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Penn Yan News, 52 years ago

by admin ~ July 22nd, 2008

Penn Yan Civic Center-Griggs House 1956

Miss Alice Griggs died 30 September 1954 and willed her 17 room house at 324 Main Street to the Penn Yan library. Evidently it had served as needed classroom space for the elementary school and was known as the Penn Yan Civic Center since February of 1955. On 19 July 1956 the Board of the Civic Center voted to place the property up for sale at the price of $15,000. “The directors agreed to sell the property because it was found that the use made of it as a community center does not warrant the expense of maintaining it.”

This morning I looked for this house on my walk, without success. There is a huge gap — an athletic field — where this house number should have been. Knowing some streets have been renumbered, a careful look at adjacent houses had no resemblance to the building seen in the poorly rendered image above.

Curious, I did a little more research. On the front page of the Chronicle-Express dated 21 October 1954 there is an article describing a large bequest from Alice Griggs. Alice Griggs died 30 September 1954. She was a former teacher at the Penn Yan Academy and left her home (in this article it is listed at 322 Main Street) and other real property with an estimated value of $25,000 to the Penn Yan Library. Alice’s father Ferdinand (born about 1824) was a grocer in the 1860s and had a grain elevator on Water Street. In 1866 the family moved to Brooklyn remaining there until the death of Mr. Griggs in 1881. The house in the picture was established by Alice’s mother, Ruth D. Griggs (born about 1830) in 1882. In the 1890’s, Miss Griggs taught in the academic department of the Penn Yan Academy and later was librarian of the DAR library in Washington D.C. Following the death of her brother Clemence T. Griggs on 09 March 1947, Alice returned again to live in Penn Yan.

Having lived in Brooklyn I was interested to see where the family lived. On the 1880 Federal Census, the family lived on Ryerson Street. This is (now at least) a short two block street that is located in the Clinton Hill and Bedford Stuyvesant areas. The street extends between Flushing and Myrtle Avenues, walking distance to Pratt Institute and what was the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In fact the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway passes over this street, which means I have driven over it many times. During the era when the Griggs lived there, this part of Brooklyn was a very desirable, in fact some of the most magnificent brownstones are found there and the area is currently enjoying growth.

Following up on what happened to this house, in the Chronicle-Express of 20 December 1956, there is a report that the Penn Yan Central Schools have taken an option on the purchase of the house for the sum of $8,000. Remember, the school had used several rooms in the house for classrooms so there was clearly a need for more room. The article mentions possible use for expansion. The image below shows what is there now from my calculations.

Where the Griggs House was likely located

My assumption is the house was razed at some point after that, though I would need to spend some more time researching this to learn the specifics. The saddest part of the entire tale is the house appears to no longer exist. We can be thankful historic preservation would prohibit such an act now. I’d love to find out I am wrong — perhaps the house was moved or the street numbering was different.

Meanwhile — prices at the local grocery stores: [Loblaw’s] leg of lamb, 69 cents lb., oranges, 5 lbs for 59 cents; bread, 2 pks for 33 cents; [Cooper’s] 10 lbs potatoes for 79 cents; peaches, 2 lbs for 29 cents; roasting chicken, 59 cents per lb.; 25 pound sack of flour for $1.99; butter @ 69 cents per pound; pound of store brand coffee for 89 cents [Red & White] Ripe tomatoes, 19 cents per pound; ground beef, 3 lbs for $1.00; squash, 2 lbs for 19 cents; new apples 2 lbs for 29 cents.

2 Responses to Penn Yan News, 52 years ago

  1. Dick Johnson

    I just found your great site! Welcome to the neighborhood!

    Regarding the house on Main Street – sadly you are right, the house has been torn down. The history is here:

    The above is a page from this site, which includes your beautiful home.

    I am historian and webmaster of the First Baptist Church. You may be interested in a page of links to Penn Yan area websites which I have included on the Church’s website. I have also added many non-church pages of interest (at least to me) to the site. I included this page of links as a service to web surfers, and hopefully, people will bookmark it and find it useful. I will add your site to the list.

    Dick Johnson

  2. Laurel


    Thanks for the welcome and taking the time to compile such great information! Appreciate having the additional links, which I will add to the site! Love the house history, I’ve been doing some research on the house (and owners) as well and have some additional interesting tidbits to add — will be getting something online here within the next few weeks. Look forward to meeting you at some future point!



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