333 Main Street: The Sarah Scott house


or 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, William Schermerhorn 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.



Above right: The Main Street front of 333 Main Street. Its simple side-gable facade and 12 over 12 double-hung windows support the tale of this house's great age. The interior Federal-style woodwork supports a building date prior to 1825. In its time it would have been quite a high-style structure.

Near right: The Mill Street front of 333 Main Street. This wing is probably older than the main block of the house, and was possibly moved to the site. The huge cooking fireplace with its bake oven is plainly visible in this picture, at the east end of the structure. The west portion was always used as a dwelling, apparently, and this wing was generally used as its kitchen. However, there are some contemporary advertisements showing this part of the building used sometimes as a store or shop.

People related to this lot and structure:

     Abraham Wagener
     Morris F. Sheppard
     William Babcock
     John VanPelt, Jr.

Related structures:

    327 Main Street
    341 Main Street

Related sites:

329 Main Street

Related history:

 The County Seat