Illuminating Frank Bown

On June 17, 2014, Illuminated History held its third annual cemetery tour in which twelve actors portrayed residents of the burying ground.  The tour, which was sponsored by the Perinton Historical Society, took place at the Fairport Historical Museum due to inclement weather.  Greenvale Rural Cemetery in the village of Fairport, New York, was the focus of the tour.

In this Illuminated History series, each of the scripts of Greenvale’s featured eternal residents will be posted until all twelve have been illuminated.  Although the scripts are based on in depth historical research, some creative license may have been taken.

The fourth Greenvale resident to be featured is Frank Bown.

If any of you lived in Fairport before 1970, you might remember the Bown block, a three-story brick building where the library and Village Landing are now. I’m Frank Bown, and that building was built by my father, George. He ran a carriage factory and blacksmith shop there for many years, and later we sold bicycles and automobiles there. But that was many years ago.

My father George was born in Canada, and came to Penfield when he was twenty-five to learn blacksmithing from his uncle. He moved to Walworth and ran a blacksmith shop there, and met my mother, Mary Jane Foreman. They had nine children, including me. I was the oldest, born in 1857. When I was 4, we moved to Fairport, into a house on South Main Street near the four corners. My father opened his carriage factory, and at first he worked alone. But as it grew, he built several outbuildings, including areas for construction, painting, a sales room, and an office, and eventually employed 14 people, including wood workers, iron workers, and painters. His carriages were known for their strength, durability, and elegance of finish. His carriages were shipped to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and other states for both personal and business use. He built lumber wagons, delivery wagons, 3-spring wagons, and both top- and open buggies. His carriages won top prizes at fairs and competitions.

Frank Bown, courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society.

Frank Bown, courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society.

In December of 1887, George faced his most serious setback. Most of his enterprise, including our home, was destroyed in a fire. The newly-formed Deland Hose Company was able to save several small portions of the property, but we were devastated to see all those years of work laying a pile of ashes. In 1888, my father bought land closer to the canal from C.J. DeLand, and built the building that would bear his name: the Bown block. He rebuilt his home on the original site, but moved the carriage factory to the new location right by the canal. We had a blacksmith shop, where I worked, a sales room for bicycles, and a carriage shop for carriages and wagons.

The new building housed many other businesses and shops in addition to our own, including a drug store and the library. The Post Office was relocated into the building from West Avenue, and my father served as Postmaster for several years. My father served the village in other ways, as well, including as village trustee, overseer of poor, and school board member. He and my mother were very active in the Raymond Baptist Church. He died in 1904, and my mother followed a few years later.

When my father arrived in Perinton in 1862, my wife Ella Ellsworth’s family had already been here for almost 30 years. Her grandparents, William Ellsworth and Irena Cady, were from two of Perinton’s earliest pioneer families. William and Irena bought a farm on the corner of Turk Hill and Ayrault, where they were very successful farmers. In fact, it is a sheep farm today and is still in the Ellsworth family. Ella’s grandfather ran one of Perinton’s first banks, loaning money to his neighbors at reasonable rates, and keeping people’s important documents, like deeds, in a safe at his house. Her grandmother, Irena, ran a school across from their house, and she was a skilled draftsman, renowned for drawing up plans for mills. She was also a land surveyor, and was a fine shot with a cross-bow, to boot!

Ella and I were married on New Year’s Day in 1880 when I was 22. Ella was very active in our church, the the Raymond Baptist church, and chaired the fund-raising committee for many years. We loved to entertain, and she hosted many special events in our home for our friends and for the church. She also helped me recover from emergency surgery in 1915 when I had appendicitis.

Bown Block in Fairport, New York.  Courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society.

Bown Block in Fairport, New York. Courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society.

After my father’s death, my brothers and I continued the carriage and bicycle business, but in the nineteen-teens, we also began to sell automobiles. We sold Maxwells, Chalmers, Chryslers, and Chevrolets to the likes of Levi Deland, Martha Brown, and Will O. Greene, the newspaper man, and also provided a fully-equipped garage for servicing of vehicles. Cars needed more attention than wagons or horses, that is for sure! Business was booming in the 1920s. But we had two more fires, in 1920 and again in 1925. Having a blacksmith shop and garage was a recipe for danger, and in the second fire, our entire structure was destroyed, along with several cars that were on the property awaiting repairs. Luckily for us, this time around we had insurance to help rebuild, unlike my poor father. And when we rebuilt in 1926, we said goodbye to the blacksmith shop for good. There had been a smithy on site for almost 60 years, but with the advent of the automobile, there was so little need of it that we decided to forgo that part of the business.

In 1936, Ella and I celebrated 56 years of marriage! It was a special occasion, with our friends joining in to wish us well. In the fall of that year, I passed on at age 78. Ella died 3 years later. We loved our town, and served it well over the years, both the Ellsworths and the Bowns. The next time you drive by Village Landing, think of my father George and me, working over the anvil and producing the finest carriages and wagons available to keep Fairport moving in style.

Script by Suzanne Lee

(c) 2014 Vicki Profitt’s Illuminated History

Explore posts in the same categories: Architecture, Fairport NY, Monroe County NY

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2 Comments on “Illuminating Frank Bown”

  1. deb Says:

    That is quite a story about the Brown Block building! I was in my mid and late teens in 1970 and I don’t remember it at all. I didn’t live in Fairport but I did live in Macedon Center. This story was quite interesting to read and I learned a lot about our neighboring town!

    • Thanks, Deb. There are so many interesting stories to tell. We are fortunate to have the photos, courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society, which are a vivid reminder of what life was like “in the olden days”.

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