343 Main Street: The MacKellar house


his is usually called the MacKellar house, though the lot is actually one of the oldest in the village, and was carved out of Morris F. Sheppard's second purchase in 1812, long before the MacKellars ever owned it or lived in the house.

The original deed for this property was from Sheppard to Keziah Sabin, who was the widow of Asa Sabin of Jerusalem. The Sabins were among a group of related families who came from farther east into the Genesee Country in the 1790s and settled in an area not too far west of the present village limits that was commonly called Sabintown. Keziah's husband died in 1802 and eventually she had to sell their farm to pay off his debts. She had several daughters who moved into "town" with her, and the 1810 census shows her already living in Penn Yan. Presumably the 1812 sale of land by Sheppard gave her title to property she was already inhabiting.

The interesting thing about this sale is that there was already a log house on the land, as demonstrated by reference to the deed. The only log house known to have been in this area was Sheppard's first residence, which was a double log house he built immediately after his arrival about 1801; he lived in one side and ran his tannery business from the other side. The tannery itself was on Jacob's Brook, and a lane led from it up to Main Street. There is some evidence that present Mill Street was once a short distance farther north than it is now, and this further strengthens the hypothesis that Keziah Sabin was living in Sheppard's original log house. At some point about the time he sold this lot to her, Sheppard built a frame house on land he owned across Main Street. This structure was usually called the "yellow house" and stood on the lot now occupied by 346 Main Street.

William Babcock bought the lots along Main Street north and south of Keziah Sabin's land in 1814. By 1824, when the location of Jackson and Mill Streets was settled, Babcock sold part of this lot to John Norcott, who also owned the lot to the south where #341 now stands; and Keziah Sabin occupied the lot where #337is now. Norcott sold all his holdings here to Isaac Whitaker of Benton in 1829, at a substantial profit. There's no deed showing who Whitaker sold to, but in 1833 Maria Pierce added a little piece of #341 to land she already owned here at #343. Maria was the daughter of Keziah Sabin, and was married to Frederick Spooner Pierce, son of Abner Pierce, the blacksmith who owned at one time most of the land across Main Street.

In 1837 Maria was married to a second husband, Pierce having died in the meantime. Her new husband was the lawyer David Briggs Prosser, who sold this lot to Charles Newell for $450. It was at this time pretty much the same size and location as it is today, with 60 feet of frontage on Main Street, and running 100 feet back. On the north were lands of Joseph Ketchum, and on the south lands of Morris Earle.

This same lot passed through several other hands over the next 30 years. There must have been a house on the land, probably bigger than Keziah Sabin's double log cabin, but no doubt smaller than the house that's there now. Cleveland described it in 1874 as a small white cottage. It belonged then to Peter K. Deyo, whose parents had lived in Benton for decades, or rather to his daughter Roberta, to whom he sold it in 1869.

Cleveland also said that the cottage had once been the residence of William Lilly, an early merchant in Penn Yan and Geneva who was related by marriage to the Dey family. Morris F. Sheppard had sold a parcel behind those fronting here on Main Street to John Dey in 1816. Dey owned the so-called Kashong farm in northeast Benton, where the Seneca village of the same name had stood before its destruction in 1779 by General John Sullivan's men. Nearby was the grave of Tesmoines, a Cayuga chieftain whose two daughters conveyed by grant to their husbands the lands of the father. Part of the house still standing on this farm was built by one of Tesmoines' sons-in-law, Dominic deBartsch, in 1787, and the rest by Benjamin Barton in 1795.

Deyo bought the original lot in 1864 and within five years had added four adjacent lots, so it extended all the way through to Jackson Street and behind a number of adjacent Main Street houses. Roberta W. Deyo sold it to Hannah Conley of Potter for $1300; Mrs. Conley sold it in 1890 to Charles Nugent, who probably built the present house soon afterward. He sold it in 1898 to James A. Mackellar, who with his mother owned a great deal of property in the immediate neighborhood. Presumably this is why the it is called the Mackellar House in the Historic District papers.




Top right: The Mackellar house was built around 1890, probably by Charles Nugent. It was at least the third house on the site. The first was probably Morris F. Sheppard's double log cabin, built soon after 1801.

 People related to this lot and structure:

    Abraham Wagener
    Morris F. Sheppard
    William Babcock
    Abner Pierce
 Morris Earle
    Keziah Sabin
    David B. Prosser

  Related sites:

    337 Main Street
    341 Main Street
    346 Main Street

 Related history: