227 Main Street: The John S. Sheppard house


former 227 Main St

any photographs exist of the house that stood at 227 Main Street before it was razed in 1973 to build a new County jail and sheriff's office. The long beautiful iron fence survived World War II, but was auctioned off like the rest of the property. The house could justly be called a showplace, certainly the most elegant place in the village, though of course less so by the time it was taken down.

The house stood on the site of an earlier structure, a three-story hotel called the Washington House, built in 1824 by a man named Eliah Holcomb. The legend persists that he was an English sea-captain; he may have been a mariner of some kind, but he was certainly not English. He was one of a family that came into Benton and farmed there for several generations.

The Washington House did not last too long as an institution, but the house itself performed many more years of honorable service. It was the first Penn Yan Academy (the words "and Female Seminary" were added later), and attracted a number of well-known academics to the village between 1829 and 1842.

Eventually it passed by foreclosure into the hands of Samuel S. Ellsworth, and Ellsworth sold it to Ebenezer Brown Jones, son of the Joseph Jones who lived at #225, and namesake of the County's sheriff and postmaster, who built the house at #218. It was Jones who built the house most people remember on this site, in about 1848.

In 1871, after his own house at #213 burned, Stewart Ellsworth, son of the elder Ellsworth, bought this house and moved into it. It was his wife Hebe Magee Ellsworth who added the fountain, the conservatory and the iron fence. When Ellsworth died her brother George Magee was his executor, and he sold the property to Charles C. Sheppard, who in his 1887 will bequeathed it to his son John S. Sheppard.

Another private owner of the house was Oscar G. Murray, who was President of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad when he died in 1917. His will left a life interest in the old house to his cousin, a Mrs. Allen, who already lived there, and continued to live there for years. When she died it reverted to the Railroad Employees' Benevolent Association, who sold the place and used the proceeds for its funds.

In 1932 the house was again made over into a hotel, named after its new owner Walter Wagner. It is under this name that nearly everyone remembers the building; it was transferred to another site when this one was razed, to continue business as a restaurant and bar.




Above right: 227 Main Street in winter, with 231 Main Street just visible at the right; the photograph is in the collection of the Oliver House Museum, and shows the fantastically beautiful parklike atmosphere of the lot, which must have made the immediate neighborhood a green oasis, with the Court Yard across the street.

Near right: Another view of the house at 227 Main Street in the days when it was a private residence. Much of the ornament was stripped from it after this, and of course it was greatly enlarged. This view shows the elaborate Oriental-inspired decoration on the portico. It was Hebe Magee Ellsworth who in the 1870s added the lovely iron fence, the fountain and the huge conservatory. All are visible in this picture, as is the carriage barn in rear. Note also the gas street light, the dismounting block (necessary in an era of long expensive gowns and unpaved streets) and the two hitching posts, one iron and one stone.

People related to this lot and structure:

     Abraham Wagener
     Eliah Holcomb
     E.B. Jones

     Samuel Stewart Ellsworth
     John S. Sheppard

Related sites:

    213 Main Street 

Related history:

     The County Seat
     Boom Town
     Looking Backward