Trumansburg 1866_croppedAffordable Housing in Trumansburg of 1867

by John Wertis, Ulysses Town Historian

Ulysses Town Historian John Wertis co-led, along with historic preservationist Katelin Olson, one of this summer’s Walk and Talk programs in Trumansburg. Wertis told the story of how Trumansburg developer A.H. Pease came to develop the southwest portion of the village into a tract of housing affordable for people of moderate means. He has graciously agreed to share his talk with Historic Ithaca.

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The Pease brothers came to Ulysses from Connecticut in 1811–Simeon, Allan, and Alvah. They purchased land in Military Lot 3, southeast of Trumansburg, and set about developing their farms. Simeon, the oldest, prospered on his 226 acres. He fathered 13 children with his wife, Cynthia, 10 of whom survived to adulthood. The second child, born in 1817, was his firstborn son, christened Augustine Hermon, and known locally as A.H. Pease. A.H. attended local schools and then went to Union College in Schenectady, graduating in 1843. He taught school in the west and the south, returning to buy a farm in Newfield in the early 1850s. He married a Covert girl, Rebecca Hopkins, and moved to a farm in Ulysses. In 1858, he was granted the MA degree from Union College and the for next two years he was the principal of the Trumansburg Academy, in the building located about where Juniper Manor is today between Elm and Gregg streets.

Daniel Elmore came to Trumansburg in 1840. He was a talented builder, credited with building 20 identified structures in Trumansburg, including the Union School; the First Baptist Church, now the Trumansburg Conservatory of Arts building; and numerous homes. He bought some land in the southwest corner of the village bounded by Elm Street on the east, Halsey Street on the south, Hector Street on the west, and Trumansburg Creek and Main Street on the north. Here he built a home for himself, still standing at what is now 42 Elm Street. Doctor Dunning lived just north of the Elmores, and the Daggetts had a home just to the south of them. On the north side of Halsey Street was a cluster of three homes, belonging in the 1860s and 1870s to three black families–the Reeds, the Browns, and the Hemans. There were no houses on the east side of Hector Street, and except for the “Academy,” there were no structures to the north on the south side of Trumansburg Creek.

In 1865 the Gregg family moved their farm machinery business to Trumansburg from Farmer (now Interlaken) and built what became known as the Gregg Ironworks Building north of the creek and west of Hector Street. Besides casting iron storefronts that can still be identified on Trumansburg buildings today, they were very successful farm machinery manufacturers. Their “Meadow King” hay mowers were shipped all over the United States and to Europe. Offering a full line of farm field machinery and hand-pushed lawn mowers, the business ran profitably from 1865 to 1887 and in its most robust days employed around 100 men.

In 1867 Simeon Pease died. A.H. Pease inherited a considerable amount of money. He purchased the Elmore house on Elm Street and 23 acres of land to the south and west of it. He had an idea. His plan is well described in the following Free Press piece of 1892:

“Mr. Pease bought a tract of land, on the southwest side of the village, with a view of cutting it up into building lots. His object was to provide homes for people of moderate means and to afford the day laborer and mechanic an opportunity to secure a home upon easy payments. He sold lots upon contract to pay a fixed sum per month, and in many cases advanced money to commence building a house. The plan worked most admirably in most cases. An industrious, saving man could, in a few years, have a home paid for, and in this way many of the employees of Gregg and Co., found an investment for their savings which when trouble came proved the wisdom of the projector and beneficiaries. Mr. Pease’s investment at one time amounted to about $20,000 and on the whole, considering the shrinkage of all values, especially that of real estate, this investment was not a paying one. Had the times continued as good as when the property was bought, no doubt that handsome sum would have been realized; as it is the village is indebted to this gentleman for one of its greatest improvements; the whole section now being covered with a good class of buildings, the streets are nicely kept and bordered with shade trees, and an air of comfort pervades that portion of the village.”

Researching deeds from the 1860s and 1870s shows us how A.H. proceeded. First, he had built the east to west Pease Street between his and the Daggett house, from Elm to Hector Street. Then Academy Street was cut in from the west, and finally, Gregg Street connecting Pease and Academy. Certain deeds note that he marked off house plots along these streets. From 1868 to A.H.’s death in 1909, we can identify by recorded deeds 56 transfers of house lots (and, in some cases, houses) from Pease to new residents. If you “Google Earth” the same area today, some 60 homes are visible.

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In 1983 an architectural survey of historic houses was conducted in Trumansburg. Five homes (Nos. 17, 19, 20, and 21 Pease Street and 25 Gregg Street), all of Italianate style, were identified that are directly attributed to Pease’s program. Take a village walk some day–up Elm to Pease and then west on Pease to Gregg Street. The buildings identified here will be obvious to you. Tarry and note the subtle differences in architectural decoration that makes each one unique unto itself. You will find yourself agreeing with the Free Press writer as to the success of A.H. Pease’s project.

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A respected local man recognized a community need. He had the capital to complete a large land purchase. He was motivated by a spirit of civic responsibility to give local workers an opportunity to demonstrate their own financial responsibility by a savings and purchase program that led to individual home ownership and the evolution of an attractive and comfortable Trumansburg village neighborhood.

(Map at top is from an 1866 Gazetteer of Tompkins County. This map shows the southwest portion of the Village of Trumansburg–largely open space–that was purchased by A.H. Pease in 1867.)


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