The Benhams                           

 

iles, George and Harriet Benham, along with a number of their siblings for at least a brief time, arrived in Penn Yan before 1820, in time for the first of the village's boom periods.

They were children of James Benham, born in Litchfield Co., Conn., in 1764; and of his wife Sarah Sedgewick, three years younger. James and Sarah married in 1785 and moved more or less immediately to Dutchess Co., N.Y., like so many of their friends and neighbors, to the point where Connecticut officials were worried about depopulation after the Revolution. Their first five children were born there: the twins Polly and Huldah in 1786, Miles in 1787, Harriet in 1790, and Sedgewick in 1795.

The family then went to Bridgewater in Oneida Co., and five additional children came along: George in 1798, Ansel in 1800, Sophronia in 1802, Henry in 1804, and James Jr. in 1807. James Sr. died in January 1807, so the last was a posthumous child. Sarah survived until 1829.

It's not known precisely why the children of this family went west, except perhaps that so many others from their area were doing the same thing at the same time. Miles married at Bridgewater in 1811, to Phebe Mackley, and their first child was born in 1813, probably in Penn Yan. Her name was Adelia, and she died unmarried in Penn Yan in 1857.

Of Miles and Phebe's other children, Celestia, born 1815, married John C. Babcock; Dewitt Clinton, born 1818, married Cynthia Arne (he went to California in 1849, returned and then went to Pittsburgh, where he was still living in 1897; the Benham House in Penn Yan was built by and named after him); Amanda, born about 1820, married John Bennett; and Mary, born in 1824, died in Penn Yan and was buried here at the age of 14.

Phebe died in 1841, and Miles remarried in 1843, to Cynthia (Champlin) Munroe, a widow. He served two years in the state Legislature and was Sheriff for a 3-year term. All his life he was an anti-slavery Whig until the Republican party was organized in 1856, and then he joined that party. He moved late in his life to Onondaga County, as did some other of his siblings, and died in Syracuse in 1866.

His brother George arrived about the same time and remained here for the rest of his life, carrying on the family leather business. Their sister Harriet was the wife of George D. Stewart, the Penn Yan and later Gorham merchant. Their brothers Henry and Ansel spent some years in Penn Yan before moving to Hammondsport and Naples. James Jr. and Sedgewick went to Onondaga County.

Miles Benham carried on the tanning and shoemaking business at the tannery behind 165 Main Street, and lived for a time in that house, which still survives. He acquired the 14-acre property on the east side of Main Street that once belonged to Jonathan Bordwell and sold it off to individuals. He developed and named Benham Street. The family's influence on Penn Yan can hardly be overestimated.

 

 

 

The Benhams were associated with:

Land plots:

Jonathan Bordwell plot
Miles Benham plot

Buildings:

165 Main Street

Sites:

163 Main Street
159 Main Street