Watertown (city), New York

Watertown is a city in the U.S. state of New York and the county seat of Jefferson County. It is situated approximately 25 miles (40 km) south of the Thousand Islands, and along the Black River about 5 miles (8.0 km) east of its mouth at Lake Ontario. It lies 180 miles (290 km) northwest of Albany, the state capital, and 328 miles (530 km) northwest of New York City. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 27,023,[4] an increase of 1.2% since 2000. The U.S. Army post Fort Drum is near the city.

Watertown public square

The Garland City
Coordinates: 43°58′32″N 75°54′23″W
CountryUnited States
StateNew York
  MayorJoseph M. Butler Jr.
  City Council
  Total9.4 sq mi (24.3 km2)
  Land9.0 sq mi (23.4 km2)
  Water0.3 sq mi (0.9 km2)
466 ft (142 m)
  Density2,996/sq mi (1,156.8/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (EST)
  Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
Zip Codes
13601, 13602
Area code(s)315
FIPS code36-78608[2]
GNIS feature ID0968914[3]

Named after the many falls on the Black River, the city developed early in the 19th century as an industrial and manufacturing center. From years of generating industrial wealth, by the early 20th century the city was said to have more millionaires per capita than any other city in the nation.

Geographically, Watertown is located in the central part of Jefferson County. It lies 70 miles (110 km) north of Syracuse and 31 miles (50 km) south of the Ontario border. The city is served by Watertown International Airport.

The city claims to be the birthplace of the five and dime store and the safety pin, and it 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. It holds the Red and Black football franchise, the oldest surviving semi-professional team in the United States.


This was long part of the territory of the Iroquois Confederacy. In historic times, the Onondaga and the Mohawk had occupied this area. After the American Revolutionary War, they and other Iroquois nations were forced to cede most of their land to the United States under the terms of peace arranged by Great Britain. The US sold the land for development, mostly to migrants from New England.

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 Revolutionary War. These pioneers chose the area due to the Black River, which flowed west into Lake Ontario about five miles away.

The pioneers' vision was for an industrial center that would draw power from the river. All the land was rough and forested. 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, settlers cleared the center of town to create the ambitious Public Square.[5] During the nineteenth century, several significant buildings were constructed around it. Together these have been designated as a historic district and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

In 1805 Watertown was designated by the legislature as the county seat of Jefferson County. It was incorporated as a village in 1816.

As industry and businesses flourished, successful residents built substantial retail buildings, churches, and private residences close to the square. 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 also listed on the NRHP, as are several significant churches and private mansions.

The drop in the Black River at Watertown's location—40 feet (12 m) in the center of town, and 120 feet (37 m) over 2.5 miles (4.0 km)—provided abundant water power for early industry. By the mid-19th century, entrepreneurs had built paper mills and major industries, including one to manufacture the first portable steam engine in 1847. In 1851, the city was joined to Albany and other major cities of the state by the railroad. Other mills were added to the business base, generating revenue to support the city's early public works projects, such as 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 eponymous mercantile chain while working here in 1878. Woolworth, then 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 1879 in Utica, New York, located to the west in the state.

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. Little Trees air fresheners were developed in Watertown in 1951; the Car-Freshner Corporation headquarters and manufacturing plant is located here.

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 following development of the frontier and a shift of population into the Midwest. As Chicago boomed, it attracted many of the younger people from upstate New York for its business and professional opportunities. In the mid-20th century, industrial technology shifted and jobs changed. In the restructuring of railroads and deindustrialization that took place in the mid and late 20th century, Watertown suffered economic and population declines.

Today the city serves as the commercial and financial center for a large rural area. It is the closest major community to Fort Drum and the post's large population of 13,000. Since the city is located just 30 miles (48 km) from the international boundary with Canada via the Thousand Islands Bridge, shopping by Canadian visitors is an important part of the local economy. It also is part of an area receiving numerous tourists and summer residents annually.

Watertown, South Dakota, was named in the city's honor.

===Properties and sites listed on National Register of Historic Places===[6]


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 9.3 square miles (24 km2), of which 9.0 square miles (23 km2) are land and 0.3 square miles (0.78 km2) (3.45%) are 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, beginning with paper mills processing lumber.

Thompson Park, a creation of John Charles Olmsted, is located with entrances off Park Circle, Gotham Street, and Franklin Street.[7]

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


Watertown has a humid continental climate (Köppen: Dfb), with cold, snowy winters and warm, wet summers.[8] Unless otherwise noted, all figures cited below are from the GHCN station located closer to downtown.

Winters can be very cold: temperatures remain at or below the freezing mark on an average 54 days annually, and fall to 0 °F (−18 °C) or below on an average 20 nights.[9] Moreover, Watertown is located in plant hardiness zone 4b, which means that one can expect the temperature to drop below −20 °F (−29 °C) at least once per year.[10] Summers are mild to warm, and temperatures of 90 °F (32 °C) or above on average occur on only 3.1 days annually. Record temperatures range from −39 °F (−39 °C) on December 29, 1933, up to 99 °F (37 °C) on July 20 and 27, 1894, although the airport has dropped to as low as −43 °F (−42 °C) on January 16, 1994.

Precipitation averages 43.1 inches (1,090 mm), and is distributed fairly uniformly throughout the year, with slightly more during autumn and slightly less during spring and late winter.[9] Since Watertown is situated near the eastern edge of Lake Ontario, it receives a bountiful amount of lake-effect snow, averaging 112 inches (280 cm) of snowfall per winter.

Climate data for Watertown, New York (GHCN station, 151.5 m (497 ft) AMSL), 19812010 normals, extremes 1893present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 66
Average high °F (°C) 28.3
Average low °F (°C) 9.3
Record low °F (°C) −43
Average precipitation inches (mm) 3.21
Average snowfall inches (cm) 30.6
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 17.2 13.8 12.6 12.2 13.2 12.5 10.5 10.9 12.2 14.2 15.3 17.2 161.8
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 11.9 9.8 6.1 1.6 0 0 0 0 0 0.2 3.3 10.5 43.4
Source: NOAA[9][11]


Historical population
Est. 201825,290[1]−6.4%
U.S. Decennial Census[13]

As of the census[2] 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.

As of the 2010 US Census, there were 27,023 people residing in the city. The racial makeup of the village was 86.25% White, 6.04% African American, 0.58% Native American, 1.83% Asian, 0.18% Pacific Islander, 1.33% from other races, and 3.79% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.59% of the population.

Arts and culture


  • New York State Zoo at Thompson Park. Founded in 1920.
  • Thompson Park. The historic Thompson Park 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 views of the city of Watertown and surrounding areas due to its high elevation. The park was designed by John C. Olmsted, a prolific landscape architect.[14] 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.[15]


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 Elementary, Intermediate, and Junior and Senior High Schools, the Catholic and secular educational institutions.[16] There is also a Faith Fellowship Christian School. Jefferson Community College is a two-year college located in the city as well.



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 four 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/WWNY-CD (channel 28). Both WWNY and WNYF were sold to Atlanta-based Gray Television in 2019.

Watertown is also served by PBS member stations WPBS-DT/WNPI-DT (channels 16/18), NBC affiliate WVNC-LD (channel 45), which also operates the area's MyNetworkTV affiliate on its LD2 subchannel,[17] and ABC affiliate WWTI-TV (channel 50), which also operates the area's CW affiliate through The CW Plus.


Watertown is served by a number of radio stations:

  • WATN 1240 AM News/Talk
  • WSLJ 88.9 FM Public radio
  • WKWV 90.1 FM Christian Contemporary (K-Love)
  • WJNY 90.9 FM Classical
  • WRVJ 91.7 FM Public radio
  • WBLH 92.5 FM (Black River) Classic hits
  • WOTT 94.1 FM (Calcium) Classic Rock
  • WWTJ-LP 96.9 FM Religious Teaching[18]
  • WTOJ 103.1 FM (Carthage) Adult Contemporary
  • WBDR 106.7 FM (Copenhagen) Top 40

Infrastructure and transportation


Watertown was the nexus of the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg Railroad, which was later absorbed into the New York Central Railroad (NYC) network. Watertown sat at the junction of five different lines, as trains from Syracuse, Rome, Oswego, and Utica passed through Watertown on their way to points along the St. Lawrence River and Canada. The Watertown passenger station, situated along the Black River behind Public Square at what is now J.B. Wise Place, was described as among the finest in the system. With the decline in travel by rail after World War II, however, the last named passenger train with a sleeper section to the town was the Iroquois in 1961, and passenger service to Watertown finally ended in 1964.[19][20][21] The station itself was demolished and replaced with a parking lot. Although the rail network is greatly attenuated compared to its peak in the early 20th century, CSX Transportation still transports freight by rail through Watertown.


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 Canada–US border. Interstate 81 passes just to the west of the city of Watertown, near Salmon Run Mall. Access to the highway is from Exits 45 (Route 3), 46 (Route 12F), and 47 (Route 12).

U.S. Route 11 runs from eastern New Orleans, Louisiana, to its northern terminus at the Canada–United States border in Rouses Point, New York. U.S. Route 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 New York State Route 180 near the Watertown International Airport in Dexter.


Adirondack Trailways serves both Syracuse, to the south, and Potsdam, to the east, on its U.S. Route 11 run.


Watertown International Airport is a county-owned, public-use airport located in Hounsfield, 6 miles (10 km) west of Watertown's central business district of Watertown. American Eagle has scheduled flights to and from Philadelphia.[22]

Notable people

  • American writer Fred Exley grew up in Watertown, and he set much of his 1968 novel A Fan's Notes in the city.
  • Watertown was the given setting for the 1990 Bette Midler film Stella. While the movie was filmed in Ontario, several local items were taken there to be shown in the film, including the local daily newspaper, taxi-cabs, and shopping bags from the locally owned Empsall's department store.
  • 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 explores the life of a middle-aged man in Watertown, New York, whose wife has left him and 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", Evans Mills was noted as a wanted man who had escaped to a cabin in Watertown. The episode showed much of the surrounding area.


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