man who took the census in the town of Benton in 1810 collected a great
many more names than had the one who enumerated the town of Jerusalem in
1800, even though it had a much smaller area. Hundreds of families had come
in from New England, Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey and southeastern
New York. The population was dense enough to support a number of small congregations
of worshippers, Methodists and Baptists and Presbyterians. Practically all
these people were farmers, with here and there a rural store, a tavern,
a blacksmith shop, a mill.
Penn Yan had a name,
but it was still more of an idea than an actual place. After Benton was
split from Jerusalem in 1802, the new town kept holding meetings at Lawrence
Townsend's place out on the main road; at the intersection of this road
and Main Street, a couple of taverns and one or two stores clustered among
the tree stumps. In addition there were perhaps half a dozen houses nearby.
Downstreet two gristmills
stood opposite one another on the banks of the Outlet, and two sawmills
just upstream from the dam. Anyone bring a load of grain to the mills had
to pick his way down a steep embankment to stream level, as the street ended
abruptly about 20 feet above, near where Rebecca Wagener's small white cottage
At this lower end of
the street, besides the mills, were a store, John Dorman's old log house
(now a distillery and tavern), his newer frame Red House (which is where
the store was), and a few dilapidated log houses strung out near the bank
of Jacob's Brook.
Ten years after Abraham
Wagener accepted his "unpromising inheritance," it probably seemed
less promising than ever. The mills at the foot of the street, and the crossroads
at the head, separated by nearly a mile of unfathomable mud, could not have
been anyone's idea of an up-and-coming place. It was invariably described
by the few travelers who came through the place as dirty, devoted to whiskey,
and plain hardscrabble. Even after it acquired its unique name, the place
was derisively called "Pandemonium" by the pious farmers who lived
in the surrounding rich countryside.