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
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