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41 Park Avenue

41 Park Avenue

41 Park Avenue
Brockport, NY 

History researched and written by Carol L. Hannan
© Copyright by Carol L. Hannan – February 2013 All rights reserved

Abel and Lydia Morgan Gifford
Owners/builders (?): 1829 to 1860

A house was built on this lot long prior to the first village map in 1852 but it was definitely not the expansive Victorian we see today, nor was it a Park Avenue home. When first built, the house was a story and a half structure with post and beam construction facing State Street. Its footprint was a simple rectangle. Such was this home’s very early and humble beginning.

The Gifford family came here from Herkimer, New York, between 1810 and 1820. These true pioneers settled in what was then Sweden, Genesee County. In 1829, Abel purchased the Brockport lot from James Seymour, who may or may not have already erected that first modest house. Gifford was the son of James and Susannah Hubbard Gifford. Lydia Morgan, his wife, was the daughter of Amos and Sarah Welch Morgan, also early settlers in this area. They were related to the family of Brockport millionaire Dayton S. Morgan.

Detailed records of very early residents, unfortunately, are few and far between. We know that Abel and Lydia had a number of children, both boys and girls; some born in Herkimer. The names and fate of the Gifford children are unknown. Abel was a member of the county Board of Canvassers as a Sweden representative in 1827. He was a farmer.

Abel died in 1839 and was buried in the Brockport Cemetery. By his last will and testament, he conveyed lifetime use of the village property to his widow, Lydia. Although Milton Randall’s name appeared on an 1821 village map, which usually indicated ownership of a property, legal title to the house had apparently not been transferred to Lydia’s nephew. The elderly Lydia, however, lived with Milton and his family during that time period and there was undoubtedly some sort of arrangement in place; the details of which are unclear. Also puzzling is the lack of involvement of any of Lydia’s children. They may have moved away or preceded her in death. After Lydia’s death in 1865, sale of the house to the next owner, James Whelan, mentioned Milton’s indebtedness, with interest, to his late aunt’s estate.

Following Lydia Gifford’s death, Milton sold his farm and moved to Kansas. He was the last of his family to leave the area, as his father and brothers, Maynard and twin Morgan had moved to Illinois years earlier. Lydia was laid to rest beside her husband in the Brockport Cemetery. Milton’s mother, Laura Morgan Randall, his young sister, Betsey, along with Laura’s Revolutionary War veteran father, Amos Morgan, are buried in East Lake Cemetery, Sweden Township.

James and Harmony Anderson Whelan
Owners: 1865 until 1873/74

James Whelan, the son of Silas and Betsey Kimball Whelan, was a grocer with a store on Main Street. His wife, Harmony Anderson, was the daughter of Deacon Seneca and Lucy Webb Anderson, early settlers in Le Roy, Genesee County. James and Harmony had three children, two of whom, unfortunately, died at a young age. Francene and William B. are buried in the West Sweden Cemetery along with their Whelan grandparents.

There is no indication that James participated in civic endeavors while a resident of Brockport. His father-in-law was a Baptist Deacon but if James and his wife had a religious affiliation, it is unknown.

By 1871, James had given up the grocery store and was working as a salesman in Rochester, although he and his family continued to live in the State Street house at least until1873. The family moved to Comfort Street in Rochester by 1875.

After James died in 1892 his widow moved back to Le Roy, Genesee County, where her family lived. Sometime between 1907 and 1910, Harmony returned to Brockport to live with her nephew Erastus Kniffen and his family on Park Avenue. She died in 1911 at the Hahnemann hospital in Rochester, the last surviving member of her immediate family, as the 1910 Federal Census states that of her three children, none were living. The burial location of James, Harmony and their son James F. is unknown.

Cornelia S. Sutphen White
Owner: after 1880 to 1901

Cornelia Sutphen, the widow of successful Sweden farmer Chauncey S. White, purchased this property at some point after her husband’s death from Typhoid pneumonia in 1880, meaning that an unknown owner likely purchased the property from James and Harmony Whelan.

Cornelia, the daughter of Peter and Martha Sutphen, was born in the Town of Sweden in 1818. She and her husband, who lived on the road that bears their name, had no children. Chauncey S. White was a successful and well-to-do farmer when he passed away, thus leaving his widow with a very comfortable inheritance on which to live the remainder of her life. At some time after her husband’s death, Cornelia bought the State Street property before selling it in 1901 and moving to Brooklyn to live with a niece.

It was during this approximate time period that the home was substantially enlarged and changed in style. Gone was the simple early dwelling. In its place is the grand Victorian Park Avenue home which stands on the corner today. The large windows, the impressive mahogany staircase that winds down from the second floor, the bay windows, the expansive front and side porch and decorative exterior trim no doubt impress passer-byes just as they were intended to do “back in the day.” Although there is no known documentation to prove conclusively that Cornelia White transformed this home, it is certain she had the funds to make those changes. We shouldn’t forget, too, that this area of Brockport was a very prestigious one. Many wealthy residents and/or society leaders called this area of the village “home.” Perhaps the prospect of joining the social and financial elite of the village appealed to Cornelia. In any case, by 1902, according to a village map, the house had been transformed and reoriented to face Park Avenue.

Cornelia died at her Brooklyn home in 1911 at age 94. Many decades after the death of her husband Chauncey she left a considerable estate to her nieces and nephews as well as the thousands of dollars to the neighborhood Presbyterian Church in which she was active. Cornelia’s body was returned to rest beside her late husband in Beach Ridge Cemetery.

Willis Curtis and Mary Ellen Williams Cook
Owners: 1901 to about 1911

Willis Curtis Cook, an allopath physician and graduate of Toledo Medical College, lived and practiced on King Street before moving to this stately Victorian home on Park Avenue. He was the son of Curtis and Betsey Snow Brown Cook and the grandson of Lemuel Cook, a Revolutionary War soldier and one of the last surviving veterans of that conflict when he died in Clarendon at the age of 107. The Cooks married in Michigan, moved to Holley and then to Brockport. They had five children, Jay Willis, Curtis Lemuel, Karl Ruthven, Frank William and one daughter, Lenoyr Cook Philbrook.

Although born in this area, Willis Cook served in the Civil War in Company D, 13th Michigan Infantry and re-enlisted in Company E, 9th Michigan Cavalry. His grandfather lived long enough to know of Willis’ part in saving the country he fought to create, and Lemuel was quoted as declaring that although the conflict was terrible, “,,, the rebellion must be put down.” Beginning in 1887, Willis collected a pension based on his military service.

Cook served as Brockport’s health officer for a number of years beginning in 1896. After his wife died in 1902 of a protracted illness, he shared the Park Avenue home with his granddaughter Lenore, sister-in-law Mary and niece May. He died suddenly in Albion while visiting his married granddaughter. Frank W. Cook spent the remainder of his life in Brockport and organized the first Boy Scout troop here. Son Karl struck out on his own at a very early age and eventually became a wealthy ex-patriot mine and landowner in Mexico, dying there at age 101 in 1964, having outlived the rest of the immediate family by many years, but several years short of the impressive longevity record of his great grandfather. The Cook family burial plot is in Lakeview Cemetery, Town of Sweden.

Perry A. and Lottie S. Murphy Smith
Owners: about 1911 to 1935

Perry A. and Lottie Smith bought the house at 41 Park Avenue for the sum of $5,000. They moved there with daughters Winnifred Doris and Gladys Marietta, their oldest daughter Ethyl having died in 1899. Also living with the family was Perry’s unmarried sister, Lucy Smith. Earlier in their married life, his grandmother Marietta lived with the family. Perry was the son of Sweden Township farmer George L. and his wife Mary Jane. He was a third generation “Perry” in the Smith family, named after his grandfather, Perry J., a veteran of the War of 1812 or perhaps for his great grandfather, Perry G., a Revolutionary War veteran. Lottie Murphy’s parentage is unknown.

Although he and his family moved to the village, Perry was a farmer his entire life, just like his father. While his uncle Henry E. organized a company during the Civil War and another uncle, Dayton, was the supervisor of the reaper factory, Perry A. lived a quiet life and unremarkable life as far as we know.

The Great Depression brought misfortune to the Smith family, which was bankrupted and saw their long-time home sold at a foreclosure auction held on its front steps on 1935. With their unmarried daughter Gladys, they moved to Rochester, where Gladys, a Brockport Normal graduate, worked in the public schools. In death, Perry, “Lottie” and Gladys returned to Sweden, as they were buried in Lakeview Cemetery along with their extended family, once again close to the farm where the Smiths had once settled so many years before.

Epilogue 2013
This original lot was, like so many others, divided many years ago making room for two additional homes, one to the east on State Street and one to the south on Park Avenue. A barn was built on the south eastern corner of the property between the publication of the 1872 and 1902 village maps. It was still standing in 1935 when the property was auctioned but only remnants of the foundation exist today.

The owner who bought this house at the foreclosure auction in 1935 is unknown. Since then, the property has changed hands quite a few times. It’s now a multi-family rental. 

© Copyright by Carol L. Hannan - February 2013. All rights reserved.