Utica, New York, was once a great — a very great — city. I have mentioned many times about the blazing revivalism that exploded in the early 1800s under the preaching of Charles Grandison Finney. After this time, the city prospered and was named the fastest growing city in New York State. This was the home (or the jumping board) for numerous leaders: Vice-President James Schoolcraft Sherman was from Utica, so was U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling, NY governor Horatio Seymour, and a host of others. More recently, entertainers Dick Clark and Annette Funicello were from Utica, so is John Zogby, Will Smith (of New Orleans Saints), Tommy DeCarlo of rock group Boston, and many others. And many noted illuminaries visited here or stayed here, including U.S Grant, Samuel Morse… the list goes on.
As with most Upstate New York cities, Utica has declined. After a huge influx of immigrants from Italy in the late 1800s, the city became a center for organized crime. It was known as Sin City and became a racket for political corruption, prostitution, gambling, drugs and violent crime. There have been periods of justice and efforts to remove the mafia cancer but it’s still here. It’s heartbreaking.
Many movements are underway to restore the city back to its noble beginnings. One of them is the Landmark Society of Greater Utica, a non-profit, volunteer-based organization that is dedicated to saving and restoring some of Utica’s most historic buildings. I had the opportunity to talk with some of the volunteers when we attended the History Comes Alive event in Rutger Park. They discussed the history of the park their mission, and took us on a tour of two of the mansions they have purchased and plan to restore! Here are some of the highlights:
This is the old Munn home. It’s REMARKABLE. Built in 1850 and designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, the plans are stored in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s Italian Villa style and resembles a castle. After being built for the prosperous Munn family, Samuel Remington (of Remingtom Arms) purchased the home to oversee factory production.
When Remington moved to Europe, the home was sold to Utica Mayor John Devereux (founder of the “gold dome” Savings Bank of Utica). By 1952, the home is willed to the Grace Episcopal Church and is converted into a private nursing care facility. It’s been vacant since 2004, when state nursing home regulations became too restrictive for an old house like this.
The rooms are in deplorable shape but there are still whispers of the great house it once was. These photos are of the third floor, where the damage is most pronounced, due to a leaky roof.
Back in the day, New York State ruled that all nursing homes must be painted this horrible turquoise color, saying it provided a soothing atmosphere for residents. I don’t know about that… this color makes me want to throw things out the window….
The Rutger House, next door, is in slightly better shape and is certainly more decorative. It has a lovely ballroom with parquet flooring and an exquisite dining room with a pastoral wallpaper mural.
I hope to get more photos of the Rutger House in the future. It was built in 1820 by the famous architect Philip Hooker and was the home of Thomas Walker (Utica Mayor), Roscoe Conkling (Utica Mayor and US Congressman) and Nicolas Kernan (US Congressman).
I think organizations like these are such worthy causes! I will be joining the society and intend to promote some of their causes here. This is not unique to Utica, only. So many cities in Upstate New York are suffering. It’s bad enough when the economy suffers, but when “urban development” razes our lovely landmarks and plunks ugly, utilitarian brick buildings in their places — it’s like a slap in the face. They not only make the people suffer financially, they rip the only community beauties we have left.
I strongly urge you to do a little research in your own community. If your “urban” planners are ripping down historic sites in favor of ugly industrial complexes, take a stand. And if you live in the Greater Utica area, check out the Landmark Society of Greater Utica.
Landmark Society of Greater Utica
1124 State Street, Utica, New York 13502