Bicentennial Snapshot No. 30: Cobblestone houses, Part 2

Today we continue our look at cobblestone structures in Greece.

Three Cobblestone Houses Featured are

Covert-Brodie-Pollock House, 978 North Greece Road

Covert-Brodie-Pollock House, 978 North Greece Road Photo By Bill Sauers

The Covert-Brodie-Pollok House is located on a 14.95-acre site on the east side of North Greece Road in the southwest quadrant of the town. The designation area incorporates the main house (1832), an attached garage at the rear of the house (the early 1940s), a contributing well, a non-contributing shed, and a non-contributing storage barn. A 14-acre expanse of lawn surrounds the house on the north, east, and south. The property is historically significant for its long association with the Covert and Brodie families. The Coverts were early 19th-century settlers/farmers in the North Greece area and the builders of this house. The Brodie family and its descendants, also farmers, have owned the property since 1914. The Covert-Brodie-Pollok House is architecturally significant as an outstanding example of an early-19th-century, Greek Revival cobblestone farmhouse retaining a high degree of integrity of design, materials, and craftsmanship. Cobblestone architecture is unique to the Central and Western New York areas of the country. It developed in the late 1820s when settlers who were clearing land and preparing fields for planting collected cobblestones as building materials. It is one of four existing cobblestone buildings in the town of Greece.

The Covert-Brodie-Pollock House at 978 North Greece Road is a sterling example of cobblestone architecture. It was constructed in 1832 for William H. Covert and except for the years 1840-1850 when it was owned by Amos Trowell was occupied by members of the Covert family until 1892.

Gillette’s map of Monroe County, 1858, from the Rochester Public Library Local History and Genealogy Division

The 1858 county map indicates that the home belonged to J. B. Covert, that is Joshua Covert, and

F. W. Beers, Map of Monroe County, 1872, from the Rochester Public Library Local History and Genealogy Division

The 1872 map shows William R. Covert as the owner.

The home’s ownership passed through several other owners between 1892 and 1914, including Elmer Burlington, George Harris who maintained a 125-acre stock farm surrounding it, George Emerson who lost the house betting on a horse race, and Louis Zagata.

Pencil Drawing of 958 North Greece Road from Cobblestone Architecture by Carl Schmidt, 1944
Illustration of Cobblestone pattern of 978 North Greece Road from Cobblestone Architecture by Carl Schmidt, 1944, p. 82

The cobblestones for 978 North Greece Road were meticulously chosen: only a few are round, and the majority are oblong in style ranging from 1.5 inches to 3 and 4.5 inches long. They are primarily brown, yellow, or gray with very few rose-colored stones. The builder emphasized the horizontal in the rows and the quoins which are the masonry blocks at the corner of the walls. The cobblestones cover just the façade of the walls which are 18 inches thick.

The front façade features a wide frieze band (1) with four windows with decorative iron grilles (2), cornice returns (3), windows with limestone lintels and sills (4), and a front entrance with a gable-roof porch and Doric columns (5).

Covert-Brodie-Pollock House from Office of the Town Historian
Example of a Keeping Room: interior view, first floor, west wall of kitchen showing fireplace and doorway into keeping room Naylor House, Swift & Silver Lake Roads (Middletown Township), Langhorne, Bucks County, PA, from Library of Congress

The house at one time included a living room, dining room, bedrooms, a borning room (where mothers gave birth), a kitchen, and off the kitchen a keeping room. A keeping room was usually the warmest room in the house being next to the kitchen and its heat source whether a fireplace or a stove. While the cook prepared the meal, others would sit in the keeping room, close enough to talk to the people preparing a meal, but at the same time, out of the cook’s way. The Keeping room also served as a borning room where there wasn’t a separate room for that purpose and was also frequently used as the last resting place for the dying. Recently, having a keeping room became a trend in new homes being built.

In 1914, Walter and Katheryn Brodowszynski (whose name is horribly misspelled on this map) purchased the property. They changed their last name to Brodie in the 1920s.

Environs of Rochester Maps by G. M. Emerson, 1931 from the Rochester Public Library Local History and Genealogy Division
Covert-Brodie-Pollock house, photo by Bill Sauers
Covert-Brodie-Pollock house from GHS

After Walter’s death in 1946, Katheryn sold the house to their eldest daughter Helen (who went by the name of Kay), and her first husband, Robert Zielinski. Kay acquired sole ownership of the house in 1959.

Headline from Greece Post, November 27, 1969

Kay Brodie lived in this house all her life, and with her second husband William Pollock, was its loving caretaker. Many of the changes to the interior, including installing plumbing and mechanical upgrades and combining rooms, Kay did herself. It was always her desire to get the home listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

That dream was realized in 1995; in October 1998 it became the first in the Town of Greece to be designated a landmark. According to the Landmark Society of Western New York, “The Covert-Brodie-Pollok House is architecturally significant as an outstanding example of an early-19th-century, Greek Revival cobblestone farmhouse retaining a high degree of integrity of design, materials, and craftsmanship.”

Westfall-Mercier House at 4350 West Ridge Road

In contrast to the well-maintained beauty of the Covert-Brodie-Pollock home is this house located on West Ridge Road, not far from the West Greece intersection of Ridge and Manitou Roads.

Known as the Westfall-Mercier House, when it was evaluated by the Landmark Society in 1994, it was described as “a lovely, charming cottage on a beautiful site.” It is a fine representation of a Federal-style farmhouse and may have been constructed as early as the 1830s, but no later than 1852.

The earliest owner for whom there is the documentation for a J. Westfall; he’s named on an 1852 map. From the late 1940s to approximately 2000 the owner was Raymond W. Mercier.

Westfall-Mercier House, 4350 West Ridge Road, 2007, photo by Bill Sauers
Westfall-Mercier House, 4350 West Ridge Road, 1980s, photo from the Office of the Town Historian

Margot and Ralph Gram

Headshot of Margot Gram from Hilton Record, November 11, 1943

Margot and Ralph Gram owned the house for a brief interlude, the years 1946 and 1947 approximately. She was an interesting woman. As a vaudeville performer, she toured all over Europe collecting antiques. She transitioned to being a cabaret singer before becoming the first female radio announcer in New York City. Her husband, Ralph, was the voice of the Hearst-Metrotone newsreels that once were part of every movie showing. They came to this area, taking radio jobs with WHEC. She was the first person to sing George Gershwin’s Swanee; when she was working at a music store, the legendary composer came in and handed her the sheet music and asked her to sing it for him.

Ad for Margot Gram’s antique business from Greece Press, July 17, 1947

That old cobblestone house was the perfect venue for setting up an antique business. Although she didn’t live in Greece very long, Margot became a staple appraiser of antiques for many of the Greece churches when they hosted antique shows, including Our Mother of Sorrows, Aldersgate Methodist, and Bethany Presbyterian. This, of course, was considerably before the time of eBay.

Pen and ink drawing of toy Manchester terrier by Paul Brown, 1950
Pen and ink drawing of toy Manchester terrier by Paul Brown, 1950

Margot also raised toy Manchester terriers.

Raymond Mercier

Mrs. Scott’s English Tabby “Coppa.”, First Prize at the Crystal Palace Show, 1886.
CATS AND THEIR FRIENDSHIPS. by W.H. LARRABEE,
The Popular science monthly
VOL. XXXVII. MAY TO OCTOBER, 1890. pg 90

Years later the last owner of the home, Raymond Mercier, operated Cat Nap on the premises, boarding up to 30 felines at a time. Mercier died in 2001.

Since then, the house has stood vacant. The 600-square-foot house sits in the middle of prime commercial property. The developer has tried his best to care for the house, but it has been subject to graffiti vandalism. He even offered it to anyone who would be willing to move it off the property, but there were no takers. So, for the time being, the fate of this little house is undecided. If you have the money and the skills to move this cobblestone house it could be yours.

Westfall-Mercier House, 4350 West Ridge Road, 2016, photo by Bill Sauers

Hartman-Foos Cobblestone House

Hartman-Foos cobblestone house photo courtesy of Bill Sauers

The cobblestone house on Mill Road was home to the Hartman and Foos families for decades. It too was built between 1830 and 1852. From at least 1852 until the early 1900s, members of the Hartman family resided here. The Foos family occupied it from at least 1930 until 2016.

But on that August 11th day of 2016 at 15:23, it would be its last day as a cobblestone house.

On August 11, 2016, this historic home caught fire. According to an account written by Gene Preston of the North Greece Fire Department,

“Firefighters worked in 94-degree temperature August 11 to save the pre-civil war house. Said a neighbor: “In no time the road and lawns were covered with fire hoses as 7 engines, a rescue truck and an aerial ladder strategically positioned themselves on Mill Road.” The fire did significant damage to the structure. Firefighters had to deal with the fire and the extreme heat and humidity of the day. I took another walk through it before we firefighters left the scene nearly three hours after we were dispatched. Hopefully it can be restored, but it has some serious issues.”

Eugene Preston, North Greece Fire Department

Unfortunately, it could not be saved. The Foos rebuilt a house on that spot but it was not a cobblestone house. The new structure is a wood build house

Hartman-Foos cobblestone house photo courtesy, 2016, photo by Bill Sauers
Hartman-Foos cobblestone house photo courtesy, 2016, photo by Bill Sauers
Building StyleExt. Wall TypeHeat TypeBasementLiving Area# StoriesYear Built
RanchAlum/vinylHot airR4-Full1,252 Sqft1.02017

So, now there are only three cobblestone homes left in the Town of Greece. There are other stone-based houses and brick buildings but as for cobblestones there are 3 remaining structures left and hopefully, the lessons learned from the Hartman-Foos fire could be used to preserve the remaining three buildings.

Thank you for joining us this week. Next week we will take you on a virtual tour of some of the other notable homes in the town.

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