The Potsdam Civic Center Complex

This week we’re going to check out the Potsdam Civic Center Complex, which was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This is the Potsdam Civic Center Complex. This is one of the photos I submitted for the National Register of Historic Places Nomination.


On any given week, I can be found at the Potsdam Civic Center because it contains a few of my favorite things: the Potsdam Public Museum, the Planning Department, and the Potsdam Public Library. I was lucky enough to be involved in the research and documentation to get the property listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

When I moved back to the area in December 2015, I was asked to begin the process of placing the Civic Center listed in the National Register. The idea had come from the Village of Potsdam’s Comprehensive Plan, which had outlined getting the property of the Register. People who are involved in Potsdam’s local government thought it would be good to have someone who had education about the National Register to write the nomination. That’s how I got hired for the consultant project.

While getting this post together, I double checked the New York State’s historic preservation website. They have this online tool called CRIS, which stands for Cultural Resource Information System. The Civic Center Complex is now officially in the system and the super exciting part is that my name is listed as one of the contact people! Last post I mentioned how I work at Lowe’s and I do preservation projects on the side. This morning when I was looking at CRIS, it was nice to see the work that I’ve done actually be there in written record.

I might not be the “primary” contact but I’m still one of the contacts listed and that’s cool!


It was nominated under two criteria of significance, which strengthened its potential to be listed in the National Register. The Complex is significant in regards to broad patterns of history. In this case the Civic Center is important to local history in relation to local government, community planning and development, and social history. The property was also deemed significant because of its architectural style and development.

Historical Significance:

A major source that I used for researching the Civic Center New York State Historic Newspapers. The construction process for the Civic Center was reported on extensively. It was a big deal!


The Civic Center was constructed during the Great Depression between 1934-35 to fulfill two needs of the local community: a community center that could offer space for both the Village and Town of Potsdam governments, local organizations, and the Library; and offer relief efforts for the unemployed in the area. The building project was funded through a variety of resources included bonds and Great Depression relief programs such as the Civic Works Administration (CWA) and the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA).

One of my favorite quotes I found while researching the Civic Center was from Mayor Kendall, the person who pushed for the Civic Center. He felt strongly about the project and its overall benefits to the community by stating, “We shall construct this community center with three major objects in view: maximum Potsdam labor, lowest possible cost and the production of a community center in which citizens will take great pride.”i

The Civic Center was officially dedicated on May 23rd, 1935; the event was attended by Mayor Kendall, William E. Flanders, who was a village trustee member, Julius Frank of the TERA office in Ogdensburg, Dixon Ryan Fox, Union College President, and various local officials and community members.ii

This is the cornerstone for both the Civic Center and the Town Hall that had been located in the same spot. The Town Hall was demolished because it was beyond repair.


Once the Potsdam Civic Center was opened, space was reserved in the basement for various organizations including the American Legion, the Boy Scouts, and the Girl Scouts. The auditorium had a 1,000 person capacity and was used for theater and concerts.iii In 1940, the Potsdam Public Museum was formed and took up residence in one of the stack rooms of the Library in the basement of the Civic Center.iv

The use of the Potsdam Civic Center continued up until February 1942, when The Raquette and the Courier and Freeman both reported that the Civic Center had been taken over by the Army and closed indefinitely to social functions and lectures.v Right before the takeover in February, the Civic Center had been the Red Cross Headquarters where local citizens could donate their time to sewing and knitting, along with other wartime relief By November of 1942, the Army had left the Civic Center, allowing social functions to resume just as they had before.

This plaque is located on the wall in the Village Municipal Offices. 


The Civic Center continued to be used for a variety of events including dances, theater, concerts, science fairs, public meetings, Village and Town Offices, cooking demonstration, and even used for graduation commencement for both Clarkson University and the Potsdam Normal School.vii

In 1945, Clarkson University celebrated its 50th Anniversary. The event occurred on October 8, 1945 and had many notable guests including former President Herbert Hoover, Fleet Admiral Ernest King, and Joseph E. Davis. King was the second most senior officer of the US. Navy during World War II, while Davis was a former US. Ambassador to Russia. The three men were all given honorary degrees from Clarkson. The ceremony was broad-casted over a nationwide 90-station hook-up through the National Broadcasting Company. There was a parade through the Village of Potsdam, where the guests of honor all watched the parade from the steps of the Civic Center.viii

Another interesting use of the Civic Center was in 1965, when students from the local colleges and the newly formed Potsdam Human Rights Committee used space in the Civic Center to hold a “Selma Sympathy Rally” in March of 1965. The Rally included a fundraiser for the Civil Rights Movement, a “hootenanny,” and a showing of a documentary film on the Movement. Along with these events the Rally also included a talk by the Reverend John H. Teeter, an Episcopal priest, who was active in the Civil Rights Movement and had participated in the demonstrations in Selma.ix

Architectural Significance:

The Potsdam Civic Center is a two-story, three-unit, “L” plan building with the front facade facing east towards Park Street. The front facade has three main entrances, from left to right, they are: the Potsdam Public Library, the Village of Potsdam Municipal Offices, and the Potsdam Public Museum. The roof line for these three units is asymmetrical. The left unit has a hipped roof, while the center and right units are both side-gabled low pitched roofs. The walls of the right and center units are constructed with a stone veneer: Potsdam Sandstone with brick backing; while the walls of the left unit are built of rough ashlar Potsdam Sandstone.

The Potsdam Civic Center was designed by the architectural firm Lansing, Greene, and Bisnett, based out of Watertown, NY. The building is unique to the area given the fact that the Center was constructed using recycled sandstone from the prior town hall that had stood on the same location. The town hall had been condemned prior to the 1930’s. During the Civic Center project, it was initially assumed that the town hall could be repaired and connected to the church. Then it was discovered that the town hall was a hopeless case and had to be torn down. Luckily, the sandstone was used in the new project and it helped to save money. The building also incorporated the Universalist Church, which had been donated to the project for the specific use as a Library.

For this reason the Complex combines two different architectural styles. The portion of the property that was once a church was built in 1876 and has Gothic features: pointed windows (called lancet windows), decorative cornice, roof pitch, and you can still tell where the steeple once was located. The rest of the property follows a Neoclassical design with the central entryways with Tuscan order columns (Tuscan is the style of columns seen on each portico). These similar entryways help to unite all three sections of the complex together.


The interior of the Potsdam Public Museum has remained mostly intact. The biggest difference is the Potsdam Public Library moved locations within the complex. It started out being in the portion that had once been the Universalist Church. In the 1970’s, the auditorium that had been located in the left block of the complex was remodeled into the library. The Potsdam Public Museum, which had been located in the basement of the Library since the 1940’s, was moved upstairs into the now vacant space.


Amazingly enough the Potsdam Civic Center Complex still looks like it did when it was completed in 1935. Today it still houses the Library, the municipal offices for the Village, is used as a meeting place for various community groups, and since 1940, has housed the Potsdam Public Museum. It’s amazing the a building that is 81 years old still is being used for the same purposes it was intended for without much change!

The Civic Center Complex is the tenth nomination for the Village of Potsdam; it was recommended for listing in the State Register in March 2016. It was officially nominated to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places May 2016. In total St. Lawrence County has 77 nominations on the register.

For more information about the National Register of Historic Places see my previous post:

If you have any questions just leave a comment in the section below! Thanks for reading!


i “Prepositions are Carried,” Potsdam Herald-Recorder, March 23, 1934.

ii “The Old and New in the Civic Center,” Courier and Freeman, May 29, 1935.

iii Archives Potsdam Public Museum, Civic Center II A. Box 1.

iv Marguerite Chapman, “Every Community Needs and Wants a Museum…Here’s How Potsdam Got Hers,” The Quarterly 6 no. 2 (1961): 5.

v “Civic Center Closes Doors to Social Life,” The Raquette, February 20, 1942. “Potsdam Civic Center Taken Over By Army,” Courier and Freeman, February 11, 1942.

vi“Big Response to Red Cross Plea,” Potsdam Herald- Recorder, January 23, 1942.

viiArchives Potsdam Public Museum, Civic Center II A. Box 1.

viii“College Aiding as Clarkson Plans 50th Anniversary,” The Raquette, October 5, 1945.

ix“Students Co-ordinate Efforts with Community in Civil Rights,” The Raquette, March 19, 1965. “Selma Eye-Witness to Address Rally Sunday; Village Drive Set,” Courier and Freeman, March 18, 1965.


The National Register of Historic Places

This post is wordy so be prepared but at the same time you’re going to learn some really awesome things about the National Register of Historic Places. Plus, I promise there’s a reason for all the words (it’s going to help with the next picture-filled post obviously).

Even though I have a master’s degree in historic preservation, I’m currently not employed full time as a preservationist. I work full time at Lowe’s in Potsdam, NY and when opportunities arise, I get hired as a preservation consultant. Those opportunities in Northern New York are few and far between but luckily this blog keeps me occupied!

One of the services I have educational and professional experience in is writing National Register nominations. On a side note, I’m not sure if that needs to be capitalized or not, but let’s be honest the National Register is kind of a big deal.

Anyways, the next post I’m planning on sharing is about a structure in Potsdam, NY that I submitted a National Register application for and was recently listed on the Register!!!!!

It’s exciting, trust me! Here’s a photo of the building that I’ll talk about next time, to hopefully get you all through this long post.

The Potsdam Civic Center Complex. Newly listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places. YASSS!

But before that picture-filled post, I figured I’d share a little bit more information about the National Register of Historic Places and what it means for a building to be listed.

What are the State and National Registers?

Hold the phone! There’s both a State and a National Register. What is this confusion!?!?!?

The National Register of Historic Places became a thing through the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The Act established preservation policy and created a network of state historic preservation offices (aka: SHPO) to carry out the Act. It’s all considered a part of the National Park Service.

During that year, the New York State Historic Trust was created to oversee the state historic sites, it established the New York SHPO, and started to develop statewide preservation programs. By 1972, the Historic Trust was renamed the Division for Historic Preservation.

In the words of the National Park Service, the National Register of Historic Places, “is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archaeological resources.”

What Kind of Properties Can Be Listed?

Properties are considered eligible for the Register if they meet the National Register Criteria for Evaluation. That includes examining the property’s age, significance, and integrity.

First off a property has to be old. Not super old but at least 50 years old. This means what is considered “old” is always changing. For example modern style houses! While not always looking historic actually can be significant enough to be placed on the National Register once they hit the big 5-0.

Significance relates to whether or not the property is associated with events, activities, or developments that were important in the past (Criteria A). Or with the lives of important people (Criteria B). Or significant architecturally, landscape history, or engineering achievements (Criteria C). Or lastly, does it have the potential to yield information through archaeological investigation (Criteria D)? These are the four criteria for evaluation of a property’s significance in relation to American history.

While integrity refers to whether or not the property looks and feels like it did based on why it is significance. These two concepts are directly related to each other.

For example, let’s say a property is potentially going to be listed on the State and National Registers because it’s a historic farmhouse that George Washington vacationed at during the 1700’s. Should Washington have the ability to time travel to 2016 and go to this farmhouse, hopefully he would be able to tell that it’s the same property he was staying at almost 200 years ago.

The things that we look at to determine integrity is location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.

So back to Washington’s vacation farmhouse. Washington arrives in 2016 for another vacation there. He is able to find the house because it’s still in the same spot; there is still a working farm (maybe smaller than he remembers); there’s still a bunch of barns and land for the farmer and farm animals to live happily; the farmhouse still looks like it did in the 1700’s when Washington was there (except now the interior has been completely renovated).

Overall, the farmhouse still looks and feels like it did when Washington first vacationed there in the 1700’s, which means it still has a lot of it’s integrity and would be a good candidate for the Registers. Looking further into this property it could be nominated based on it’s connection to Washington (Criterion B. an important person) and because of it’s a working farm from the 1700’s (Criterion C. architectural significance).

New York State and National Register Goals

Currently, the Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation through the State Historic Preservation Office is encouraging nomination proposals in the following three categories:

  1. Nomination Proposals that Promote Economic Revitalization Goals (example: Federal historic rehabilitation tax credit projects; heritage tourism and recreation).
  2. Nomination Proposals that General Broad Public Support Goals (example: Projects sponsored by other municipalities; contribute to planning and education).
  3. Nomination Proposals that Contribute to Planning and Education Goals (example: Projects that foster pride in community history and/or foster awareness of historic properties).


Who Can List a Building?

Any person or organization may prepare a nomination in the form of a completed registration form.

Keep in mind though, if the process is unclear (ex. Terminology) it may be in the person’s or organization’s best interest to contact a representative from SHPO or a consultant for professional assistance.

What Does the Process Include?

The first steps in the nomination process here in New York State would be to request, complete, and return a State and National Registers Program Applicant Form and a Historic Inventory Form.

From there the State would decide if the Civic Center is eligible to be listed on the State and National Registers, and assign staff to work further with the Village and the person/people writing the National Register Nomination, to complete the forms.

Some Common Misconceptions

There are NO restrictions placed on private owners of registered properties

National Register listing does not lead to public acquisition or require public access.

A property will not be listed if, for individual properties, the owner objects, or for districts, a majority of property owners object.

National Register listing does not automatically invoke local historic district zoning or local landmark designation.

What are the Results of Listing?

Properties that are listed are included in the National Register Archives, which are a public, search-able database that allows everyone to see what historic properties we have here in New York.

Getting a building listed on the National Register also can create a snowball effect, where more people become interested in their local history and start looking at ways to list other local properties or even how to use a community’s history for heritage tourism.

There’s also the ability to order a bronze plaque that distinguishes your property as listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Lastly, there are grant and tax credits that encourage rehabilitation of properties that are listed on the State and National Register.

The State and National Registers of Historic Places are a wonderful way to highlight and celebrate our built environment!

For More Information:

New York State Division for Historic Preservation:

New York State CRIS. This is New York State’s search-able database for all the listed historic properties. I use this database A LOT when ever I’m researching historic properties in other parts of the State. For example for my posts on Rochester and Albany, I used information from National Register Nominations I found through this database:

National Park Service:

Historic Preservation Website via the National Park Service:

Path Through History. This is a New York State Program but it’s pretty cool. It highlights historic sites, events, places, parks, etc. all throughout the State:

The National Trust of Historic Preservation:

If you have any further questions about the National Register of Historic Places just send me a message or comment on this post!

Thanks for reading!

Mansard Roofs: What is this Jargon!?!

May was such a busy month for me, which was great but also meant I had limited time to write posts. So I’m getting back in the blog posting game this week with a simple post on mansard roofs and that means a “What is this jargon!?!” post!

YAY! You’re excited, Right? Well, at least I’m excited about mansard roofs. I love pointing them out when I’m riding shotgun in other people’s cars.

So anyways….mansard roofs are easy to identify and have a really cool back story.

So the technical definition of the mansard roof is that it is a low-pitched hipped roof with four double-pitched sloping sides. The lower pitch is steeper than the upper pitch and sometimes it can be curved upwards, curve inwards, or be straight. Mansard roofs also can go by the name French roof or curb roof. These roofs are seen on Second French Empire, Beaux Arts, and Richardsonian Romanesque style buildings.i

Let’s get a visual!

This is the Nolan House and it is located at 24 Circular Street and is part of the East Side Historic District of Saratoga Springs, NY. This is an example of the Second French Empire style. This mansard roofs flares out a little and has really nice dormer windows and even iron cresting on the top of the roof. It was built in 1872.

Mansard roofs have a long history. They were first recorded “Mansard Roof” was way back in the 16th century on the Louvre. They were popularized by the French architect François Mansart, who lived in France during the 17th century. Monsieur Mansart’s last name was used to name these roofs that he had made popular.

The mansard roof allows for the attic space to be used as a living area. In Paris a law had been passed during the 1700’s that limited the height of a building beneath the roof line. The mansard roof allowed a way around the height restriction.ii

Plus, adding a mansard roof to an existing building is an easy fix when it comes to needing more living space instead of masonry work. Most mansard roofs have windows, called dormer windows (we’ll check those out on another day) and those windows allow light for the living space.

Check out these other examples of mansard roofs:

This home is located in Potsdam, NY. It’s interesting that the roof does not actually have windows, so it is unclear if the attic area is used for a living space or not.
This building is located at 165 Wellington Street in Kingston, Ontario. It is a former Merchant’s Bank and is currently going through renovations to add two more stories for future condos. It was constructed around 1876 and up until the redevelopment, the commercial block had been vacant.
This is another home in Potsdam, NY located on Main Street. I don’t know a lot about the history of the building but it has a small mansard roof. Just like the previous home photographed in Potsdam, this roof does not have windows. It makes me wonder if the roof was added at a later date when mansard roofs were in vogue.
Look at all those windows! This beauty is located in Troy, NY at the corner of Broadway and Third Streets. It was constructed in 1856 and for most of its existence was a department store. Recently it has been redeveloped and is now the home to Tech Valley Center of Gravity.

Now you know what mansard roofs are and can point them out to everyone you know!

If you are interested in learning more on this type of roof visit the following links:

“Buffalo as an Architectural Museum.” This website has a lot of great information about the architecture of Buffalo. The following link goes to their Mansard Roof page and has a bunch of photos you can look at of mansard roofs in Buffalo NY:

Mansard Roofs and the Second French Empire Style:

While researching the history of mansard roofs, I stumbled across this article from the New York Times, “The Heyday of Mansard Roofs,” :

If you’re interested in the Second French Empire Style in Canada, check out this website:

End Notes:

i My description of the Mansard Roof comes from two sources: The Historical Architecture of Vermont: Guide to Vermont Architecture, Curtis B. Johnson, editor and Elsa Gilbertson, Prinicpal Author, (Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, 1996), 26 and Virginia and Lee McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses, (Alfred A. Knopp, Inc., 1991), 241.
ii I found this information by starting at Accessed 06/07/2016. Wikipedia is not the greatest source ever but it can be a good way to start research. The footnote in the Wikipedia article points to European Cities & Technology Reader: Industrial to Post-Industrial City by David C. Goodman; Colin Chant, 1999. I did some more research and found another source confirming that Paris did have a law limiting the height of buildings to 65 feet: Cities of the World: World Regional Urban Development, Ed. Stanley D. Brunn, Maureen Hays-Mitchell, Donald J. Zeigler, 5th Edition, 2012., Accessed through 06/08/2016.