Wagener may justly be regarded as the founder of Penn Yan, though he was
not the earliest settler, and many of his accomplishments were overshadowed
by those of his son Abraham, who inherited the lion's share of his land
in the future village.
He was born 25 January
1752, in Montgomery Co., Pennsylvania, the son of Melchoir and Gertrude
Wagener. He married Rachel Supplee 13 January 1774 and the couple moved
to Norrington, a town on the Schuykill River 16 miles southwest of Philadelphia.
A few years later, in 1781, they removed to Worcester. All but one of their
many children were born in these two places: Abraham in 1774, married Mary
Castner in 1796; Mary Magdalena in 1776, married Samuel Castner; Anna in
1777, married Richard Henderson; Melchoir in 1779, married first Elizabeth
Dorman, second Alpha Wilkinson; Elizabeth in 1780, died in 1784; David in
1783, died in 1787; Rebecca in 1785, died in 1787; Lament in 1787, married
Avery Smith; Rachel in 1789, married first Jonas Seeley, second Sherman
Lee. Rebecca, the youngest, was born in Milo 1 February 1794, and married
George Shearman. All the older children who survived infancy came with their
parents to the Friend's Settlement in 1791.
Wagener never seems
actually to have joined the Society of Universal Friends, but he entertained
the Friend on several occasions at his home in Worcester, bought an interest
in the colony's gristmill on the Outlet and ran a public house nearby that
was described by the Duke de Liancourt in his 1795 diary of his journey
to the New York wilderness.
Soon afterward, Wagener
began to look for a millsite of his own, and settled for the farthest one
upstream. His purchase of Lewis Birdsall's half-finished sawmill in August
1796, with the lands around it, may be thought of as the foundation date
of the village's history. Robert Chissom and James Scofield already lived
within the village's boundaries and between them owned most of the land
the village would stand on; there were a few log cabins scattered along
the banks of Jacob's Brook; and Birdsall had begun his mill. He bought one
of Robert Chissom's two quarters of Lot 37 in 1794 and contracted with Elijah
Malin of the Friends to build the dam. Then he commenced building a sawmill
just about where 2 East Main Street now stands, just above the dam and down
next to the Outlet. In those days visitors had to go down a steep bluff
to the water. There was no bridge, no Main Street. The site of the village
was marshy, with pine scrub on the drier parts and a few big pine trees.
Wagener's son Abraham, who inherited it a few years later, described it
as "unpromising" and this seems to have been perhaps giving it
too much praise.
Wagener finished the
sawmill and later in 1796 added a gristmill on the Outlet's south bank.
He acquired two more quarters of Lot 37, and built a house for his family,
probably on the north bank near where the Knapp Hotel now stands. Cleveland,
in his account of the family that never made it into his massive 1873 History,
says that this was the house that was moved several times and now stands
on Chapel Street. It is usually called the "Grandmother house"
and was said by others to have been the third frame house in the village,
erected in the first decade of the 19th century for David's widow Rebecca. The first two would have been Abraham Wagener's house where 173 Main Street is now, built in late 1799; and John Dorman's "Old Red House," built about 1800 where 151 Main Street is now.
Wagener died 24 August
1799, and divided his property among his children. The girls all received
real estate outside the village in the town of Milo. The two boys split
the land in Lot 37: Abraham got the land north of the Outlet, with the sawmill.
Melchoir got the much less extensive land south of the Outlet, plus the
new gristmill, home farm and care of his mother. It may mean something about
the relationship between the brothers that Abraham almost immediately built
a second gristmill on the north bank, and Melchoir responded by building
another sawmill, this one on the south bank. In any case, soon after Rebecca's
death in 1812, Melchoir left with his family for another home in Pulteney.
David also left the
family burying ground for use of the inhabitants of the village. This was
confirmed by deed of his son Abraham in 1833, but it was definitely mentioned
in David Wagener's will, which he wrote a few days before his death. His
was the first burial there, in what is now Lake View Cemetery, and his stone