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National Register of Historic Places Program

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 archeological resources.


Property Name Geneva Downtown Commercial Historic District
Reference Number 14000225
State New York
County Ontario
Town Geneva
Street Address 8 thru 156 Castle St; 16 & 20 East Castle St; 396 thru 555 Exchange St; 20 thru 120 Seneca St; 24 thru 52 Linden St; 317, 319, 325 & 329 Main St.
Multiple Property Submission Name N/A
Status Listed 5/13/2014
Areas of Significance Commerce, Transportation, Architecture
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The Geneva Downtown Commercial Historic District is significant under Criterion A in the areas of commerce and transportation as the historic commercial epicenter for the city of Geneva, Ontario County, New York. Transportation was the leading factor in the establishment of the commercial downtown, which became an integral part of a transportation network that began with Geneva's founding (ca. 1806) and continued well into the twentieth century. The location of the commercial district along Exchange Street was the result of entrepreneurs utilizing opportunities for shipping goods due to its close proximity to the lake shore and eventually rail lines. Seneca Lake connected to feeder canals that joined to the Erie Canal, allowing affordable and efficient shipping to markets beyond Geneva and the surrounding communities and villages. By the mid nineteenth century (1841), this network was enhanced and expanded with introduction of the railroad in Geneva. The first railroads ran along the lake shore, which made Exchange and the eastern ends of Castle and Seneca ideal locations for business and industry, reaching its peak of nine railroads converging in the city from multiple directions. Businesses had the option of transporting goods by train, which had the capability of operating year round rather than the seasonal waterways. This directly stimulated commercial growth to expand beyond Exchange Street to the rest of Castle and Seneca Streets, which gradually sloped uphill towards the residential areas. These streets were also part of a road system that further enhanced the transportation network and the development of the downtown commercial district as they connected to Routes 5 and 20 running east to west, and Route 14 that was built along an old Indian trail running north to south along the lake. The roadways traveled directly through the heart of the downtown along Main, Seneca, and Exchange Streets, bringing increased traffic and the demand for more goods and services as more people settled in or passed through Geneva. As industries and technologies changed, a wider variety of businesses located in the district that included grocers, hardware stores, banks, clothiers, an optical company, taverns, and pharmacies. The district also became the center of social activity with the opening of theaters such as Smith's Opera House and social service organizations that included the YMCA. As a tourism industry developed, hotels also located in Geneva's commercial district to meet the needs of a growing number of seasonal visitors taking advantage of the beautiful lake and recreational activities and the local services offered in Geneva.

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Properties are listed in the National Register of Historic Places under four criteria: A, B, C, and D. For information on what these criterion are and how they are applied, please see our Bulletin on How to Apply the National Register Criteria