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Watertown, New York


Watertown, New York

This article is about the city. For the adjacent town, see Watertown (town), New York.

Watertown public square
Official seal of Watertown
Nickname(s): The Garland City
Location in the state of New York

Coordinates: 43°58′32″N 75°54′23″W / 43.97556°N 75.90639°W / 43.97556; -75.90639Coordinates: 43°58′32″N 75°54′23″W / 43.97556°N 75.90639°W / 43.97556; -75.90639

Country United States
State New York
County Jefferson
Settled 1800
 • Type Council-Manager
 • Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham
 • City Manager Sharon Addison
 • City Council
 • Total 9.3 sq mi (24.0 km2)
 • Land 9 sq mi (23.2 km2)
 • Water 0.3 sq mi (0.8 km2)
Elevation 466 ft (142 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 27,023
 • Density 2,996/sq mi (1,157/km2)
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
Zip Code 13601, 13602
Area code(s) 315
FIPS code 36-78608[1]
GNIS feature ID 0968914[2]

Watertown is a city in the state of New York and the county seat of Jefferson County. It is situated approximately 20 miles (32 km) south of the Thousand Islands. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 27,023, an increase of 1.2% since 2000. The U.S. Army post Fort Drum is near the city.

Named after the many falls located on the Black River, the city developed early in the 19th century as a manufacturing center. From years of generating industrial wealth, in the early 20th century the city was said to have more millionaires per capita than any other city in the nation. Residents of Watertown built a rich public and private architectural legacy. It is the smallest city to have a park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the celebrated landscape architect who created Central Park in New York City.

Geographically, Watertown is located in the central part of Jefferson County. It lies 72 miles (116 km) northeast of Syracuse, New York and 31 miles (50 km) south of the Ontario border. The city is served by Watertown International Airport.

The city is known as the birthplace of the Five and dime, the safety pin, and is the home of Little Trees air fresheners. It manufactured the first portable steam engine. It has the longest continually operating county fair in the United States and holds the Red and Black football franchise, the oldest surviving semi-professional team in the United States.


The city of Watertown was settled in 1800 by pioneers from New Hampshire, most notably Hart Massey, Henry Coffeen, and Zachariah Butterfield, part of a large migration into New York from New England after the American Revolutionary War. These pioneers chose the area due to the Black River. The pioneers' vision was for an industrial center that would draw power from the Black River. All the land was rough and unclear. Elevation was also a problem. The western end of the town was 12 to 15 feet (3.7 to 4.6 m) higher than the eastern end, with a large depression in the middle. A small stream also passed through the town.

Within a few years, the center of town was cleared for the ambitious Public Square.[3] Together with the 19th century structures that created a streetscape around it, this has been designated a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As industry and businesses flourished, residents built substantial retail buildings, churches and private residences. The Paddock Arcade, built in 1850 according to European and US models, is the oldest continuously operating enclosed mall in the United States. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as are several significant churches and private mansions.

The drop in the Black River at Watertown's location provided abundant water power for early industry. By the mid-19th century, entrepreneurs had built paper mills and major industries, including the first portable steam engine in 1847. In 1851, the city was joined to the state by the railroad. Other mills rapidly joined the business base and generated revenue to support early public works projects like the water system and illuminating gas works in 1853, and a telephone system in 1879.

Watertown claims that Rodman native Frank W. Woolworth conceived the idea of his mercantile chain while working there in 1878. Woolworth, employed as a clerk in Moore's Store, set up a successful clearance display of low-priced items. This led to his idea of a store specializing in fixed-price, cut-rate merchandise. Woolworth left Watertown and opened his first store in Utica, New York in 1879.

Among the many manufacturing businesses was the Davis Sewing Machine Company, which originated in Watertown. It was predecessor to George P. Huffman's Huffy Corporation (NYSE: HUF), now an American maker of bicycles and other sporting goods.

In 1805 Watertown became the county seat of Jefferson County, New York, and it was made an incorporated village in 1816. In 1869, Watertown was incorporated as a city. In 1920, the city adopted a city manager style of government. The Jefferson County Courthouse Complex is an example of the substantial architecture of the city, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An early industrial city that earned great wealth for many of its citizens by the turn of the 20th century, Watertown also developed an educated professional class of doctors and lawyers.

A number of factors affected Watertown's progress. The economic center of the country kept moving west, and Chicago drew off many of its younger people for business and professional opportunities. Industrial technology shifted and jobs changed. In the deindustrialization of the mid-20th century, Watertown suffered economic and population declines.

The city has been working in recent decades to redevelop its downtown and revive the heart of the city. It is capitalizing on its rich architectural heritage, compact and walkable retail center, and well-designed residential areas.

Today the city serves as the commercial and financial center for a large rural area. It is the major community closest to Fort Drum and the post's large population. Since the city is located just 25 miles (40 km) from the international boundary via the Thousand Islands Bridge, shopping by Canadian visitors is an important part of the local economy.

In 2013, the Watertown City Council made headlines by voting to make it illegal for residents to have roommates of any sort - based on a single complaint from one woman. It remains to be seen if future legal battles over the ruling will resolve what is seen by many as a serious over-reach of government into the lives of Watertown citizens.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 9.3 square miles (24 km2). 9.0 square miles (23 km2) of it is land and 0.3 square miles (0.78 km2) of it (3.45%) is water.

The Black River flows westward through the city toward Lake Ontario. The Black River is a world-renowned kayaking destination. Competition-level kayaking events, such as the Blackwater Challenge, have been held on the river.

By tradition, the city's name was derived from the abundant water power available from the river. Businesses harnessed water power to create one of the early industrial centers in New York. Paper mills were historically a major industry for the city and contributed to its 19th-century wealth.

Jefferson Community College (JCC) is located in the western part of the city near the fairgrounds.


Climate data for Watertown, New York
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 29.1
Daily mean °F (°C) 19.3
Average low °F (°C) 9.5
Precipitation inches (mm) 2.66
Snowfall inches (cm) 24.7
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 16.3 13.5 12.0 12.8 12.4 12.2 10.1 10.2 11.3 13.6 15.2 16.2 155.8
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 11.0 8.3 5.4 2.0 0 0 0 0 0 0.3 3.5 9.2 39.7
Source: NOAA[4]

The record high for Watertown, NY is 101 degrees Fahrenheit. This is noted due to the discrepancy between the weather monitoring station (actually located in Dexter NY) and the temperature in the City of Watertown, NY.


As of the census[1] of 2000, there were 26,705 people, 11,036 households, and 6,500 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,981.3 per square mile (1,150.8/km²). There were 12,450 housing units at an average density of 1,389.9 per square mile (536.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 89.13% White, 4.95% Black or African American, 0.54% Native American, 1.16% Asian, 0.11% Pacific Islander, 1.67% from other races, and 2.45% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.59% of the population. In 2009, the population was estimated at 27,489.

There were 11,036 households out of which 31.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.7% were married couples living together, 14.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 41.1% were non-families. 34.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.32 and the average family size was 2.99.

In the city the population was spread out with 25.9% under the age of 18, 10.4% from 18 to 24, 29.6% from 25 to 44, 18.5% from 45 to 64, and 15.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females there were 90.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $28,429, and the median income for a family was $36,115. Males had a median income of $31,068 versus $21,294 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,354. About 14.4% of families and 19.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.2% of those under age 18 and 11.8% of those age 65 or over.


Watertown is served by the Watertown City School District. The elementary schools are North, Ohio, Knickerbocker, Sherman and Starbuck. The higher level schools are H.T. Wiley Intermediate School, Case Middle School, Watertown High School, and Immaculate Heart Central Junior and Senior High Schools, the Catholic and secular educational institutions.[5] Jefferson Community College is a two-year college located in the city as well.

Points of interest

  • New York State Zoo at Thompson Park. Founded in 1920, the mission of the New York State Zoo is to promote the conservation of wildlife and wild places by helping community members build positive sustainable relationships with nature. The zoo offers special events, classes, parties and picnics.
  • Thompson Park. The historic Thompson Park itself is a large, city-owned public park featuring tennis courts, playgrounds, a public pool, multiple picnic areas, large open fields which host various sports and activities, an 18-hole golf course, multiple hiking trails, and many picturesque views of the city of Watertown and surrounding areas due to its very high elevation. The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who designed Central Park in New York as well as many other nationally known sites across the country. During the considerably snowy winters in Watertown, the park offers many large hills for sledding, as well as multiple cross-country skiing trails throughout the park and surrounding forests. Each summer, Thompson Park also hosts a firework show and live symphony orchestra show on the Fourth of July.[6]
  • Alex Duffy Fairgrounds. Located between the Town Square and Community College, the fairground each year hosts the Jefferson County Fair, which is the oldest continually operating fair in America.[7] The fair has a heavy focus on local agriculture, particularly local dairy and livestock farming, maple syrup production, and wineries.[8] The fairgrounds also offers many sporting fields for various local sporting events, most notably Watertown's own semi-professional football team, the Watertown Red & Black, which is the country's longest-running semi-professional football program. In addition, a public pool, skateboarding park, picnic areas, hiking trails, and an indoor ice-skating rink are featured within the fairgrounds.[9]
  • Seaway Wine Trail Tours. Most weekends throughout the spring, summer and fall, Coach Buses offer tours through the Seaway Wine Trail, consisting of 4 wineries in Jefferson County located along the famous Seaway Trail. The tours begin and end in the city square, and consist of meals and wine-tasting.
  • Burrville Cider Mill. The Burrville Cider Mill is one of Jefferson County's oldest establishments. The structure, formerly known as Burr's Mills, was built in 1801 and was originally used as a sawmill and a gristmill. The Mill is located at the headwaters of the North Branch of the Sandy Creek on a 30-foot waterfall that was used to turn a turbine that powered the Mill equipment.
  • The Hudson River Rafting Company offers rafting trips on 4 rivers the Hudson, Sacandaga, Black, and Moose rivers over three seasons. Specializing in group rafting trips, they offer rafting to school groups, scouts, corporate outings, religious groups, camp groups and family reunions.
  • Dry Hill Ski Area. A slope just south of the city on the northern edge of the Tug Hill Plateau which features 9 trails for skiing and snowboarding of multiple difficulty levels, as well as a section for snow-tubing, and a lodge with a restaurant, skiing and snowboarding rental shop, and bar.[10]
  • "Golden Crescent" and Thousand Islands Region. Though not located within the city, Watertown is the closest American city to the well-known Thousand Islands Region, as well as the popular sport-fishing and diving region known as the Golden Crescent, which extends from Henderson Harbor to the Thousand Islands.[11] Being within 30 miles of these regions makes the city a popular destination and stopping point for tourists during the summer.[12]
  • The farmers market in Watertown, where farmers, vendors, bakers, and many others set up an open market every Wednesday from 6 AM to 3 PM all along Washington Street to advertise and sell their produce.
  • The Crystal Restaurant. The oldest established restaurant in the city. Located on Public Square The Crystal Restaurant is little changed from the early 20th century. It is home to one of the last stand-up bars in the United States as well as the holiday tradition of the Tom and Jerry cocktail. It has been continuously owned and operated by the Dephtereos family since the early 1930s.[13]



Interstate 81 runs through the Watertown area. It is a north-south route that runs from near Dandridge, Tennessee north to Hill Island, Ontario, connecting via the Thousand Islands Bridge and a short connecting road to Highway 401 across the Canadian border. Interstate 81 passes just to the west of the city of Watertown, near Salmon Run Mall.

U.S. Route 11 runs from eastern New Orleans, Louisiana, to its northern terminus at the Canadian border in Rouses Point, New York. US 11 runs north-south through the city of Watertown.

Many state highways converge on the city. New York State Route 3 is an east-west route that begins in Sterling and heads north and east to Watertown. NY 3 interchanges with I-81 at the city line. NY 3 heads east into Watertown, overlapping with both US 11 and NY 12 through downtown prior to leaving the city to the northeast to head through the Adirondacks to Plattsburgh.

New York State Route 12 is a north-south route through the city, extending northward to Clayton then following the St. Lawrence Seaway to Morristown. A spur, NY 12E, takes a slightly-longer path through Cape Vincent before rejoining NY 12.

New York State Route 12F is a spur connecting NY 12 in downtown Watertown to NY 180 near the Watertown International Airport in Dexter.


The local newspaper, the Watertown Daily Times, is published seven days a week and serves Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties. The Fort Drum Mountaineer is a weekly newspaper for Fort Drum soldiers and their dependents.

The Watertown market is served by three commercial television stations. The oldest is Carthage-licensed, CBS-affiliated WCNY-TV (channel 7), put on the air in 1954 by the publishers of the Watertown Daily Times. The station changed its call letters to WWNY-TV in 1965. After an unsuccessful struggle against the Federal Communications Commission and its directive for newspapers to divest themselves of television stations held within the same market, the Daily Times sold WWNY-TV to United Communications Corporation of Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1981.

In 2001, United Communications entered into an agreement with Smith Broadcasting to operate a Fox network affiliate with low power transmitters in Watertown and Massena. After a year of joint operation, UCC took complete ownership of WNYF-CD (channel 28). Watertown is also served by PBS station WPBS-TV (channel 16) and ABC affiliate WWTI-TV (channel 50).

Radio stations licensed to serve Watertown include the following:

Notable residents

Watertown in popular culture

  • American writer Fred Exley grew up in Watertown, and the city provides the setting for much of his 1968 novel A Fan's Notes.
  • Watertown was the given setting for the 1990 Bette Midler film Stella. While the movie was filmed in Ontario, several local items were imported to appear in the film, including the local daily newspaper, taxi-cabs and shopping bags from the locally owned Empsall's department store.
  • Little Trees air fresheners were invented in Watertown in 1951; now the city is home to the Car-Freshner Corporation headquarters and manufacturing plant.
  • Harry Chapin made a famous quote—"I spent a week there one afternoon"—about Watertown. His song "A Better Place to Be" was inspired by a story he heard in Watertown. Chapin mentioned both the quote and the origin of the song on his 1976 album Greatest Stories Live.
  • Frank Sinatra's 1970 concept album Watertown charts the story of a middle-aged man in Watertown, New York, whose wife has left him with his children.
  • In the 2005 film Robots, the fictional town of Rivet Town is based on Watertown, where Robots director Chris Wedge lived during his teens.
  • In the Law & Order: SVU episode "Selfish", there was a mention of Watertown and Evans Mills as a wanted man had escaped to a cabin there. The episode showed much of the surrounding area including areas North where the show chased the criminal to Canada.


External links

New York portal
  • City of Watertown official website
  • City of Watertown History
  • Jefferson County Historical Society
  • New York State Zoo at Thompson Park
  • Jefferson County & Watertown wiki
  • WWNY-TV/WNYF-CD/LD the CBS & FOX television affiliates
  • Jefferson County and Watertown stories of historical significance
  • Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad
  • Popular Current News for Jefferson County and Watertown
  • Photos of the Watertown Steam Engine Company buildings, where the first portable steam engine was created
  • Watertown lawmakers rule against allowing citizens to have rommates in their own homes
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