October 20, 2021

Preserving history

Church, Circus House placed on list for protection

Photos by Nick Graziano/staff photographer

The former “Circus House,” built in 1902 off Route 11 in Homer, made the Preservation Association of Central New York’s “Eight That Can’t Wait” list for historic properties in need of repair.

They are two iconic buildings — hallmarks of history in Cortland County. And if something isn’t done soon to protect them, they’ll be gone, says a preservation group trying to protect them.

The Preservation Association of Central New York has named the former First Congregational Church in Cortland — built in the late 1800s — and the octagonal former “Circus House” in Homer built in the early 1900s, along with six other properties from other counties, on its 2018 “Eight That Can’t Wait” list.

The purpose of the list is to raise public awareness about historic resources that are threatened by issues such as neglect, redevelopment, natural disasters and inappropriate alterations, according to the association.

The eight properties on the list were selected by the association’s board of directors.

While the “Circus House,” on Route 11 in Homer, made the list, its owner is trying to renovate the building.

Kim Cawley, who bought the building in 2015, plans to move her business, Cawley & Associates — a financial advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services — into it.

Thoma Development is working with Cawley to acquire a grant to help fund the renovation project.

“I’m waiting for the grant process,” she said Friday.

Rich Cunningham, a consultant with Thoma Development, said the project would be a good fit for the state’s Restore New York program, but at the moment there is no funding for it. He said Thoma is looking into other potential grant sources.

“It’s a large undertaking,” Cunningham said.

Eight that can’t wait

• Spotlight Threatened Property: Oakwood Cemetery entrance area, city of Syracuse.
• City of Syracuse: First Baptist Church (Mizpah Tower), 215 E. Jefferson St., Columbus Circle.
• Onondaga County: Gere’s Lock, Enlarged Erie Canal Lock No. 50, Gere Lock Road, town of Camillus.
• Cayuga County: Osborne Library, 99 South St., Auburn.
• Cortland County: Sig Sautelle Circus House, 159 S. Main St., Homer.
• Madison County: Spirit House (Brown’s Hall), 916 Route 26, Georgetown.
• Oswego County: Nelson Corey Farm, 135 Godfrey Road, Pennellville, town of Schroeppel.
• Regionwide threatened property: Urban neighborhood churches First Congregational Church, Cortland; Wall Street Methodist Church, Auburn; South Presbyterian Church, Syracuse.

He, nor Cawley, knew the exact cost for renovating the building, but Cunningham said it would take several hundred thousand dollars. The exterior facade is fading. Wooden boards on the porch are cracked and broken. The siding needs repairs. And there are still several antique items inside the building.

Cawley said she loves the building, though. She also likes the amount of parking at the “Circus House,” versus where her business is now on North Main Street in Cortland. She said she wants to bring the octagon-shaped house back to life.

The former First Congregational Church on Church Street in Cortland has been abandoned since 1980. It made the Preservation Association of Central New York’s “Eight That Can’t Wait” list for historic bulidings in need of repair.

The three-story building was constructed in 1902 by Homer resident George Satterly, also known as Sig Sautelle, a circus owner who transported his circus on canal boats and then railroads during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The building was designed to train circus animals on the main floor while housing them in the basement during the winter offseason, according to the Preservation Association.

In 1912, Sautelle converted the building into his residence with the insertion of a second floor. The third floor was used for acrobat training, according to the association.

Cunningham said he has also been in contact with the owner of First Congregational Church, on Church Street in Cortland, about doing something to fix up the building, but it is a hard building to turn into something useful. He added, one of the biggest difficulties is getting the finances to fix a building like that.

“So many of these churches become vacant,” Cunningham said.

Time and weather has faded the church’s exterior and vines drape along the side facing Church Street.

William Knickerbocker, director of city codes, said the church is owned by Tinu Holdings LLC. However, a number for Tinu Holdings LLC did not work when called.

The building, according to the Preservation Association of Central New York, is a Romanesque Revival-style church with an attached parsonage. The building was designed by Syracuse architect A.L. Merrick and built in the late 1800s.

The church later became the United Church of Christ in 1968 until 1980 when it merged with the First Baptist Church to become the United Community Church, according to www.waymarking.com. The building was abandoned with the merger.

The building faces the potential of being demolished to create a roundabout — which is still in development — with a potential redesign of Route 13, according to the Preservation Association of Central New York.