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80 Park Avenue

80 Park Avenue

80 Park Avenue
Brockport, NY

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

John and Sophronia Raleigh
Owners/builders(?): early 1850s to 1860s

The block of Park Avenue on which this home is located has a series of four houses built by 1852. Our first documented owner for this home was identified about ten years later on the 1860 Federal Census as J. Raleigh. The Raleigh family came to Brockport early in its history. John Ra
leigh was a carpenter and joiner. He possibly owned several Brockport homes at the same time; two on Park Avenue and one on Main Street. Perhaps he built them. They were not occupied by his children, as he and his wife had none.

John and Sophronia were not active in village affairs from what we can ascertain from existing records and surviving contemporary accounts. In fact, next to nothing is known about their personal lives. They are buried in the Brockport Cemetery.

Merritt D. and Harriet Fosmire
Owners: mid-1860s to mid-1870s

Merritt D. Fosmire, grandson of Dutch immigrant Hendrick and son of Jacob and Catherine, was born in Rensselear County, New York. By about 1845, Jacob had moved his young family to a farm in Hamlin. Sadly, he died there before age 40, leaving his widow with three young children. She was a “tailoress” according to early census records and her sons farmed the land. Living in the household at one time was a family whose wife was a seamstress and whose husband was a wagon maker. Merritt became a wagon maker by the age of twenty.

As the Civil War unfolded, Merritt joined the Union forces as a Private in the 3rd New York Cavalry on August 8, 1862, for a 3-year enlistment. One month later, on September 8th, he was listed as a deserter in Albany, New York. The only other information available at this time from Merritt’s service record is his physical description of 5’7” tall, with a light complexion, brown hair and grey eyes. It’s interesting to note, however, that in the 1863 Clarkson records of Class I, “subject to military service list,” we find Merritt’s name. He was apparently living and working in Clarkson as a wagon maker. What consequences, if any, resulted from his desertion are unknown but he never served in the military again at any other point in the war.

Fosmire continued his profession as a wagon maker after moving to Brockport. Several years before his death he visited his old hometown one last time and stayed with Spencer Ketchum, a
nother former employee of the wagon shop in which they had worked, which by that time was no longer standing and had been replaced by a home.
With his wife, Harriet, Fosmire had two children, although only their son, George survived to adulthood. One Fosmire child was buried locally; Ida Helen, who died at six months of age after an illness of just less than a week. She is buried with other Fosmires in the Garland Cemetery.

The Fosmire family remained in the village for just a few years, as by 1875, they were living in Cleveland, Ohio. We can only speculate what their contributions might have been to the village if they had remained here, as Merritt Fosmire became a successful businessman, builder and contractor. Merritt, who died in 1916, Harriet, who died in 1917, and their immediate family are buried in Cleveland at Lake View Cemetery.

Nelson A. and Mahalie R. Van Dorn Miller
Owners: mid 1870s to late 1930s

No longer known as Mechanic Street, the home belonging to Nelson and Mahalie Miller was 26 Park Avenue when they first purchased it. Nelson, born in Kendall Mills, was the son of Jacob, a shoemaker in Clarkson and Phebe Buell, who was born in Canada. Unlike his father, Nelson a farmer most of his life, although a later 
newspaper account said he was previously a “cobbler.” Mahalie was the daughter of Jesse and Mary Ann Van Dorn. The Millers had one daughter, Mina Miller Swart, who was born in Canada in 1865. We can theorize two possibilities for her nativity. Mina’s mother was a Canadian by birth and may have traveled back to be with her family for the birth of her child. The other scenario has to do with Nelson’s service in the Civil War.

Nelson A. Miller was a veteran, of sorts, of the Civil War. He, like Merritt Fosmire, enlisted in the war but remained in the army but a short amount of time; from September of 1862 until February of 1863, when he deserted from Company 6 of the 1st NY Sharp Shooters. Did Nelson and his wife 
move to Canada for the duration of the war?     
We may never know the answer to that question, except to note that at least by 1870 they were living in this area once again. As a result of his desertion, Miller never collected a pension but because of his service, however, we do know that he was 5’6” tall with grey eyes, dark hair and a light complexion.

The Millers owned a farm in Kendall Mills to which they moved every summer and the Park Avenue home in which they spent their winters. Mina or Minnie, as she was sometimes referred to in newspaper articles, met and married Philip Swart of Middleport in a ceremony held at her Brockport home. Reportedly, the newlyweds received packages of $500 from each of their parents as wedding presents, apparently a generous sum of money in 1885.

Nelson A. Miller was one of, if not the longest-lived Civil War veteran in Brockport. As he approached his 95th birthday, local newspapers began to take note of his longevity and described each passing year with tidbits of his life alone, as his daughter and wife had long since departed this earth. 

At age 95, in 1937, he celebrated a quiet anniversary as Brockport's "oldest resident," living in the same house bought 60 years before. He was the head of a five generation family and in good health but had given up driving the year before and disposed of his automobile. In 1939, at age 97, he reflected that he didn’t think he would “be here today” as his “ticker” had been “working a long time” and he couldn’t expect it to “last forever.” He noted that all his friends were dead and his existence was lonely but he was still independent, making all his own household purchases and walking around the village, even in the winter, cooking for himself and keeping up with world events by reading the newspaper.

As he celebrated 98 years, it was reported that he could carry on an interesting conversation and had a remarkable memory; that in the last year he had hired a housekeeper and he had previously spent some nine winters in Florida. Obviously an independent fellow, Miller drove to the sunshine state in his car!

Nelson A. Miller lived to be 99 years old. He was buried alongside his wife, daughter, her husband and son in the Brockport Cemetery.

Epilogue 2012
The “housekeepers” hired by Nelson Miller actually bought his home, in which he was considered a “boarder” during his final years. Charles T. and Anna E. Berns were first generation Germans whose parents entered the United States during 1866 or 67. Before purchasing the Park Avenue home, they lived in Bergen an
d the Town of Sweden.

The home at 80 Park Avenue still shows its Greek Revival roots with apparent later additions and/or style variations, including a par
tial front facing of stone. Few homes as old as this retain their exact original styling but absent records of early photographs, we can only surmise at all the changes made over the years. Still, the house is charming with mature landscaping and it remains a single-family residence.

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