(images: Steuben Park & Fountain)
The Rutger-Steuben Park Historic District
The elegant mansions of the Rutger-Steuben Park National Historic District reflect the prosperity of Utica between the years of 1830 and 1890. The names of the original occupants are a roster of the important merchants and industrialists of a young America, and the homes they built along Rutger Street are fine examples of late nineteenth century villas executed in the Italianate style. It is one of the largest groupings of these structures in the Northeast, and its significance earned it a place on the National Register in 1973.
(images: left to right 5,4,3,2 & 1 Rutger Park)
The centerpiece of the neighborhood are the five original mansions of Rutger Park which, until the 1994 demolition of Number 2, offered a nearly complete ensemble of major nineteenth century American domestic architecture styles. The elegant mansions not only reflect the stature of their early owners, but also the general prosperity of Utica before 1900. During that period, the opening of the Erie and Chenango Canals, coupled with the establishment of the textile industry in Utica and along the Oriskany and Sauquoit Creek, the building of railroads and continuing agricultural production (including the export of cheddar cheese and hops) brought major economic growth to Central New York, from which Utica especially benefited.
The original Miller House (c. 1830)
When number 3 was built to the designs of Albany architect Philip Hooker in 1830 it sat alone, well outside the village of Utica and was approached up John Street. The austere main block, stuccoed and scored to simulate stone, was originally flanked by two dependencies with pedimented porticos. That on the west contained an office, while the other housed the gardener and the coachman.
3 Rutger Park, c. 1880
Judge Morris Miller // Roscoe Conkling // Horatio Seymour // Francis Kernan
Planned and laid out by Judge Morris Miller, private secretary to John Jay, the house was completed by his son Rutger Bleecker Miller - lawyer, clerk to Judge Conkling (Roscoe's father), member of the United States District Court and member of U.S. Congress. Later owners included Thomas R. Walker who sold it to his law partner Senator Roscoe Conkling in 1868, Nicholas E. Kernan and the Dowling family. Conkling, the “power behind the throne” during the Grant presidency, served on the U.S. Senate concurrently with another Utican: Francis Kernan.
From 1830 until 1958 the house remained the scene of many glittering parties, and it was here that Samuel F.B. Morse (the nephew of Mrs. Walker) met Theodore Faxton and John Butterfield, the men who later purchased the New York State rights to Morse’s telegraph. Other prominent house guests included General Grant, General Sherman, General Stephen Van Rensselaer, Mrs. Schuyler, Gerrit Smith, and Mrs. Alexander Hamilton.
2 Rutger Park // A.J. Davis drawing
The gardens of the Miller house originally covered the entire block, but in 1850 the old homestead was divided into city lots and ground was broken for a house immediately to the west (the former no.2). Its first owner, J. Wyman Jones sold it in 1856 to the Reverend Philemon H. Fowler of the First Presbyterian Church, who in turn sold it to the Butlers. Many Uticans still recall the gracious hospitality of the Gilbert Butler family who lived there until the 1950s. The board-and-batten house – of cedar and impervious to termites – was based on a plan which Alexander Jackson Davis provided for his friend Andrew Jackson Downing, who published it as Design VI, “a villa in the Italian Style, bracketed”, in his Cottage Residences of 1842.
1 Rutger Park
A.J. Davis was more directly associated with the planning of number 1 Rutger Park (c. 1850), one of the finest examples of the Italianate villa in America. It was for many years known as “Munn’s Castle” after its original owner, the banker John Munn. Munn had made a fortune in Mississippi before returning to Utica with his southern wife, Mary Jane, who entertained lavishly “in true southern style”. Later owners included Samuel Remington, John C. Devereux (father of Nicholas Devereux), Walter Jerome Green and the Dowling family. The architectural plans for 1 Rutger Park are in the archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
5 & 4 Rutger Park
Number 4, another variant on the Italianate villa, was designed for his own use in 1854 by Egbert Bagg, a civil engineer and land surveyor who was also the ancestor of two prominent Utica architects of the 20th century. Other owners include Edward A. Tallman, The Fitch family and the Swancott Home.
Number 5, of reddish-brown stone, and with a steep conical roof over corner tower, is an imposing example of the Richardson Romanesque style, so called because of its association with the New Orleans-born and Paris-trained architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Utica architect Jacob Agne designed this house in 1889 for Thomas A. Kinney, a prominent civic leader who served as Mayor of Utica in 1885 and again in 1897. The house was purchased in 1955 by the Teamsters Union, who continue on as its owners, as well as number 7 Rutger Park.
(image: Local artist R.C. Oster's rendition of Rutger Park with Number 2 intact)
(image: vintage postcard with 3, 2 and 1 Rutger Park, from left to right)
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