust Streets, and F. N. Nelson at 387 High Street. Smaller and less prominent dwellings were also built on the south side of High Street between Maple and Washburn Streets and on the north side of High Street between Washburn and Erie Streets. The few extant resources from this period include 140 Locust Street (ca. 1840s), F.N. Nelson House at 387 High Street (ca. 1850), and 399 High Street (ca. 1840).

Lyman A. Spalding, (1800-1885) was a founder of Lockport, and by the 1840s, was the most prominent land owner in the area. A Quaker merchant with diverse interests in manufacturing, banking, real estate, and lumbering throughout New York State and the Midwest, he established the Chester Mill, the Spalding Evans Iron Foundry, and a canal company that ran boats from Lockport to Albany. During the mid-1800s, Spalding was the single largest land owner in the historic district, owning the entire north-west corner of the High and Locust Street intersection, northward Spalding Street (that was later named after him) and westward to Park Place. He lived on his large estate until 1859, when business troubles forced him to sell the house to Abel Minard, which he razed sometime before 1868.

Among other early prominent land owners were members of the Van Valkenburgh family who owned adjoining family plots along the east side of Locust Street, south of Spalding Street from 161 Locust to 185 Locust Street (both no longer extant). Daniel Van Valkenburgh (1827-1903) brought his family to Lockport in 1830 where he established a sawmill and built ships for the Great Lakes lumber trade. His son, Daniel A. Van Valkenburgh was the first vice present of Niagara County National Bank, which was organized in 1864, at the corner of Main and Pine Streets in Lockport. He was described as "enterprising and progressive" and was credited for supporting several early commercial and industrial ventures that contributed to the growth of Lockport.

Many of the houses contained secondary barn structures as part of the pastoral setting of the area. By 1851, J. Whyman and Sons operated a fruit orchard on the northern block of High Street between Macks Alley and Washburn Street. The development of the orchard and nursery industry was as important to the area as the canal as it evolved from forest to cultivated nursery, and then finally to city. The land adjacent to the High and Locust Streets area consisted of large country plots before it was a planned subdivision. In 1868, Park Place was cut through the former Lyman A. Spalding estate and subsequently subdivided into smaller residential lots, connecting Orchard Street to the north and High Street to the south. Its name reflected the park-like surroundings of the large estate lots of High and Locust Streets, as opposed to the post-Civil War manufacturing city center and an area where upper and middle income residents elected to live in more pastoral settings.

Another of the High Street residents was Edward I. Chase, a lawyer and brother of Salmon P. Chase, secretary of the treasury under President Lincoln and chief justice of the supreme court, who frequently visited Edward's house at 305 High Street. The house was built ca. 1855-57 and sold in 1870 by Chase's widow to her late husband's business partner, Richard Crowley. Crowley (1836-1908) was a prominent political figure and state senator who practiced law with Chase and he became Lockport's first city attorney in 1865. Crowley argued cases before the U. S. Supreme Court, was elected as a state senator in 1866, and served two terms before he was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York state by President Grant. He was the prosecuting attorney at the trial of Susan B. Anthony in 1873, who was found guilty of voting illegally and fined $200. Crowley was also elected to the U.S. Congress in 1878, served two terms and, in 1896, was appointed as council for New York State in Civil War claims cases. His wife, Julia M. Corbitt Crowley, was an author, best known for her book Echoes from Niagara: Historical, Political, and Personal (1890). In 1903 the house was purchased by Wallace I. Keep (1862- 1945), a Harvard graduate who became president of the Lockport Paper Company. The house stayed in the Keep family until 1967, when it became the Lockport Presbyterian Home, a senior care facility.

After Mary Eliza Chase sold the house at 305 High Street, she moved next door to 327 High Street. In 1875, she sold the house to David Hubbard, a Lockport book and shoe dealer, who resided in the house until 1896 when sold the house to Albert E. Williams. Williams was a prominent merchant who, with his family, owned the Williams Brothers department store on Main Street in Lockport. Williams resided in the house with his wife, Emma, his nephew, Albert P. Williams, and his wife, Eleanor, his sons, Earnest and Karl, and two servants. The house stayed in the Williams family until 1958, when it was also sold to the Presbytery of Buffalo and Niagara for use as a nursing facility.

One of the earliest residents of the High and Locust area was F.N. Nelson (d. 1883), a local businessman and banker who built the house at 387 High Street in the Greek Revival style around 1850. Nelson was also a partner in the law firm of Rogers and Nelson and a partner in the dry goods business of John Van Horn. Nelson owned large parcels of land in Lockport in the mid-1800s, including plots along High and Washburn Streets. His large parcel south of his High Street property was divided into individual lots as part of the West Grant Street subdivision in 1885. The house remained in Nelson's possession until it was purchased by the Home for the Friendless organization in December of 1871 for $3,437. In its first year, the home served seven children but quickly grew to serve over forty-four children by 1878. In 1892, the organization left the house on High Street when it moved to its current location just beyond the city limits at Wyndham Lawn (Governor Hunt former residence).

Another well-known resident was Ambrose S. Beverly (1826-1880) who had a house built at 196 Locust Street around 1875. Beverly was from a prominent Rhode Island family, arriving in Lockport in 1847 where he learned the tin trade. In 1854, Beverly ran a tinware shop that he later developed into a large hardware store, located on the corner of Market and Exchange Streets. He was also involved in other business interests, which include the Niagara White Grape Company, Boston & Lockport Block Company, Lockport Pulp Company, Lockport Hydraulic Company, the Lockport Felt Company, the Lockport and Buffalo Railroad Company and the Franklin Mills Company. He was mayor of the city of Lockport from 1881-82 and his success in developing the metropolitan police system for the city later led to his election as police commissioner of Lockport.

With the establishment of the streetcar in the late 19th century, access to the High and Locust Streets area was suddenly available to a wider segment of the local population. The neighborhood appealed to the middle and upper-middle class population who could afford the daily fare of the streetcar and the smaller lots that were being carved out of larger, older estates. This new group could afford to build or purchase a fashionable single family home that was on a slightly smaller scale. Another factor leading to this new wave of development was that the heirs of the previous and more affluent generation of land owners sold the properties or subdivided the larger lots for profit, which led to additional development in the district.

High and Locust Streets developed as a popular upper middle-income neighborhood by the end of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. The area continued to attract prominent businessmen, politicians, doctors and philanthropists who made significant contributions to the city of Lockport. The growth and strengthening of the industrial and manufacturing sectors of the city during this period resulted in the business leaders becoming highly influential members of the region and the nation. Many were active in politics and government, local churches, religious and social groups, clubs and other organizations. As the culture and sophistication of the community blossomed, the wealth that these successful residents generated radiated throughout the community, resulting in the development of public services, transportation systems, entertainment and in the general quality of life.

One of the persons attracted to the High and Locust Streets area was Thomas Oliver, mayor of Lockport from 1888-89, when he and his family moved to a house on High Street in 1887. Before becoming mayor, he and his brothers built a stone cider mill in 1880 at the corner of Grand and Gooding Streets that annually produced 35,000 barrels of cider. In 1893, the brothers converted the mill into the Oliver Brothers Brass Bed Manufacturing Company, a company that was nationally recognized as a producer of high quality brass beds. Thomas Oliver was instrumental in founding the Lockport Business Association and the Niagara, Lockport and Ontario Power Company. In 1891, Oliver had a new house at 175 Locust Street built, which became "Locust Haven" in 1924, a retirement home for women. In 1966, the property was purchased by the First English Lutheran Church for use a parish house.

The High and Locust Streets area was home to other business owners including Lewis Ferguson, a local produce merchant, at 48 Park Place; John B. Hartwell, co-president of the Hartwell & Standish druggists and grocers on Main Street, who lived at 204 High Street; John H. Buck, former mayor of Lockport from 1873- 1874, residing at 143 High Street; Allan Potts of Simonds Saw & Steel, with a house at 381 High Street; and Robert H. James at 157 High Street, owner of the SCBJ amateur radio station.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the portions east of Washburn Street were still outside of the city's limits with the intersection of High Street and Washburn Street at the southeast edge. The city limits remained so until around 1915 when the limits were extended to Lincoln Avenue to the south and Davidson Road to the east. The last of any significant development in the district occurred during the early decades of the twentieth century, including the ca. 1910 subdivision of the former D. Van Valkenburgh Estate at 165 Locust Street into five separate lots. Smaller scaled houses of the then-popular Craftsman and American Foursquare styles were constructed on these lots. Additionally, the last remaining undeveloped land from the former Spalding estate was parceled for Craftsman style houses on the east side of Park Place.

One of the most significant events for the Lockport was the opening of the Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls Railroad on June 25, 1852. The passenger and freight lines ran along East Market Street before crossing the canal. The railroad created another and faster means of transporting raw materials and finished products to Lockport, further boosting business and industry. The streetscape of the city also improved as the fortunes of its residents continued to rise through the nineteenth century. Kerosene lights were installed to illuminate the streets and watering troughs and hitching posts appeared to service the horses. An early improvement was the installation of plank sidewalks and crosswalks over the muddy roads, followed by paving on Main Street in 1852. Jail labor was used to pave the street with stones at the west end where the plank road terminated. This same crew also completed the paving of Locust Street, indicating its early prominence and significance during this era.

As previously mentioned, the streetcar had a tremendous impact on the High and Locust Streets area. [see: Streetcar Suburbs, 1888 to 1928.] With the growth of the city's population in the late 1800s, Lockport established its first public transportation system in the form of horse-drawn trolley cars, followed by an electrified system. In 1892, the Common Council approved an application by the Lock City Electric Railroad Company to construct a street surface electric railroad on most of the city's main streets including Main Street, Market Street, Lincoln Avenue and Locust Street. Locust Street was a main artery from the city's commercial core south to the Niagara County Agricultural Fairgrounds. Ten years later (1912), the Common Council approved an application by the International Railway Company to operate the street railroad which ran along Locust Street, starting at East Market Street on the north and terminating at Lincoln Avenue to the south. Powered by an overhead electrical service, the line helped to open access between the downtown and rapidly developing subdivisions to the south. The Locust Street streetcar continued in operation until the mid-1930s when the trolley cars were replaced by city buses.

‡ Jim Nowicki, Historic Preservation Specialist, High and Locust Streets Historic District, Niagara County, NY, nomination document, 2014, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
High Street • Locust Street • Park Place • Spalding Street

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