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69 State Street

69 State Street

69 State Street
Brockport, NY

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

Priam Backus Hill 
Original owner and builder: 1823-1836

According to the history of village homes written by Helen Hastings, this imposing brick residence on the corner of State Street and Park Avenue was built in approximately 1823 by Priam Backus Hill on land purchased from his brother-in-law, James Seymour.

Priam B. Hill was born in Franklin County, Vermont in 1799. By 1821, Hill was named an Erie Canal “collector” for the Village of Brockport. These appointments continued for over a decade but were by no means his only business interest.

In May of 1835, Hill, along with fellow village resident, medical doctor and pharmaceutical business owner, Dr. Calvin McQuesten and Joseph P. Janes purchased a foundry in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Named after its primary financial backer, C. McQuesten and Company apparently owed much to Hill, with his family connection to James Seymour, a partner in the Brockport foundry which produced the first McCormick reapers. A novice in the foundry business, McQuesten, through this partnership, gained access to foundry technology and expertise.

By 1836, Hill had sold his partnership share to McQuesten and relocated to Illinois before settling permanently in Wisconsin. Priam B. Hill died at age 84 and is buried along with other family members in Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He left in Brockport a reminder of his stay, a stately home subsequently occupied by others who also contributed to the growth and prestige of the village.

John Arnold Latta
Owner: circa 1836-1860

Born in Charlotte, New York, in 1811, John A. Latta moved to Brockport in 1832. The 1840 United States Federal Schedule listed his household members as follows: one free white male between 20 and 29, one free white female between 20 and 29, two free white females under 5 years of age, one free white female between 15 and 19 and one free colored female between 10 and 23 years of age. His family eventually grew to include four children by two wives.

Latta was a tanner by trade who located his business a short distance east of his original residence. He eventually became a dealer in footwear, with a store located on Main Street. When that business was sold at auction in 1892, following Latta’s death, the notice of sale mentioned that the building had been a shoe store for over forty years.

Latta was obviously successful as a businessman. Every census, beginning in 1840, identifies one or more servants living in his household. On the 1870 Federal Census, he claimed real property assets of $5,000 with personal assets of $10,000. By 1872, he had built and moved into a house at 90 State Street before eventually moving to his daughter’s home in Clarkson.

In 1841, Latta became one of a group of original stockholders in the Brockport Collegiate Institute, raising the funds necessary to purchase and rebuild the original fire damaged and bankrupt college. He was an active member of its governing board and of the Brockport Normal School, which closed on the afternoon of his funeral, when professors and board members served as his pall bearers. It was reported that all of Brockport’s businesses closed, as well, on the day of his funeral. Latta’s first wife, Syrena Shurtz, and unnamed infant daughter by his second wife, Mary Pomeroy, are buried at the Brockport Cemetery. The location of his burial place is unclear.

“Doctor Hammond”
Following John Latta’s move to a newly built house further east at 90 State Street, Helen Hastings cites the recollection of village resident James P. Cornes, who claimed that a “Dr. Hammond” lived at 69 State Street. While Federal Census records list a Henry C. Hammond living in the Latta household at one time, no information could be found to substantiate the claim that a doctor by that name owned or occupied the home. Cornes was more successful in identifying the next owner as “banker Thomas.”

John S. Thomas 
Owner: circa late 1850s- early 1860s

Born in Oneida County in 1818, John S. Thomas came to Brockport with his immediate family, mother and mother-in-law. Their occupations were listed on the 1860 Federal Census respectively as “banker” and “ladies.” Thomas also had the moral if not financial support of his brother-in-law, Dr. Thomas Macomb Flandrau, who relocated to Brockport at approximately the same time.

If contemporary accounts are true, the family’s stay proved memorable to village residents, who noted the fine carriage with a coachman, the private school Thomas established for his children and the modern improvements made to the family home. Because of Thomas, this home was one of the first in the village to be equipped with a furnace, running water and gas lighting.

Thomas, unfortunately, owned the Brockport Exchange Bank in an otherwise thriving community where banks routinely failed. By 1861, newspaper notices reveal that his bank, too, had failed. Among the creditors was the State of New York for the $19,000 in canal deposits held by the bank.

Thomas moved back to his native city of Rome, New York, returning one last time in death to rest forever beside his wife in the Brockport Cemetery, where his final contribution to the village was a suitably imposing marble monument.

Horatio Nelson Beach
Owner: circa early 1860s – 1906

Undoubtedly the most distinguished owner to occupy this house, H. N. Beach, as he was commonly known, purchased the home following the departure of James Thomas. Beach, born in Connecticut in 1826, had lived in Brockport on Erie Street before moving into this imposing home. Three generations of this family would own the property for the remainder of the century: Horatio and his wife, their son Lorenzo T. and granddaughter Eva Prindle Beach Bullock.

Beach was the owner and editor of the Brockport Republic, a village newspaper. He was president of the Brockport Rural Cemetery Association and a great proponent for the building of a Civil War monument located on its grounds. When President Arthur appointed Beach United States counsel to Equador and Venezuela, Lorenzo, referred to in some newspaper accounts as “Loren,” became editor and publisher of the Brockport Republic. In addition to the newspaper, Beach owned considerable property near the street which now bears his name. As this land was subdivided into lots and houses were erected, ownership of a number of those homes continued with the family according to village maps.

Upon his return from South America, Beach undertook to make some practical changes in/on his property. A home for Lorenzo, his wife and twin daughters Edna C. and Eva P., was built on the property, just north of Horatio’s house. The roof of the original home was altered and raised to form a third floor, which Horatio reportedly used as a museum for his collection of artifacts, including those brought back from his four year stay in South America.

Eventually, fortune didn’t shine as brightly on this notable family. Young Edna died after a protracted illness. Horatio died in 1896 and his only child, Lorenzo, died suddenly of a stroke at age 45. After the death of Horatio’s widow, ownership of the business and properties passed to the sole surviving family member, granddaughter Eva Bullock. Eva, however, had married a young Canadian, Arthur Bullock, and was in no position to handle these assets personally, so she hired Morris Rapalee to manage her properties. By 1906, Eva sold the family home to Rapalee and his wife.

The Brockport Republic was sold and continued operation for some time but eventually closed its doors forever. Members of the family, including Horatio, Lorenzo, their wives and Edna Beach are buried together at the Brockport Cemetery. Eva Bullock died in 1956 and is buried in Ontario, Canada, with her husband and son, Hubert Arthur Bullock. Her daughter, Edna Adelaide, married and moved to Michigan.

Morris A. Rapalee
Owner: 1906 – 1930s

Morris was born in 1851 in Yates County, New York. His family connection with the Beachs was through his marriage to Emily Victoria Bullock, a cousin of Eva’s husband, Arthur. By 1900, Morris and his wife were living at 69 State Street, but according to census records they first rented the house.

Morris’ occupation on the 1900 census was listed as “mill,” by which was probably meant “millwright,” his given occupation in 1880. Brockport had a mill on State Street that was owned and operated by Ransford Smith, which utilized the natural springs for which Spring Street is named. Whether Rapalee worked there, however, isn’t known. He retired shortly after the turn of the century. According to Helen Hastings, Rapalee was a trusted agent and family friend of Eva Bullock, but we now know that he was also a relative by marriage.

Rapalee and his wife lived together in the house through the 1920s but by the 1930 United States Census, Victoria was a widow, living there with her sister and niece. The home was reportedly then sold to Ethel Phillips.

Epilogue 2012 
The exterior of 69 State Street has changed substantially since the 1820s. Gone is the extensive landscaping, front porch, arbors and iron fence seen in historic photographs. No longer a single family home, the house is divided into a number of rental units. Lorenzo’s home at 23 Park Avenue also remains standing and is now used as a college rental. It was separated from the original family property long ago, along with a section of land at the eastern property line, on which a home was later built.

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