This week’s Main Street Monday is a triple hitter with the First National Bank building, Fireman’s Hall, and the County Clerk’s Office building. We must first review a bit of information from two Main Street Monday posts ago when I covered the history of the Calvert Block (30-34 Main Street); the portion of Main Street that now contains 36 and 38 was once part of the Josiah Hart estate, and in 1865 he gave a portion of the land over to the village, allocated for the building of a fire engine house at 38 Main Street. At the same time, a part was given to the First National Bank of Cortland for a bank building at 36 Main Street.
The First National Bank was incorporated in 1863 with Thomas Keator acting as president. It had the distinction of being the first bank organized in Cortland under the National banking law enacted during the Civil War to strengthen government finances. After first occupying several other locations, the bank took up business at 36 Main Street in 1866. We can see an early, two-story structure in a stereoview photographed about 1880. A new, grander building was put up in 1887, designed by “Architect Elliot” of Syracuse and constructed by D.G. Corwin. The Cortland Democrat reported that those that had seen the plans prior to construction declared it would be the handsomest banking house in Central New York.
In 1916 it became the Cortland Trust Company, and then in 1929 joined the Marine Midland Trust Company group. In 1937, the building underwent renovations, removing the original brownstone front and replacing it with buff Indiana limestone and marble. This building was demolished to make way for the current building occupying 30-36 Main Street, completed in December of 1969 and serving today as the Tompkins Community Bank.
We catch a glimpse of the old “Engine House” at 38 Main Street in a stereoview image of the County Clerk’s office- the old structure, likely built sometime between 1855-1863, appears to be at least two stories, with a storage space and large door for easy access for the hand engine.
The current building was erected in 1875, and the Cortland Standard reports the following on the new sign that was put up:
“‘Fireman’s Hall,’ is carved in bold letters, on the marble tablet over the front door of the building now approaching completion for the use of the Fire Department and the village authorities. The Trustees have adopted the name given it by the Standard and Journal, which is more expressive and appropriate than that by which it has been so frequently called heretofore. The ‘Engine House’ was altogether too restricted and too insignificant in its meaning. It did not carry with it anything of the real scope and purposes of the building. ‘Fireman’s Hall’ sounds well—gives a wider idea of its use and is in all respects a better name. The slab is straight upon the base and partially oval on the upper side. Near the upper disk are heavy sunken figures ‘1875.’ Across the base in heavy raised letters arc the words ‘Fireman’s Hall.’ In a curve over the top is the name of the President at the date of the erection—James M. Smith. Below are the names of the Trustees -Chauncey Keator, William W. Gale, Samuel K. Welch and Edwin M. Hulbert. Below these are A. J. Lathrop, architect, and Lewis G. Viele, Builder. The slab is handsomely cut and is from the marble works of Benjamin Brothers, who are the designers as well as the cutters, and it shows good taste in design as well as skillful workmanship.” (Cortland Standard, Sept 28, 1875). The described sign was later removed and taken to the Central Avenue station that was opened in April of 1915.
At that same time the building was remodeled as a supermarket and offices, and in the 1922 directory we see that the Cortland Public Market was operated by Cooper & Son Co., and the offices were occupied by Butler photography studio and LaFacile Corset Co.
By 1928, the grocery was taken over by Grand Union, followed by other businesses that included:
1935- Constandy Liquors and Wine, Lines Market, Billiard Academy (later Varsity billiard parlor which moved to 50 Main by 1950)
1940- The Beauty Box
1950- Victory Restaurant, Dwyer photography studio
1965- Town House Fashions
c.1968- The Barn Door
1970- The Mug
1980- The Stadium
1988-Current- State Farm Insurance Co.
The barnboard sign that for many years made up the front was removed, and the current front likely done in the 1990s matches the original much more closely.
The first building constructed to serve as County Clerk’s and Surrogate’s Office at 40-42 Main Street was erected about 1819. Smith’s History of Cortland County says about it: “It became a well-known landmark to every resident of the county; and although it was often, in late years, the subject of ridicule, and constantly menaced with the danger the valuable records kept in it, it withstood both for the long period mentioned [almost sixty years].”
The discussion to put up a new building in place of the old one that had become the laughingstock of citizens and strangers was begun, and “Mr. Hicok, of Homer, made a proposition that, as the town of Homer would build and present to the county a suitable office, it was the duty of the board to accept the offer and locate it in that village. This proposition (which was the last flickering attempt to locate a portion of the county buildings in Homer) was rejected.”
Instead, the building that still stands today, housing the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau, was constructed by L.G. Viele and ready for occupancy by February of 1877. Viele was also responsible for building the Garrison block at 17-21 Main Street, and is the same builder of the Fireman’s Hall! The trimmings on the County Clerk building came from the same Split Rock quarry near Syracuse as was used in the sills and belt courses on the original Garrison building.
In 1926, once the County Clerk could presumably take up residence in the new third County Court House, the location underwent reconstruction by the Mathews Stores Inc. (you might be able to still glimpse this business name etched into the stone above the entrance), and the Cortland Standard provides a thorough description of the revitalized space:
“The room is being fitted with glass-enclosed wall cases of gray oak, running along both sides and broken by the insertion of four triplicate mirrors, two on each side. Display tables of gray oak will be run through the center of the room. At the front of the store is a mezzanine display deck, and at the extreme rear, with outside windows, are an alteration room and an office, both conveniently arranged and equipped. Illumination will be provided by handsome indirect lighting units.” The Mathews Stores, which sold clothing, operated there until about 1950.
Other businesses listed in the city directories include:
1935- L.P. Bennett, real estate and insurance; C. Frederick Knapp, photographer; Kaplan Studio, commercial art
1950- Cortland School of Dance; Golden Rule Children’s Shop
1960- Old’s & Fulmer, shoe dealers
1965- Cozy Corner Knit Shop; Russell Fulmer Shoes
1975- Van’s Shoes
1980- Bowker’s Shoe Store