John Dorman's homestead lot : 1799

pon his arrival sometime about 1795, John Dorman lived far downstreet; in fact there is an old story that indicates he lived here before the street was even surveyed. His property covered more or less the east side of Main Street south of where East Elm Street runs today.

In 1799, just before he died, David Wagener sold Dorman a separate four-acre parcel some little distance north of his original lot. These two parcels that passed from David Wagener to Dorman were the only ones in Lot 37 that Wagener's son Abraham did not inherit upon his father's death. Presumably, had he lived, David Wagener would have developed his two-hundred-acre (more or less) holding in what is now Penn Yan. His early death meant he never got the chance.

The description of the four-acre lot is interesting because it makes reference to Main Street (as "the road lately laid out"), which confirms the existence of the thoroughfare before David Wagener's death. His son Abraham always took credit for laying out Main Street upon his arrival there in 1800. Dorman's lot stretched along the road 29 1/2 rods, about 487 feet, and included the space now occupied by buildings from 159 Main Street - the Post Office - to the store at 121 Main Street.

On this expansive property Dorman had a house built that remained a Main Street landmark until 1867. It was designed by Samuel Clark, who was later the architect of the Friend's house in Jerusalem. It was built into the bank behind the present site of 151 Main Street, with the family entrance down around in back and a public entrance above, to the street. The building had a steep high-pitched roof and was painted "Spanish red," evidently a bright, conspicuous color. It was called the "Old Red House" for decades after Dorman's death there in 1821. North of the house, up to where George Benham lived (now 163 Main Street), was the Dorman orchard.

John Dorman occupied the whole property until his death, but sold this and two other parcels to his son Joel in 1814. Joel sold the parcels back five years later for $2000, a transaction that sounds like a way to get some money to his father; in 1821, John Dorman bequeathed Joel the identical three lots in his will, specifically mentioning "the 4 acre lot and buildings in which I now reside on the East side of the road." John's widow Sibyl had a life use of this parcel, so Joel had to wait until after her death to sell it.

Joel lived in Jerusalem, so had no use for his property in Penn Yan. He sold it essentially in two pieces, the more northerly to Simpson Buck, a tailor. The Old Red House was on Buck's property, and stood there near the southern end of his lot until about 1860 when the Benham House hotel was built. Charles V. Bush owned the parcel by that time and had been using the old building as a builder's shop. He moved it upstreet, where it was burned in the fire of 1867.


Above: The area shaded in yellow is the south end of the four-acre parcel David Wagener sold to John Dorman in 1799. North of it was the Benham property, south was Jonathan Bordwell's homestead. The addresses stretch from 159 to 127 Main Street.


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David Wagener




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127 Main St.
131 Main St.

137 Main St.

143 Main St.

145 Main St.





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Eben Smith homestead


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In 1799, just before David Wagener's death, he sold this four-acre lot to John Dorman. Dorman moved his family into the frame house he built here. The house was a Penn Yan landmark until 1867.