On its official website, the City of Watertown designates the Historic Paddock Arcade as the keystone of the Public Square. After the Westminster Arcade in Providence, Rhode Island closed its doors permanently in 2008, The Paddock Arcade was formally recognized as the oldest continuously operating retail mall in the United States. At its height in the late-nineteenth-century, the Paddock Arcade was also known as the “glass-covered street” because of its ornate, vaulted amber glass ceilings.
Construction of the Arcade was part of a larger building program in Watertown that followed the city’s "Great Fire" on May 13, 1849. Work began on the four-story gothic revival building in 1850. Loveland Paddock, a mercantilist and the president of the Black River National Bank, commissioned and paid for the structure. At that time, Paddock spent a total of $15,000 for the Arcade, or approximately $500,000 dollars in 2019.
According to city legend, Paddock is said to have been inspired by a drawing he saw during a visit to New York City of the Beauharnais Arcade in Paris, France. The Beauharnais has not survived, but similar “passage-” and “gallerie-” style shopping malls still attract tourists all over Paris. The Paddock Arcade was constructed to bring this type of retail experience to the then-flourishing city of Watertown.
The Paddock Arcade was designed by the architect Otis L. Wheelock. Wheelock was Watertown’s only architect at the time. Mr. Wheelock designed and built two-thirds of the new buildings on Public Square after the Great Fire. His designs were popular with city residents, and influenced the work of later architects in Watertown well into the 1940s. Today, the Paddock Arcade building and the "Iron Block" are the only two Wheelock-designed buildings the remain in Public Square. In 1856, Wheelock relocated to Chicago, Illinois, where he would go on to design portions of the University of Chicago.
In 1916, the Paddock arcade was remodeled. A large section of the indoor mall was demolished to make room for the new Woolworth building. By 1920, the famous vaulted glass ceilings were covered by a glass and cast iron drop-ceiling along the bottom of the third floor. The ceiling installed in 1920 is still visible today.
Throughout its lifetime, the Paddock Arcade has been home to a number of different establishments. The first floor has featured a variety of retail stores and boutiques, bakeries, restaurants, and novelty shops. The second floor has held doctor’s offices and was also the site of the city’s first telephone company. The third and fourth stories, which are now closed to the public, used to serve as housing.
As Public Square collapsed under urban renewal policies in the 1960s and -70s, the Arcade struggled to survive changing hands and new buyers. The Paddock was added to the National register of Historic Places in 1976. Today, the Paddock Arcade is owned by local investors headed by Donald G.M. Coon III. In keeping with its historic roots, the Paddock Arcade currently includes a bakery, clothing stores, an antique shop, a beauty parlor, several restaurants, and the Paddock Club night club and bar.