Berlin’s Main Street – A History Tour
by David Flint
Who knew there was so much history and architectural style on Berlin’s Main Street, just between Elm Street and Park Avenue? Driving by the familiar buildings and homes, it’s just part of the background. But taking a leisurely stroll on a beautiful fall day in a small group with your own personal tour guide and informative guide book, it all comes to life.
About 70 people took advantage of the Historical Walking Tour of Main Street on Saturday, September 24. Tour groups left about every 20 minutes between 1 and 4 pm from the Corner Store (now housing Corner Creations). The tour was planned and organized by Carol Lowry, Cheryl Thibodeau and Town Historian Sharon Klein. Lowry and Klein also acted as tour guides along with Charlie Hakes and Matt McKeeby.
The guide book, with historical pictures and information for each of the 16 buildings and residences on the tour, was the work of Sharon Klein. In it she notes that three of the buildings – the Corner Store building, the John Reeve home and the George Dennison house – have been included in the book Architecture Worth Saving in Rensselaer County by Bernd Foerster (RPI, 1965). Architectural styles of the houses range from Federal (e.g. the John Reeve home) to the Second Empire or Mansard (George Dennison House) to Gothic Revival (U.J. Nichols’ “Green Gables” house) to Greek Revival, Italianate and various combinations thereof.
It seems that every one of the residences from the John Reeve house (just to the right of the Cash Market building) down to Park Avenue and back up Main Street to the W.F. Taylor home (situated next to the Berlin Hotel building), was the residence at one time or another of a prominent business person or doctor operating in the village of Berlin, a number of them in the Corner Store or Cash Market buildings. Included are names such as Dennison, Nichols, Raisco, Lewis, Greene, Erwin, Jones, Cure, Kinn, Reynolds and Taylor and Doctors Thompson, Rivkin, Sheeran, Schlesinger, Geel, Benjamin, Sands, Sweet and Evans.
The Cash Market building itself, which was built about 1858 to house the Greenman, Hull and Company general store, has been used for a wide variety of purposes. “Over the years,” Klein wrote, “the upstairs housed a cork factory, chess club, Camp Fire Girls meeting room, the Berlin Grange meeting room and Methodist Church, as well as a shirt factory.” The Taconic Valley Bank also started in this building as did the W.H. Lewis Tin Shop.
John Reeve was Berlin’s first Town Supervisor. In the house next door lived George Dennison, a talented musician who ran a music conservatory and whose son, Frederick, became the Conductor of the Albany Symphony Orchestra. Next door to the Dennisons, U.J. Nichols was a partner in the Corner Store business and also served as Town Justice. Down the street across from the Library is the W.H. Lewis Home, built about 1785, one of the oldest houses on Main Street. This house, with the twin stone pillars framing a walkway to the house, is now the home of Josh and Sue Greenberg. Sue Greenberg was kind enough to invite people in the tour groups to come in and look around inside, pointing out how someone had carefully etched in a front window pane the names Ida R. Lewis and Frank J. Green. Could this have been the sign of a young love affair with the boy next door? The house next door at the corner of Park Avenue is in fact the Arthur Greene home. According to Klein’s guide book, it was built around 1918 by Arthur Goodermote and was the first pre-fab house in Berlin, purchased from Sears, Roebuck.
Across the street was the home of Edgar Greene which later was owned by the Rev. and Mrs. George Whitehouse. It became the Whitehouse Memorial Library, and now, renovated and expanded, it is the Berlin Free Town Library.
From the Library the tour continued on past the Dr. Geel home, the Hull house, the home and store of J.H. Erwin that in the 1940s and 50s housed Cure’s Liquor Store, arriving at the Taconic Valley Bank building, now the Berlin Town Hall. Two more houses next to the Town Hall complete the tour, the first being the D.E. Dennison home where later Dr. Sands lived and practiced. Dr. Sands was also Town Supervisor, from 1896 to 1899. The house was more recently the home of Margaret Kinn, former Town Historian. The last house on the tour was the W.F. Taylor home, currently owned by Edward Pelz. Taylor was superintendent of the Arthur Cowee gladioli fields and also a member of the New York State Assembly. The house later became the residence and office of Dr. Byron Sweet and later still it housed Lovinnia Reynolds’ Butterfly Gift and Tea Shop and a tourist home.
Sharon Klein said she was very pleased with the turnout. It may have helped that the Fire Department Auxiliary was holding their Fabulous Fallout Car and Bike Show the same day. A number of people wandered over from the Fire House to check out the homes on Main Street. Klein said she and her colleagues hope to do another such tour, perhaps next spring, in another section of Berlin.