The Johnson House
 Cazenovia's First Tavern
 Daniel H. Weiskotten
 
posted 2/25/1998
 
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         The "Johnson House" has been a Cazenovia landmark since its construction in 1796, but today few know who Ebenezer Johnson was, or that he had a tavern.  Unfortunately, Johnson's establishment, a center of activity in the earliest days of settlement, has been known by another name - the Michael Day Tavern - and Ebenezer Johnson has been forgotten.  This change in names is relatively recent and the first mention of Michael Day as a tavern keeper was made in 1906 when a local historian stated that Michael Day had the tavern on the Square.  J.H. Monroe repeated this error in a 1911 history book, and Helen Kennard's research made sure that Michael Day was ingrained in our history when she wrote about Cazenovia's houses.  Monroe noted that Ebenezer Johnson also had a tavern but Kennard makes no mention of Johnson and he has since been forgotten.  From the historical record we see that the tavern was operated by some men named Day, and from this the erroneous connection to Michael Day was made.

        This tavern was built and first owned by the Holland Land Company as one of several improvements to lure settlers to Cazenovia and keep them here.  Elijah Risley may have had a tavern here before 1796 as he was a proprietor of a tavern for the Company as early as 1794 and had made an attempt to purchase the property in that year.  Ebenezer Johnson was soon connected with Risley and took over the payments for the property in 1796.  Johnson received title for the land and buildings from the Company in 1806 and owned it until he moved from Cazenovia in 1814.  Charles Wylie of Rome contracted to purchase the tavern in 1810 but failed in his payments by 1813 and the property was taken back by Johnson.  During Wylie's time Jacob and Ralph Day were the tavern keepers.  Ralph Day is here for only a short time but Jacob continued until 1813 when Daniel Day became the proprietor.  James Sherman, of Rome, had purchased the property from Johnson in 1814 but kept Daniel Day on as the tavern keeper until 1817.  Sherman owned the property until 1828 but there is no record of any other tavern keepers after Daniel Day.  It has been a residence since that time.
 

MICHAEL DAY
        It is likely that when the tavern was in the hands of Jacob, Ralph, and Daniel Day that the establishment was known as the "Day Tavern."  I have never seen any record of this name, and the history books do not make any mention of the Days as tavern keepers, but apparently the 1906 historian found some record of it and made a connection to Michael Day, who had come to the wilderness of Cazenovia with John Lincklaen in 1793.

        When I first conducted the research on the tavern I could find no connection with Michael Day except in 20th century references.  All 19th century references only mentioned Day as an axeman for Lincklaen at the opening of the settlement.  From the wonderful document collections at Lorenzo and from David Billings' sawmill account book I was able to find a little more about Michael Day, but apparently he was one of those poor folks who was never very successful and continued to live in Cazenovia for many years without ever making it into the history books except for notice of his arrival.  The records at Lorenzo and of David Billings show that Michael Day was a skilled stone and brick mason who built fireplaces, hearths, ovens, and laid foundations.  Day had come to Cazenovia in 1793 and was still doing mason work in 1822 but no record of his owning or operating a tavern has been found.

        On the other hand the evidence for the tavern kept by Ebenezer Johnson is overwhelming, but before that is discussed we need to place the tavern in its historical setting.  Tradition says that when the tavern was first opened it stood two doors east of its present location, at 34 Albany Street, where Bill and Carol Eckert now live, and that it was moved to 30 Albany in 1799.  Since the land at these two locations was one big parcel owned by the Holland Land Company it seems strange that the building would be moved to a new location only a few yards away.  Fortunately we have a painting of the fledgling huddle of Cazenovia which is known to have been executed in 1798 - the year before the tavern was supposed to be moved - and it does show the tavern on the spot where the Eckerts now live.  So, it does seem to have been moved 197 years ago.  The reason for its being moved is unknown but we should start planning for another celebration in 1999!

        The tavern sits at the southwest corner of the Public Square which was set out in the original plan of Cazenovia.  The tavern is quite a large building for its time as most of the other buildings on the Square were small or were not permanent.  The 1798 painting shows the tavern in its original location, the tavern barn at 32 Albany Street, the large Holland Land Company warehouse on the Square in front of today's Smith's grocery, and several other small buildings at the east end of the Square which may have been shops or residences.

        Just after 1800 the lots around the Public Square began to fill up with other buildings and it became the central business district of the community.  The general store of Samuel Forman was built in 1808 on the west end of the Square (it still stands).  Jabish N.M.Hurd's store was just to the west of the Square.  In 1810 Alfred Hitchcock had a hardware store on the site of the Presbyterian church manse and this was made into a tavern by Amos Parmalee in 1812.  Ezekiel Carpenter had a store on the corner of Sullivan Street and the Square.  Another tavern was opened by Hiram Roberts in 1802 where Smith's grocery now stands and it was replaced 1809 when Lemuel Kingsbury built the famed Cazenovia House.  The east end of the Square, where the Merchants and Oneida Savings banks are located, was occupied by several small shops including the post office, a bakery, a lawyer and the office of The Pilot - Cazenovia's first newspaper.  At the south side of the Public Square, where the Century House now stands, was the Madison County Hotel, built in 1806 by Eliphalet S. Jackson.  A tinsmith's shop, Job Gillett's silversmith shop, and the hotel barn were nearby and the village hay scale and village pound for stray animals was in back.

        By 1825 the face of the Public Square was changing.  The Johnson House, since operated by the Days, had become a residence; the Presbyterian church was moved down from its original place at the head of Hurd Street in 1828; Parmelee's tavern was converted to a residence by this time; the Miles brothers built Doris Webster's house on the west end of the Square between 1828 and 1831.  In 1836, at the opening of the Lincklaen House, the Madison County Hotel was closed, split apart, and moved from its site.  The Century House was built in 1841 on the Madison County Hotel site.  Part of the front of the old hotel was moved a few feet to the east and became a residence (now Smith's Funeral Home).  By 1832 the business district had formed to the east of the Public Square and the surroundings of the Public Square had become residential.
 

TAVERN BEFORE 1796?
        Before the Holland Land Company took on Ebenezer Johnson as the proprietor of its tavern on the Square Elijah Risley had been listed as a tavern keeper in the Company records.  Property contracts in the archive at Lorenzo show that Elijah Risley had tried to purchase the property on the Square as early as 1794 but then transferred it to Ebenezer Johnson in the same year.  After this Risley continued to keep a tavern near his home in the eastern part of the village.
 

EBENEZER JOHNSON
        Ebenezer Johnson seems to have been a tavern keeper before the present building was built in 1796, but there is no record of what sort of building the original tavern was.  From the account books of Samuel Forman's store, now preserved at Lorenzo, it is seen that Johnson made purchases of nails that were paid by the Company in 1796, indicating that he was either improving or building a structure for the Company.  On the 1799 Company inventory the tavern was noted as 32 x 42 feet, 2 stories, with a horse shed and frame barn, and about three acres of land, valued at $1500.00.

        Johnson paid off the deed and received title to the property in June of 1806 and in that same month he purchased a quantity of china and glassware from Samuel Forman's store indicating that he was refurnishing the tavern or at least improving the accommodations.  In the Village census of 1800 the Holland Land Company was listed as the owner of the tavern and Elijah Risley was listed as the proprietor although this may be an error in light of other information.  Ten persons were in the tavern at the time, perhaps including the tavern keeper's family.  In 1801 Ebenezer Johnson was the owner of the tavern and nine people were in residence.  Johnson continues in the Village census as the tavern keeper with eleven residents in 1802, ten in 1803, and twelve in 1806.

        During the time that Johnson kept the tavern it was the major meeting place for many miles around.  In a time when many Revolutionary War veterans were still living in the community the annual 4th of July celebrations were held at the tavern with formal speeches, toasts to liberty and freedom, and patriotic songs.  The first town meetings were held there with a liberal supply of rum influencing the proceedings.  Even the meetings of the Presbyterian society were held there until they built their church with a meeting room in the basement.

        Ebenezer Johnson is last noted as a tavern keeper in 1808 but he continued to own the building and property until 1814.  He had attempted to sell it to Charles Wylie of Rome, in 1810, but this failed and he eventually sold it to James Sherman of Rome.  Wylie was noted with the tavern as late as 1813 and seems to have had Jacob, Ralph, and Daniel Day as the tavern keepers.  Neither Wylie or Sherman appear to have been tavern keepers and had the Days keep the house.
 

THE DAY TAVERN
        The Days, not Michael Day, mind you, but Jacob, Ralph, and Daniel Day were three brothers and the sons of Daniel Day.  Jacob and Ralph had built a brick building about 1810 at the northeast corner of the Square, where the wooden back half the Merchants Bank is now.  It seems that it may have been an office of some sort and Oran Baker printed The Pilot in this brick building between 1810 and 1811.

        Jacob and Ralph Day were the proprietors of the former Johnson House as early as 1810 but Ralph Day continued only for a short time and Jacob continued until 1813 when Daniel Day became the tavern keeper.  It is not known if this was Daniel Day the father or Daniel Day the son.  Daniel Day kept the tavern for a few years and is last found in 1817.  It is from the not-so- well recorded ownership of the Days that the confusion with Michael Day has arisen.

 
LATER USE
        Following the ownership by Sherman and as the tavern kept by Daniel Day the property was converted to a private residence.  James Dows and John I. Gilchrist purchased the property from Sherman in 1828.  Dows and Gilchrist were tin and sheet iron workers who made stoves, pipes, and kitchen ware.  They don't appear to have done anything with the property except to live there for their shop was in the east part of the village and their stove store was on Albany Street.  They are likely to have divided the house and lived in it as two families as it continued as a double house until William J. Hough purchased the east half in 1833 and the west half in the 1840s or 1850s.  Since Hough lived next door, at 32 Albany Street, it is not known who the occupants of the house would have been.  In 1856 Benjamin Rush Wendell purchased the old tavern and his relatives owned it until 1906.  At least eight other owners have had the house in the 20th century.  Henry Hart's highly detailed 1852 map of the Village of Cazenovia shows the old tavern in the southwest corner of the Public Square when it was owned by W.J. Hough.
 

THE JOHNSON FAMILY
        Ebenezer Johnson, the forgotten character of the tavern, left Cazenovia in 1814 and he and his family went on to bigger and better things.  From Cazenovia he went to Fredonia where they lived for a few years before moving to Buffalo.  It is not known what Ebenezer did in those places, but his eldest son, Elisha, moved to Rochester and became the first Mayor of that city, and the second son, Dr. Ebenezer Johnson, became the first Mayor of the City of Buffalo.  The third son, Samuel, built the largest hotel of its time in Fredonia, and it was named the Johnson House.  About 1850 many of the family moved to Tennessee where they had purchased a 35,000 acre tract on the Tellico River.  Many of the family are buried there.