Yates County, New York
Early Settlers for the Village of Penn Yan
From the History of Yates County, NY
published 1892, by L.C. Aldrich
pg 297 - 303
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did that worthy old pioneer, that steady going, honest plodder, follower of the
“Friend”, David WAGENER, think or dream that on the tract of land bought by
him in 1796, would ever be built up a municipality, and become the seat of
justice of a count. But could David
WAGENER have lived a half score of years longer, and observed the march of
improvement and settlement on his ancient estate, it is extremely doubtful if he
would have consented to the adoption of that singularly odd and unique
appellation of Penn Yan, for the little burgh.
And it would have been as equally astonishing thing had that good and
earnest pioneer been able to then look into the far off further and see standing
where he built the primitive grist mill, on the south side of the outlet, a
large four-storied , modern structure, capable of manufacturing an hundred
barrels of flour daily, when his own little mill could at best produce not more
than one or two barrels in the same time. These,
and a thousand and more of others changes might be recalled, to show the
advancement in almost every branch of trade that has been worked in the last
three-quarters of a century. These
comparisons are interesting to old and young alike; to the aged, for they show
that the grand march of improvement and progress in this locality has kept even
step with the onward movement elsewhere, and interesting to the younger
generations, for it brings to them an understanding of how their forefathers
lived, and again what obstacles they had to contend to establish themselves
securely in life and leave a goodly inheritance to their children.
founding of a village where Penn Yan now stands was the out growth of necessity,
and not of design. It was a natural
consequence and not the result of speculative schemes.
David WAGENER bought the lands because they were desirable, and not that
he believe to have contemplated the building up of a village.
But Mr. WAGENER did not live to enjoy the substantial fruits of his
purchase in this immediate locality. He
died in 1799 and his estate in lands, on which the village stands, was inherited
by his sons, Abraham and Melchoir WAGENER.
In area the estate embraced 276 acres, lying both north and south of the
outlet; that part north of the stream fell to Abraham, while his brother became
owner of the lands on the south side. Eventually,
Abraham succeeded to the ownership of the whole tract.
Abraham WAGENER, therefore, attaches all credit for taking the initial steps
that resulted in a substantial village corporation.
In 1801 he tool active measures in having surveyed and constructed a
highway leading from Canandaigua to Newtown (now Elmira).
This road soon became an established mail route, and a post office was
located soon afterward at Abraham WAGENER’s house.
He was the first postmaster, and the name of the office was Jerusalem,
being, as this locality then was within the district called Jerusalem.
the first of January 1800, Mr. WAGENER moved into “town” and occupied a
dwelling built the year before for his use.
This was the first frame building erected on the village site, and stood
where later was the Miles BENHAM tavern, the old structure forming a part of the
hotel as afterwards established. The
building was burned in 1841. When
Mr. WAGENER came here to reside there were three log cabins within his tract,
all standing on the stream called Jacob’s Brook, and occupied by Indians and
their families. These primitive
inhabitants were tenants by the sufferance of Mr. WAGENER, they having no title
nor claim to the land they occupied. They
are said to have remained for a time, but the constant arrival of white settlers
caused them to retire from the neighborhood.
stream heretofore mentioned as “Jacob’s Brook” a name by which it has ever
since been known, has its source or head waters in the town of Benton, whence it
flows into the village and passes through the business center, a few rods east
of Main street, and discharges into the outlet in rear of the Russell &
Birkett grist and feed mill. Concerning
the derivation of its name, Jacob’s Brook, there has for many years been a
difference of opinion, some authorities contending that the name was applied in
allusion to an old Indian who lived near the steam, and whose name was Jacob,
while others assert that the name was given in reference to Jacob WAGENER. The latter is probably correct.
fourteen years after his appointment Abraham WAGENER held the office of
postmaster at his little village; but he was otherwise honored in public
affairs. In 1808, he was appointed
justice of the peace for the town of Snell, which then included all that
afterward became Benton and Milo. This
office Mr. WAGENER held for about twenty-five years, and from his long continued
incumbency thereof became generally known as “Squire” WAGENER, by which name
he was called as long as he lived.
WAGENER, the founder in fact of the village, was in all respects the honorable,
straightforward, public-spirited citizen; a man of large means and much
influence in the town. The land on
which the courthouse was built was his voluntary gift, while also the main
thoroughfare through the village was donated and laid out by him.
Of course, these things greatly enhanced the value of his property in the
locality, but at the same time they forwarded the interests of other persons
who, perhaps, were less able or less inclined to give than was he.
Squire WAGENER continued to reside in Penn Yan, as the village afterward
was named, until 1833, in which year he moved to Bluff Point where he occupied
an elegant stone mansion which he ad erected during that year.
However, before his removal to Bluff Point, Squire WAGENER built a second
residence in the village, which stood on the land now in part occupied by the
Knapp House, about where the dining room of that hostelry is situated.
This dwelling is believed to have been erected in 1816, and to it was
given the name of Mansion House. This
name was preserved in after years, when the building was changed in character
and occupancy and put to hotel use. In
rear of the house stood the old famous Wagener apple tree, so-called from its
owner, the one who planted the seed, nourished and cultivated the sprout, and
distributed its seed in return throughout the
vicinity, the years of which has always been known as the Wagener apple.
Now the old Mansion House has become a part of the more modern Knapp
House; the apple tree has been cut down that the land may be used for other
purposes, and the founder of the village, its pioneer and most influential and
useful citizen, lies buried in the old cemetery which his father gave to the
people for the interment of their dead.
WAGENER lands proper extended from the outlet northward to the immediate
vicinity of what is now called Court street, while still father north was
another tract which passed through the same descent of title and ownership, and
eventually found its way to diverse owners.
It was upon the latter tract that the first village was established, at
the point where Head street crosses Main street.
The highway first mentioned, formed the dividing line between the towns
of Benton and Milo, as afterward established, buy the village was built up
without reference to town lines. Therefore,
the little hamlet lay in parts of two towns, but for some years, and until Milo
was set off, all the people voted and acted in the same manner as if but one
town held their village. When Milo
was separated from Benton, the residents south of the east and west road voted
for their own town candidates, while those north of the road were subjects of
Benton and voted for nominees therein. And
even to the present day, notwithstanding the fact that the village has become
incorporated as a city of the lesser class, the residents north of Head street
are yet Benton people and vote as residents of that town for town officers,
while those south of the street are citizens of Milo and vote for officers
therein. In addition to this the
residents within the corporate limits of the village of Penn Yan choose their
own officers for local government, and in the corporation elections the people
of the town do not participate.
Abraham WAGENER was undoubtedly the most prominent and influential man in the
village during the days of its infancy, there were others who contributed in no
small degree, building up and improving the locality during the same period.
Morris F. SHEPPARD was one of the persons worthy of mention in this
special connection. Like Squire
WAGENER, Mr. SHEPPARD was a native of Pennsylvania.
He was also a pioneer in this locality, one of the early settlers in the
little hamlet and one who became identified with its business interests when the
settlement was founded. He started
a tannery and also a fulling or clothing mill on his own lands, on Sucker Brook. These he conducted for several years, until the cutting away
of the forest trees along the brook deprived him of a sufficient water supply,
and thus compelled him to relinquish his manufacturing enterprises.
SHEPPARD was also the friend of and fellow-worker with Squire WAGENER, and it
was through their joint efforts that the village became as important point at so
early a day. These men were the
leaders of what has been conveniently termed the Pennsylvania element of local
population, while the opposition, the Yankee contingent, were under the guidance
of Mr. STEWART. After the senior
SHEPPARD retired from active participation in business he was succeeded by his
son, Charles c. SHEPPARD, who appears to have inherited his father’s business
qualities and who also was a man of worth and capacity, not only during the
early days of village life, but in after years, even down to a time within the
memory of now middle aged men.
In the same connection there may be mentioned the name of Asa COLE, whose place of abode and lands lay within the town of Benton. Asa, was a pioneer farmer, and in connection with that occupation opened and for years maintained a hotel or tavern at the head of the street. The establishing of the public house was an important event in the early history of the village, as its vicinity at once became a center of trade. Here the stage drivers were wont to stop for rest and refreshment, and here the weary traveler found a comfortable lodging. In those days the hotel was a popular resort for all classes of people, where the news from abroad was always to be learned, while the landlord himself was generally regarded as somewhat the average kind of mankind.
But at last the worthies who constituted the influential portion of that little settlement found themselves involved in a serious dispute, all because they could not agree upon a proper and fitting name for their village. Numerous conferences were held, but public sentiment was so divided that no result could be reached. In the meantime various names were given the village, but most of them were applied in a spirit of derision. A number of the residents called the place Unionville, while to the outsiders, who viewed the controversy from a distance, it became known as Pandemonium. The Pennsylvanians of the locality wished a name that would recall some locality of their native state, while the Yankees, the settlers who came from New England, possessed an equally strong desire that a name be given that would suggest a locality form whence they emigrated. However, this difficult problem was at length solved by the good offices of Philemon BALDWIN, upon the occasion of a “ barn raising”. After the last rafter had been made fast in its place, Mr. BALDWIN climbed up the frame to the plate and there addressed the assembled people. He referred to the dispute concerning the name and then remarked that as part of the inhabitants were Pennsylvanians and part Yankees, a compromise was fair to both factions, and suggested the name of Penn Yan as sufficient for both parties. This proposition was agreed to and the christening was completed. The naming was soon afterward ratified in the change of the post station from Jerusalem to Penn Yan.
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