By Jann Wiswall
There is a movement afoot in the Village of Ellicottville to establish the “four corners” as a special historic district. The effort’s intent is to preserve in perpetuity the integrity of the four buildings and grounds that have anchored the village since the 1800s at the corners of Jefferson and Washington Streets.
With the support of the Village Board, the Village Planning Board is taking the lead on the effort, which requires zoning changes and a public hearing. In addition to preserving the exteriors of the four buildings (the 1887 Building, Saint John’s Episcopal Church, the Village/Town Hall and the Town Museum), the planning board also will be considering allowable uses for the buildings and grounds.
“This is about history,” said John Northrup, who is one of several long-time Village residents who backs the project.
“Most people who know Ellicottville have come to cherish the four corners,” Northrup said. “Under present zoning law, the four corners is in the commercial district. That means that, if St. John’s is someday no longer used as a church, it could be turned into a bar,” he said. “Personally, I would hate to see something like that happen.”
Northrup’s interest in preserving the history of the village is no surprise to anyone who knows him. When his father died, he established the G. Wilbur Northrup Endowment Trust Fund to care for St. John’s Episcopal Church. Those funds have been and continue to be used to care for the church, which is one of the most unique examples of wooden Gothic Revival architecture in the United States.
The other three buildings have required commitment from the community as well.
The Village/Town Hall, built in 1829, originally served as the center of Cattaraugus County government until 1868. After a fire in 1969, the community pulled together to save the building from demolition and restored it to its original Federal Period appearance.
The Town Museum was originally built to serve as the county clerk’s office. It also served as a bank, a German Protestant church, a millinery shop, a fire house, classrooms and the library. As the Town Museum, it is run by the all-volunteer Ellicottville Historical Society, with new exhibits designed and created by the society every two months. It also serves as the starting point for a self-guided heritage walking tour through the village.
The 1887 Building, a beautiful example of Romanesque Revival architecture, was originally built as a school and later became a library. Indeed, many long-time residents still fondly remember their youths spent there.
Happily for many, the building, which had fallen into disrepair and is not currently occupied, has been purchased by Buffalo developer Peter Krog, CEO of the Krog Corporation and a part-time Ellicottville resident, in the interest of historic preservation. Krog and Northrup would like to turn it into a 7–10 unit condominium property with a homeowner’s association that would be charged with the upkeep of the building.
Under current zoning law, however, the first floor of properties in the Village Historic District must be used for commercial purposes to ensure the village retains a vibrant business community.
Sheila Burrell, a long-time village resident who has served on the Village Planning Board for many years, said that during initial conversations with Northrup about the 1887 Building idea — which most agree would be a beneficial use for the property — she and other community members quickly recognized that the 1887 Building should be treated differently than the rest of the historic district.
“But considering a zoning amendment for the 1887 Building alone would be short sighted,” she said. “We need to address all four corners at once in order to preserve the historic identity of the village.”
The Village Planning Board is just getting started on this project, and Burrell said she hopes that language will be developed over the summer and ready for public feedback in early fall.
As Northrup said, “These four corners are what make Ellicottville different. We want to be certain that they, and the history they represent, will be preserved forever.”