PLACES: Jackson Street: A 19th-Century Working-Class Neighborhood
Penn Yan early got a reputation for being relatively hospitable to fugitive
slaves escaping the South. Several black families spent much of the 19th
century in the village, leaving only after the rural economy gave way to
manufacturing near the turn of the century. Political considerations were
also important; the Republican party's original commitment to containment
of slavery drew many local abolitionists and other reformers, but by the
middle of the 1870s Congressional Republicans abandoned efforts to aid
the freedmen in the South, and enhanced its orientation towards big business
nationwide. The small local black population gradually left the village
and the area, until at present Yates County has the smallest nonwhite population
percentage of any county in the state.
Some of the 19th-century black population found work as teamsters
and coachmen with the well-to-do families along upper Main Street. Behind
Main and parallel to it between Court Street and Head Street was a narrow
alley called Back Street, then Jackson Street, now Linden Street. The houses
were and are small, sitting on small lots with their back yards running
down to Jacob's Brook. A row of carriage houses at the rear of the Main
Street lots faced these small houses, and in some cases provided employment
and indeed extra housing in upstairs apartments.
Several black families built houses on Jackson Street and lived there
for decades, including the barber Henry Garner, a native of Kentucky; John
Thomas, born in Maryland; John Saunders of Virginia; John Minisee of New
York City; and others. Other local black families, including the Maxfields,
the Frames and the Dallases, had houses elsewhere in the village. Jackson
Street was home as well to Irish immigrants in the 19th century,
who worked in the big houses on Main just as their black neighbors did.
This was a quintessential working-class neighborhood for decades.
Few of the houses remain in anything like their original condition.
The County, ever-hungry for parking space, pulled down Henry Garner's house
with its integral Southern-style porch, in 1995. The Minisee house next
door was razed by New York State Electric & Gas Corp. at the same time.
John Thomas' house remains, though it has been vinyl-sided over the original
narrow clapboards; and so does the Saunders place nextdoor. Neither has
been very well-maintained and the neighborhood is not now one of Penn Yan's
best by any means. It is adjacent to the village's large and successful
Historic Preservation District, and an attempt was begun to add this row
of houses to it that was cut short by the demolitions in 1995.
on this small map to see what part of Jackson Street looked like in 1931.