David Wagener                                     



avid 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 still survives.


Wagener was associated with:

Land plots:

Northeast quarter of Lot 37
Southeast quarter of Lot 37
Southwest quarter of Lot 37

Buildings and sites:

Gristmill on south bank of the Outlet
Lake View Cemetery