Hamlet of Bushnell's Basin & Ayrault Road Tour - 2010
The Perinton Historical Society hosted its 2010 Historic House Tour in the hamlet of Bushnell’s Basin. One of the oldest hamlets in the Town, Bushnell’s Basin was designated the first local preservation district in Perinton.
The tour featured three landmark homes and two preservation sites. The homes are examples of Greek Revival architecture and a “rammed earth” house, all built in the first half of the nineteenth century. The sites are the Bushnell’s Basin Cemetery and the WW I Bunker at Burnley Rise.
History of Bushnell's Basin
In 1817, when James Geddes came through the state looking for a route for an inland canal, this area contained some small farms and a mill located on Irondequoit Creek. Man’s Mills was next to a large earthen berm, which would soon become the Great Embankment carrying the Erie Canal across the creek.
By 1820, when the canal was still being constructed, John Hartwell and his son Oliver purchased a large section of land, which abutted the canal and built a store, warehouse and boatyard. In the early days of the canal, there were as many as three packet boat lines whose home-port was located here. Originally this area near the canal was called Hartwell’s Basin, but the name was changed to Bushnell’s Basin with William Bushnell bought out Oliver Hartwell in the 1820s.
The basin began to proper with the coming of the Erie Canal. The canal was built in sections and parts of the canal were in operation before its official opening in 1825. Construction of the Great Embankment took two years to complete. Because of that fact, Bushnell’s Basin became the terminus for all boat traffic going east and west. A shipment would have to be unloaded onto a boat to continue the journey. Boat handlers, wagon driver, tavern keepers, and warehouse workers were all needed to keep goods and material flowing through this bottleneck. As a result, business thrived in the basin and continued when the canal was completed in 1825.
In 1918 the canal was widened and renamed the Barge Canal. The curve coming off the Great Embankment was changed so that larger barges could run on the canal. During the era of public transportation (the 1920’s) Bushnell’s Basin was a stop on the Rochester and Eastern Rapid Railway.
By the 1960’s the canal had declined as a commercial entity and the building of Route 490 and the growth of suburban subdivisions threatened the hamlet. In 1983, concerned citizens teamed up with the Town of Perinton to create a community plan to save the basin. One of the outcomes was the creation of a local preservation ordinance in the town. Bushnells’ Basin officially became the first historic preservation district on February 16, 1989.
Landmark Home at 1041 Pittsford - Victor Road
The prosperity of the early 19th century Genesee Country is evident in the Greek Revival farmhouse located at 1041Pittsford -Victor Road. Built in 1822 on 150 acres of land, probably by Harskeline Collins the house is a “state of the art” example of19th century domestic architecture. As such, it was designated as a Perinton Historic Landmark in 1989.
The Collins family, formerly of Litchfield, Connecticut, moved to East Bloomfield in the late 18th century. Cyprian Collins was a contractor who may well have worked on the Erie Canal possibly on the Great Embankment. Land and census records indicate that he lived in East Bloomfield until his death in 1843.
Although local custom ascribes the settlement of those 150 acres between Pittsford-Victor Road and Irondequoit Creek and the construction of the house to him, it seems likely that his son Harskeline built the house. The Perinton maps of 1852, 1858, and 1872 show the property belonging to an H. Collins, which could be Harskeline, his brother Hiram, or his brother Homer. All three are listed in the 1850 census for Perinton.
Harskeline Collins and his wife Martha and their four children were a farming family. Harskeline was active in the Whig party and attended the 1852 Whig national convention. The Collins family house, according to oral tradition, was a stop on the Underground Railroad, which came through Perinton on the way to Lake Ontario, Canada, and freedom.
While the first settlers in the area had built and lived in log cabins, the earliest frame houses were in the Federal or sometimes the Georgian style. By the 1820's, the new Greek Revival architectural style, deriving from the temple form of classical Greek architecture, began to appear in Western New York.
The Collins house is an early and elegant example of that style. According to Stuart Bolger of the Genesee
Country Museum, the house was a “forerunner of what in the quarter century to follow would develop into a recognizable regional expression.” The house comprises a two-story main block, a one and one-half story wing, a one-story kitchen ell, and a woodshed.
The main house has a full-return entablature, reminiscent of the Greek temple, and a front entrance with sidelights, a transom, and heavy pilasters. The paneled door and hardware are original. The details of the one and one-half story wing and the ell are consistent with the main block. All the windows are six over six with wooden louvered shutters.
The interior of the house is exceptional for its original features. The stairway and the major room divisions and openings are as they have always been, and much of the original trim remains. The early kitchen is still intact and serviceable. It features a wide fireplace and a built-in set kettle located in the space between the kitchen and the woodshed and is attached to the kitchen chimney system.
Among the unusual aspects of the property are the summer kitchen and beehive oven, and several small dependency buildings, including a hip-roofed 3-hole privy and a brick smokehouse complete with hooks. There is also a bookcase in one of the upstairs rooms that opens into a back room or attic. The house has benefited from careful preservation and loving care. The open land, period fences, and century-old trees create are remarkable historic setting for this superb and irreplaceable example of early 19th century Greek Revival architecture.
Preservation Sites: Bushnell's Basin Cemetery
The Bushnell’s Basin Cemetery is one of six cemeteries that have been designated preservation properties in the Town of Perinton, designated on February 16th 1989.
This small pioneer cemetery is a time capsule of names of early settlers of Bushnell’s Basin. Names such as Richardson, whose tavern was built in 1818 and still stand today; Ketchum, who was a large landowner and namesake of Ketchum Road now Route 96; McCoord and Van Ness both prosperous early farmers in Perinton; James Woodin who died in 1847 was a Revolutionary War veteran; and Jared Frisbee who fought in the War of 1812.
There are four graves of Civil War solders including the three Hill brothers George, Robert and David. The most recent grave is that of George Dickens who died in 1956. The first burial was Clarissa Richardson who died in 1827 at the age of 25.
There are also 21 members of the Collins family buried here. The Collins house is at 1041 Pittsford Victor Road. Cemetery plots were last sold in 1944 and this site has been maintained by the Town of Perinton ever since.
One of the most remarkable features about this cemetery is the large number of marble gravestones. In many early cemeteries the majority of gravestones were made from Vermont slate. These stones were very susceptible to weather conditions. Many of these older slate stones tended to split easily and over time the writhing become illegible. The marble gravestones in the Bushnell Basin Cemetery have intricately carved scenes, which have held up remarkably well over the decades.
There are two theories as to why this cemetery has so many marble stones. Charles Came and eccentric artist, scientific experimenter and magician from Pittsford might have carved the stones. A more plausible theory is that the artwork on the stones was carved in Vermont, where the stones originated, shipped to the Bushnell’s Basin on the Erie Canal and when someone died the inscriptions concerning the deceased were added. We will probably never know who created the splendid artwork on the stones, as a rule, tombstones were never signed.
The Bunker at Burnley Rise
There is an air of mystery and imagination at this site. On the top of the hill there is a concrete bunker 30 feet long, 8 feet wide and 7 feet high with a small pill box at one end and a set of stairs at the other. This is one of at least three bunkers that were constructed on the hillside to provide target practice for soldiers and National Guard unit going off with the American Expeditionary Force to Europe on World War I.
There were only three rifle ranges known to exist in Monroe County, during this time period. The others were located at Tryon Park and in the Town of Rush.
The bunker at Burnley Rise is much more elaborate and substantial than the trenches our soldiers fought from and slept in overseas. Practicing here gave new recruits a taste of what was waiting for them. It was used to set up targets for the soldiers to shoot at from another bunker. The bunkers were placed 200 to 250 feet apart, which was the effective range of the military rifles at the time. The target would be set up and the soldiers would then take down the targets and put up a fresh set.
The bunkers were used by Company H of the 3rd NY Infantry and perhaps by Troop H of the 1st Cavalry of the NYS National Guard. The troops would arrive by trolley, hike up the Crump farm and set up camp for the weekend.
Warren “Barney” Crump also recalls instances when the troops would arrive on horseback. After soldiers left, Mr. Crump would go out and dig out lead bullets which he could then turn around and sell for the metal.
After the war when the target range was no longer in use the Crump family used the pillboxes as fruit cellars and for storage of apples. The stairs were covered up with dirt to form a ramp so that if a horse happened to fall in, it could get out.
By the 1990s there had been a significant amount of erosion and the bunker became a haven for parties and graffiti. The builder of the nearby housing tract, Gary DeBlase, donated the bunker and one acre of land to the Town of Perinton. It became a designated landmark May 10, 1994 in memory of the 280 young men from Perinton who served in World War I. The dirt was removed and Troop 207 of Fairport cut a path to the site as part of an Eagle Scout project.
History of Ayrault Road
Ayrault Road was the site of Perinton’s earliest settlements. The Old Northfield highway records note an Ayrault Road as early as 1800. Glover and Johanna Perrin settled just west of the intersection with Moseley Road in the 1790’s, and were soon followed by other Perrin family members who settled nearby.
In the first decades of the 19th century, the Arnold, Slocum, and Benedict families settled in the vicinity of Ayrault and Turk Hill Roads. Lyman Barker deeded the land for Perinton Center Cemetery, Perinton’s oldest burying ground, across from Martha Brown School, to the cemetery trustees in 1813.
The 1902 map identifies this part west of Turk Hill Road as Wapping Bridge Road. The Ayrault family, after whom the road is currently named, were farmers who owned extensive property on the eastern end of the road in the vicinity of Fairport High School.
126 Ayrault Road
Pioneer John Nichols purchased 143 acres of land along Wapping Bridge Road in 1834 and built his house. Elijah Nichols was listed as owner of the property in 1852 with other family members owning farms in the area as well. Martin Stiles owned the house between 1858 and the 1870’s.
This Greek Revival house has a 1 ½ story front gabled block and two one story wings to either side. The gabled block features an open porch with columns, corner pilasters, original six over six double-hung windows, a wide frieze board with windows, and cornice returns. The foundation at the front of the house is cobblestone, a unique construction technique indigenous to Western New York. In addition, there are hand-hewn beams visible in the basement.
The side wings were not added until the 1960’s; however, the design and detailing was in keeping with the original part of the house.
The house sits on a rise of land between two tributaries of Irondequoit Creek and while it is sheltered from surrounding structures and roads by a fence and many mature trees, it is an established and familiar part of the neighborhood. The one-acre lot and the post and beam front gabled barn add to the integrity of the setting. As architect Paul Malo stated in his evaluation of this home, “Everything is here.
The barn at 126 Ayrault had a chicken coop on the upper floor
The porch of 126 Ayrault Road has a cobblestone foundation and classical columns
1 Green Ridge Road
Ezra Whittlesey, who had moved to Perinton in 1820 with his parents, his three brothers, and two sisters, built the Green Ridge Road house, which is off Ayrault, between 1821 and 1835. The original portion of the house was a 1-½ story structure built of rammed earth or grout. The technique was popular in the Lyon-Grenoble area of France and it is possible that Ezra’s builders were from there.
Roy Alvord, a descendent of former owners of the house, described the process. A 24” rock basement was laid, topped by 18” wooden forms into which was poured 12” of mud, rock, straw, and “portland” (an artificially produced cement). Boards were put in where the windows or doors were to be. A donkey was then driven up onto the form and walked around the house, packing the mud mixture down to a 6” depth. After allowing the mud to dry, the process was repeated until the proper height for the first floor was reached, about 8 ½ to 9’. The form width was reduced from 18” to 7” for the second floor and humans, not donkeys, did the tamping. The 11” difference in width allowed for the support of the second story floor joists.
The finished structure was painted with “lighthouse paint”, a mixture of horse hoof glue and white lead. The current owners learned much about its unique construction process from an old gentleman who stopped by their house to tell them that he remembered the house because his grandfather had helped to build it.
Significant architectural features of the house include full-length six over six windows, a front door with sidelights, frieze-band windows in the second floor, and outstanding wooden scalloped trim on the eaves, front porch, and window cornices. The latter was most likely added in the 1850’s and is often referred to as Gothic or Eastlake in design.
The kitchen wing, an original part of the house, was replaced in 1952. It incorporated original beams, used the original pine floor design, and is the same size as the old wing.
The house is, as Paul Malo, architectural historian, noted, “…a little jewel.” The house was designated as a Perinton landmark on June 6, 1991.