I’ll admit it, when I thought about spending my summer in Watertown, NY, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. Although after spending some time here and learning about the city’s rich history, I’ve had a change of heart and learned a lot about this little city.
A little background on Watertown’s history:
Settled in 1800, Watertown was aptly named after the many falls on the Black River and soon after became an industrial powerhouse. At one time, Watertown was named “The Ideal American City” and was home to more millionaires per capita than any other city in the nation. This is because of businesses like F.W. Woolworth Company (the first nickel and dime store ever), Knowlton’s Specialty Papers (still the oldest continuously running paper mill in the nation), and the former Davis Sewing Machine Company owned by George Huffman of the Huffy Corporation (known for their bicycles). These businesses, among others, stimulated the economy and it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that Watertown suffered economic and population decline due to de-industrialization and expansion west.
A few historically notable and incredibly beautiful aspects of Watertown include the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library and Thompson Park. Other than the gym, these two places are where I found myself most days after work.
Flower Memorial Library was built in 1903 and was erected as a memorial to Watertown’s own Roswell P. Flower, the 30th Governor of New York. Truly, it’s one of the most beautiful libraries I have ever seen. And I’m not the only one – in 1904, it was named “The Most Beautiful Small Library in the United States.” Flower was a very charitable man and during his term from 1891 to 1894, he signed into law the creation of the City of Niagara Falls.
“He has always made it a rule to give away in charity a certain portion of his income for many years all that he did not need for his own living expenses believing that when a man had wealth he should distribute it while he is alive in order that there be no contest over it when he dies.”
Adorned with marble and the bust of Roswell P. Flower, the library is decadent, yet modern. The original rooms have been well-kept and are adorned with art donated by Emma Flower Taylor, the daughter of the former Governor. The oculus and dome of the library was done by the American architect Frederick Lamb who was known for being one of the principal designers of the Empire State Building. The murals that line it feature four figures personifying history, romance, religion, and science – along with transitional figures that represent fable, drama, lyric, and epic poetry. Fable features Aesop, Religion (St. John and Moses), Lyric (Milton and Virgil), Epic Poetry (Homer and Dante), Science (Darwin and Newton), Drama (Shakespeare and Moliere) and Romance (Scott and Dumas).
I fell in love with this library. I either sat upstairs and worked on my laptop while overlooking the main entrance or read in the North or South reading rooms. Each space was safe, quiet, and clean – and I got a lot of work done, believe it or not. History lines the walls so go in and take a peek. You really won’t regret it.
Thompson Park, too, is a historical gem of the North Country. Besides the library, this was my favorite place to read. Thompson Park is the smallest city to have a park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect who designed Central Park in New York City. Local industrialist, John C. Thompson, decided to make a donation toward a public park for the growing city of Watertown, however, it was to remain anonymous and it wasn’t until Thompson died that City Park became Thompson Park. The park includes a zoo operated by the Thompson Park Conservatory that was opened in 1920, when the Northern New York Trust Company donated two whitetail deer to Thompson Park and the City of Watertown. The park also includes a monument honoring soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course, a public pool, playgrounds, and multiple hiking trails. The park is located on a hill that overlooks the city and on any given day you’ll see cars parked (including mine) to take in the incredible view. This is where I read – and on the 3rd of July every year Thompson Park hosts fireworks and a live symphony orchestra show (which I went to! It was awesome!).
Watertown is home to the U.S. Army post Fort Drum which serves as a major boost to the city’s economy, as are the many Canadian visitors we have shopping in our stores. (Go to Target and you’ll hear at least one person speaking French.) The city is also home to North American Tapes, the premier hockey tape supplier for the NHL, and of course, the home of where I currently work, Little Trees CAR-FRESHNER!
Watertown’s location is ideal. Go 20 miles north and you’ll reach the St. Lawrence River, the Thousand Islands, and you guessed it – Canada. 70 miles south and you’ll reach Syracuse, NY. Beautiful surrounding towns on the St. Lawrence include Alexandria Bay, Clayton, and Sackets Harbor.
A few more facts about Watertown that are pretty cool:
- Robert Lansing, born in Watertown, was appointed United States Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson from 1915 – 1920.
- So was Charles Woodruff Yost, 9th U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
- The city has the longest continually operating county fair in the United States and this year it falls on July 10 – July 15, 2018.
- Loveland Paddock and Otis Wheelock built The Paddock Arcade downtown in 1850 and it remains the second-oldest continuously running covered shopping mall in America.
There’s so much information about Watertown out there – but for now, this is all I’ve learned. For some reason, knowing the history of a place makes you appreciate the present more – and I’m glad I’ve learned so much about Watertown, New York’s.
For more information, visit Watertown’s City Page, the Jefferson Historical Society, or Flower Memorial Library.