“A Merchant, a Barber and a Dentist Walked into a Building…”

Hometown History usually highlights an item from the collection of the Fenton History Center. Today is a departure from that routine.  Over the next three weeks we will explore the history of three downtown buildings that have been or are being demolished.  The most recent building to fall victim to neglect and decay is the building at 34 North Main Street, now referred to as the Stearns Building.

Looking through some of the sources available at the Research Center at the Fenton History Center, we could not determine exactly what year it was built. The Historical Survey Report done in 1993 by the Bero Associates, claims it was built in 1876. But it does not appear on the 1881 Chautauqua County Atlas map. It is there in the 1888 Jamestown atlas.  The Jamestown city directories confuse things a little more in that the street numbers changed in the 1880’s. The 1883 city directory uses the old street numbers and also refers to locations by the name of the block in which the business was located. Block in this case means a building, and each one was named, such as the Baker Block or the Allen Block.

Andrew W. Murray was a liquor dealer whose store occupied the first floor of what is today 34 North Main Street from about 1886 until prohibition discontinued that business. After the liquor store’s demise, there was a meat market and eventually other merchants occupied that store front. In 1920 the census records record Andrew Murray’s occupation as a soft drinks dealer. The 1920 City directory only lists him and his wife and their home address and no occupation. By 1920, he was 70 years old and probably retired with the start of prohibition. He lived at 641 Prendergast with his wife, Amelia and no children. He died in 1925, his wife died in 1926, and both buried in the Old Catholic Cemetery.

The city directories referred to 34 North Main Street as the Murray Building from 1922 through 1996. Beginning with the 1886 city directory, 34 Main Street had Andrew Murray’s liquor store on the first floor, and a barber, beginning with R. N. Wickfield, in the basement. The second and third floors occupants have not yet been identified. By 1890 A. E. Smith, dentist, has been added to the list of occupants at 34 Main. The list of occupants continued to include a store, a barber, and a dentist until 1955, when there was no longer a barber at that address. During the many years it appears that the third floor was occupied by people, either as roomers, or renters. We know from the account of the neighboring fire in 1896 that the dentist, Dr. Depew, and his wife occupied the third floor, with his office being on the second floor.  It was after that fire which destroyed the buildings to the south of the tail race and damaged the building over the tail race that the area was cleared and the Arcade Building was erected.

 In 1956, only a dentist, Jas H. Caccamise, is listed at34 Main Street. He along with the USA Recruiting Station were in the Murray Building in 1959. Up to this point in the building’s history there was always a barber in the basement floor, a merchant at street level and a dentist on the second floor.   After 1960 only a business in the store front and a tenant or two are recorded at that address. In 1998 and 2000, only residents are listed. That is the last city directory in the collection of the Fenton History Center so the more recent activity in that location will have to wait until someone donates the more recent city directories. (If anyone wants to donate any of the more recent city/county directories, please call the Fenton History Center staff at 664-6256.)

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