327 Main Street: The A.P. Vosburgh house


 number of early lawyers in Penn Yan were from Kinderhook in the Hudson valley; it seems most of them lived at one time or another in this house.

It was built quite early indeed, possibly as early as 1818 but certainly no later than 1826, on a lot that was made up of the more southerly half of Babcock's 187-foot parcel south of Mill Street. Babcock apparently sold the lot to the lawyer William Shattuck, as it was Shattuck who sold it to William Cornwell Jr. in 1819, for only $100. Cornwell, who called this his "small lot," (which it was compared to his other lands, five acres and three acres in size) sold it subsequently to John VanPelt Jr., who during the 1820s was trying to put together a large parcel for subdivision on the east side of Main Street.

It's known that in 1818 A.P. Vosburgh bought a house across the street from his brother in law Cornelius Masten. It was probably in the vicinity of this place, but evidently not on this specific site; as Masten at one time or another owned practically all the land on the west upper side of Main Street, the location is a bit difficult to pin down. Vosburgh was appointed District Attorney (of Ontario County) in 1821, and then in 1822 married Elizabeth Henry, daughter of the Revolutionary surgeon Dr. Robert Henry.

When Yates County was organized in 1823, Vosburgh became its first District Attorney, and served in that capacity until his death in 1827, at the age of 36. The deed to this lot was given in 1826 by John VanPelt Jr., for a price of $2000; this certainly sounds as if the house was already there. Like most of his contemporaries, Vosburgh owed far more than he had in ready cash, and because of his premature and sudden death, his parents and his widow sold much of his real estate to pay his debts. This piece reverted to William Babcock, who was the high bidder at $190.

Vosburgh had been Masten's law partner. After Vosburgh's death, Masten worked with another of the Kinderhook lawyers, named Evart VanBuren. Like both Vosburgh and Masten, VanBuren was a member of one of the old Dutch families who came out on the right side of the Revolution, and belonged to a rather closely-knit political aristocracy. VanBuren was in fact a cousin of the future president. He opened his law practice in 1827 with Cornelius Masten, and then in the following year set out to practice on his own. He continued in the same place, which was probably this house. On the 1834 map the lot is still marked "Vosburgh" and is shown directly across the street from Masten's place. VanBuren bought the lot in 1851, and apparently at that time greatly enlarged and changed the exterior appearance of the house.

It can still be seen from the outside that the house is a double one; it's much more obvious inside, where the floors in the two sides are at different levels in respect to the window sills. The work was done so skillfully however, that it doesn't interfere at all with the inherent symmetry of its Italianate style. The front porch was rebuilt in the 20th century, as was the entrance and portico on the north side of the late 19th-century addition in the rear (east side). The foundation on the north side is faced with cobblestone; this is the younger, 1851 wing.

The house remained one of the very good addresses on Main Street and was occupied by a number of luminaries: in Cleveland's day it was owned by Theodore O. Hamlin of the Metropolitan store downtown. Cleveland noted that it had been the residence of Job T. Smith prior to that, and of Evert VanBuren before he left Penn Yan. He states that "in its present form" it embraced the original house in which Vosburgh lived after his marriage, and in which he died. The widow later married S.S. Ellsworth, another very prominant merchant and had a number of children with him.

The late 19th-century additions to the rear of the house were added by John H. Butler, who bought it in 1895. It was here that he published his short-lived magazine, The Vineyardist.


Above right: 327 Main Street, originally built by Abraham P. Vosburgh, and enlarged by Evart VanBuren. Because of the double nature of the house its style is basically unique. Many of the trim details are early Italianate, including the double-leaf doors and the delicate brackets under the eaves. The cobblestone foundation on the north side probably dates from VanBuren's time. The addition on the east (rear) side is late 19th century. The porch was rebuilt in the 20th century, and a portico and entrance added to the north side of the east addition.

People related to this lot and structure:

     Abraham Wagener
     Morris F. Sheppard
     William Babcock
     Cornelius Masten
     A.P. Vosburgh
     John VanPelt Jr.
     James Smith and family

Related structures:

     333 Main Street
     325 Main Street

Related sites:

     329 Main Street
     331 Main Street
     322 Main Street

Related history:

  The County Seat