June 1988

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The Oliver House

200 Main Street
Penn Yan, New York


Bill Treichler

The Oliver House, the present home of the Yates County Genealogical and Historical Society, was built in 1852 by Dr. Andrew Oliver, the first of three generations of doctors who lived with their families and practised medicine in the house.

An earlier building had existed on the same site. Alexander Heimup owned a house there in 1824 and about 1840 Levi Hoyt operated a tavern in a building which was probably the previous residence of the Heimup family. When the Wesleyan Methodist Church formed in Penn Yan at about this time the group met in an upper room of Hoyt's Tavern.

Dr. Andrew Oliver came originally from Vermont. He was born in 1792 and he began to practice medicine in Penn Yan in 1820. He was one of the founders of the Medical Society in the county in 1823. When he was sixty years old and 32 years after he began as a doctor in Penn Yan he had this house built. Dr. Andrew Oliver died five years later in 1857 but the house remained in the possession of his children and grandchildren until 1942 when Miss Carrie Oliver died and left the house to the Village of Penn Yan for use as a museum and a public meeting hall.

The substantial brick building with large windows, wide Italianate eaves and a windowed cupola was designed as a doctor's residence and served the three generations of doctors who used the house for both home and office. Built on a corner lot the house faces Main Street. A hallway runs from the front entrance through the main part of the house to the dining room behind. On the left side of this hallway, when entering from the front, is a room, now used as the Museum Office, that was once the doctors' waiting room. Behind this room is a cross hall that comes from a doorway on the south side of the house and from a side street. This was likely the entrance commonly used by visiting patients. On the other side of this hallway from the waiting room was the doctors' office and consulting room. Across the main hall and on the north side of the house are two connected rooms, a front and a back parlor. Each of these rooms has a fireplace. Between the rooms is a wide doorway. The hall and the parlor rooms have plaster cornices and plaster capitals on the pilasters that flank the side hall entrance.

At the back of the main hall is a doorway into the large dining room. On one side of this doorway is another entrance to the room coming from the back parlor and on the other side is a doorway from the doctors office. This was a private way for the doctor to pass to the living quarters and to the kitchen beyond the dining room. To accommodate this passage the wall between the hall and the office is set over into the hallway. This jog in the wall has curved corners that indicate that the interior walls are brick, too. All of the doors in the house are thick and fashioned with through tenons and simple raised panels. They appear to have been made on the site.

On the north side of the main hallway is a staircase that goes up to the second and third floors. The upstairs plan is similar with a central hall and a bedroom on each corner.

The rooms are furnished with many pieces that were in the house when the Olivers lived in it. The hallway has a tall clock and a large hall tree with a mirror that belonged to the Olivers. Just inside the front door on opposite sides hang portraits of Abraham Wagener and Morris Sheppard, both probably painted by Edwin Allen. The two men were friends and early settlers. Wagener is called the founder of Penn Yan. In the front parlor is a fireplace opposite the hall entrance with a portrait of the first Dr. Oliver above it. On either side of the wide opening to the back parlor are two large mirrors of nearly floor-to-ceiling height. Against the back wall of the rear parlor is a large display case that had been in the house with the Olivers and now contains pictures of the Oliver family. Above the fireplace in this room is a painting of the Hamlin children on Keuka Lake which was painted about 1861. Against the hall wall opposite the fireplace is the first piano that was brought to Yates County. It came by the barge canal from New York and belonged to the Baker family.

Opposite the three doors from the front part of the house into the dining room is a fireplace with a portrait of William Oliver, the twin brother of Andrew Oliver. He was a lawyer and judge in Penn Yan. On the right side or the north wall of the dining room is a large cupboard with sliding glass doors that has the Oliver china on shelves. In the center of the room is a table surrounded by Hitchcock chairs that were used by the Olivers. The dining room is lighted by windows on the south and the west. Off the dining room on the north side is a pantry with shelves and cupboards filled with china and silver of the Olivers.

In the doctors' office is the desk used by all three doctors Oliver, and a bookcase with medical books and equipment.

Women's dresses and wedding gowns of the 1860s and later times are exhibited on mannequins in the parlors and the dining room. One dress has a fourteen inch waist.

The stairway leads to the second floor hall where the Society has on exhibit articles once owned and used by Jemima Wilkinson, the Publick Universal Friend. There is her portrait, her beaver hat, shoes, side saddle and saddle bags, and some of her dishes.

One front bedroom is furnished in the Victorian style with a bed that has a massive and ornate headboard. The other front bedroom has a rope bed, doll houses and samplers.

In the front parlor of the Oliver House, in Penn Yan, hangs a portrait of Captain William Henry Stewart. He was born in Inverness, Scotland, in 1780 and was a sailing man for over 20 years. When he was a captain in the packet service between Liverpool and New York he accepted the request of George Ragg, a wealthy New York merchant to bring Ragg's daughter from England to New York on his ship. On the passage the girl was washed overboard by a wave that came over the deck. Captain Stewart spotted her in the water and swam out in the heavy sea and rescued her. As all good stories should go they fell in love and were married. That same year, 1817, they settled on land given to them by Mr. Ragg. The property was lot 50, about three miles from Penn Yan. The Stewarts purchased another 31 acres that lay between the lot and the lake and built a residence there. They had seven daughters. Mrs. Stewart died in 1835. Captain Stewart married again; this second time to Emma Merritt of Jerusalem and they had six children. Captain Stewart died in 1852 when he was seventy-two.

Go to the Oliver House, admire the portrait of Captain Stewart holding his telescope on his knees and feel the excitement of this romantic story.

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