355-61 Main Street: The southeast corner

The Carley block


he place where 359-361 Main Street (as well as Nos. 357 and 355) once stood is now the home of The Penn Yan Ambulance Corps, a building erected soon after the block was razed in 1974.

359-361 Main St.

The old building was erected in 1869 by Henry Carley, who had a meat market on the ground floor and lived in one of the residential apartments upstairs. Carley and his heirs owned the building until they sold it in 1909 to Dr. Frank S. Sampson; it housed a number of commercial enterprises all during its nearly a century of existence, and the two apartments upstairs were variously rented out. In 1946 the building was owned by the basket-makers Guile & Windnagle. As late as 1961 there were three families residing there.

The Carley block was built on one of the oldest commercial sites in the village. It was part of a 20-acre sale of land by Abraham Wagener to his cousin by marriage, Morris F. Sheppard (Sheppard's wife Rachel Supplee was the daughter of Wagener's aunt Susannah by her first husband Peter Supplee). Sheppard proceeded to sell the corner lot to a man named John W. Hedges in 1814; Hedges sold it only a year later (after moving to Wayne) to Wallace Finch, also of Wayne. By that time the lot (about a quarter acre in size) was occupied by Luman Phelps, who owned the tavern on the southwest corner and used this lot for his horse sheds and a cow stable.

It passed through several other hands and was sold in 1824 to John VanPelt. VanPelt was the son of another John VanPelt who lived just outside the village limits on a farm which he acquired in 1803. The elder VanPelt was a Revolutionary veteran from downstate; his son became a captain in the militia during the War of 1812 and is usually known as Captain VanPelt. During the mid-1820s he bought up quite a number of parcels in Penn Yan, all of them east of Main Street at its upper end.

He wound up with a spectacular debt of more than $11,000, moved to Erie County and assigned all his assets to a Geneva lawyer named Henry VanRensselaer Schermerhorn, who proceeded to sell them off in 1834 in an effort to reduce his principal's debts.

This disaster produced one of the earliest maps of this part of Penn Yan, as the property was subdivided into numbered parcels and the buildings on them described. These buildings included three stores built on the corner lot, now resurveyed as a parallelogram about 90 feet wide on Main Street and divided into three rather narrow lots. The description reads: Lots One, Two and Three have buildings on them built of wood three stories high and finished off in the inside for dry goods stores.

These stores replaced earlier buildings, which can be traced to some extent by reading the advertisements in the local papers (there were two weeklies published in Penn Yan after 1824: the Penn-Yan Herald (later the Democrat), first published in 1818; and the Yates Republican.) The earliest known was called the Red Building, and Henry Bradley had a store there in 1824. Captain John VanPelt sold a patented plow from the Red Building in 1825; and the L.G. Budlong & Co. general store was opened there the same year. Attorneys Thomas J. Nevins and Henry Eno practiced law in offices here; and general stores were run by J.H. Bostwick & Co. and Bostwick & McEwen. A saddle and harness shop was opened in 1828 by the firm of Babcock & Warner.

The Red Building burned on Christmas day, 1831. The tenants at the time were John Sloan, Jr., J.R. Wilcox and John Wilson. Sloan lost $12,000 and carried no insurance; this was the first of several fortunes he lost to fires doing business in Penn Yan. Presumably this one was the straw that broke the back of Captain VanPelt's speculations in the village. Francis M. Potter, whose residence across Main Street still survives, acquired the lot later in 1834 and rebuilt in brick. The Potter block, as it was called, was still standing when it was sold in 1857, occupied by a man named Kissam who ran a "country store" there. However, by 1865 the map of the village printed in that year shows a vacant lot at the corner. Henry Carley bought it in 1868 and opened his meat market in a new brick building in February, 1869.

357 Main St.

The building that stood here in 1974 was, like the Carley building, erected at the end of the 1860s. It was Excelsior Engine House No. 2, built by Moses Rugar in 1868 on a lot that the village of Penn Yan purchased in that year. Many years before, the little hand engine known as "The Cascade" was housed in a shed nearby this site, facing Head Street. That was when this was the main commercial district of the village, before the opening of the Crooked Lake Canal finally drew most of the business houses downstreet. When the building was razed in 1974, it had been occupied by the Penn Yan Volunteer Ambulance Corps since 1969, when all the village's fire companies were centralized in a single building.

355 Main St.

The last building in the row was by 1974 a dwelling. It was built on quite a large lot but right at the northern edge of it, adjoining the Engine House. Built in 1869 by Robert Topp, it was a combined store and dwelling for some years. The village had acquired the lot in 1868, built the engine house and then sold off the rest of the lot to Topp. In the early part of the 19th century this lot and the one to the south, where #351 stands today, were both part of a single property.



Top right: This picture of 359-361 Main Street was taken in 1974, just before the building was razed. Next to it, on the right, is 357 Main Street, which was Engine House #2. Just visible at the far right is 355 Main Street, at that time a dwelling. All three buildings were erected in 1868-1869.

People related to this lot and structure:

    Abraham Wagener
    Morris F. Sheppard
    John Van Pelt, Jr.
    John Sloan

    Henry Bradley
    Eli Sheldon
    The Potter family

Other related structures:

    351 Main Street

Related sites:

    The southwest corner

Related history:

    Lot 37