Seventh town, first range

Penn Yan in 1808:
printed in the Yates County Chronicle
27 January 1870

Penn Yan, in 1808 -- the time of my first acquantance with it -- consisted of one street. At the lower end, on the south side of the outlet, was Melchoir Wagener and mill; on the north side Abraham Wagener and mill. A little north of Abraham's was Dorman's tavern -- owned by the father of Joel Dorman.

At the upper end of the street, on the corner, was Ezra Rice's tavern. (They had taverns in those days -- none now.)

Next to them was Abner Pairce (I spell it as then pronounced) and smith shop.

On a rude platform, in front of the tavern, sat Abner Pairce, generally. How near drunk he was, generally, I don't say. Pairce named the place Penn Yang. Many efforts were made to change the name, but like Hamlet's Ghost, Penn Yang would not down. The orthography was changed to Penn Yan in 1815 or 16, by Jimmy Greaves, a Scotchman -- clerk for Lawthrop & Lillie, in a store set up at the old Dorman place.

East from Rice's tannery, near the creek, was Morris F. Sheppard and tannery.

South of Pairce's on the same side of the street was another house with a picket dooryard fence. On that fence I was thrown by a young, frightened horse in the fall of 1808, which knocked the daylight out of me. South of the picket fence was the school house where I went to school, to Master Lewis, in 1816.

Except as above, Penn Yan in 1808 was rural.

                         OLIVER PRENTISS


hat is now the town of Milo was one of those ceded to the Lessees (as the combined New York-Niagara speculators were called). It included most of what was the seventh six-mile-square township carved out of the wilderness north of the Pennsylvania line, in the first range west of the Pre-emption line.

To this was added some of the land east of the Old Pre-emption Line where a number of very early settlers had moved from New England, Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey. The earliest of these were followers of the Public Universal Friend, or Jemima Wilkinson, the first American-born woman to found a religious movement.

The Friend began her ministry in her native Rhode Island, extended it in to Connecticut and later to the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania. Among her adherents from the latter place was a prosperous Montgomery County farmer named David Wagener, who arrived in the Genesee Country in 1791 and built the first public house in western New York near the site of the Friendís Mill on the outlet of the Crooked Lake (which was what Keuka Lake was called up until the 1860s).

Wagener had been promised a millsite in the new settlement, and bought into the ownership of the Friendís Mill, but at the same time looked elsewhere along the stream for a site of his own. He found one far upstream of the others on the Outlet, where a man named Lewis Birdsall was building a sawmill.

When the First Census was taken in 1790, the population in all of western New York was only a few over 1000; however, this count left out several hundred persons who then resided east of the Pre-emption Line. The largest settlement in the whole area west of Seneca Lake was the Friends' Settlement at City Hill, with a population of somewhat more than 300.

By the time Wagener made his purchase in 1796, the district of Jerusalem had been formed out of the seventh and eighth towns in the first range, with the lands adjacent that lay east of the Old Pre-emption Line; and the seventh town in the second range. The district of Canandaigua still included the eighth towns in the second and third ranges, and the seventh town in the third range. These all lay in Ontario County, which was organized in 1789.

In 1797 Jerusalem became a town, which under New York law was a subdivision of the county, and a rather powerful unit of local government, particularly in rural areas. The first town meeting, held in April 1798, was held at Lawrence Townsend's public house, in what is today Benton. Most of the jurors, highway overseers, fence viewers and other officials of the town lived in Benton and Milo, not in modern Jerusalem, which as yet had very few inhabitants. The largest concentrated settlement in the town was probably Benton Center, though Hopeton and Milo Center would have been rather close rivals. And then there was Penn Yan, a place with no name and not many prospects, and hardly any inhabitants. By the end of the eighteenth century, the place had exactly two landowners.