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49 State Street

49 State Street
Brockport, NY 

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

Pelatiah and Mary Tall Wells Rogers
Owners/builders: 1824 to 1835

Pelatiah Rogers built what is arguably one of the most iconic symbols of Brockport, yet we associate this home with the more familiar name of Seymour. The Rogers family was, in fact, related to William H. Seymour, the second owner of this house, although what they built in the early 1820's reportedly bears little resemblance to the structure we see today.

Pelatiah and Mary Rogers came here with their family, which eventually included ten children, and John June Rogers, Pelatiah’s brother. Rogers was reportedly a descendant of a Mayflower passenger and the son of Samuel Rogers, an officer in the Revolutionary War. Mary’s ancestry is unknown. Sarah Maria, Sophia, Henry P. and James Towle Rogers were four of their ten children but the remainder of the children’s names is unknown. Also living with the family was Pelatiah’s niece, Narcissa “Nancy” Pixley, who eventually married William Seymour. Sarah Rogers married Amos Bartlett and moved west with him to Peoria, Illinois, where the family eventually relocated.

According to a historical account written by Helen M. Hastings, the structure that now houses the Brockport Village Hall and Emily L. Knapp Museum & Library was built in the style of a Dutch row house, much like that of the former Presbyterian manse. Photos of that house survive and give us some idea of the look of the original Roger’s home, with tall chimneys flanking each side of the building. Red brick was the original color of the house, which was first painted light grey in the 1860's. Fireplaces grace the major rooms, ceilings are ten and nine feet tall on the first and second floors, respectively. The parlor woodwork was elaborate and always painted white in contrast to the faux grained doors. The house was built to impress, no doubt successfully.

In addition to the house at 49 State Street, we know that Pelatiah built at least two other frame houses which survive. They’re located just to the east on State Street at the north (57 State Street) and southwest (58 State Street) corner of Park Avenue. Pelatiah’s family lived in one of the houses while construction was taking place on his brick home. In addition to building village homes, Pelatiah was also appointed by the state legislature to handle land sales near the canal. His compensation was 5% of the sale prices. As a relative by marriage to William Seymour, Pelatiah probably had some degree of influence with Seymour’s uncle, the canal commissioner.

By the late 1820's, the enticement to move westward became too much for the Rogers family to resist. To compensate William Seymour for his debts, Pelatiah relinquished ownership of his large brick home at some point and moved to Peoria, Illinois, with at least several of his children and his brother John June. There he took up farming on 160 acres of land, raising livestock and growing large amounts of oats, wheat and Indian corn. His sons James and Henry were very successful in the lumber business.

“Fell Asleep Age 66 Years … We Thank Our God Upon Every Remembrance of Thee” is the epitaph on Pelatiah Roger’s gravestone in Elmwood Township Cemetery, Peoria, Illinois. John June and Mary Rogers are buried there, as well.

William Henry and Narcissa “Nancy” Pixley Seymour
Owners: about 1830 to 1902

Much has been written documenting the long life and business success of William H. Seymour. He came to western New York as a young man to clerk for his brother James in a “mercantile” which opened in Clarkson and relocated to Brockport with the opening of the Erie Canal. He was appointed village postmaster in the 1830's. His partnership with Dayton Morgan and others in the business of manufacturing reapers made him a wealthy man.

Seymour, son of Revolutionary War veteran Samuel Seymour, was descended from early Connecticut colonists. His wife, Narcissa Pixley, our first village schoolteacher, was the daughter of Ephraim Pixley, an officer in the Revolutionary War from Columbia County, New York. The Seymours had five children, three of whom lived to adulthood: Henry William, Helen M. and James Horatio. Mary and John Seymour died as children. All three of the Seymour children joined Revolutionary War lineage societies based on the service record of their paternal grandfather.

Life for members of the Seymour household in some respects seemed to be almost ordinary, especially given the family’s wealth and social position within the village. They kept a cow in the barn next to their house and it was James’ responsibility to ‘drive’ her to the Seymour farm’s pasture in the morning and retrieve her in the evening. James, who enjoyed a lifetime of theatrical pursuits preformed childhood productions on a third floor raised platform which he used as a stage. Father William liked to read, play whist, a card game, and billiards. He traveled to Europe but preferred to stay home. A lifelong Democrat, he walked to the polls to cast his vote even in his ninety-eighth year, but he never served in public office. On the occasion of his one hundredth birthday, the village celebrated with and for him, his daughter served as his hostess for a party on his lawn and an orchestra provided music for all to enjoy.

Of William’s three children, only the oldest, Henry William, demonstrated business skills similar to those of his father. Henry graduated from Brockport Normal and Williams College. He became an attorney and assisted his father here but left Brockport for Michigan, where his father had bought timber acreage. He ran the timber operation and served in the Michigan legislature before being elected to Congress. He married three times and had one daughter. Henry died during a visit to Washington, D. C. in 1906. His body was returned to Brockport where his third wife, who died in 1951, rests besides him in the Seymour family plot.

In the mid-1860's, William engaged Rochester architect Henry Scarles to remodel his house. It was then that the mansard roof was added and the exterior was first painted light grey. There have been changes, of course. Once set on fire and burned to the ground, the family’s barn was apparently rebuilt but no longer exists. A large modern addition replaced the side porch and the glass conservatory has long been demolished. Still, the Seymours would recognize their family home, even today.

“Nancy” Seymour died of bronchitis at age 80. Her husband died in at age 101. They were both buried in the Brockport Cemetery. Ownership of the family home passed to William’s daughter Helen.

Helen M. Seymour Sylvester
Owner: 1902 to 1921

Helen Seymour Sylvester, the surviving daughter of William and Nancy, was born and lived most of her life in her childhood home. No documentation could be found of her education, which apparently did not include college. She married William Bedell Sylvester, an employee of the Johnston Harvester Company. They had no children.

Helen was active in the DAR (Daughters of American Revolution), and was elected first Regent of the Monroe Chapter. She hosted meetings at her home, although it was reportedly her older brother, Henry, who spent the most effort researching the family history. They must have been elaborate gatherings, indeed, with speakers, musical selections and flag ceremonies preformed while dressed in colonial costumes. She was also active in the Presbyterian Church.

It was Helen who built a summer cottage on “Point Seymour” located on 4th Lake near Old Forge, New York. Her husband had purchased the land for their summer home which had a dock and boat house plus several outbuildings – hardly a primitive seasonal camp. It was here that Helen passed away from heart disease at age 76. Her body was returned to Brockport and she was buried in the family plot with her parents. Husband William Sylvester retained life use of Camp Seymour but her younger brother, James became the next owner of the property, which still exists today.

James Horatio Seymour
Owner: 1921 to 1931

James Horatio, youngest of the Seymour children, also, like his sister, spent the majority of his life in the family home. He attended college for two years, apparently without graduating, and assisted in the family’s Michigan lumber business with his older brother Henry but had an otherwise unremarkable work record. He was, however, keenly interested in music and dramatics all his life, which was an immense benefit to the Brockport Opera Company, which James obviously had the funds to generously support. Gilbert and Sullivan operettas were especially popular during James’ lifetime and he played principal parts in many productions, always to good reviews. This was clearly his passion in life; not business.

James died at his California home in 1931. His body was returned to the village and the Seymour family plot in the Brockport Cemetery. It was James who willed ownership of the family home to the village, with a generous cash endowment, as well, for the purpose of establishing a library. Perhaps he recalled how much his father had enjoyed reading during his lifetime or perhaps he was aware of efforts to raise funds for a village library. In any case, his gift resulted in the creation of the Seymour Library located in his family home.

Epilogue 2013
The Seymour Library is now located in a newly built, larger building but the former Seymour home houses both the village offices and the Emily L. Knapp Museum of Local History, including its collection of historic books, artifacts and records.

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