322 Main Street: The Morris Brown house

elatiah Lawrence sold the southernmost half of his three-acre lot to William Roy in 1822, for $250. In those days the School House lot formed the south boundary, and William Shattuck's lot the north. Lawrence apparently built the house that stood here, as he is said to have died in it in 1826, though Roy retained title until 1838, when he sold it to Jonathan A. Hall for $500. Roy himself certainly never lived here; he spent all the time after coming to this area on his own farm in what is now Torrey.

Hall sold it to Cornelius Masten, and this was where the latter died in 1842. It became involved simultaneously in Masten's estate and in the sale of much of his land to pay his debts. This led eventually to one of those complicated lawsuits that often tied up property for decades.

The lawsuit was finally settled in 1855, leaving the plaintiff in possession of the mansion. The defendants were Peter Masten (Cornelius' father and one of his executors), Maria Masten (his widow), A.V. Masten, Cornelius C. Masten and Adna Sawyer and his wife Elizabeth (the Masten heirs), William S. Briggs, Lewis Himrod, AC. Harpending, John J. Palmer and a receiver for the North American Trust & Banking Co.

The plaintiff was the Geneva lawyer Joseph Fellows, whose main claim to fame had been that he was one of the agents for the Pulteney estate. In any case he turned the property around at his leisure, keeping title until 1862 when he sold it to Maria, the wife of Morris Brown, for $1500. Actually the Browns had been occupying the house since at least 1857. He, like Masten and Briggs, served as a local Justice of the Peace and his signature can be found on a great many legal documents. He was a native of Hammondsport.

The house had already been enlarged by William S. Briggs, who made it his home after Masten's death by the simple expedient of adding the two wings and a second story and new roof above, literally encasing the old house in new Italianate construction. The 17-room mansion now boasted a full-width front porch with elaborately carved curlicues, a cupola and a round-topped window in the broken pediment on the front gable.

Maria Brown died in 1867, and her will is interesting: she left all her property to her brother-in-law J.M. Jillett (who lived in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin) in trust for the support of her husband during his natural life. He could dispose of the property at Morris' death to Maria's children and grandchildren. He was also to see to the support of Hannah Glen, an aged black servant, as long as she lived; in fact this lady is buried in the Brown family plot in Lake View Cemetery. As an afterthought, Jillett was permitted to turn the property over to Maria's husband "whenever he feels it is safe to do so."

Maria was one of three daughters of a man named John Smith, whose will was probated in Yates County, despite nearly all his property being in Steuben County. A great deal of real estate went to his daughters, and Maria was his executor. Smith's will enjoined upon her the support of Hannah Glen until her death, which provision Maria passed on to her own heirs.

Jillett, who was married to one of Maria's sisters, returned the house and lot to Morris Brown by quitclaim in 1870. Apparently it wasn't exactly safe to do so even yet, because Brown lost the property to Nelson Thompson in 1883 for payment of debt; Thompson paid $463 at auction for it, and then immediately sold it (for $4900, a handsome profit) to John G. Gulick of Elmira. Presumably it was Gulick who built the second house on the lot at #226, for at his death in 1887 that house went to John H. Johnson, and the Gulick heirs sold the old Brown mansion to Ruth Griggs in the same year.

It would be nice to be able to say that the old house still stood in excellent condition on Main Street. However in 1955 the house was bequeathed to the local public library, who sold it for $12,000 to be the village's Civic Center. According to an article in the paper at that time the directors agreed to sell the house because its use as a community center did not justify the cost of maintaining it. It had been used in part for classrooms, but would not be needed once the new elementary school opened in the fall. In 1965, after Penn Yan Academy moved to its present site and building, the house was razed to provide extra parking for the school buildings that remained.



Above right: The Morris Brown house, probably built before 1820 and very much enlarged and remodeled in the late 1850s. The photograph was taken in 1956 and appeared in
The Chronicle-Express of July 19, when the Civic Center corporation proposed to sell it for $15,000. The magnificent old building was razed in 1965 to provide more parking for the school.

People related to this lot and structure:

     Abraham Wagener
     The Lawrences
     William S. Briggs
     Cornelius Masten

Related sites:

     326 Main Street

Related history: