Cook - Ewell House
182 West Church Street, Fairport NY 14450
This article was written in 2012 and does not include any changes occurring since that time.
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 1840s 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.
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 1940s, 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.
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 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He was part of the first tree planning committee. He patented several machines to produce non-woven material used in disposable diapers and scrubbies. In 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 Dorothy Kircher Ewell (1925 - 2017) gave 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 were members of the Society and Ruth was an honorary member of the Fairport Historical Club.
Their dream was 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.