Yan by 1820 was, by comparison with its appearance a decade earlier, a booming
metropolis. A big gap still yawned between the two ends of Main Street,
but some side streets were starting to develop, there was a bridge across
the Outlet, and most people thought the place would amount to something
The census mentioned
many of the people who had arrived during the previous decade and decided
William Morrison Oliver,
who came with his twin brother Andrew in 1818, had purchased a vast lot
comprising all the area between Main Street and what would become Liberty
Street (which didn't actually exist yet), just about two acres of untouched
bare land, a small dry knoll where blueberries grew (or whortleberries,
as they were known locally then).
Oliver needed to be
a freeholder to hold office in the new town of Milo, but he didn't need
actually to live on his land; apparently he didn't bother to build a house
on it for three or four years. When he did, it must have seemed amazingly
out of place in the still-raw settlement; it was by far the most elegant
building in the place so far, built of brick in the hot new Greek Revival
style, the earliest example in Penn Yan and certainly one of the earliest
in western New York.
Oliver had no more
than barely finished his new house when the news came that Governor Yates
had signed the bill creating a new county to bear his name. Most of the
petitioners were Penn Yan men, and Penn Yan was the new county's largest
and most central settlement, but the designation of the county seat was
not in local hands. The Commissioners who had to make the decision were
all from more eastern and better-established areas of the state.
The story goes that
Abraham Wagener was persuaded to donate two acres for the county buildings
between the two rival crossroads on Main Street; the deed itself shows a
consideration of $5000, not a bad price for empty (and very wet) land in
those days. Be that as it may, Wagener reserved the right to remove two
buildings already on the land and use them himself. Unfortunately there
is no mention of what the two buildings were, sheds or dwellings or stores;
there is no reason to believe anyone was actually living in them.
Penn Yan was of course
chosen, largely on the basis of the "donated" land for the Court
House and jail. The site immediately became the center of the village, and
was usually referred to as the "Public Square."