30-34 Main Street

Crown City Touring- Main Street

30-34 Main Street

Cortland, New York 13045, United States

Created By: Cortland County Historical Society


This location started as the estate of Joshua Bassett (1757-1836). Joshua and his son were the first jewelers and silversmiths in Cortland, and their “shop was upon the same lot as the dwelling house…it was one of the handsomest as well as one of the most eligible sites of the town,” (as recalled by Joshua Ballard in Smith’s ‘History of Cortland County’). The only description provided for this house indicates it was brick, which seems to match with a house we can see in a photograph of Main Street taken some time between 1868-1870.

The home was sold to Josiah Hart (1784-1866) in 1853. Hart farmed for several decades in Harford, served as Justice of the Peace, and was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1825. In 1865, he gave a portion of the land over the village, allocated for the building of a fire engine house at 38 Main Street. At the same time, a part was given to the First National Bank of Cortland for a bank building at 36 Main Street. On the other side of the residence, the Masonic Hall and Moore blocks were erected, so by 1869 the home was completely hemmed in by businesses.

Upon Josiah Hart’s death in 1866, the home was passed on to William Howard Crane for a very brief period of time until it was demolished to make way for today’s Orchard Street. The property was sold to James A. Calvert in 1873, and in the same year the Calvert block was erected. The early businesses found in this block included John Morris (tailor), Purdy & Van Alstine (boot and shoe store). Just five years later, the businesses had changed to include C.F. Thompson’s grocery, a travel & insurance agency, McClary & Myers (milliners), Hammond & Coe (fancy goods), and a homeopathic medicine store.

In 1909, the Cortland Standard published a “Do You Remember…” column that in one issue focused on various businesses present in and around the Calvert block: “Do you remember: The grocery store of VanAusdale in the Calvert block? When the trim shop of the Cortland Wagon Co. was in back of the Calvert block and George Lathe was boss? When Isaac Perry ran a bottling works of "soft drinks" back of the Calvert block? J.C. Gray had a jewelry store? Mr. Soule had a store? Robinson & Bushby had a bookstore?” This is just a small representation of all the businesses that set up shop in the Calvert block!

I stumbled upon a fun story in the Cortland Standard published on April 23,1913:

“A handsome bay horse belonging to Dr. J. O. Stevens got away from his care takers this morning and clad only in sunshine and a halter started through Main St. looking for clothes. He walked north on Main-St. from the Messenger hotel and, as he was taking it easy and seemed to be about his own business, nobody interfered with him. He passed the Model, Bingham & Miller, and Hart & O'Leary with only a glance to the right and left. He was looking for bargains. In front of the store of S. Simmons in the Calvert block he paused a moment, inspected the show windows, appeared satisfied and without a moment's hesitation crossed the sidewalk and entered the open door. There was no salesman at the front of the store. This horse wasn't seeking to do business with clerks. He wanted the proprietor. He saw Mr. Simmons behind the counter clear at the rear of the store and quickly made his way toward him. Clerks and customers looked on in utter astonishment. Right past them walked the horse picking a narrow passage between loaded tables and shelves and walked clear up to Mr. Simmons, stopped and extended his pose in a friendly way. To say that Mr. Simmons was surprised is putting it mildly. For once he had nothing to say. He was absolutely speechless, till finally he managed to gasp, "Good morning, what can I do for you? Is it a spring suit you want? We have them in all styles and varieties, and at bargain prices.”

Understandably, a crowd began to gather in the store, described as being thicker than the crowd that will gather around Sautelle’s ticket wagon in the coming week. They were eventually able to walk the horse out of the store to be claimed by a boy who came looking for it, and Mr. Simmons quipped that he’d be on the lookout for bargains to have on stock to be sure he could meet the needs of such a customer on a future call.

A photo from the early 1930s shows the block taken up by A. Louis clothing store, Sullivan’s ladies’ wear, and Dean Phipps Auto Store. In more recent memory, the Varsity Cigar Store and Soda Bar, owned and operated at that location by Norm & Rose Abdallah from 1952-1968, was the teen hangout for Cortland and St. Mary’s High School students.

On December 6, 1969, the new Marine Midland Bank building opened featuring a Brutalist style, designed to be an object apart from the “urban fabric” of downtown, emphasizing the break in tradition. It was designed by Turley, Stievator, Walker, Mauri & Associates of Buffalo, NY to meet the bank’s needs, compared to attempting to retrofit the “box with a fancy front style” of most Victorian-era business district architecture. It is important to remember that maintaining and retrofitting old structures is often easier said than done. We’ve already seen several other examples of old blocks coming down to make way for modern structures. At the center is a 2-story sky-lit courtyard with banking services around it on the 1st floor, a balcony and offices on the second.

While today it is easy to look at this building and see it as an eyesore compared to the older business blocks surrounding it, the intention was for it to stand out and that it does! Today, the Historic District Commission (not associated with CCHS!) plays a role in ensuring the historic character of Cortland’s downtown is preserved, and at more than 50 years old the building now housing the Tompkins Trust Company is considered “historic”!

This point of interest is part of the tour: Crown City Touring- Main Street


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