(Editor’s note: here’s the text of the press release, which was actually embargoed until Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 12:01 a.m., from the American Planning Association on their designation of Wall as one of the Top 10 “Great Streets” for 2012. It’s an interesting read, if not 100 percent accurate about some stuff, as it’s often a valuable experience to get an idea of how the city looks to those looking in at it. Put another way, outsiders sometimes see how great your forest is when you’re busy worrying about the trees.)
The American Planning Association (APA) today announced the designation of Wall Street as one of 10 Great Streets for 2012 under the organization’s Great Places in America program. APA Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planning and planners play in adding value to communities, including fostering economic growth and jobs.
APA singled out an eight-block stretch of Wall Street, between Franklin and North Front streets, for its historic character, many well-preserved buildings, pedestrian scale, and variety of uses. An integral part of America’s fight for independence and the birth of New York State, Wall Street features architectural styles, popular from the Revolutionary to Reconstruction eras, that speak to its early prominence.
Kingston, NY Mayor Shayne Gallo said: “The original capital of New York, Kingston is a very historic and storied city. New York’s first state constitution was penned here at the courthouse located on Wall Street. Still today, Wall Street continues to be vital to the city’s appeal with its rare bluestone sidewalks and architecturally and historically important buildings, gardens, estates and homes; acclaimed eateries; historic churches and graveyards; active and eclectic art galleries; community street festivals and historical events; an array of retail and professional services. Wall Street has it all!”
“The City of Kingston is fortunate to have a wealth of diversity, with both historic and cultural attributes. Wall Street is a prime example of what our community represents. From a flourishing weekend Farmer’s Market, outdoor music and productions, to the historic structures and vibrant architecture of residences and businesses alike, Wall Street generates a vitality and enthusiasm which is enjoyed by many”, said Planning Director Suzanne Cahill.
Through Great Places in America, APA recognizes streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces featuring unique and authentic characteristics that have evolved from years of thoughtful and deliberate planning by residents, community leaders and planners. The 2012 Great Places illustrate how the foresight of planning fosters tomorrow’s communities and they have many of the features Americans say are important to their “ideal community” including locally owned businesses, transit, neighborhood parks, and sidewalks.
Since APA began Great Places in America in 2007, 60 neighborhoods, 60 streets and 50 public spaces have been designated in 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“Wall Street is a mixture of past and present, where historic buildings meet contemporary needs,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP. “Evolving block by block, the thoroughfare is at the center of the commercial, political, cultural and religious activities that shape daily life in Kingston,” he said.
No stranger to adversity, Wall Street has had to reinvent itself several times over the past 350-plus years. Part of the original 1658 plat for Wiltwyck, a Dutch fort on the Hudson River, Wall Street was a single block long. It was the site of the original Old Dutch Church, a small stone structure built in 1659. While the church survived an attack by Esopus Indians in 1663, surrounding homes were burned and had to be rebuilt.
When the County of Ulster was formed in 1683, a two-story stone building was erected on Wall Street to serve as a jail, courthouse, and municipal offices. It was here, in 1777, that patriots, having fled British control of New York City, convened a constitutional convention. Shortly thereafter, the New York State Supreme Court opened its inaugural session in the courthouse. Weeks later, the British arrived and burned Kingston to the ground. The Tobias Van Steenburgh House, circa 1700, was the only home left standing on Wall Street.
Again, the city rebuilt. Wall Street’s new, two-story Georgian-style courthouse became the site of former slave Sojourner Truth’s 1827 precedent-setting legal battle to regain custody of her son, who was illegally taken from New York to Alabama. One-hundred-fifty years later, the courthouse underwent a $5.5 million renovation, which included a sensitive restoration of the façade.
The gutted Old Dutch Church was restored after the fire but its rapidly growing congregation demanded more space. The resulting 1852 structure was built of native bluestone in the Renaissance Revival style. The base of the church’s steeple, which is 62 feet above ground level, serves as the height limit for any new downtown building.
Other buildings and houses – featuring Italianate, Classical Revival and Art Deco styles – began to line Wall Street, creating a visually appealing streetscape. Wall Street thrived for more than a century until suburban flight left store fronts and residences vacant. To jumpstart revitalization efforts, the Friends of Historic Kingston lobbied the city in 1969 to establish a Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission. Six years later, the Stockade Historic District, which includes two blocks of Wall Street, was listed on the National Register.
Slideshow photo of Wall Street facades by Julie O’Connor.