The turn of the century

An Hour with Catharine Crane:
printed in the Yates County Chronicle
18 February 1869

ďMy father, Robert Chissom, came into Benton in 1791, and married Susan, a daughter of George Wheeler. They had five children, Catharine, Peter, Ephraim, Hannah and George. I was the eldest,and was the first white child born on what is now the corporation of Penn Yan. I am seventy-five years of age, and reside with my son Dr. Wemple H. Crane, of Benton. My father lived on the north edge of Milo, on the spot long owned by the late Dr. Uri Judd, on Head street. He built a double log house with a hall in the center sufficiently large to set a table. He afterwards erected a frame part back of the others. He got some lumber at Bellona to make a shanty while putting up his log houses. Caleb Benton built the first saw mill there in 1790. Before father got his windows in the log houses, blankets were tacked over the openings. One night when there was snow on the ground an animal came and put his paws on one of the window sills and rubbed his nose and head against the blanket, but did not enter. In the morning the tracks were examined and found to be those of a wolf. My father kept a tavern, and had a distillery near where the Judd barn now stands. He sold the water power at the foot of the street for a trifle to Lewis Birdsall, who having partially built a saw mill sold it to the Wageners at a large advance. Old Mr. Jillett purchased his property of Wagener. ... I knew Mrs. Lenox, and I know her adventure with the bear as related by cousin Elizabeth Cole is true. I several times saw bears near my fatherís house. ... Samuel Seeley and Wm. Baldwin were the first merchants at the head of the street in Penn Yan. The first dry goods I ever saw were in the store of John Lawrence in Milo. Father sent me on horseback to get a loaf of sugar for some doings at the tavern. The first general training took place at Fatherís in 1803. Col. French commanded, and they had a little music. The piece of ground used for the exercise was bounded on the north by Head street, on the east by Main street, on the south by about the present residence of Mr. James Armstrong and on the west near sucker brook. Some of the men and boys had guns, some had apologies for fire-arms, and some had none. Including women and children present, there may have been between two and three hundred. They trained all day, and some staid and trained pretty much all night. ... Doct. Dorman settled by Jacobís brook in a log house near J.T. Rapleeís bank. He soon built a frame house, as did also Abraham Wagener. ... Melchior Wagener married Doct. Dormanís eldest daughter, and built a house near Mr. Jillettís. ... Abraham Wagener was married when he came here. Grandfather George Wheeler lived for some time near my fatherís. A General Wall was here early, and lived and died at Abraham Wagenerís. ..."



n about 1800 there was nothing much to suggest the settlement would ever amount to anything. Robert Chissom had a small public house on the road to Canandaigua, right at the foot of the hill. David Wagener had added a gristmill on the Outlet's south bank to the sawmill on the north bank by the dam. The gristmill was owned by Melchior Wagener, David's younger son, for the benefit of the widow, who also had a life interest in the home farm and other lands.

David Wagener had died the previous August, and soon afterward his elder son Abraham came in from his farm in East Milo and build a house on the east side of the new road laid out between Benton Center and the gristmill. Abraham Wagener's house was the first in the settlement not constructed from logs, but of sawn lumber.

Dr. John Dorman and his family lived in a big log structure near the foot of the same street, which was at yet nameless, as was of course the settlement itself. Three or four additional log houses were scattered in the space between the road and Jacob's Brook.

With the exception of Dorman's place, these houses were built by squatters on Wagener's land. By this time Dorman owned five acres, all on the east side of the street; soon after the turn of the century he built the frame "Old Red House" and moved into it with his family. The old log structure was fitted with distilling equipment by Dorman's eldest son, Aaron Gilbert Dorman, called Gilbert. It's said that this operation only produced two quarts of alcohol a day with its antiquated copper boiler system.

One of the squatters' cabins was inhabited by a family named Lenox. Robert Lenox and his wife are shown on the 1800 census, in about the right location; they are said to have lived behind where the Community Bank is now, down by the creek. Cleveland tells a very vivid story about this couple's encounter with a bear who was raiding their pigpen. Robert was so frightened he climbed to the roof of the cabin and stayed there; his wife was so outraged at the impending loss of their only pig that she attacked the bear with a cast-iron frying pan and succeeded in driving it away, though she broke the pan in doing so, which no doubt was nearly as grievous a loss as the pig would have been. Cleveland says she afterward proudly displayed the handle of the famous fryiing-pan as a trophy of her adventure. Catharine Chissom Crane in her interview with Cleveland excerpted at the left confirmed the story.