85 and 87 North Street


When Allen Ayrault, builder of the Big Tree Inn, first president of the Genesee Valley National Bank and prominent Geneseo citizen, died in 1861, his real estate holdings in the village included the bank (later the Post Office, the Dwyer Insurance building, and the Clarion newspaper) and all of the land on Main south of this to the present Key Bank. This was all left to his widow who continued living in the Big Tree Lodge until her death in 1885. The property was then offered for sale by her executors who sold it off in lots. One of these lots known as the “cottage lot” and situated just north of the present Key Bank contained a small cottage that had been built at the beginning of the 19th century by Asa Nowlen, a blacksmith. In 1886 James Costello purchased this “cottage lot” and sold the cottage to Charles Clapper for $150. 

Charles Clapper was a successful gardener who in 1882 purchased property on North Street (today the lots at 85 and 87 North Street). He lived on this property in a small house with a greenhouse in the rear. After purchasing the Ayrault cottage, he moved it to this lot on North Street. At the time, the local newspaper noted that North Street was a street “to which several dwellings that used to stand on Main Street have been moved.”


It is virtually impossible to know which of these houses (85 and 87 North Street) is the one moved from “cottage lot” but it is more likely both were moved here from Main Street.

An 1872 map of the village shows both of these lots vacant and the next map of the village in 1902 shows Charles Clapper as owner of both houses. A small clue that could be construed to indicate that 85 Center Street may be the former Ayrault cottage is that the 1902 map shows a building in the rear of 87 and none behind 85 (a greenhouse?). A stronger fact indicating that 87 may indeed be the cottage moved from the Ayrault property is that during the first decade of 1900 Charles Clapper sold 87 Center Street but resided in 85 Center Street until his death in 1933.

Paul Malo, Professor of Architecture at Syracuse University, remarked that Geneseo is “not only a historic village, but also a veritable museum of historic buildings.  Individual structures ought to be appraised in the context of the collection: a modest frame house may be the best or only example of a certain type, such as the little board-and-batten house at 87 North Street … Such little houses, built for working men and small shopkeepers, are as much a part of Geneseo history as the important Wadsworth residences.”