southwestern corner of Main and Head Streets was the oldest commercial location
in the village, with the Seeley & Baldwin store erected there in 1805.
The land was occupied
by a succession of inns and stores until after the turn of the 20th century,
when the two houses now on the property were erected in 1906.
The corner lot was
part of the 2 acres or so Morris F. Sheppard sold to Abner Pierce in 1805.
Pierce kept most of this land for himself, but he immediately sold a lot
at the corner to Samuel S. Seeley and William Baldwin, who thereupon built
the first store within the modern village limits.
It is said that after
Robert Chissom died so suddenly in 1806, Pierce took over his function and
ran a tavern at this location until someone else could take it over. Whatever
the truth of this assertion, it is on record that Seeley, then of Hector,
sold the corner lot with his store to Ezra Rice in 1809, who definitely
it as a tavern. These institutions were more than a bar and grill in those
days, they were necessary adjuncts to travel on the horrendous roads of
the time. Local people used them as meeting and drinking places, of course,
and they usually sold a more or less small stock of general goods; but they
provided overnight and other temporary shelter to those who needed it, and
this was perhaps their most important function.
We have the word of
an anonymous traveler in about 1810 that Rice's tavern in "Snell's
town" also known as "Pen-yang" was just a day's journey (about
12 miles) by stage from one in Barrington (then part of Wayne) and an equal
distance to Bethel (now Gorham). He apparently thought highly of none of
the places he stayed, but reserved some special venom for Rice's, which
he thought was dirty.
In any case Rice sold
the property to Joel Dorman in 1810. It passed rather confusedly back and
forth among Dorman, Zachariah Wheeler and John W. Hedges. But apparently
it was Luman Phelps who ran the actual business there. Dorman became preoccupied
with his farm in Jerusalem about 1813, Wheeler had other property nearby
(for a while he owned the Chissom place; Susannah Wheeler Chissom, Robert's
widow, was his sister; he is best known for owning a barn north of Head
Street, on the west side of Main, where the village's first "show"
was held, in the person of an elephant exhibited there), and Hedges moved
Within a few years
commerce took over carousing (and elephant-viewing) in the area around the
intersection. William Babcock bought the lot on the northeast corner soon
after his arrival from New Hampshire in 1813. Asa Cole had the tavern on
the northwest corner, a rather respectable stage-stop. Stores went up on
the southeast and the southwest corners, to be taken down again by one or
more of the numerous fires that swept through the village's cramped wooden
buildings. They were nearly always immediately rebuilt.
In about 1832 William
and John Brooks built a block of stores which lasted until the summer of
1846, a pretty much unprecedented run, particularly at the head of the street.
The Brooks Block was rented out in single parcels to a number of different
stores, some occupied by the Brookses off and on as well. They sold part
of the block to Henry Bradley in 1833, who resold it in 1834 to Charles
C. Sheppard, who in 1840 sold it yet again to Francis M. Potter, who built
a brick block across the street and briefly owned both corners.
The Brooks Block burned
in 1846, and stores are shown there on the 1855 map. However, soon afterward
the carriage factory across the street in Cole's old stand began to expand,
and was then sold to Hiram Birdsall of Genoa in Cayuga County. Birdsall
bought this corner in 1860, after it had again been swept by fire, and he
put some of his manufacturing buildings here. He also allowed William Comstock
to put a grocery store in, and matters stood thus for some time.
lasted until the late 1880s, and Birdsall's works until after the turn of
the century, when yet another fire again swept the corner clear. William
N. Wise acquired the lot and built #350 in 1906. He never lived there, apparently
regarding the place as investment property. He sold it in 1907 to Harriet
Mosher, and it has remained essentially unchanged since.
The other house on
the corner lot is #348, also built in 1906, by Wise's associate Clinton
Struble. By the early 20th century, then, the only commercial building left
at the head of the street was Henry Carley's on the southeast corner.