this house is now called "The" Oliver House, it was the last of
the three houses built in Penn Yan by members of the Oliver family; and
the only one on land not originally owned by them. It is of course now the
headquarters of the Yates County Genealogical & Historical Society,
an organization originally chartered only a few years after this house was
built; the Society however did not move into the house until 1946, and became
its sole occupant even more recently.
The original Oliver
twins, Andrew F. and William D., as is told elsewhere, moved to Penn Yan
about 1818. They both within the next couple of years purchased property
on the west side of Main Street; and both built houses and raised families
there, becoming in the process prominent members of the new community. Andrew
Oliver was a physician and had a son who was also a member of this profession,
and named after his uncle William M. Oliver. This Dr. William married in
1852 and his father purchased this corner lot adjacent to and south of his
own large lot, and had this house built as a sort of wedding present. The
two men had their offices in a small brick building that stood between the
two houses, on the lot where #202 now stands.
Dr. William Oliver
had three children, none of whom had descendants: a son also named William,
another physician; and two girls named Jennie and Carrie. Jennie married,
in 1875 to Smith M. Longwell; but divorced him in 1878, and came back from
Oswego where they had lived, to this house with her brother and sister.
Dr. William died in 1902, young Dr. William in 1915, Jennie in 1933 and
Carrie in 1942. It was the last who bequeathed the property to the village
of Penn Yan.
A number of public
offices were housed here until finally in 1975 the Historical Society was
left in sole possession. The building is now the Oliver House Museum. It
has a fine collection not only of artifacts belonging to the Olivers, but
of other aspects of local history, including the best collection anywhere
of material on the Public Universal Friend, Jemima Wilkinson; whose followers
were the first permanent white settlers in what is now Yates County. She
was the first American-born woman to found a religious movement.
The present structure
replaced an older one, which also had a history. Abraham Wagener sold this
lot in 1824 to the shoemaker Alexander Hemiup; this was even before Chapel
Street was put through, so there was no intersection here at that time.
Hemiup left for Eddytown (now Lakemont) in Starkey soon afterwards, but
his shop and dwelling were made over into a public house by his tenant Levi
Hoyt. This had an upstairs room that was a large hall, and in the 1840s
the seceding Methodists used this hall to hold their meetings in. Eventually,
in 1851, they built the Wesleyan Meeting House at 300 Main Street, and
the Olivers acquired the lot the following year and razed the tavern so
they could built Dr. William's house there.
The house is a handsome
example of transitional Greek Revival and Italianate style strongly influenced
by Egyptian Revival. The latter is more often seen overlaid on Greek Revival
buildings, and this is Penn Yan's only good example of the Egyptomania that
swept the country in the middle of the 19th century. It shows itself here
most strongly in the lotus-shaped capitals of the porch columns, and in
the simple and closely-spaced brackets under the eaves and porch cornices.
The handsome stone window surrounds are unique in Penn Yan to this structure.
The main (east) entrance is the best evidence of Greek Revival influence,
and the shape is echoed in the three-paneled windows, otherwise very rare
in Italianate buildings.
Altogether, the Oliver
House is a striking specimen of early-Victorian independence, harmoniously
blending eclectic elements of different styles into a unique and satisfying