Decline: 1950-2000


external image 1950s.jpgexternal image wet.jpgexternal image normal_woodruffdemo2.jpgexternal image wood.jpg

Photos, l-r. JB Wise Block demolition, Mohican demolition, Woodruff demolition, Woodruff Professional Building. Click each photo to enlarge.

The square continued to be the heart of Watertown well into the 1950’s. Citizens came in droves to the square to enjoy its shopping, culture and nightlife. Traffic congestion on the square became a source of trouble, prompting city officials to redesign the center islands, forming them into one large park, and setting up traffic lanes and stop lights. In 1953, inventor Jules Saaman, working in an office in the Electric Building, invented the Little Trees Car-Freshner. His invention today is world famous, and its corporate headquarters are still in Watertown.[1]

Public Square during this time lost three of its buildings in response to the needs for more parking. The J.B. Wise block was torn down in 1958. Two small, one story buildings were built on part of this site. These buildings today house the Apex Army Navy Store, and a nightclub. The Mohican was demolished in 1964, and the old train station behind the Woodruff was also demolished when passenger rail cars ceased coming into Watertown. The site of the old train depot and rail yard was converted to the J.B. Wise Parking Lot. Also in the 1960's, the Strauss Electric Building on the square's north side was destroyed by fire. This site was later converted into the Strauss Memorial Walkway as a passage from the square to theJ.B. Wise Parking Lot.[2]

While Public Square continued its business and social dominance through the 1960’s, its fortunes were in decline. Rapidly declining industry in Watertown left many businesses on the square struggling. The Woodruff opened a discothèque in its lounge to drum up business, complete with Go-Go cage dancers. The square survived the Urban Renewal program that devastated much of Court and Arsenal Streets, but lost its anchor store, when Woolworth’s moved into the newly built City Center Mall, on Arsenal Street, in 1970.

The most significant event on Public Square during the 1970’s was the demolition of the Hotel Woodruff. Once the square’s crowning jewel, the Woodruff had been in decline for many years, finally closing its doors in 1974. The decision by the city to tear down the structure in March 1976[3] met with vehement protest from Watertown natives, to no avail. Many people flocked sadly to the square daily to watch the demolition. While the additions of the 1920’s came down with relative ease, the original 1851 structure proved to be of stronger stuff. At one point, the wrecking ball bounced off the building and crashed into the neighboring Empsalls annex, to the amusement of onlookers. The demolition gave the J.B. Wise lot more space, and the site of the original structure remained vacant for the next 20 years. Public Square also lost the Electric Building, one month after the Woodruff demolition, in April 1976.

The 1980's became a crucial turning point for the square. The announcement of the expansion of nearby Fort Drum became an economic boon to Watertown, helping to fill in the economic void left by the mass exodus of industry from the city. However, this windfall for Watertown became a blow to Public Square. The square was still, despite Watertown’s faltering economy, the city’s main shopping destination. With the arrival of the 10th Mountain Division to Fort Drum, developers ignored the square, and downtown Watertown as a whole, opting instead to build numerous shopping centers, restaurants and hotels on outer Arsenal Street, near the exits to Interstate 81. This development saw a mass exodus of shoppers from downtown, and subsequently, the closure of many of the square’s long time businesses. The business that remained, and the new ones that did manage to open, struggled for the next 20 years, as development continued to focus entirely on Arsenal Street. Many of the historic structures on Public Square suffered from this economic depression that wracked the downtown area. In 1984, the square was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

During the 1990’s, despite the economic hardships, Public Square saw significant new construction. In 1991, the Henry Keep Apartment building was constructed on the former sites of the Electric and Mohican Buildings. In 1996, one half of the old Woodruff lot became occupied with the new Woodruff Professional Building. Otis Wheelock’s original architect plans for the Woodruff House (notably the arch and porthole windows) were consulted in the designing of the new medical office building.


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This page was created by AJRII & has been edited 9 times. The last modification was made by - AJRII AJRII on Oct 19, 2009 10:14 pm.
  1. ^ http://marcmny.tripod.com/jeffco5.htm
  2. ^ http://marcmny.tripod.com/jeffco5.htm
  3. ^ http://marcmny.tripod.com/jeffco5.htm