Yates County Courthouse Park District
The Yates County Courthouse Park District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Yates County Courthouse Park District is comprised of the Yates County Courthouse, the County Office Building, the Old Jail, and the Courthouse Park. The Yates County Courthouse Park District is located in the village of Penn Yan, just east of the main commercial area and is bounded on the east by Main Street, on the north by Court Street, on the west by Liberty Street, and on the south by private residences. The two-acre area consists of portions of the original land donated for the county seat plan and part of the Baptist Church property.
The focal point of the Yates County Courthouse Park District is a view through Courthouse Park to the County Courthouse and the County Office Building. The park is the only downtown open space in the village. The flat lawn of the park is divided by a Y-shaped sidewalk and the entire area is shaded by mature maple trees. On the northern side of the park stands a tall Civil War monument erected in 1883 for the 2,109 county soldiers who served in the war. On each side of the monument is a 57mm carriage gun dating from 1942 and 1943. A flagpole is located to the west in front of the County Office Building. The southern side of the park contains a large boulder inscribed with bronze plaques to soldiers who served in World War I and II, and nearby stands a gun tripod dated 1918. Park benches are placed throughout the park in good weather.
All four buildings are briefly described as follows:
The Yates County Courthouse is an excellent example of a nineteenth-century vernacular Greek Revival civic building. Although small in size, the structure dominates the Courthouse Park. A Doric tetrastyle wooden portico is surmounted by a louvered cupola/belltower on the ridge of the gable roof. A simple but sympathetic brick rear addition was constructed in 1909. The fine design and carving of the central oak doors (early twentieth century) is also found throughout the interior on the oak stairways, wainscoting, windows and door moldings.
The County Office Building, adjacent to the courthouse, is a two-story Romanesque Revival style structure. Although smaller than the courthouse, its broad width and strong decorative details such as corbeled brick, Romanesque arches and stone lintels provide yet another distinctive statement of nineteenth-century architecture found in this small district. In the center of the tower is a large stone plaque which reads, "Yates County Building." The two modern rear additions (1957, 1969) are considered intrusions within the Yates County Courthouse Park District but do not visually affect the district when viewed from the park.
The Old County Jail is located at the western side of the Yates County Courthouse Park District and anchors the original two-acre county plot. Constructed in 1904, the three-story building is an example of Georgian Revival architecture designed by the well-known New York architect, William Beardsley of Poughkeepsie. The building consists of two almost equal rectangular sections: the western section was used as the sheriff's residence and offices and the eastern section was divided into jail cells. The interior contains most of its original woodwork. Some temporary partitions have been added for office use as well as a modern kitchen. The jail cells remain intact and unused. The base of the front porch has been covered with modern stone veneer and wrought iron replacement posts support the porch roof.
The First Baptist Church, a Romanesque Revival structure with a 1915 rear addition, stands directly south of the park. The exterior remains intact with the exception of the 1899 tower which replaced the original structurally defective 1870 steeple and tower. Original interior features include the sanctuary, large nave with all of its pews, and the patterned, frosted and stained glass windows.
The southern section of the original two-acre county lot has been omitted from the Yates County Courthouse Park District nomination because it consists of a paved parking lot and a boiler room. The southern section of the Baptist Church property has also been omitted because it is a parking lot.
Located near the center of the village of Penn Yan, the Yates County Courthouse, the County Office Building, the Old County Jail, and the First Baptist Church form a small historic district surrounding the tree-shaded Courthouse Park. The Yates County Courthouse Park District imparts a nineteenth-century feeling with the retention of the original park plan in combination with four brick buildings designed in various popular architectural styles.
Yates County was created by law in 1823 and named in honor of Governor Joseph C. Yates. Several communities sought the new county seat but the problem was solved when Abraham Wagener (the founder of Penn Yan) deeded a two-acre plot in Penn Yan to the county in 1823. Portions of this original acreage and the Wagener-donated church property comprise the Yates County Courthouse Park District boundaries. This small complex maintains an obvious visual separation from the surrounding residential streets both in historic association and in building scale.
Situated in the center of New York's Finger Lakes country, Penn Yan is surrounded by hills and lies on the edge of Lake Keuka. The rich farmland and lake first attracted settlers to the area in the late eighteenth century. Penn Yan's unusual name is the result of abbreviating the names of the early inhabitants from Pennsylvania and Yankee states to Penn Yank [soon after the "k" was dropped].
The first combination courthouse/jail was built on the donated land in 1824. The structure was described as "a plain, substantial brick building, not vastly different in appearance from the present courthouse, but somewhat smaller in size. Its interior was so arranged and constructed as to furnish accommodation for county offices, and was also provided with cells for the confinement of prisoners." In 1834, the building was destroyed by fire. The following year, the present structure as built on the same site at a cost of $12,000 and a separate jail was erected facing Liberty Street. The new courthouse was "larger, more comfortable and relieved of the often annoying presence of jail occupants. The lower floor was arranged for county officers' quarters, while the upper story was finished for court uses." This arrangement remains the same with the addition of the county judges' offices on the first floor. The Yates County Courthouse is the finest example of a Greek Revival civic building in the county.
The County Office Building stands on the site of the original one-story Greek Revival clerk's office that was similar in appearance to the courthouse. The clerk's office was sold and demolished in 1888 to be replaced by the present structure in 1889 tat the cost of $11,000. The larger building was necessary to house the Supervisor's, Surrogate's, and County Clerk's expanded office space. It was described as "an elegant county building... It is virtually a double building the north side being the clerk's office...while the south side is occupied...as the surrogate's office." The building is a late but notable example of Romanesque Revival in this rural county.
The Old County Jail is the third such structure to be built on Liberty Street and the fourth jail to be built since the county's inception. The first two jails were destroyed by fire and the third jail was demolished. Recently, a new jail was built across from the Courthouse Park on Main Street. In 1978, the front (west) section of the old jail was converted into additional county office space and renamed as the County Building Annex. Although the building is a simple rendition of Georgian Revival architecture, it retains many original interior and exterior decorative details (with the exception of a mid-twentieth century alteration to the portico and an additional side door) and contributes both in its location and purpose to the historic context of the district.
The First Baptist Church was dedicated in 1871 and replaced the original but smaller 1835 brick church. The new building reused some materials from the former church. At the time of its construction, the church had the tallest steeple in the village. Unfortunately due to structural problems, the slender Gothic inspired spire and portions of the tower were removed in 1899. A shorter and boxier belfry and spire soon replaced the original structure. Today, the building stands as the oldest continuously used church in Penn Yan, and the finest example of Romanesque Revival architecture in the county.
The Courthouse Park forms the heart of the Yates County Courthouse Park District and significantly imparts an historic atmosphere and rural association (so characteristic of Yates County) to which all four buildings contribute. This small district is typical of an impressive collection of vernacular architecture found throughout rural Yates County. It is also significant to note that all these structures are in continuous use or a related adaptive use, and despite a variety of additions, the newer sections are not conspicuous and do not affect the original intent of the Wagener land donations.
Lewis Cass Aldrich, History of Yates County, New York, (Syracuse: D. Mason and Co., 1892), p.109.
Cleveland, Stafford C. History and Directory of Yates County. Penn Yan: S.C. Cleveland, 1873.
Combination Atlas Map of Yates County. Philadelphia: Everts, Ensign and Everts, 1876.
History of Yates County, New York. ed. by Lewis Cass Aldrich. Syracuse: D. Mason and Co., 1892.
Penn Yan. Penn Yan: Peerless and Printers Co., approx. 1911.
Research files. Yates County Historical and Genealogical Society, Penn Yan.
†Anna B. Covell, New York State Division for Historic Preservation, Yates County Courthouse Park District. nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.