131 Main Street: Lown's Store

hot spot map


Dorman homestead

Smith homestead

The bank lots

Lown's in about 1925

rior to 1831 this lot was part of Eben Smith's homestead. In that year the Yates County Bank, the village's and the county's first ever, was incorporated. This was tremendously important in such a cash-starved economy, as in those days all paper money was issued by banks; it represented a portion of the company's131 Main Street  cash reserve. Specie (gold and silver coined money) rarely found its way to such remote areas as Yates County, and consequently it was difficult to deal with more or less distant markets, or to pay taxes, or make other transactions that required cash. Even such services as the weekly newspaper were paid for with firewood, or coal, or even potatoes and grain.

The bank was housed in William M. Oliver's little two-roomed law office almost exactly across the street (where 160 Main is now), but the trustees bought this lot from Smith almost as soon as they incorporated. The bank building was finished in 1833 and stood on the site for the next 65 years. The institution it housed was not so long-lived, however.

The Yates County Bank failed in 1857, in the midst of the Panic of that year, which caused bank failures all over the country. In 1856, only the year before, the bank paid taxes on $3000 worth of real estate and had $94,000 in capital. The building was sold by the receivers to T. Jefferson Rapalee of Dundee, usually known by his nickname "Jep." He opened a private bank here and ran it, as far as anyone knew, successfully; his sudden flight in 1872 probably caused greater financial consternation than any other event in the village's history.

The assignee in Rapalee's bankruptcy was local merchant M. L. Baldwin. He sold the lot to the County's Board of Supervisors, who needed a home for the Surrogate's office and court. It was only in 1888 that the Supervisors found a Yates County Bankplace for the Surrogate in the Court House, and in that year they sold this lot to John H. Lown.

Lown built the next store to the north (137 Main) only a few years prior, and sold it when he decided to build this one. Both stores, then, were built by the same architect for the same customer, for the same purpose. No wonder they shared a family resemblance.




Top: This picture was taken at about the same time as the one for Roencke & Rogers next door, but at a different season of the year! It provides a good view of the entire 100 business block, all the way to the white-painted store at the corner of East Elm Street.
      By the time the picture was taken, the big department store had replaced Eben Smith's house; Lown's was built at the same time, and replaced the bank building; Baldwin's Bank to the south replaced a vacant lot; then came the store at no. 125, the Cornwell block, the Cornwell Opera House, with no. 111 in the same building, the three-store Raymond Block, the Crane Building and no. 101 on the corner. They're all visible, though you have to know the street well to pick them all out.
      Lown's was built in 1889-90, and now stands right out since the department store at 137 is missing; then it was one of a beautiful row of nineteenth-century storefronts, evidently very successfully existing well into the twentieth.
      One remark nearly everyone makes when they see this picture is how busy the street and sidewalks are, which is true. I found it interesting that so many of them seem to be men, dressed for business, not at all casually. The cars, the diagonal parking, the marvelous streetlights and the brick paving are all also notable; especially when one remembers that the period of the 1920s and 1930s had the lowest populations in the County's history, fewer than 17,000 inhabitants, it's a truly remarkable look into a different world.


Middle, far right: 131 Main Street today. The facade is nearly identical to that of 1889-90, when it was built. The cornice and battlements are typical of C. V. Bush's Romanesque Revival buildings; they took what could have been rather a heavy-looking structure and lightened it, emphasizing the extravagance and whimsy of the decoration. The facade still has cast iron, brick in several patterns, stone, glass tiles and terracotta inserts, and since the varied materials are more evident now that the brick has been painted, they compensate to a certain extent for the missing top.

People related to this lot and structure:

     David Wagener
  Abraham Wagener
John Dorman
     Eben Smith

Related sites:

     137 Main Street
     160 Main Street

Related history:

     Before the Storm
     Another Boom


Above: The only known photograph of the Yates County Bank. Actually, all one can see is the porch across the front and its four columns. It was erected in 1833, after the bank had already spent two years in William M. Oliver's law office across the street. Both buildings looked very similar, though the bank was much bigger. There is a drawing in the Centennial Atlas of the law office, and like that tiny temple-front structure, this one was a classic Greek Revival bank, duplicating hundreds, maybe thousands just like it across America.
      Oliver's law office was one story, with only two rooms, but the bank was two stories. It was raised a little from the sidewalk, so you would have to go up two or three steps to enter. The trees blocking a better view are in Eben Smith's front yard. The lot to the bank's south was vacant; in 1872 Baldwin's Bank was built there, at no. 127. No. 125 is just visible, with its stepped, light-colored cornice; and then No. 121, already raised to four stories from its original three. This configuration closely dates the picture to between 1867 when those alterations were done, and 1872 when Baldwin's Bank was built.


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