Cook - Ewell House

182 West Church Street, Fairport NY 14450 

The Cook - Ewell house, an early home in Fullam's Basin or Fullamtown, was designated an historic landmark in the village of Fairport in 2012. This house represents the history of our area - it was a part of an early settlement in what later became Fairport.

Early Settlement of Fullamtown

In 1829, Elisha Fullam owned the land where the house is today. This home can accurately be traced to the late 1840's when Fullam's Basin, located where West Church Street crosses the Erie Canal, was an important center of commerce. Fullam's Basin was noted by early gazetteers before there was any mention of Fairport. In a Fairport Herald Mail article in 1950, Marjorie Merriman described passengers leaving their canal boats at Fullam's Basin and continuing to Rochester by stagecoach at a considerable savings of time, compared to continuing by boat.

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The changes and added trim details were often done to bring simple folk homes up-to-date with details of the Victorian era. Photo on right taken in the '40s, compliment of the Ewells.

 

John Wesley Cook and his wife owned 182 West Church in 1872 and may have lived there earlier. The Cook family was part of the commerce and life in Fairport. Wesley Cook was on the police force; the 1850 federal census lists him as a laborer. The original house was single story with two rooms. In 1888, John Wesley Cook added the back section and the second story with front and side gables, enlarging the house to the way it looks today.

In the peaks of gables and dormers, what appears to be shingles is really clapboard with triangles cut out to make a coursed shingle pattern. It was probably done in the 1888 renovation; this is an unusual detail and exists in only a few other houses in Fairport. A front porch with decorative corner brackets was added and then removed in the 1950's when the main entrance was moved to the side. The style is Folk Victorian. The changes and added trim details were often done to bring simple folk homes up-to-date with details of the Victorian era.

There are four people of historic interest who lived at 182 West Church Street; Nancy Armstrong, Richard Castor and Matson and Ruth Ewell.

Nancy Armstrong

As a child Nancy Armstrong was the property of Solomon Cook. In 1833 when he died, she came to Fairport with his son William as a freed slave and was one of the first free blacks in Fairport. When William's son John Wesley Cook was married she moved to his "newly built house" at 182 West Church and lived there until her death in 1895. When Nancy died her age was between 107 and 118. Nancy Armstrong is listed in the Greenvale Rural Cemetery, but her grave is unmarked. She was recognized for her energy, nursing skills and kindness.

 

The Castor Family

Eight generations of the Castor family have lived in Fairport; three generations at 182 West Church Street. The family was very active in and held many leadership positions in the First Congregational Church. Richard Castor was a Village Trustee from 1964 to 1968. He worked tirelessly as a Democrat to keep the two-party system alive in Fairport in the 1950, 60's and 70's. He was part of the first tree planning committee. He patented several machines to produce non-woven material used in disposable diapers and scrubbies. 1n 1969, he formed his own company, Cast Fabrics, Inc. to develop a fabric-casting machine unique to the industry. For many years he was an internationally known consultant to the non-woven textile industry.

 

Matson and Ruth Ewell

The Ewells: Matson Glenn Ewell (1923 - 2016) and Ruth Ewell give tirelessly of themselves to preserve the history of Fairport. They were recognized as Citizens of the Year in 1999 for their contributions to the village. Quoting the Perinton Historical Society website: "Matson, along with other Society members, were instrumental in the negotiations to move the Society...to the former Fairport Public Library on Perrin Street." Matson's love and care of this building was to continue for the next 27 years. He served as President of the Society from 1977 to 1979 and was on the Board of Trustees from 1980 to 1989. Even after his term expired, Matson continued to attend Board Meetings as Director of the Museum.

Ruth Ewell was Corresponding Secretary on the Executive Committee of the Perinton Historical Society from 1977 to 1983 and from 1991 to 1994. She was editor of the Society newsletter, the Historagram. Her articles and columns chronicled the history and architecture of the area for 20 years. Both Matson and Ruth are members of the Society and Ruth is an honorary member of the Fairport Historical Club.

Their dream is to have the name, Fullam's Basin, become more recognized in the history of Fairport. In the early canal days, the area had taverns, a grocery and homes. This hamlet became a less important center after the railroad came through the village of Fairport. The historic designation of 182 West Church Street will help preserve the memory of Fullam's Basin.

 

For more information on the Fairport Historic Preservation Commission and designated landmarks, go to the village website at www.fairportny.com or to the Village Preservation page.

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Fairport's 180th Erie Canal Opening Celebration

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DeWitt Clinton (Matson Ewell) was dressed in a swallow tailed suit with a black cravat. He was at the bow of a small packet boat and carried a canal horn at his side. The boat proceeded slowly from the west and arrived just as the Mayor of Fairport, Clark King, was finishing his opening remarks. The canal bridge was raised and the bridge bell was run to announce Mr. Clinton's arrival. 

"Wedding of the Waters" Commemoration

May 14, 2005

By John Jongen

On Saturday, May 14, 2005 the Village of Fairport and the Perinton Historical Society collaborated with the Perinton/Fairport Partnership to celebrate the Opening of the Erie Canal by commemorating the 1824 inaugural voyage on the Erie Canal and pay tribute to New York Governor DeWitt Clinton for his achievement in building the canal.

Bill Keeler, Curator, Fairport Historical Museum, wrote the following two-act play about the event. He describes this probable scenario in 1824:

"Fairport was not large enough for the group of boats to dock or spend time here during their trip to NYC. There is every indication that the boats passed through here at night on their way to Palmyra where they arrived at 7:00 in the morning. If they would have stopped here the following is a reasonable historical facsimile that actually happened in several communities that did greet the party as verified by eyewitness accounts.

I would have 3 to 5 packet boats coming down the canal pulled by horses. Each would have a name on the bow and in order "Seneca Chief", "Niagara of Black Rock", the "Buffalo of the Erie", "Young Lion of the West" followed by a freight barge the "Commodore Perry". The "Seneca Chief" would be pulled by 4 gray horses and have a small cannon mounted on the bow. On deck would be 5 or 6 men dressed in period costumes. They would be Governor Clinton, Lt. Governor Tallmadge, Canal Commissioner S. Van Rensselaer and several engineers and committee men.

There would be two dark green barrels on board the first boat. They would be painted a dark green with gold colored hoops and a gold eagle with the words Water of Lake Erie in gold. The other boats would have barrels of produce on deck including barrels of ash, apples, corn, etc. There would also be a live bear, 2 eagles, a fawn, raccoons and other assorted animals along with 2 Native Americans in costume.

On shore there would be a crowd, a small cannon and military men with rifles. As the Seneca Chief approached the dock they would fire their cannon with a cannon reply from shore. A member of the Seneca Chief would ask for permission to land, it would be granted followed by a few short speeches. The party would then be escorted by the military men to a local tavern for refreshments before getting back on the boat to resume their trip".


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