211 Main Street: The Presbyterian Church

Presbyterian church


or nearly 60 years a substantial and graceful dwelling stood on this corner. It was probably built by Ebenezer Raymond, who bought this lot and the one adjoining from Miles Benham in 1828. Cleveland thought William Brownell, who owned the lot in 1831 built the house; but its style as seen in the photographs taken before the house was razed seems to be very plainly Federal, and not the Greek Revival so much more current in the 1830s.

In any case, in 1840 the place was acquired through foreclosure by Nelson Tunnicliff, who with Samuel Stewart had kept a store downtown since about 1820. Tunnicliff enlarged the house and he and later his heirs owned it until it was taken down in 1878 to build the Presby-terian Church.

The Presbyterian congregation had been especially peripatetic: it was founded in Benton in 1802 by a group of mostly Scots-Irish settlers from northern New Jersey, with a church built at Kipp's Hill in 1821. In 1823 a group of 48 persons founded the daughter congregation in Penn Yan and built the first church in what would be the village in 1825, at what is now 305-307 Main Street. This congregation split in 1841, with the larger part along with the pastor founding a Congregationalist church and erecting their own building, which was used by them until the group disbanded in 1855. By 1879 the reunited Presbyterian congregation had recovered enough to build a new church on the site of the Tunicliff house. The structure cost $40,000 to build, with a 100-foot steeple and a hall that could seat 1000 people.

The lot was originally part of the land sold by Abraham Wagener to Jonathan Bordwell in 1819, and then came into the hands of Miles Benham. Benham then sold the lot to Ebenezer Raymond. In 1829, when Raymond sold it to Abel F. Terrill, he got $800 for it, indicating there was probably already a house there. It was Terrill who sold it to Brownell, for $1200 in 1831, and when Brownell sold it to the hatter Ebenezer Jenkins only four years later he got $3400, indicating that some further improvement had occurred, if not the building of an entirely new house. It should be noted that Clinton Street was put through about 1835, which would also have increased the value of the lot.

Tunnicliff house


Far right: The Presbyterian church built in 1879 on the site of the earlier Tunnicliff house. In the writer's opinion this soaring Gothic Revival structure was the most beautiful church ever erected in Penn Yan. The photograph was taken before Main Street was paved in 1912. This building was completely destroyed by fire during Holy Week of 1957. The present church was rebuilt on the same site.

Near right: The Tunnicliff house before it was demolished in the late 1870s. The main block that faced Main Street was the original house, built in Federal style during the 1820s: as evidenced by the semi-elliptical louver in the gable and the delicacy of the cornice and returns. The rear wing was probably added by Tunicliff.

Notice also the very steep grade of Clinton Street; it still runs downhill to the bridge over Jacob's Brook and then uphill farther east, but at a much gentler rate. The hill was called the "Curtis Hill" as Samuel F. Curtis owned a chair factory on the corner opposite the church and his house stood partway up the hill on the other side. The hill was a favorite place for children to coast on in the winter time.

People related to this lot and structure:

     Abraham Wagener
     The Benhams
     Jonathan Bordwell

     Nelson Tunnicliff
     William Brownell

Related sites:

    305 Main Street

Related history:

  The County Seat
     Looking Backward