133-141 Main Street: Roenke & Rogers' Store


Dorman Homestead

Eben Smith homestead

137 Main St.he large vacant department store next to the firehouse and damaged in the 1968 fire that consumed it replaced Eben Smith's house in 1888-89, and was by far the largest store in the village. It was built by Charles V. Bush as was the Lown's store adjacent to the south, replacing the old Yates County Bank building which at that time housed the County Surrogate. The two buildings are thus somewhat similar in design. Both were built for John H. Lown, but this one spent perhaps the longest part of its career as a single store belonging to Walter Roenke and Jerome Rogers (Rogers bought it in 1903). When it was razed, it had last been a J. C. Penney's, but was still the property of Rogers' estate.

The building it replaced was a remarkable Greek Revival dwelling built by Eben Smith, who bought the land in 1827. Smith arrived in Penn Yan about 1819, married Elizabeth Ellsworth in 1822, and lived for the rest of his life in Penn Yan. As long as he lived, his next-door neighbors were the firehouse and the Yates County bank, itself a diminutive Greek Revival temple-front building. Smith's house was a square two-story central core surrounded by a square one-story house, with a small portico jutting from the front (west) side. Smith probably built it soon after he bought the lot, but Cleveland thought it was built in 1850. To reconcile these two dates one has only to postulate that some fairly radical remodeling took place at the latter date; and perhaps this was when a more standard Greek-Revival house turned unique and, quite frankly, bizarre.

The house appears on all 19th century maps and tax rolls as the property of the Smith family. In 1853 and 1856 it was assessed at a value of $4000, one of the most valuable residences in the village. Even in 1860, when property values were low all over, the assessment was $3500.

I've only found one photograph of the house, though there certainly must have been more. It shows the portico and the south west part of the west facade, and just a corner of the second story, with part of a window . The 1886 Sanborn map displays the full floor plan.

Smith House

hot spot map

Far right, top: This view of the east side of Main Street shows the great Roencke and Rogers store in the 1930s. It was five bays wide. The center one was narrow and held the staircase to the upper floors; its number was 137, which is the usual address that was used beginning in 1903. The firehouse is adjacent on the north end, which is why the larger building sustained so much damage in the fire of 1968. It and Lown's were built about the same time, and the latter is at the south end; nowadays it is the first tall building on this side of the street as you approach from the north, but when both were new they were very harmonious.
      Note that Baldwin's Bank at 127 Main still had three stories and its elaborate cornice. The Roencke & Rogers store, later J.C. Penney, was in a much less decorative style than its neighbor at 131, but it is still firmly rooted in the same Victorian Gothic period; they even had matching battlements. A number of the many windows in this building had small individual awnings to mitigate the afternoon sun; a few of them can be seen in the picture.

People related to this lot and structure:

     David Wagener
  Abraham Wagener

     John Dorman
     Eben Smith

Related sites:

     131 Main Street
     127 Main Street

Related history:

     The County Seat
     Looking Forward

Above: This is the only known photograph of Eben Smith's house. The photograph illustrating the firehouse (143 Main St.) was cropped from it. The house is so obviously Greek Revival that it must have been built soon after Smith acquired this property from John Dorman in 1827. The fence was so long and well-known that it is mentioned in abuttors' deeds ("the fence with large square tops on the posts").
      A close look will reveal that the house's central mass is two stories; above the entrance one can see the southwest corner of the second floor, and the edge of one window. The columns supporting the portico and dividing the long double windows are Ionic. This house faced directly across the street at the house built a little earlier by William M. Oliver, which may have inspired the Ionic columns, but by the time this photograph was taken, the two houses could hardly have looked more different. I've never seen another one like this.


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