As a veteran of the Revolutionary War Captain John L. Hardenbergh received a land bounty in western New York. The captain was a veteran of John Sullivan’s campaign against the Iroquois in 1779 and after the war he had been a deputy under the surveyor general when the original townships in the Onondaga Military tract were mapped. Where other veterans opted for more settled communities, Hardenbergh disposed of his award in favor of a spot he knew beside the rushing waters of the Owasco River. By 1793 he had cleared some land, put up a log cabin and built a mill on the Owasco Outlet near the convergence of several early roads.
When he wasn’t grinding flour Hardenbergh busied himself laying out roads and selling lots to fellow veterans. The Seneca Turnpike, providing direct connections eastward toward Albany, was operational as far west as Auburn in 1799. By 1800 the little settlement had been named Hardenbergh’s Corners and boasted a post office, with couriers arriving on horseback every two weeks. By 1810 there were seventeen mills humming along the Oswaco River as it tumbled 170 feet through the community.
Early political machinations were already shaping the future of Hardenbergh’s village. It was renamed Auburn in 1805 when it was tapped as the seat of power for the new Cayuga County. In 1816, the New York State legislature sited and began construction of a major state penitentiary in Auburn. Over the years the ideas for treating prisoners inside its massive limestone walls spawned the “Auburn System” by which prisoners worked together in shops and fields in strict silence, to return to their cells at night. The cheap source of local labor did much to spur the local economy until the practice was abolished in 1882.
The transportation lines, the abundant water power, and the inexpensive labor pool conspired to lure industry from established eastern markets. There were manufacturers of agricultural implements and carpets and iron works and corn starch. For a time Auburn was the center of the American silk industry, with many growers starting the cultivation of the mulberry tree. After the Civil War the seeds of the American Express Company were sown in Auburn as the Merchants Union Express Company made the town the center of a great delivery business. William G. Fargo commenced his eventful career in the transportation business as agent in the old Auburn and Syracuse Railroad freight depot on Genesee Street.
Cayuga County has applied for more state historical markers than any other county in New York and we will begin our explorations of Auburn’s rich contribution to that heritage in the front yard of the town’s most illustrious citizen...
William H. Seward House
33 South Street
1821 was a big year, his 20th, for William Seward. he was admitted to the New York State Bar that year and met his future wife, Frances Adeline Miller, who was a classmate of his sister at Troy Seminary College. Seward moved here to his wife’s hometown and entered into a law partnership with his father-in-law, Judge Elijah Miller. Seward entered politics and won his first election, a state senate seat in 1830. He would later win terms as governor and United States senator and challenge for the presidency. He served as Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State and was included in the plot to assassinate the president; he was attacked in his home that day by a man named Payne who wounded him and his son. Seward survived and eventually served as Secretary of State under Andrew Johnson until 1872. The house was built by Judge Miller in 1816 and contains mementoes from Seward’s career, including letters from Lincoln. Seward often entertained dignitaries in the expanded Italianate house during the Civil War. The Seward House, now open to the public and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964, also boasts an extensive collection of fine art on the mansion walls.
AT THE FRONT OF THE SEWARD MANSION WALK OVER TO THE SMALL PARK AT THE JUNCTION OF SOUTH STREET AND WILLIAM STREET TO SEE A LIKENESS OF THE MAN.
William Street at South Street
The city was chided for its lack of recognition of William H. Seward, who brought Auburn national recognition. The oversight was rectified in 1888 with the dedication of this bronze likeness by Walter G. Robinson in the small triangular park adjacent to the Seward House.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK DOWN SOUTH STREET.
Kings & Queens Court
63-65 South Street
Two Civil War-era houses were razed for the construction of these paired Colonial Revival mansions. Queens Court at #63, constructed for financier Fred Fay and his wife Flora, boasts a full front gable with a round window highlighted by floral laurels. Kings Court features a rooftop balustrade. Both buildings are wrapped in corner stone quoins and have a small second story iron balcony over a center entrance. After the Fays passed in the 1930s the buildings were converted into multi-unit housing.
TURN AND WALK BACK DOWN SOUTH STREET TOWARDS THE CENTER OF TOWN.
44 South Street
South Street was laid out within two years of the founding of the community, before 1800, and gradually stretched away from town. Today it retains its historical residential appearance with substantial houses set back on large lots. Some of Auburn’s largest estates were carved out along South Street and also one of its most historic - abolitionist Harriet Tubman had her last home at 180 South Street where she died at age 90 in 1914. This is a fine example of Italianate residence, rendered in brick. It sports prominent stone quoins, arched window heads and thick roof brackets. Henry J. Sartwell built the house in the 1860s. Sartwell operated a dry goods store in Auburn and later manufactured shoes and boots.
40-42 South Street
Like many properties in mid-19th century Auburn this Italianate structure, sans the later porch addition, was developed as a duplex. The tall windows, low hipped roof and overhanging eaves supported by carved brackets are all hallmarks of the style.
Memorial City Hall
24 South Street
David Munson Osbourne left the family farm at the age of 15 and scraped around until striking it rich manufacturing agricultural machinery. One of Auburn’s most respected citizens, Osborne served three terms as mayor (1877–1880); a position later held by both his son and one of his grandsons. His youngest daughter Helen, born in 1864, grew up to become an early leader of the Girl Scouts; her husband James J. Storrow, a prominent banker was the second national president of the Boy Scouts of America. In the 1920s the city hall in Auburn was crumbling so Helen and her sister Emily Osborne Harris built this one as a memorial to their father. The historical Boston architectural firm of Coolidge, Shepley, Bullfinch and Abbott decorated their three-story Colonial Revival brick building with a classical portico and corner Ionic pilasters. Inside, the high ceilings, stenciling, wood paneling, marble accents, and ornate City Council chamber is modeled on an old Boston courtroom. The new city hall was dedicated on April 5, 1930.
12-14 South Street
Junius Myer Schine began his career peddling candy and dresses and parlayed his profits into purchasing a roller rink in Gloversville, New York. From there he and his brother Louis built a fiefdom of hotels and movie houses across the country. “The Auburn” was the third foray for the Schines in the city and they brought their best. Atmospheric theater architect John Eberson delivered an outer space-themed Art Deco appearance to the theater and a parade and festivities were planned for the grand opening on September 15, 1938. Most of the city’s schools and businesses shut down at noon so people could take in the spectacle. The Schines sold the entirety of their holdings in 1965 for a reported $150 million and The Auburn suffered through a succession of ever-more negligent owners until it shuttered in 1979. For many years its only connection to the movies was as a video store. In February 1998 the Cayuga County Arts Council purchased the vacant building and began rehabilitating the property.
Auburn Savings Bank/Phoenix Building
2 South Street at Genesee Street
The Auburn Savings Bank was organized with the new year in 1849. This building was raised at the most prominent spot in town in 1875. In its original form it was a grand Second Empire structure with a mansard roof that rolled around the corner. Today, known as the Phoenix building, the ground floor has been completely compromised and the mansard roof removed. The altering of the top floor caused the clock tower to be shortened; the tower has also lost its original iron cresting.
TURN LEFT ON GENESEE STREET.
National Bank of Auburn
120 Genesee Street
Nathaniel Garrow came to Auburn as a 16-year old in 1796 and made a living as a wood chopper and fur trader. In 1809 he was appointed justice of the peace and won election as Cayuga County sheriff in 1815. In 1816 he founded the Bank of Auburn Bank in Demaree’s Tavern. Garrow would go on to be elected to the Twentieth Congress in 1827. This Neoclassical headquarters was constructed for the bank in 1927, featuring stout fluted Doric columns.
TURN LEFT ON DILL STREET.
Saint Mary’s Church
15 Clark Street at Dill Street
The parish organized in 1868, meeting in a temporary wooden structure that cost $800 and was known as the “Shanty Church.” A more fitting edifice was underway with a cornerstone laying ceremony on September 18, 1870. The architect was the go-to designer for the Catholic Church, Patrick Keely; he designed nearly six hundred churches and every 19th century cathedral in New England. St. Mary’s Church building is an excellent example of modified Gothic architecture, a style characterized by great point and height, with delicacy and precision in design. The edifice, built entirely of gray limestone, is 135 feet long and the ceiling is 65 feet high.
TURN RIGHT ON GENESEE STREET.
U.S. Post Office and Courthouse
151-157 Genesee Street
This monumental civic building appeared on the Auburn streetscape between 1888 and 1890. It was designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style that was the rage for government buildings at the time. The rough-hewn limestone, multi-hued materials, powerful entrance arches and corner tower are all design trademarks pioneered by Henry Hobson Richardson, the most influential of America’s post-Civil War architects. The massive, asymmetrical, two and a half story main block is one of a number of post offices in New York State designed by the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department, Mifflin E. Bell. The building was surplussed by the federal government in the 1980s and acquired by Cayuga County.
Cayuga County Court House
152-154 Genesee Street
Thanks to its central location in the newly formed Cayuga County, Auburn was designated the county seat in 1805. By 1809 a wooden frame courthouse costing $10,000 had been erected on this site. In the 1830s architect John Hagaman was retained to design a new courthouse and he delivered plans for a two-story Greek temple with a Doric portico of six fluted columns and a large dome. Constructed of limestone the new courthouse, with a price tag of $30,000, was finished in 1836. In 1922 a fire destroyed the dome and gutted most of the interior; it was rebuilt in a Neoclassical style. Another renovation in 1979 connected the courthouse to the adjacent old County Clerks Building, a Victorian brick structure of 1882.
Saints Peter and John Episcopal Church
169 Genesee Street
The original church was erected in 1811, the first to be built in Auburn. The current building was constructed between 1868 and 1870 on plans drawn by Henry Dudley, an English-born architect known for his Gothic Revival churches. It is constructed of rock faced limestone laid in random ashlar and trimmed with dressed limestone. The 200-year old site now contains the church, a 1930s stone parish house built in complementary Gothic Revival style, and a cemetery where the first burials took place in 1812.
Edwin R. Fay Mansion
174 Genesee Street
Edwin Reed Fay, born in Aurelius in 1829, left the Cayuga County family farm for business pursuits in town and by 1868 was engaged in the manufacture of gloves and mittens. In 1892 he founded the private banking house of Edwin R. Fay & sons with his two sons, Fred and Charles. Edwin, who was also president of the Auburn Savings Bank, died at the age of 100 in 1930. He is buried at Fort Hill Cemetery in the only above-ground crypt in the graveyard.
176-178 Genesee Street
When James S. Seymour died in 1875 at the age of 84 his list of bequests was so substantial that they were printed in the New York Times. Included were gifts to churches, schools, and houses for the needy. Today he is most remembered for funding the Auburn Memorial Library and the Seymour Library. Seymour began his career as a bank clerk in Hartford, Connecticut and came to Auburn in 1817, becoming president of the Bank of Auburn, a post he would hold for 58 years. Beginning with Seymour’s the first books were lent on a subscription basis in 1876 from the second floor of the Auburn Savings Bank. In the 1890s Willard E. Case offered to donate some of the Case family money, accumulated through the Oswego Starch Company, banks and railroads, to construct a permanent home for the library. The New York City architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings, who would contribute many classical designs to Washington D.C., drew up plans for this Beaux Arts inspired building. With interior woodwork fashioned by European craftsmen, the Case Memorial began housing the Seymour Library in 1903.
Cayuga Museum of History and Art
203 Genesee Street
This grand Greek Revival brick mansion was built in 1836 by John Seymour. But he couldn’t pay for it. In the 1840s it was sold to Sylvester Willard, a physician from Bristol, Connecticut who emigrated with his wife Jane Frances Case, two daughters, Georgiana and Carolina, and in-laws Erastus and Mary Case to Auburn. Sylvester Willard and Erastus Case were original partners in the creation of the Oswego Starch Company in 1848, joining with other Auburn men in backing Thomas Kingsford in processing corn into starch. The Kingsford starch factory would grow into the world’s largest of its kind. In 1916 Theodore E. Case built a small laboratory on the foundations of the estate greenhouse. Here he developed the Thallofide tube that was originally used by the United States Navy in a top secret infrared signaling system. In 1921 he started work on a process that would bring sound to film. The introduction of “talkies” made Theodore Case a wealthy man and built the largest house in town at 108 South Street, a magnificent Tudor-style mansion. This house became a private school and in 1936 the Case family donated it for use as a museum. The Case Research Lab also remains on the property.
TURN LEFT ON ROSS PLACE. TURN LEFT ON WOODLAWN AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON FORT STREET.
Bradley Memorial Chapel
19 Fort Street
The main entrance to the Fort Hill Cemetery is graced by this stone chapel modeled on the St. Buryan country church in Cornwall, England. The chapel was crafted by Julius A. Schweinfurth who was born in Auburn in 1858. Three of the four Schweinfurth boys became architects of some renown, Charles in Cleveland, Julius in Boston, and Albert in San Francisco. He died in 1931 and proceeds from his trust funded the Schweinfurth Art Center on Genesee Street. The chapel was created as a memorial to Silas Bradley in 1893, replacing the original wooden lodge here. Connecticut-born Bradley arrived in Auburn in 1837 at the age of 20 and rapidly established himself as a leading merchant in town. In 1877 he became president of the National Bank of Auburn, a position he held until his death in 1883.
Fort Hill Cemetery
19 Fort Street
The first burials in this graveyard took place in 1851. The fort of “Fort Hill” was a garrisoned village of the Cayuga Indians. The cemetery features a 56-foot high limestone obelisk monument to Chief Logan, famed chief of the Cayugas. Many notables are interred here, including William Seward, 12th Governor of New York, United States Senator and United States Secretary of State, and celebrated Union spy and abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Most of the town’s leading citizens were laid to rest here as well.
AFTER VISITING THE CEMETERY RETURN TO THE ENTRANCE AND TURN RIGHT ON WESTLAKE STREET. TURN LEFT ON WILLIAM STREET.
Westminster Presbyterian Church
17 William Street
Slavery led to a rift in the Presbyterian church that resulted in the founding of this congregation in 1861. Harriet Tubman would be married in the chapel in 1869 and that year the church laid the cornerstone of the present sanctuary on land purchased from William Seward. Today’s appearance dates to the late 1890s and a makeover in the multi-hued, rough-faced stone manner of the Richardsonian Romanesque style.
WALK ACROSS THE STREET AND TURN RIGHT TO RETURN TO THE SEWARD ESTATE AND THE BEGINNING OF THE TOUR.