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26 South Street

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26 South Street
Brockport, N.Y. 

History written by Carol L. Hannan, August 2013 
Photo Credit and Produced by Pamela Ketchum
© Copyright by Carol L. Hannan – August 2013. All rights reserved.


Thomas and Sarah Coleman Cornes
Owners: 1834 – 1878

Thomas Cornes and his first wife, Sarah Coleman, came to Brockport in 1834 and moved into this home, then number 3 South Street. They spent the remainder of their lives there. Thomas, a native of County Kent, England, emigrated with his parents, George and Mary, to Morrisville, Madison County, New York, when he was 10 years old. George Cornes was a butcher, a trade subsequently followed by multiple descendants, including his son Thomas and grandson Charles. Sarah Coleman’s ancestry, unfortunately, is unknown but she lived in Madison County.

Thomas and Sarah had five children: Charles Coman, Thomas Lucien, William Wallace, James Polk and Sarah Ann (?) Cornes. It wasn’t easy for Thomas’ sons to find their way in the shadow of his tremendous financial, social and political success. Charles became a butcher and, along with his father, earned a patent for an improved “refrigeration unit.” James was a Civil War veteran who had various occupations with some success, establishing a saw mill, owning a hardware store and working as a (Civil War) “pension agent.” He was court marshaled while in the service and fought successfully to have his record repaired when in his eighties (!) but, for some unknown reason, was “disbarred” from his pension agent business. “Lucien T.” as he was known, started a storage and “forwarding” business in the early 1860s, but quickly sank into a life marred by alcohol abuse and unemployment. He was described in later court documents as “improvident, dissipated and a cripple.” Even more tragic was the life of Thomas’ youngest son. William committed suicide while still a young man. Sarah married Edson D. Shoemaker, a brewer, and moved with him to Buffalo. She made repeated efforts to help her brother Lucien, which eventually led to herself and her husband being involved in a fraud lawsuit.

After the death of his first wife, Thomas remarried and had a child with his second wife. Their daughter, tragically, died in infancy and his second wife preceded him in death.

With his business success, Thomas was able to assist other family members. Frank Hillhouse, son of his second wife Caroline, lived with the family, as did Thomas’ mother, after being widowed and his sister, who also may have been widowed at an early age. The household was also staffed with multiple live-in servants – three in 1855, for example. No wonder Thomas completed several additions to his home.

Butchering was Thomas’ primary profession. He owned his own shop just north of the canal and west of Main Street, which he built, and except for several years during his lifetime, he maintained the retail meat shop, alone or with others. He bought a large amount of land east of the village and established a slaughter house there; a complex consisting of multiple barns/buildings and pens, primarily located south of State Street.

Because of the Civil War and the ensuing taxes which paid for it, we have documentation of the volume of business done at the slaughterhouse. In the IRS Tax Assessment List for 1862, for example, Thomas reported a volume of 40 cattle, 15 hogs and 48 sheep slaughtered, on which he paid an excise tax of about $55. At least some of the stock was raised on Thomas’ sixty acre farm in Hamlin. A newspaper report in 1864 commended him on raising two hogs over 600 pounds each, apparently a noteworthy feat for that time.

In addition to operating the market, slaughterhouse and farm, Thomas Cornes was a toll collector on the Erie Canal in 1852/53 and during the Civil War. He built the toll collector’s building. It was in the 1860s, too, that he was an agent selling “fine ground plaster,” as advertised in one New York City paper. His retail shop was sold in 1866 to a partnership of three butchers: J. A. Sleaster, William Stanley and George T. Cornes, Thomas’ nephew but by 1870, Cornes was once again working as a butcher.

Business endeavors were just the tip of Cornes’ activities. He was an ardent and active Democrat “of the Jeffersonian type” who frequently served as an elector and committee delegate to local and state conventions. He ran for office and was elected three times as “Supervisor” in Republican-dominated Sweden, a feat noted by the local Republican-leaning newspaper. He served as a Brockport Trustee and President (mayor). Cornes was also appointed by the governor to serve on the Board of Managers for the Western House of Refuge in Albion.

Thomas Cornes was very supportive of the Civil War; attending “War Meetings” and donating money for recruiting bounties. His son James joined the cavalry at age 18 as a commissary sergeant and was promoted in rank for bravery; was captured and escaped twice; fought in many major battles and no doubt was a source of great pride to his father – at least until some “colorful” language during off-duty victory celebrations resulted in “conduct unbecoming” charges against him.

Of great interest to Cornes was the success of the Collegiate Institute, at which his oldest son Charles and other male relatives studied. When the state assumed ownership of the college, Cornes was chosen, along with other distinguished local men, to serve on the first Board of Managers. The early history of Brockport was reportedly another of Cornes’ interests and one of which he supposedly wrote about, but unfortunately, none of his writings could be found. Cornes served as a member and officer of the Union Agricultural Society, which sponsored the county fair. In 1860, he was elected treasurer of the organization. A measure of his respect in the community was the formation of the Thomas Cornes’ Hose Company #3 in 1877, in response to the horrific Market Street fire that year. The company continued in operation until the early 1890s. Perhaps the formation of the company also reflects the dedication of Cornes to firefighting service in the community. He was one of the founding members of the Hook and Ladder Company #1 in 1839.

His personal life was not without sorrow, as previously noted, but Thomas Cornes’ business success was undeniably remarkable. It was not, however, without setbacks. In 1872, a fire raged through his complex on State Street, reducing the slaughterhouse, barns, grainery and other buildings to rubble. Nothing was spared by the fire, which was likely the work of an “incendiary” and insurance covered only half of the loss. Still, Cornes left a very large estate, which was shared by each of his surviving children when he died in 1878 at the age of 65.

In the Brockport Cemetery, there is a large marble monument to the Cornes family, and it is there that Thomas was laid to rest in the family plot. Carved on the monument were the names of the wives and children who preceded him in death and a place to inscribe the death date of wayward son Thomas Lucien, whose burial location is unknown.

Charles Coman and Susan C. Thomas Cornes
Owners: 1878 to late 1880s

There is some ambiguity about the disposition of the family home and how long eldest son Charles and his wife Susan resided there after Thomas Cornes’ death, but it certainly appears they were living there at the time of the 1880 Federal Census.

Charles Cornes and Susan Thomas were married in Brockport according to the announcement in the local paper, which also noted that both the bride and groom were residents of the village. Her father was William Thomas and her mother’s maiden name was Dyer. Susan and Charles had three children: Charles T. (Thomas?), Maurace Nathaniel, and Mary Cornes. There is a monument in the Brockport Cemetery to “Charlie, Jr.” with no other information given. Charles T. died at age nineteen or twenty. The 1880 census stated he had a “lung comp.” Maurace or Morris, never married. He lived with his mother or in Rochester until 1909, when he moved to Canandaigua and he died shortly afterward. He was a “livery man.” Mary “Minnie” Cornes Gabe and her husband, Frederick, lived in Rochester, where he was a sign painter. They had at least one child, a daughter, Susan.

Charles Cornes was a butcher like his father and as previously stated, shared a patent with Thomas for an improved refrigeration unit invented by them, father and son, in the 1870s. Surprisingly, as a young married man in 1860, he was, according to census information, a photographer. In the mid to late 1880s, he ran a stable. Between these occupations, he worked as a butcher and at one time was in a partnership names Cornes & Bowman, which was a meat market. Charles never enjoyed the financial success of his father in his several occupations and his obituary stated that in later years, for unknown reasons, he suffered from financial reverses. Indeed, in the early 1900s, Charles was a peddler and then a fruit peddler in the village, living alone in rented quarters.

Susan Cornes was fairly unique, either by choice or circumstance, in that she maintained an occupation after her marriage. She was, for many decades and into her early seventies, a milliner. Not only did she pursue an outside occupation, she eventually separated from her husband and owned a house and land in her own name. Susan and her unmarried son, Morris, lived on Fayette Street for a number of years.

While the Cornes family has a plot and imposing monument in the Brockport Cemetery, where “Charlie, Jr.” is buried, Charles senior, son Maurace and his wife Susan are buried together in a family plot at Lakeview Cemetery in the Town of Sweden. Minnie Cornes and Frederick Gabe are also buried there.

William and Ann Peck Stanley
Owners: early 1890s to 1900s

At least by 1892, the South Street home was owned and occupied by yet another English born butcher, William Stanley. Devon, England was William’s place of birth and strongly circumstantial evidence points to his father being James Stanley. The obituary of John Stanley referred to his brothers George, Samuel and William and the 1841 English census of Okehampton, Devon, reported the same brothers living with their father, James. A James Stanley, born in Devonshire, is buried at the Brockport Cemetery. Ann Peck, William’s first wife, was a widow when she married him but neither her maiden name nor her parentage could be found.

William Stanley reportedly lived for a short time in Canada but spent the majority of his life working here, his first employer being Thomas Cornes, the butcher. According to Landmarks of Monroe County, William “bought the real estate” of Thomas after first going into the meat market business in 1862 with Cornes’ nephew George and J. E. Sleaster. William, a naturalized citizen, may have led the way for his brothers, who also worked for him or in the meat market business.

Although a successful and respected businessman, William was not known for his civic involvement. Little is known of other interests in his life. Ann Stanley was a milliner still working at her trade in 1892, by which time William was retired from his business. Emma, the sole child of William and Ann Stanley married Charles L. Lawton. While living with his wife in the family home on South Street, Charles, a former farm hand, learned the meat cutting trade from his father-in-law. What began as Thomas Cornes’ butcher shop evolved into a partnership with others, eventually became William Stanley’s store, and morphed once again over the years to become the Stanley & Lawton meat market.

The Stanley family has a plot in the Brockport Cemetery.

Charles L. and Emma H. Stanley Lawton
Owners: early 1900s to 1930s

The third successive butcher to own this home, Charles Lawton, was born in Watertown and was first employed in Clarkson. His parents were William and Emily Snow Lawton.

Charles and Emma had two children: Lena Helen and Stanley William Lawton. Lena married Roy James Park in 1913 but by 1918 when he registered for the World War I draft, Roy declared that he was unmarried. What happened to Lena? No amount of searching revealed the answer to that question, but in the 1930s, a Lena Lawton Howes sold a property on South Street. Stanley was a Brockport resident who retired to Florida and returned here in death to be buried at the Garland Cemetery.

Although Charles entered his father-in-law’s business, he was not always a butcher. He purchased and operated the Globe and Lyric theaters for several years, an occupation also shared by his wife, married daughter and son-in-law, James Park. For most of his life, however, he was a meat market owner.

Charles was a Mason and a member of the Businessmen’s Association, but his abiding interest was definitely not as a sedate store owner. Brockport was the site of the Monroe County Fair and for years before that, it had a quarter mile track which hosted horse racing meets – and Charles Lawton was a familiar face on the racing circuit for many decades. He bought, sold and raced pacers on the circuit. Racing Pomona V, Mary Patchen, Night Star and others earned Lawton some degree of fame on the circuit, with one newspaper reporter calling him a “clever knight of the sulky.” Not surprisingly, Lawton was actively involved in the running of the fair held at Brockport.

Emma Lawton predeceased her husband, who remarried and moved to a house on Hillcrest Parkway. He lived a very long life, passing away at the age of 95!

Epilogue 2013:

The simple, rectangular shaped home first occupied by Thomas Cornes’ family, has been substantially expanded with additions over the years. Reflecting his business success and prominent social role in the community, the home was memorialized in print shortly before Cornes’ death. Although the entrance has obviously changed in the years since, the overall footprint remains surprisingly identifiable today. Surrounded by mature trees and plantings, the home graces South Street as it has for almost 200 years. If only those walls could “talk,” what a story we would hear!

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