Montcalm Park Historic District
|The Montcalm Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.DescriptionThe Montcalm Park Historic District is located on the west bank of the Oswego River in the city of Oswego New York The Montcalm Park Historic District is defined by a triangular park landscaped and dedicated in 1913 and a collection of 25 nineteenth and early twentieth century residences which surround the park. The principal streets in the park are Montcalm Street and West Sixth Street, which border the east and west sides of the Montcalm Park Historic District and West Schuyler Street which borders the south end of the district. The Montcalm Park Historic District adjoins the Franklin Square Historic District (National Register listed 1982) immediately to the east.The centerpiece of the Montcalm Park Historic District is Montcalm Park. The two-acre triangular park, while present in the nineteenth century, was landscaped and formally dedicated in 1913. The park features elliptical and circular concrete walkways, ornamental trees and plantings (many of which are more than fifty years old) and a wrought iron perimeter fence. A small portion of the park is separated by West Van Buren Street and features a large boulder with an elliptical bronze plaque. The plaque marks and commemorates the approximate site of Fort George, a British earthwork built in 1755 to support Fort Oswego. The fortification was destroyed by French forces commanded by Marquis de Montcalm in 1756 but its ruins remained evident at this site until about 1850.
Historic buildings in the Montcalm Park Historic District are present at all three sides of the park. Two of the earliest and most prominent buildings, the 1847 Myron Pardee House at 8 Montcalm Street and the 1848 Luther Wright House at 40 West Schuyler Street represent the north and south anchors of the Montcalm Park Historic District. The Pardee House, currently occupied by the Sigma Tau Chi fraternity, is an imposing Italianate style house designed by New York City architect William Ranlett. The house features evenly coursed limestone walls, paired windows, a hipped roof, and a cantilevered staircase at the interior. The Luther Wright House, currently divided into apartments, is a brick Italianate style house with a heavy bracketed cornice, a hipped roof and a cupola fronting upon the south side of the park. Designed by Oswego architect Zina D. Stevens, the house features hooded windows, a monumental entrance architrave, an entrance porch supported by four Corinthian columns, and an enclosed porch fronting upon the park.
Several more modest houses in the Montcalm Park Historic District also date from the mid-nineteenth century and reflect vernacular interpretations of the Greek Revival and/or Italianate styles including houses at 28, 48, 56 and 60 Montcalm Street and 33 West Sixth Street. The Gothic Revival style is represented by a small Gothic Cottage at 89 West Van Buren Street, built circa 1850, and the Queen Anne style is represented by the John Mott House at 37 West Sixth Street, built in 1876. Variations on the early twentieth century American Foursquare house type are evident at 39 West Sixth Street, built circa 1900 and 80 West Van Buren, built in 1902. The Montcalm Park Historic District also contains a series of distinguished Colonial Revival style houses at the east side of the park including 25 Montcalm Street (1920), 9 West Sixth Street (1922), and 15 West Sixth Street (1913). A number of houses in the Montcalm Park Historic District include dependencies such as contemporaneous garages, which contribute to the historic district.
The Montcalm Park Historic District retains the scale and streetscape design features commonly associated with residential neighborhoods in the early twentieth century. The Montcalm Park Historic District retains concrete sidewalks, mature street trees, walks and lawns reflecting the district’s pre-World War II period of significance.
The Montcalm Park Historic District is historically and architecturally significant as a residential enclave, illustrating Oswego’s residential development between circa 1840 and circa 1940. Defined in large measure by a triangular green space and a series of single family houses built around its perimeter, the Montcalm Park Historic District reflects the physical growth and development of Oswego during the period of commercial and industrial expansion. During this period, the city incorporated several green spaces or parks into the fabric of the expanding street grid. The Montcalm Park triangle, left undeveloped throughout the city’s development and used first as a garden and later as a formal park in 1913, lends the Montcalm Park Historic District a unique and cohesive identity. The Montcalm Park Historic District is also significant as a concentration of historic architecture. The Montcalm Park Historic District includes important local examples of the Italianate style and the Colonial Revival style together with representative examples of the Gothic Revival style, the Queen Anne style, the Arts and Crafts style and the American Foursquare house type. The houses of the Montcalm Park Historic District are decorated with finely crafted architectural details and building techniques ranging from ashlar stone masonry and deeply struck brickwork to scroll sawn brackets, hooded entrances and columned porticoes. Many houses retain early generation automobile garages and landscape elements, including iron fencing, an intact brick drive, concrete sidewalks, and mature shade trees. The Montcalm Park Historic District retains the spatial qualities and texture characteristic of residential neighborhoods developed in central New York before World War II and serves as a catalogue of architectural styles prevalent in Oswego during a one-hundred year segment of the city’s history.
The city of Oswego is located on Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Oswego River and at the end of a chain of inland New York waterways. This site was strategically significant in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as the gateway for trade between the Eastern Seaboard and the Great Lakes region. The British established a series of military facilities and fortifications at this location, beginning in 1727. With the onset of the French and Indian War, these defenses were strengthened and expanded by General Shirley in 1755. Fort George, located in the immediate vicinity of what later became Montcalm Park, was erected at this time. In August of 1736, French forces led by the Marquis de Montcalm, captured Fort Ontario on the bluff above the east side of the river and shelled forts Oswego and George leading to their ultimate surrender and destruction. The forts on the west bank of the river were not rebuilt, however, the earthworks of Fort George remained extant as late as 1839 when they were depicted in a map of Oswego aligned along the West Van Buren Street right-of-way. This evidence suggests the possibility of intact archaeological deposits in the Montcalm Park Historic District.
Oswego was held by a British garrison until its departure in 1796. Streets, building lots and public squares were laid out in 1797. A village developed in the shadow of Fort Ontario and thrived on the waterborne trade carried on between boats plying New York’s rivers and lakes and schooners carrying freight to Niagara and across the Lake Ontario to Canadian ports. During the War of 1812, Oswego was used as a depot for naval stores enroute to the shipyard at Sackets Harbor. In 1814, British forces attacked and destroyed Fort Ontario and the village of Oswego. Oswego County was established in 1816, one year after the cessation of hostilities and Oswego became one of two county seats. In 1828, the Oswego Canal was completed, greatly enhancing Oswego’s importance as a port. The village quickly expanded and the county doubled in population between 1820 and 1830. By 1850, the city of Oswego had become the largest U.S. port for Canadian imports and the fourth largest U.S. port for Customs receipts. The city developed a robust industrial economy based on water power and shipping, with flouring mills and woolen mills lining the river. Among those profiting from these industries were Myron Pardee, Frederick Carrington and Luther Wright.
A fire in 1830 destroyed many homes in Oswego’s west side, but the area quickly rebuilt. The earliest buildings in the Montcalm Park Historic District date from the ensuing decades and include several frame dwellings which appear to have been built as early as 1840 including 17 and 60 Montcalm Street (in spite of later Colonial Revival inspired modifications). In the 1840s, Carrington and Pardee owned an important flour mill as well as the Varick Canal, a hydraulic canal supplying water power to other industrial users. Both industrialists built mansions along Montcalm Street. Carrington built a mansion known for generations variously as “the Castle” and “Carrington’s Folly” at the southwest corner of Van Buren and Montcalm. An existing frame dwelling at the site was moved across Van Buren Street to allow for its construction. The “Castle” was demolished in the twentieth century and has been replaced by a non-contributing clinic, however, an ashlar stone retaining wall and steps remain at the site.
Myron Pardee and wife Caroline also built in this area in 1847. Pardee’s mansion, built of coursed limestone and detailed in the Italianate style, was designed by William Ranlett of New York City. The plans of “Lakeside” were published by Ranlett in The Architect. An early example of this style in the region, the house is configured with a square block with a hipped roof and is distinguished by paired window, pedimented lintels and a bracketed cornice. At the interior, the house features a center hall and a cantilevered staircase with an intermediate landing and branching flights of stairs to the second story. A two-story service wing, also built of stone extends west from the rear of the house.
Luther Wright, another important Oswego industrialist, built a major house on West Schuyler Street in 1848. Like Carrington and Pardee, Wright made his fortune in milling. In 1842, his mill burned and Wright entered banking. Wright commissioned Oswego architect Zina D. Stevens to design his Italianate house. Built of brick, Wright’s house also features a square, hipped roof block and a rear service wing. The house is distinguished by porches with Corinthian columns, hooded windows, a bracketed cornice with drop pendants and a cupola with roused arched windows. Although divided into apartments early in the twentieth century, the house retains many original interior features including very tall ceilings and elaborate plaster cornices. Wright served as a United States Representative. Distinguished guests during the history of the house have included both Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt.
Several smaller, but nevertheless well-designed Italianate houses from the 1850-1875 period are also present in the historic district including an exceptionally well-preserved example at 56 Montcalm Street and interesting variations on the style at 24, 28 and 48 Montcalm, 91 West Van Buren Street and 33 West Sixth Street.
The Gothic Revival style is represented in the Montcalm Park Historic District by a small cottage at 89 West Van Buren Street built circa 1850 and relocated to its current lot to provide room for Carrington’s mansion. In spite of modern siding, the house retains its original lines and configuration, octagonal porch posts with a Tudor arched entablature, and scroll sawn bargeboards. The later Victorian period is represented by the 1876 John Mott House, a two-story, frame, cross-gabled house with a three-story tower. The house features the picturesque form and profile commonly associated with the Queen Anne style but is detailed in an uncharacteristically plain and honest manner.
Important developments in the Montcalm Park Historic District occurred during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Architecturally, houses from this period include examples of a transitional mix involving Victorian forms and Colonial Revival details. The influence of the Arts and Crafts style is also evident and several modified examples of the American Foursquare house appear. By far the most significant development of this period was the formalization of Montcalm Park itself in 1913. The park represented an important civic amenity encouraging continued residential development around its perimeter until the outbreak of the second world war. Although the eighteenth century earthworks of Fort George remained visible at this site as late as 1839, soon thereafter, the area had apparently been leveled. After the opening of the nearby Normal School by Edward Austen Sheldon in 1860, the triangular plot defined between Montcalm Street and West Sixth Street was cultivated as a garden by students. Several years before the school moved to Sheldon Hall at the city’s western fringe in 1911, the garden was abandoned. The school’s principal, Helen Stevens also a member of the Ontario chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, conceived the idea of developing the garden into a commemorative park and in 1909 received permission to erect a boulder with a bronze tablet to mark the site of Fort George. In 1913, her efforts resulted in state legislation conveying the large triangle to the Ontario chapter of the D.A.R. “to be improved and used as a public park…known as Montcalm Park.” The State Department of Forestry planted the park with an assortment of tree species and established a flower garden. The park was dedicated in a well-attended ceremony on September 30, 1913, by Navy Undersecretary Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The creation and dedication of Montcalm Park appears to have contributed to a reawakened interest in Oswego’s colonial past which was expressed in the construction of several significant examples of the Colonial Revival style built during or subsequent to its dedication. The earliest example is a brick house at 15 West Sixth Street designed by architect L.L. Cope of Oswego and built in 1913. The house features a symmetrical three-bay facade with a center entrance and small entrance portico, and an arched second story window above. The house includes its original brick driveway constructed of Corning brick, and a contemporaneous auto garage with a hipped roof. Similar houses were built at 25 Montcalm Street and 9 West Sixth Street circa 1920 and 1922 respectively. A frame house at 41 West Sixth Street involves the 1926 remodeling of an earlier building into a Colonial Revival style house. The hipped roof house features a fine entrance with sidelights and an elliptically arched transom, echoed by an arched and pedimented portico. Several other houses in the Montcalm Park Historic District including 17 Montcalm Street appear to have been remodeled with Colonial Revival features and details before 1940. Only three buildings in the Montcalm Park Historic District post date the circa 1840-circa 1940 period of significance; a small and much altered 1946 house at 35 West Sixth Street, a modern single family house at 11 West Sixth Street built in 1995, and a medical clinic at 44-46 Montcalm Street built in recent years on the site of Carrington’s “Castle.”
The Montcalm Park Historic District is significant not only as a collection of historic architecture and urban landscape design, but also as a record of Oswego’s development as an industrial and commercial port city with roots in the eighteenth century. Physically, the Montcalm Park Historic District is an unusually pleasant residential neighborhood distinguished by a rich texture of history, architecture and landscape elements, which combine to create a unique and historic personality.
Churchill, John. Landmarks of Oswego County. Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co., 1895.
Wellman, Judith ed. Landmarks of Oswego County. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1988.