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63 Park Avenue

63 Park Avenue

63 Park Avenue
Brockport, NY 

History researched and written by Carol L. Hannan
© Copyright by Carol L. Hannan – April 2012 All rights reserved

Henry Rogers and Lora Ann Baldwin Selden
Owners: 1847 to 1853

Documentation from a Building-Structure Inventory completed by the Landmark Society estimates this to be a circa 1820s structure, making it one of our very early village homes. The first owner known to us, however, was Henry R. Selden, an early Clarkson resident who made his way to this area, in part, via the Erie Canal. Selden was an attorney partnered with Simeon B. Jewett and taught law students before moving to Brockport; occupying this home until professional opportunities took him to Rochester and beyond.

Henry Rogers Selden was extraordinarily successful as an attorney, judge advocate of the 3rd NYS Cavalry, Appellate Court Judge, and Lieutenant Governor of New York. Selden was an ardent Republican. Abraham Lincoln offered him the nomination for vice president, which he declined, or this narrative would be describing the history of a president who lived in the village.

Selden had other business interests, as well; serving as a trustee for the Rochester Gold and Silver Mining Company in 1865 and, along with his older brother, investing in the early telegraph company which became Western Union. Selden commuted to the city in a carriage powered by Polly and Dolly, which is ironic, as his son George, who also lived in this home, patented the first gasoline automobile engine.
Undoubtedly his most famous legal case was Selden’s defense of Susan B. Anthony when she was charged with voting illegally. Selden was a personal friend of Anthony’s and a great supporter of the suffrage cause, just as he had earlier supported the abolition of slavery.
His city home is where Henry R. Selden died of old age in 1885. Unlike other former residents who returned to family plots in the Brockport Cemetery, his final resting place is in Rochester’s Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Earl Douglas and Mary King
Owners: 1853

Earl Douglas King was born in Massachusetts, the son of Revolutionary War veteran Phineas and Lowly Smith King. Both of the King’s sons were born in New York and the family lived in this area at least until after the 1855 Monroe County Census, but by 1860 the family had joined younger son, Sidney, in Commerce, Michigan, where Earl continued his trade as a cabinetmaker. King’s brief ownership of this home and residency in Brockport may never have been discovered without information provided from the property’s deed.

Baker Boswell and wife
Owners: 1853 to 1861

Here we have the names of village residents who lived at 63 Park Avenue, according to the property’s deed, yet seem not to have existed – not, at least, in census records, genealogical records, village directories, histories or internet sites. This is a mystery yet to be solved but certainly the conclusion can be drawn that Baker Boswell and his wife left very little imprint on this village.

William Barry
Owner: 1861 to 1863

William Barry’s name may have been on the deed but records clearly show other family members lived in this house. In 1863, we find that George was listed in the Brockport Directory as living in the home on Park Avenue and his occupation was described as “captain.” Never a ship’s captain, as might be suspected in a village on the Erie Canal, this notation referred to George’s service as a captain in Company H of the 8th New York Cavalry during the Civil War. George enlisted in 1861 for a term of three years. In fact, George’s twin, Augustus, and younger brother Frederick also served in the war. During his service, George participated in notable battles such as Antietam, Gettysburg and Appomattox and was wounded in action near Culpepper, Virginia. All three brothers survived the war.
Census data tells us that George, like his father, was a produce merchant. After the war he was elected Monroe County Clerk and moved to Rochester. What other interests he had are unknown but in 1866 he became Secretary of the Citizens Gas Light Company.

Frederick H. and Mary H. Barry
Owners: 1863 to 1865

Like his brother George, Frederick Barry enlisted in Company H, 8th New York Cavalry, the so-called “Rochester Regiment” or “Crooks Cavalry Regiment” in 1861 and became regimental quarter master before being discharged in 1862. Back in Brockport, he first lived on Holley Street, then State Street and worked as a “speculator,” suggesting that he had entered the same profession as his father and older brother. When George left for Rochester, Frederick moved into the Park Avenue home. Frederick, too, soon left the village, first moving to Rochester. In 1880 a Frederick Barry, widower, was working as a “speculator” and living in Albany.

Mary J. Barry
Owner: 1865

The final Barry family member to own this home, Mary, may have been the widow of William. In the Brockport Directories, there are several entries for a Mrs. William Barry, “milliner.” In any case, her tenure as owner was brief and contemporary newspaper accounts have no mention of a William or Mary J. Barry. Their village legacy was limited to home ownership and their son’s military service, both points of pride even today.

Alanson and Mary Elizabeth Youngs Kniffen
Owners: 1866 to 1870

Alanson, son of James and Elizabeth Hazen Kniffen, was born in 1810 in Putnam County. He moved to Clarkson and owned a farm there by 1850. He and his family spent half a dozen years in Spring Lake, Michigan where his brother Harrison had moved but returned to this area and, with John Smith, a State Street resident, opened a furniture store in Clarkson. He retired to the Park Avenue house so apparently he was successful in his farming and business ventures.
Little is known about the family and their interests except that they attended the Baptist church, where Alanson was a Bishop for a number of years. Hattie, too, was noted for her church activities. Family seemed important to the Kniffens, as various members lived with them over the years, such as Alanson’s brother Harrison and his mother-in-law. Alanson’s son was named after his youngest brother.
The Kniffens had two children. Hattie taught music, never married, lived with her parents and after their deaths, with her brother. Erastus Melville, the son, remained a Park Avenue resident but in a more modest home. The Kniffen family is buried at Beach Ridge Cemetery.

Henry Platt and Emelia Whitney Gardner and family
Owners: 1870 to 1978

Generations of Gardner family members lived in this home and it remained a Gardner owned residence until 1978. The Gardners may not have had the illustrious personal history of Henry Selden, or the military service record of the Barrys, but their long ownership of this village showpiece must contend for a record of longevity.
Henry Platt Gardner and his brothers were long-time area farmers as was their father, Adam, a very early area pioneer who arrived here from Massachusetts in 1811. Collectively, the family owned hundreds of acres of farmland. Henry was always known by his middle name or initials. He retired to the village with his wife, extended family and servants, indicating that his life of farming proved to be materially successful. Following his death and burial at Beach Ridge Cemetery in 1890, Henry’s widow and single granddaughters lived together in the house.
The “Gardner sisters” varied through the decades but included at various times, Blanche, an artist; Chastina, a secretary; Celia; and widows Laura Gardner Austin and Mary Gardner Clark. Eventually, time separated them as one by one each passed away, leaving Blanche alone in the house until her death in 1961. Ownership of the home then passed to a niece, Jean Frances Gardner Dickinson, daughter of George P. Gardner, and her husband Kenneth.
Members of the Gardner family are buried in the Brockport Cemetery, Beach Ridge Cemetery and Lakeview Cemetery.

Epilogue 2012 
This stately home continues to impress on a street of historic houses. The carriage house still exists, the yard has mature trees and foundation plantings and the house is impressively maintained. It carries its age well and is a tribute to owners past and present.

© Copyright by Carol L. Hannan – April 2012 All rights reserved