The 1840s: Boom Town

Penn Yan Businesses in 1840:
from Walter Wolcott's Penn Yan, NY

It will perhaps be interesting to here mention a few by name who then conducted mercantile stores in Penn Yan, as given in an old newspaper in the writer's possession. This is a copy of the Yates County Whig and is dated Tuesday, December 15th, 1840. It is a four-page, six-column paper about 16 by 22 inches in size. The first, second and part of the third pages are devoted entirely to the official canvass of the election of that year. Among the advertisements which appear are those of Stewart & Tunicliff, Reddy & Morse, Bentley & Streeter, Davenport & Morrow, Ayres & Dunning, Tyler & Fowle, M. Hamlin, L.B. Mandeville and J.C. Babcock.

In this paper appear also the advertisements of George Cooley, merchant tailor; Henry Garner, fashionable barber, and Joseph Elmendorf, dentist. Mention is made of the Penn Yan Hotel, which was then conducted by Elisha S. Ryno. This hostelry was erected by Asa Cole, and for many years was a popular place of resort, and enjoyed a large patronage. Another inn, which is likewise referred to, was the American Hotel, of which the first landlord was Samuel Wise, the father of the late John J. Wise. It stood on the site of Cornwell's Opera House Block, and in 1857 was destroyed by fire.



n the same publication from which the quote in the sidebar on this page is taken, appears a description of the village in 1841: Wolcott quotes from Barber & Howe's New York Historical Collections, published in that year. Penn Yan was "a thriving incorporated village, which is principally built on a street about a mile in length. It contains a Presbyterian church, a court house, a Baptist church and a Methodist church. The other public buildings in the village are an Episcopal church, an academy, a prison, a bank and a county clerk's office. The place is one of much business, and has many mercantile stores and about 300 dwellings."

The size of the village as recorded in Messrs. Barber & Howe's publication is borne out by a tax roll taken of the village in that year, which is still extant. On this list are 53 pieces of property described as stores, shops or other commercial establishments; with about a hundred property owners. They lived on the following streets: Main, Elm, Liberty, Canal (now Seneca), South, Benham, Water, Court, Head (North Avenue), Jacob (East Elm), Wagener, Chapel, Clinton, Jackson (Linden) and Main Street South (East Main).

The main business district was by this time firmly settled at the foot of Main Street. There were still stores at the head of the street and elsewhere, notably the Millard & Ayres store located where 312 Main Street now stands.

The Wagener Mansion at the foot of Main Street was a hostelry of which Miles Mariner was the landlord. Benjamin L. Hoyt ran a tavern. These are the only two such institutions mentioned on the tax roll in that year. The bank mentioned above was the Yates County Bank, established during the 1830s in a charming little Greek Revival temple that stood where the Lown's building is now. It failed in 1857 during the great depression of that year, ruining the fortunes of a number of Penn Yan magnates.

The 1840s were, however, a time of unrelieved growth, nationally as well as locally. The major issue in Penn Yan was temperance, one that everywhere was advanced by a great many intemperate notions. It of course gave rise within a few years both to the women's rights movement and abolition of slavery. The last split the three Protestant church congregations into abolitionist and non-abolitionist sections during the 1840s, a wound not entirely healed until the Civil War obviated the question entirely.

During this decade the face of Penn Yan, or at least that of the business districts, changed pretty radically as the wooden buildings were replaced by brick. This of course did not stop the periodic disastrous fires, but it seems to have made them a little less widespread. When a fire started in one building it did not always take with it the whole rest of the block, as happened in 1836 in the "Brimstone Row" fire that apparently awoke the village to this technical innovation.

The fire department was five years old in 1840, having been born at a meeting held in 1835 in the American Hotel. The village trustees directed Thomas H. Locke, a bookbinder by trade, to go to Rochester and buy the brake-and-suction engine called Neptune and a quantity of leather hose. Prior to that the hand engine known as the Cataract and a bucket brigade were used to fight fires, with everybody in the village expected to turn out. Neptune was used to fight the Brimstone Row fire, and in fact was used for 20 years before it was sold to Hammondsport. It lived in a building on Elm Street; the Cataract was kept in a small wooden shanty on Head Street, east of Main.