The Great Penn Yan Fire


The Chronicle-Express — Consolidation, Jan. 1, 1926, of the Yates County Chronicle (1824) and the Penn Yan Express (1866); the Rushville Chronicle (1905) and the Gorham New Age (1902)

Volunteers at the Yates County History Center have gleaned these entries for your enjoyment from their digitized journals. You can access it on the free website For more information about the YCHC, visit

150 years ago

May 2, 1872

The Great Penn Yan Fire — Penn Yan had a terrible and by far the worst conflagration in history on Tuesday afternoon. The fire broke out in the Whitaker & Bryan commercial ironwork at around half past four. Firefighters were quickly on the ground, but their efforts were totally ineffective in preventing not only the destruction of this building, but the spread of the fire to Benham block and buildings across the street in a very short time. weather. All this being of the most combustible character, there was at once a terrible conflagration in progress. There was a strong southerly wind, and ash and burning fragments of shingles filled the air for a long distance downwind. Before long, the fire spread to T. Brigden & Son’s Carriage Shop and spread along Jacob Street. (East Elm Street) consuming all of the south side to the home of Charles B. Shaw, when by dint of hard work it was stopped, some barns belonging to lots on Canal Street (Seneca Street) were burnt down and all the houses were seriously threatened, but none of them burned down.

On the north side of rue Jacob, everything was burned down to rue Benham. The beautiful residence of James Burns was saved only by very hard effort and vigilant care, which was also true of the houses to the east, owned by William H. Gage.

Firefighters were able to use bricks to prevent the fire from reaching Main Street. Tunnicliff’s block on one side and Morgan’s on the other at the entrance to Jacob Street, serving as good defences. The central house (current site of the Once Again Shoppe) was burnt down together with his barn, the former property of Albert Tuell, which was soon burnt down, together with the barns and outbuildings of FE Smith and those of Mr. Thompson, owner of Benham House. The way the fire was driven away from the buildings in front of these structures seems almost a miracle, considering the terrible speed and heat of the fire. The Benham House (current Community Bank site) was only saved by the most gigantic efforts, and the same can be said of the residence of FE Smith and other buildings fronting on Main Street.

Shortly after the fire began to rage like a volcano, Robert N. Coons’ shop on Benham Street was set on fire by flying sparks, and Charles N. Burrill’s barn soon after; this fire spread rapidly, taking in its wake the residence of Robert N. Coons, that of James Tims, as well as that of Mrs. B. Joy, and that of Mrs. Ellis, occupied by Harrison Brown. Mrs. Joy’s barn, Mrs. SF Curtis’s and William Stark’s barn were also burned. Dozens of other buildings were burned down, but through the care of their owners and others, they were saved from destruction. In this way, Jacob Messerole saved his barn and residence, and the same can be said of many others.

Our firefighters rendered noble service, aided by the mill, and no doubt succeeded in saving Main Street, for which all should be deeply grateful. As soon as the fire began to surge to its threatening proportions, a telegram was sent to Canandaigua, and the valiant firefighters of that village responded with astonishing speed. About sixty minutes after the dispatch reached this village, they had sounded the alarm, dispatched their steam locomotive, and reached Penn Yan by a special train provided by the Northern Central Railroad. Their race time from Canandaigua was 41 minutes. The company stayed until four o’clock the next morning, and the steamer poured a large amount of water over the burnt quarter, extinguishing the fire.

The total sum of losses amounts to approximately $130,000; and insurance at around $70,000.

100 years ago

May 3, 1922

Robbery at Penn Yan — Bernard Rose of Clinton Street says he was detained Wednesday evening near the corner of Clinton and Benham streets and stripped of his wallet. Young Rose, 21, was walking home down Benham Street, he said, when a tall, broad-shouldered man crossed the street and asked to see his wallet. Rose granted the request, but when the heist found it empty, returned it. The stranger followed him to his house.

Young man out on bail returns to burglary – State troopers came to Rushville on Wednesday and took Mr. W. before Judge Haviland, where he confessed to breaking into the Belden Coal Yard office at noon on Monday and stealing $24 in cash. He also confessed to being the one who broke into the Belden grain elevator office on the night of April 11, and also broke into the Wilson J. Jones residence while he was away in Florida. The young man was already in trouble with the authorities over similar escapades and only enjoyed his freedom thanks to the bail provided by his father, and the reluctance of his victims to prosecute such a young woman, and also because of the believe that his parents are detained in this community.

Barn and horses lost in the conflagration — A fire of unknown origin totally destroyed the large, mansard-roofed barn at Emory Potter Farm on County (sic) House Road in Jerusalem on Sunday. Five horses in the barn were burned, along with a large amount of hay, wood carts, harnesses and farm implements. The farmhouse was occupied by William Walrath, who was on a nearby farm. Mrs. Walrath was in the cellar attending an incubator and the flames had all but destroyed the barn before they were discovered. The loss is estimated at $6,000, partly covered by insurance.

75 years ago

May 1, 1947

Middlebrook is building a cargo plane bound for Honduras — Harold Middlebrook, a well-known Penn Yan aviator who has served as a flight instructor for the Penn Yan, Dundee, Middlesex and Hall clubs, is in North Carolina. He and his friend, John Ackerman, known at Penn Yan for his frequent visits to the Middlebrook house, convert one of the Army’s big planes, a DC3, into a freighter. Once the conversion work is complete, the men will fly the plane back to Honduras carrying a steam shovel and other heavy earthmoving equipment. The load is consigned to a gold mine deep in the interior of Honduras where Henry Daft, the owner of the mine, wants to build an airstrip so that the gold can be flown in from the mine and save many days of travel by mule.

Seventy-five years ago, Harold Middlebrook - active in local flying clubs - helped convert an army DC3 plane into a freighter to ferry supplies to a gold mine in Honduras.

Vaccination clinic against smallpox, diphtheria and tetanus — Dr. Bernard Strait, Penn Yan Health Officer, plans to hold a smallpox and diphtheria-tetanus vaccination clinic at the Penn Yan Courthouse from 9 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday, May 6, and a second clinic for second doses of diphtheria-tetanus toxoid on Thursday, June 5. These clinics will be open to children from six months to 12 years old. With the recent smallpox epidemic in New York, Dr. Strait reminds us that vaccination is an essential element of protection against the disease for all those over six months old who have never been vaccinated, and for individuals who have had their last vaccination with a protective reaction of more than five years. from.

Charles Bell killed by train — Charles S. Bell, 92, who has lived his entire life in his Seneca Street home in Dundee, was hit by a northbound freight train on the New York Central tracks that border his garden and was killed on the shot about 12.15 p.m. Friday morning, April 25, 1947. Mr. Bell was one of the oldest inhabitants of the Dundee area, one of the best known and best loved. He was the son of Joseph and Frances Gano Bell and was born in the house where he died, his father having rushed the work of the house to finish it on the occasion of his birth. At this time, Mrs Bell’s grandfather, Hiram Bell, owned a 200-acre farm which is now the site of the village of Dundee, with the present four corners located approximately where the farm then stood.

50 years ago

May 4, 1972

Air Force Band & Singing Sergeants perform — What was considered the largest crowd ever at Penn Yan heard the United States Air Force Band and the Sergeants Singers from Washington, D.C. perform a musical extravaganza of a lifetime last Saturday night at the Penn Yan Academy. More than 2,000 people were in the gymnasium, and the auditorium was used for several hundred more. After intermission, Academy Band Manager Nora Arquit, as USAF Band Guest Conductor, led the band in Bagley’s majestic “National Emblem March.”

Farmer’s action saves herd and barns — Disaster was averted when Leon Button Jr., owner of a large dairy farm, chased 120 head of cattle from a burning barn on his property along North Valley Road at 11 p.m. Sunday. The Yates County milkman discovered the fire. He told Sheriff’s Deputy Herbert Thayer he had smelled smoke and seen a glow in the upper part of the large barn and immediately began moving his 120 dairy cows to safety as Mrs Button called the firefighters. The 35 by 100 foot and 40 by 60 foot L-shaped barn suffered only light damage and a small amount of straw was destroyed.

Big week in baseball — Yates County area baseball teams played a packed schedule last week with the Dundee Scots in the spotlight thanks to three wins, including two shutouts by ace twirler Bill Lobdell. The Penn Yan Mustangs split a pair of games beating Marcus Whitman 3-1 then losing to the Newark Reds 7-2. Marcus Whitman’s Wildcats, in addition to their loss to PYA, also came out on the court a few squeakers losing to Geneva 3-2 and Lyon 2-1, but defeated Midlakes 8-3 on Thursday.


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