many years this has been pointed out as the "oldest house in Penn Yan,"
which it is not; and as the home of Captain John VanPelt, which it was not.
These misconceptions may have detracted from its undoubted age and quality,
and from its real history, which is very interesting, if incompletely known.
The land was part of
the Main Street frontage sold by Morris F. Sheppard to William Babcock in
1814, a piece 187 feet along the street and 100 feet deep.
In 1820 Babcock signed
a quitclaim assigning his rights to the northern half (93.5 feet along the
street) of this large parcel to John Van Pelt, Jr., who had made a fortune
as a military contractor during the War of 1812. In 1826 Morris F. Sheppard
sold the entire 187-foot parcel to the younger VanPelt. Apparently Babcock
had either defaulted on his payment (which seems wildly out of character)
or Sheppard had simply re-acquired the land from him. By that time this
house, possibly #329 and almost certainly #327, had been built.
The differences between
the two deeds of sale may give a clue to this puzzle. Babcock's quitclaim
to VanPelt has a beginning point on the south side of the lane that led
from Main street down to Sheppard's fulling mill on Jacob's Brook (now Mill
street); Sheppard's deed to VanPelt has a beginning point also on the south
side of the lane, but also at the northeast corner of a lot previously purchased
by VanPelt from Lewis Vanderlip. The latter deed was never recorded, nor
is there one showing when Vanderlip bought the lot, probably from Babcock.
In any case this is the only known mention of a candidate for the builder
of this house in the first half of the 1820s.
This 1826 sale must
have been among the last to VanPelt before his somewhat spectacular collapse
in fortune. His creditors forced him to assign all his property to a trustee,
of Geneva, who subdivided the land into smaller lots and sold them off in
1834. This house stood on Lot 4 of the VanPelt lands sold in that year,
and is described on the survey map that governed the sale: "Lot Number
Four has a large two-story 26' by 26' house well-finished for a dwelling
house to which is subjoined a building one and a half story high 22' by
24' which is used as a kitchen."
The only real clue
as to who may have lived in one or the other of these two buildings, now
joined into one, before the sale of 1834, is the reference mentioned above
to the tailor Lewis Vanderlip owning this lot between 1820 and 1826. The
smaller kitchen wing could well have been moved onto this lot from elsewhere;
or it might be Vanderlip's original house, with another larger one built
onto the front. Another house described on the map as standing east of Jackson
Street was the house VanPelt lived in (it is explicitly described as such
on the deed); and the only other house is the one now standing at #325 Main
Street, built about 20 years earlier by William Cornwell, Jr. Another house
of the same vintage, #327, was not included in the sale of 1834 because
its lot had been purchased already by A.P. Vosburgh.
In any case, Lots 4
and 5 were sold by Schermerhorn to John Playsted, a recent immigrant from
England whose daughter Sarah came to live in this house in 1842 soon after
her father's death. Her husband was Charles Scott, a jeweler with a store
in the business district. He died in 1848, and she remained in the house
another half-century (nearly), until her death in 1896. She had already
deeded the property over to her daughter, Sarah E. Scott, in 1894, and the
younger woman stayed there until her own death in 1923, after which it went
to some cousins.