121 Main Street: Eli Sheldon store

hot spot map

121 Main Street li Sheldon's dry goods store was made of brick and survived the 1857 fire next door at the American Hotel. Built in 1841, just a few years after the disastrous "Brimstone Row" fire across the street in 1836, it fell under the new village regulations and surely proved their utility.

Like the lot immediately to the north, this one was only 20 feet wide on Main Street when it was sold by Eben Smith to Simpson Buck in 1836. Buck was a tailor, and must have had a shop here, having apparently moved it out of his house farther upstreet. Soon afterward, Buck (now living in Detroit) appointed A. H. Bennett his attorney. The former County Clerk and still editor of the Penn-Yan Democrat had power from Buck to sell the three parcels of land he still owned in the village. He found a buyer for this lot in Nelson Thompson, but Thompson almost immediately resold it to Eli Sheldon. It was now 1841, and everyone seems to agree that it was Sheldon who built the original portion of the store that stands here now. The tax roll of 1841 says Sheldon was the owner of a "new store and lot."

Sheldon, like other merchants before him, had moved from the crossroads at the other end of Main Street to new quarters downtown. The village had been incorporated in 1833, on the strength of the Crooked Lake Canal (opened for navigation the same year) and the Mills. In 1836 Abraham Wagener had sold his homestead farm in Penn Yan and moved to his new house at the tip of Bluff Point. Up until that time he still owned the mill on the north bank of the Outlet, and what are now the first blocks on each side of Main Street, along with much of what Curtis Block 1876lay between Main and Liberty Streets. A local syndicate bought him out and opened up a great deal of new commercial land. The merchants and others at the head of Main Street began to move to its foot, among them Eli Sheldon.

In 1844 he acquired another 10 feet of land that lay between his store and the American Hotel just to the south. Throughout this part of the building's history there were almost always two storefronts here. For example, the 1850 tax roll shows Sheldon as the owner of two stores, one occupied by the tailor George Cooley; they were assessed at $2800. In 1856 they were worth $4000, and in 1860 (after the crash of the wheat market) $3600.

In 1867 Sheldon sold his now 30-foot-wide lot to Samuel F. Curtis. The Curtis family kept it until 1896, nearly the end of the century, during which time it was called the "Curtis Block" and raised to its present four stories, the only commercial building in the village to reach such eminence, and surpassed even now only by the six-story residential tower of St. Mark's Terrace. The original Otis elevator installed at this time is still in use.

S. F. Curtis' son Perley Phillips Curtis ran a furniture and undertaking business from the store in 1876, as is shown in the picture to the right, taken from the Centennial Atlas of that year. As mentioned earlier, in reference to the Hopkins business at 214 Main, these seemingly disparate fields actually went together quite well, as it was furniture makers who made coffins. Note also that the south storefront was that of a boots and shoes firm, and the building's address was 41-43 (now 121-123).

The 1901 facade was one of Charles V. Bush's last projects; ironic, because this was one of the very few commercial buildings in Penn Yan he didn't actually build.



Bordwell homestead

Munger & Buckingham lot

Right: 121 Main Street today. This is the 1901 facade, remodeled as one of his last works in Penn Yan by Charles V. Bush. At the time the facade was remade, the building belonged to George R. Cornwell, so it was named after him the Cornwell Building. Like the facades of 131 and 145 Main, also Bush's work, this one is really late Victorian, using a number of different materials (stone, brick, glass, terra-cotta) to endow the structure with richness of detail. Notice especially the lovely pattern of scrolling leaves at the cornice.
      The pilasters between and outside the second- and fourth-story windows are really the only hints of the new Classical Revival style just coming in at the turn of the new century.

People related to this lot and structure:

     Abraham Wagener
     Jonathan Bordwell
     George Shearman
     Eli Sheldon
     Charles V. Bush

Other related structures:

     131 Main Street

Related sites:

     125 Main Street
     137 Main Street
     145 Main Street

Related history:

     The Turn



Click a button for an overall view of the whole south end of the 100 block.

Above right: This drawing was made for the 1876 Centennial Atlas and shows the building after the fourth story was added. (There seems to be no image of the three-story store that Eli Sheldon built.) It's an atypical (and not entirely successful) facade for the late 1860s, which is probably when it was done; presumably the brick piers and solid panel up the center were meant to better support the height of the building. The cornice and the arched tops to the window panels are Italianate like most of the other commercial buildings on Main Street.