Standing proudly on Main Street in Penn Yan is the anchor building of the Yates County History Center, the Oliver House Museum, one of three buildings comprising the YCHC. The Center, formerly Yates County Genealogical & Historical Society, is one of the oldest in NYS, has been actively collecting, preserving and interpreting history since 1860. Continue reading about us...

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Abraham H. Bennett Advent of the First Newspaper in Yates County

As originally written in 1870 by the Hon. Richard H. Williams

Abraham H. Bennett (son of Thomas and Charity (Hodges) Bennett,) was born December 10, 1796 in Otsego County, N.Y. He married Desdemona, daughter of Ephraim Kidder and step-daughter of Samuel Lawrence of Milo. They were married October 4, 1817, and settled in Penn Yan where they remained until they died. Abraham died on the 13 th of May 1842 at age 45 and his wife died July 24, 1846, aged 45. They were buried in the cemetery near Caleb Hazen’s, opposite the brick school house in the Shaw school district in Benton.

Mr. Bennett was educated as a printer and served his time with John A. Stephens of the Ontario Messenger, at Canandaigua, a paper long known to be associated with the Democratic Party of the then west, as their organ, and conspicuous during the war period of 1812, as favoring the administration of President Madison and Governor Tompkins and their associates and supporters during the heated political period preceding, including and following the war. It was under the schooling at such influences that he acquired his profession as printer and editor, and it is therefore not surprising that the bent of his mind and associations directed him to the advocacy of those doctrines thus early. We find him, soon after attaining his maturity, returning to his adopted county and there establishing a weekly paper devoted to the advocacy of the principles of Jeffersonian Democracy.

In May, 1818, he started a newspaper in Penn Yan under the title of “Penn Yan Herald,” which he conducted until 1822, with that heading. Later, deeming the title not sufficiently significant of his veneration for and devotion to the principles which he regarded as underlying all of elemental principles of our institutions, he changed the name and heading of his paper to that of the “Penn Yan Democrat” and so fully established its title to the name during the direction of its course, that its popularity became proverbial then, and it has retained the name and heading to this day, under and through all of the changes and varying of the political compass and parties with that of editors and directors. It must be remembered that this was the first press established and paper printed in Penn Yan ( which was then part of Ontario County,) and was the only paper at and for some time after the organization of Yates County, within its boundaries; and to those who are only familiar with the boundless facilities of this day for the spread of knowledge and news through the newspaper press, it will be difficult to appreciate its importance and influence with the local community, for it was the very exceptional few, who then saw and read a New York or other than home paper.

The habits of Mr. Bennett were always those of strict temperance and frugality- and in his business pursuits he was devoted to his profession and perseveringly industrious; braving, as the times demanded, all the difficulties and embarrassments which constantly blocked the path of his profession. The rudeness of the means with which he worked may be judged by a visit to the present Penn Yan Democrat office, where the old press and its appendages and facilities may be seen and compared with the present.

Mr. Bennett was the first County Clerk of Yates County, elected in 1822, and served up to January 1832, being twice re-elected. In 1830 he was appointed Deputy United States Marshal and took the first census of the county after its organization. In August 1834 he was appointed Postmaster at Penn Yan to succeed Ebenezer Brown who emigrated about that time to Indiana- which office he retained until September 1841.

Somewhere about December 1840 he purchased the stock in trade of Thomas H. Locke, in the book and binding business, which he continued up to the time of his death.

On June 1, 1841 Mr. Bennett disposed of his then interest in the Democrat to his son Clement W. Bennett, which had been conducted for some five years previously under the firm of Bennett & Reed and in the issue of the fifteenth of the month appears his valedictory which closed his active and direct connection with the paper.

Thus for twenty three years was he interested in and associated with both its advent and progress, and with it, the rapid and wonderful changes and development of the county and village, and it is no wonder that his local attachment to both were strong and controlling, for Abraham H. Bennett seemed identified with and a part of each.

In all the official positions which he occupied, the discharge of his duties was always satisfactory and without taint or delinquency. Socially he was warm and devoted to his friends and he had no enemies that would own the name.

In his family relations he was all kindness and devotion; hence his death was universally felt to be a great loss to both his family and the community to whom he was so long and familiarly known.

The family of Abraham H. Bennett consisted of five children: Clement Welles, Adelaide G., Henry B., Mary H., Abraham H. Jr., and William W. Clement W. Bennett born April 21, 1820, married Margaret M. daughter of William Goundry of Benton February 21, 1843. For a time they settled in Penn Yan and he was engaged as joint editor and proprietor of the Penn Yan Democrat with Alfred Reed, Esq. and thus conducted the business up to February 1847, when he disposed of his interest in the paper and accepted an appointment in the Treasury Department at Washington and occupied it until January 1850 when he resigned and entered upon the practice of the legal profession as attorney and claim agent (which profession he had studied under the late Henry A. Wisner and was admitted to the practice while at Penn Yan) and which he has pursued as a business since, spending with his family a portion of each year at their summer residence in Dresden Yates County. He has three children: Adele M., Alice B., and Clement G., all born in Washington D.C.

Henry B. Bennett married Cornelia B., daughter of Henry Bradley of Penn Yan, October 18, 1849. They resided in Penn Yan, where he assumed the book and stationary business of his father, which he successfully conducted until he sold to James Burns in 1849 and entered into banking. He bought the Bank of Bainbridge, and brought it to Penn Yan. It was finally closed in consequence of a disastrous failure of N.B. Kidder of Geneva, who was part owner, in the year 1855. Mr. Bennett then removed to the city of New York, and engaged in the business of a note broker, lost his health, returned to Penn Yan, and died of consumption February 6, 1859, leaving his wife and two children: Henry B., and Rhoda B. Mrs. Bennett died October 28, 1859.

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