159 Main Street: The John H. Lown House


enn Yan's new Federal building (the present Post Office) was erected in 1912 on some of the most historic ground in the village. The lot was part of four acres that John Dorman bought from David Wagener just before the latter's death in 1799, and where Dorman built his "Old Red House" in the very early years of the 19th century. Dorman's wife Sibyl lived on here after her husband's death, and it went to the couple's eldest son Joel in his father's will.

The Dorman heirs sold about half this lot to the tailor Simpson Buck, who built his residence and shop here, possibly the Greek revival house that stood on this site for so long. The old Dorman house was farther south, near the south end of Buck's property (behin151-159 Main Streetd where the bank sits now, on the site of the Benham House hotel).

Buck lost the place in a foreclosure to George D. Stewart, who still owned it when he died. His widow Harriet (née Benham, a sister of Miles and George) lived on the site until nearly 1860. She is shown on all the 1850s Penn Yan taxrolls, in a house that was worth $2000; the lot was worth $1500 additional, quite a high value for a residence at the time. Her brothers lived in the next two houses upstreet, now 163 and 165 Main Street.

159 Main StreetHarriet Stewart's heirs sold the place to Richard M. Smith in 1860, and his estate was the owner when Cleveland wrote his description of the house in 1868. At that time Charles Strobridge and his family occupied it, and he is shown as the owner on the 1876 map.

The next owner, after whom the house is usually called in more recent times, was John H. Lown, the entrepreneur who added the Lown building to the Main Street landscape. The directories of the 1890s show him here, and then in 1909 when a site was being sought for the Federal building, his heirs sold it to the United States of America.

The old house was not however razed, but moved, to a site on Champlin Avenue, where it was divided in two and stands to this day. The Post Office stands on two lots, where 157 and 159 Main stood for so long.


Far right: An early photograph of the Benham House, probably shot from the roof of the Arcade some time in the early 1870s. Because it also shows the buildings on both sides, the scale of the huge hotel is quite clear (not to mention its beauty; it really was an architectural triumph).

Near right: An enlargement from the far left side of the other photograph, showing part of 159 Main Street. No pictures were found of the building by itself on its old site. It's clear that the house was Greek Revival, with an Italianate porch added at least on the north side. The house is now directly across Jacob's Brook from its old site, but it was cut in half to make two dwellings, which naturally ruined its original proportions. Deeds for this property mention a fence with "large square posts," which was no doubt the one in the picture.

People related to this lot and structure:

      Abraham Wagener
     George and Miles Benham
     John Dorman
     The Stewarts

Related structures:

    131 Main Street

Related sites:

     157 Main Street

Related history:

    The Turn of the Century
    The County Seat
    The White City


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