CORTLAND COUNTY: Sig Sautelle Circus House

159 South Main Street (US 11), Village of Homer

Threats: Deterioration, Alterations, Lack of Protections

The Circus House, an octagonal frame building along US 11 south of downtown Homer, is a rare and relatively intact example of a specialized circus training building in New York State. PACNY has selected the Circus House for listing as a threatened property because of the need to raise awareness about the building’s historic significance, and thereby promote interest in preserving its historic integrity in future commercial rehabilitation efforts.

The Circus House, looking north, 2018. (Bruce Harvey)

The Circus House was built in 1902 by prominent circus promoter George Satterle, aka “Sig Sautelle” as the winter home for the Sig Sautelle Circus, which traveled via the state canal system. The building was designed to train circus animals on the main floor while housing them in the basement during the winter off-season. In 1912, Sautelle converted the building into his residence with the insertion of a second floor. The third floor was apparently used for acrobat training. The interior features extensive use of pressed metal pans for wall and ceiling surfaces, representing a virtual catalogue of available period styles and designs. The building has lost some of its historic features, notably its first-floor fenestration, in its conversion to commercial uses that have included a diner and various small businesses. Related circus structures that made up the complex have been lost over the years.

Advertisement for the Sig Sautelle Circus, ca. 1910. (Private collection)

The Circus House faces threats to its long-term preservation due to its location along the commercial strip of US 11, and its lack of designation under a local historic preservation ordinance. The property has been determined eligible for the National Register but has not been listed. In the past several years the building was acquired by a local business which has indicated plans to redevelop the building for office space. PACNY hopes that including the Circus House as a threatened property will bring regional attention to this rare-surviving building and its significance in the history of traveling circuses, which depended on the state canal system that is now celebrating its bicentennial. PACNY also hopes listing will encourage the current property owner to seek use of state and federal historic preservation tax credits that will ensure that rehabilitation plans preserve significant features of the building.

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