300 Main Street: The Wesleyan Meeting-house


his building is the oldest remaining religious structure in Penn Yan, though it hasn't been used as such since the Civil War. It was built about 1851 for a group that seceded from the local Methodist congregation and set itself up as the Wesleyan Methodist Church. They considered the established Methodist organization to be pro-slavery; and as committed anti-slavery and abolitionist Whigs, they felt they could no longer follow its precepts.

The result was this classic Greek Revival structure, with its Doric pilasters, heavy entablature and post-and-lintel (trabiated) entrance on the south side. The east entrance, shown in the picture, was added after the congregation went back to its mother church and the building was sold for other purposes. It has a beautiful cast-iron arabesque design that is a clue to the Italianate inspiration for the remodeling. The west portico and one-story addition, the south portico and steps are all 20th-century innovations, as are the iron railings at the east entrance.

The lot is the southernmost in the northeast quarter of lot 37, just about half-way between the head and foot of Main street. Abraham Wagener held onto the lot until September of 1823, soon after he "donated" the two acres to the south to the newly organized Yates County. Wagener sold the lot at that time to a man named Abel F. Turrell, who happened to be associated as junior warden of the Vernon Lodge No. 190 of Freemasons. Within a few years he sold the corner of this lot to William Nash for $130 and the lot behind it on Court Street to George King for $1200. Wagener sold the next lot on Court street to the officers of the Vernon Lodge for their meeting hall, the first having burned with Mechanics' Hall late the previous year.

When Vernon Lodge bought their lot, the corner lot was occupied by a store run by Captain Hezekiah Roberts, whose previous effort in this direction was on Head Street just east of the intersection. William Nash, the owner of the land, was the son of another Masonic officer, which seems to be quite a coincidence. In any case, the land was sold at least twice more for nominal sums until the lawyer David B. Prosser bought it for the bolting Methodists in 1851, when the meeting-house was built.

By 1864, near the end of the war, it must have become obvious that no religious organization could support the dead (or at least dying) institution of slavery. The Wesleyan group rejoined their parent congregation (as did two other congregations split over the same issue) and Prosser sold the land to Henry Bradley and William Cornwell's widowed daughter Eliza Heermans. Probably Bradley was financing the project, as Mrs. Heermans converted the building into a boarding house and ran it as such for nearly ten years.

It was then purchased as a single-family house by Alonzo Stone and his wife. It passed through several more families, among them some rentals. In 1946 it was owned by Sheriff Mervin Rapalee and his wife, for whom it would have been quite handy to the jail across Court street and a short block west; at this time it was one of the sheriff's main jobs to run the jail, and his wife's job to serve as matron. A number of sheriffs actually maintained a residence in the jail building itself, but apparently Rapalee did not. During his term there was at least one case of a prisoner escaping by knocking a hole through the jail's brick wall; presumably had the sheriff been on the premises he (or more likely his wife, Mildred Rapalee who by all accounts was a redoubtable lady) would have heard the commotion and put a stop to it.



Above right: the east facade of 300 Main Street, added to the building after it was converted from a church into a boarding-house. The building is classic Greek Revival except for the decoration on these doors, which is Italianate. The enormous windows with their small panes of glass reflect the building's original use as a place of worship.

People related to this lot and structure:

     Abraham Wagener
     David B. Prosser

Related sites:

     211 Main Street

Related history:

Before the Storm