Jonathan Bordwell                         


onathan Bordwell was one of several brothers who came from western Massachusetts into eastern New York and thence into what would someday be Yates County. This was of course a popular migration route, and was followed by many of their neighbors and relatives.

Jonathan's father was Enoch Bordwell, (1748-1789) and his mother Abigail Wells Bordwell. The couple had 10 children, at least three of whom came to Potter in the first decade of the 19th century.

Enoch Bordwell Jr. was born at Shelburne, Mass., in 1775, the third child and third son of his parents. He died in Potter in 1838. He and his wife were the first Bordwells in Potter, arriving in 1804. They had eight children. One of their sons, Stoddard Bordwell, had a son Robert R.C. Bordwell who practiced medicine in Penn Yan, living at 173 Main Street, a brick house which he probably built himself in 1868. Robert's grandfather Enoch was a skilled carpenter and builder himself, with the old Court House in Canandaigua and the first Court House in Penn Yan to his credit.

His brother Consider Bordwell was also born at Shelburne, in 1784, the eighth child and sixth son of Enoch Sr. and Abigail; and died in Potter in 1850. His wife was Calista Dyer, whom he married in 1809. They had eight children, most of whom married into other Potter families and died there, with many descendants. Consider Bordwell arrived about 1806, after Enoch Jr. had made a settlement. Their brother Jonathan came with this second party, and in October 1806 he was selling land in Nettle Valley to John Griffin and John Riggs, the town's first storekeepers. His deed of purchase was evidently never recorded.

Within a short time, certainly before the summer of 1810, Jonathan moved to the as-yet-unnamed hamlet of Penn Yan. The census of that year shows him with a wife and two sons, with a residence between Gideon Allen and Rebecca Wagener, which would have put him somewhere on Main Street. He was a tanner and shoemaker. His tannery was where George Benham's was later located, on the bank of Jacob's Brook behind what is now 163 Main Street. He pursued his business as a partner of Miles Benham's, who lived at 165 Main and evidently had a shop in the same building.

In 1811 he sold the rest of his land in Potter (then still part of Middlesex) to John Griffin; he and his wife Mary, who was always called Polly, were then residents of Benton (the part later split off as Milo, in the northwest corner of that town where the village of Penn Yan would a few years later be laid out).

He owned other lands in Penn Yan besides the 14 acres he bought from Abraham Wagener in 1819, but that one seems to be the only deed he ever recorded. He has no entry on the Benton tax roll for 1813, but in 1816 he is shown with a house and 27 acres, worth $1008. He was one of the more prosperous landowners in the village.

After Milo was formed in 1818, Jonathan was of course recorded on tax rolls in that town. The 1818 and 1819 rolls are extant, and he still owned a valuable property. On the 1820 census his household is shown between Miles Benham (165 Main Street) and Andrew Oliver (204 Main Street), and contains three boys and young men, and four girls, besides himself and his wife. This is the year a judgment was found against him and his property had to be sold to pay the debt. He is not listed as a freeholder on the 1821 tax roll.

He left Penn Yan about this time, for Chautauqua County and died there leaving four children. His influence on Penn Yan was brief, but seems to have been profound. For many years afterward old peoples' memories of Penn Yan included the sight of his extensive orchard in bloom along Main Street. His house was at the lower end of his 14-acre property, near the tannery. The business used water from a pond formed by a dam on Jacob's Brook that extended all the way up nearly to Clinton Street. This was a favorite ice-skating venue in the winter, and remarked on as such for decades, into the 20th century when the dam was finally removed, though it ceased to hold the water back much earlier.

Bordwell was in partnership for at least some of his time in Penn Yan with Miles Benham, who finally acquired his 14-acre property and subdivided it to individuals. They probably built together the brick building at 165 Main Street that served as their shop, as Benham's residence and that of his brother George, as a tavern which may have housed the first meetings of the Yates County Board of Supervisors, and still stands on Main Street as one of the very few remaining structures from those early hopeful days.


The Bordwells were associated with:

Land plots:

Jonathan Bordwell plot
Miles Benham plot


165 Main Street


163 Main Street
173 Main Street