Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Keep That Policy Paid Up, and Handy

Script No, 540, December 29, 2007
© 2007 David Minor / Eagles Byte

On August 25, 1830, John Fowler took an hour or so before breakfast to look around Canandaigua, which he found even more impressive than Geneva. He took particular note of, “The private residences, both in the village and vicinity . . . uncommonly elegant, laid out with courts and gardens, and every way worthy of the affluence and respectability of their occupants, many of them {the houses, that is} commanding a beautiful view of the lake and its surrounding scenery.”

He wouldn’t have been around long enough to learn too much about the history of this village, the seat of Ontario County. But if he walked two short blocks up Main Street he would have seen several of those admirable houses, among them those belonging to Dr. E. Carr and to Alexander H. Howell, both of them on the five-year-old Gibson Street. It was around this time that another, belonging to land agent Augustus Porter, would have moved to the street from several blocks further up the hill.

It’s unlikely the streets would have been labeled at this early date, but even if Fowler knew the name of the street the ‘Gibson’ would have not meant much to him. It did to most Canandaiguans however.

Henry B. Gibson, born in Pennsylvania, had arrived here ten years ago, in 1820, and become well known as a banker and, some years after Fowler’s visit, a backer of railroads. He would have a steamboat named for him cruising up and down Canandaigua Lake, and would donate the land for the Ontario Female Seminary (not a seminary for training female clergy, by the way) and serve on its board of trustees.

It would have been impossible for Fowler to miss Ontario County’s 1824 courthouse just down the hill, across Main Street from Blossoms Hotel, where he’d stayed overnight. The courthouse’s replacement, to be built in 1857 near the hotel, looked a bit like the original on steroids. Its dome can be seen from miles away when you approach the city along Fowler’s route today. Other buildings he might have seen in the village were the 1813 Congregational Church, the 1814 Granger Homestead, St. John’s 1816 Episcopal Church and the 1818 Methodist Church.

At some point during his brief visit Fowler heard about the fire that had taken place downtown a little less than two weeks earlier, not the first for the year, either. But the village had been the scene of several noteworthy events that year. Back on January 29th a fire wiped out the R. Carter Company distillery. Their insurance policy had expired a short time before and the owner was out $3,000. The next day extreme cold hit the area, with the temperature dipping to 10 degrees below zero (up in Québec two men had frozen to death that same day). In April another fire had destroyed a slaughterhouse and next-door icehouse. The possibility of arson was mentioned in the press but no suspicion would have fallen on N. G. Cheesebro, owner of the two plants; he had no insurance and found himself out one thousand dollars. Then, on August 5th, Pomeroy and Gorham’s 1826 steam flour mill was destroyed by flames. Newspapers described the scene as, “awfully grand, as well as alarmingly distressing to behold.” The two owners did have $8,000 of insurance. Unfortunately, the plant was worth $28,000. And local wheat would have to be processed elsewhere.

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