16-18 Main Street

Crown City Touring- Main Street

16-18 Main Street

Cortland, New York 13045, United States

Created By: Cortland County Historical Society


What is now an unassuming section of our business district once was witness to scandal, tragedy, and the beginnings of a success story.

The history of 16-18 Main mainly covers two structures; the first started as a brick building put up by Nathan Dayton to serve him as a law office some time prior to 1831, afterward used by Jonathan Woods for the same purpose until 1840. It was then purchased by Homer Gillett who at about that time served as Justice of the Peace.

You may recall that I hinted at a scandal in the previous post on 11-15 Main St covering the residence once located across the street. These events involved Harmon S. Conger-a lawyer, politician, merchant, and editor of The Cortland County Whig. “As a political editor, Mr. Conger was accused of going far to get the upper hand for the Whigs…John Thomas, a former member of Assembly, wrote letters to Deacon Nathan Bouton of Virgil and William Squires of Marathon, Abolitionists, and mailed them. Somehow those letters were published by The Whig before Bouton and Squires received them,” (Cortland Democrat, May 7, 1937).

Criminal proceedings were held before Homer Gillett in 1841, likely at his office located at 16-18 Main Street, where it was alleged that someone had stolen and opened the two sealed letters, and published them. “Upon the evidence, Judge Gillett held Daniel Hawkes and Harmon S. Conger for the crime and required them to give $500 bail, to answer before a proper tribunal. Conger's paper, The Whig, denounced Gillett as a renegade to his party, playing into the hands of the Democrats.”

By 1844 Gillett converted his office into a grocery store, later taken over by Daniel Bradford whose store had it all- books, medicines, paints, & groceries.

In 1865, Raymond Wickwire helped his son, Chester F. Wickwire, get started with a grocery business at 16 Main Street, which after a year was changed to a hardware store known as C.F. Wickwire & Co. Chester remained there until 1869 when he moved across the street. It would be in this new location that the Wickwire Bros., including Theodore Wickwire, came into possession of a loom that would kickstart the wire-weaving industry responsible for the Wickwire family’s success.

In 1872, William Riley purchased the lot and the location would from that point on be referred to as the Riley Block. It is likely that by this time the brick building erected by Nathan Dayton had been expanded back, the additions being constructed out of wood. The spot almost always had a grocery, but also saw use as a tobacconist, barber, tavern, and even a bowling alley with shooting range!

Tragically, in 1899 William Gray received an electric shock when he touched a live wire while shingling the roof on the Riley Block. He fell, broke his back and was partially paralyzed, living for several more weeks before finally dying, it was said, from the effects of the electric shock.

Brothers Edward and Thomas McEvoy moved their furniture and undertaking business into 16 Main in 1902, and a couple years later experienced a minor fire. At the time, articles mentioned the Riley building as being the oldest business block on Main Street, a fact I hope to confirm as I continue to cover the rest of the street!

Several restaurants, including the Cortland Fish & Oyster House, and the El Dorado restaurant show up in the 1920s, and it was about this time that the location was considered for a new theatre. These plans must’ve fallen through for in 1931 the structure, said to be in poor repair, was torn down with no clear idea of what would replace it. The spot would for some time contain Farrell’s used car lot, as well as the Club Diner/Grille, later called the Avalon Grill. Photos indicate that whatever building was put here in that time was very small and simple.

Finally, in 1955 the building that remains today was erected, in its early days housing Kinney Shoes, Stefan’s Jewelry, The Hosiery Shop, and Endicott-Johnson.

There are so many more stories about this location that I was able to uncover, but simply cannot fit in one post!

This point of interest is part of the tour: Crown City Touring- Main Street


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