200 Main Street: The Dr. William Oliver house

200 Main St


lthough 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 whole.




Far right: The Oliver House, 200 Main Street, the east front. A basically Italianate house with Greek Revival elements strongly influenced by Egyptian Revival style. The house was built in 1852 for Dr. William Oliver, son of one physician and father of another (usually called "Young Dr. William"). The brick was originally painted (as it nearly always was in the 19th century), and remained so until the building was sandblasted soon after the middle of the 20th century. The builder was John Chambers, a well-known local man in the tradition of Jacob Allington and Charles V. Bush.

People related to this lot and structure:

     Abraham Wagener
     Andrew F. Oliver

Related structures:

     158 Main Street
  300 Main Street

Related sites:

     204 Main Street
     202 Main Street

Related history:

     Before the storm