225 Main Street: The Gilbert & Bales house


t seems quite unlikely that the house standing on this lot when it was225 Main in 1917 replaced by the bungalow-style showroom of the Lake Keuka Floral Company in 1912 was never photographed, but that seems to have been the case.

The lot, from descriptions of the larger Holcomb plot, must at least partially have been included within it. Holcomb did add some land at his south edge to this lot after Mary Stoakes acquired it. There is no recorded deed to Joseph Jones, the first known owner of the property, from Wagener, Holcomb or Bordwell.

As mentioned, the first known owner of this lot was the hatter Joseph Jones, one of the County's very early settlers, who could justly be called one of Penn Yan's founders. He sold it to Mary Stoakes in 1824, and her heirs sold it in 1837 to Stephen Gilbert and John Bales.

Mary Stoakes was a daughter of John Lawrence and wife of John Stoakes of Maryland. After Stoakes' death she brought her children back to Yates County and apparently lived in Penn Yan, not too far from the homes of two of her brothers. Her sister Olivia Dorman also lived in the village, in the house next door to this one, but apparently not until after Mary's death.

Mary remarried after she acquired this property, to a man named Hendrick Miller. It's unclear whether she had any additional children with him, but it seems unlikely; Hendrick had children from a previous marriage, so after Mary's death it was they as well as Mary's own (Stoakes) children who sold this lot.

Gilbert and Bales were English immigrants who for many years served the community as gunsmiths and gun manufacturers. Bales remained a bachelor his entire life, but Gilbert (who was an expert woodworker) married Margaret Jane Hallet in 1843; she ran a milliner's business in the house next door at #219. Their son John Gilbert grew up in the gunsmithing trade and kept it up until mass-produced guns made it unprofitable. The guns that Gilbert & Bales made were shotguns, now rare and expensive collector's items.

The Gilbert & Bales business began in what was described as "a little old red building" near the northwest corner of Head and Main Streets; this must have been part of the old Asa Cole tavern buildings on that corner, which were destroyed in a fire many years later that also destroyed the Birdsall works that took over that location.

In 1842 the business was moved to a shop erected near the north line of their property on Main Street. It was a small two-story structure that was sold many years later, after the turn of the century and by a later owner, and removed to a site on Court Street, where it was remodeled into a dwelling, at about the same time as the old Jones house was razed and the new Lake Keuka Floral Co.'s shop replaced it.

This was in 1913, and the company rapidly expanded into the business of wholesale flower production. Walter Wolcott's description of the business, written in 1917, states that the showroom contained potted plants, ferns, palms and cut flowers; with two large greenhouses in the rear, and two more about to be built. In a photograph of the existing buildings, a large nursery of what appear to be perennials and shrubs is shown. The proprietor, Lewis J. Brundage, was a landscape designer as well as a florist, and was soliciting work in both fields.

The showroom building of course still stands, much altered in appearance, and is still occupied by a florist's business. The greenhouses were sold some years ago and largely destroyed.




Above, far right: The showroom of the Lake Keuka Floral Co., erected in 1913 at 225 Main Street. The building still stands on the site, though much altered. In 1913 it was a little bungalow with a front dormer and a partially enclosed porch across the front. This was of course ultra-modern in 1913 and would have made a striking contrast to the older houses around it. From this picture one can see how close it was to #227.

People related to this lot and structure:

     Abraham Wagener
     Joseph Jones
     Eliah Holcomb

     Samuel Stewart Ellsworth
     The Lawrences

Related sites:

     322 Main Street
     231 Main Street
     227 Main Street

Related history:

     The County Seat
     The 1910s