Perfectly Small Cities: Watertown, New York

Author: Alecia Pirulis

Adirondack Mountains

You may have never heard of Watertown, New York, but this small city has everything going for it: location, atmosphere, history, architecture – and did I mention location? Watertown is situated about 70 miles north of Syracuse, 30 miles south of Canada, an hour from the Thousand Islands region, and a three-hour drive from Montreal. Watertown is the county seat of Jefferson County and it is the location of the US Army’s Fort Drum .

Watertown was settled in 1800, when New Englanders began to push their way northward after the American Revolution. Eventually, the up-until-then-tossed-together town decided to clear the way for a public square. Today, the Public Square Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it still serves as the core of the city. Most of the buildings date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries. These historic structures contain a wide variety of shops, restaurants, small businesses, and apartments, making it an amazing live-work-play community.

Fountain in WatertownIn addition to historic buildings, the public square contains the landmark monument of New York’s 30th governor, Governor Roswell P. Flower, who was in office from 1892 to 1894. The monument was done by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1902. The monument is located in the center of the square and is surrounded by brick-paved walkways, benches, and landscaped grounds.

The square is also home to the Paddock Arcade, the second-oldest covered mall in the US. The Paddock Arcade was built in 1850 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Gothic-style arcade features a glass roof and an elegant 19th-century Italianate façade. The arcade is still the go-to shopping destination for residents and visitors alike, featuring businesses such as the Paddock Club Tavern, Paddock Antiques, several restaurants, and the Watertown Farmers Market.

And while you may not be familiar with Watertown and its charming Public Square, you will recognize some of the “firsts” Watertown is famous for. In the Ski Slope in Adirondack Mountains1870s, a department store was located in the square called Smith and Moore’s. A young clerk who worked there, Frank Winfield Woolworth, decided to set up a table of discount merchandise and priced the items at five and ten cents. This discount table was such a huge success that Woolworth decided to open his own store – and the famous “five-and-dimes” were born. His first Woolworths opened in Utica, and he soon owned a chain of over 1,000 stores.

If you’ve ever tied a tiny pine tree to the rearview mirror of your car, you can thank Watertown – or, more specifically, Julius Samann, a chemist who invented Little Trees, the pine-tree-shaped air freshener, in the Electric Building on Public Square in 1957. Watertown is also home of the safety pin – invented by Walter Hunt here in 1849.

Bolt Castle in Thousand Islands RegionIn addition to its fascinating history and well-preserved historic architecture, Watertown residents enjoy a beautiful landscape dotted with wineries and parks. Lake Ontario is just a short distance from Watertown, and the Adirondack Mountains provide an impressive backdrop – as well as a great place for outdoor adventures. The Adirondacks are famous for winter sports, including alpine skiing, dogsledding, snowshoeing, and bobsledding.

If you are interested in finding an apartment in Watertown, you’ll discover an Upstate New York community that is warm and friendly. From antique shops and vineyards to snow sports to boating, hiking, and camping, there’s something for everyone in this dynamic small city.