The Phoenix Building
On this site was a tavern as early as 1807. It burned and the present structure was built in 1814. It was built to be a tavern or an inn or a hotel. Pittsford was on the stagecoach line from Canandaigua to Rochesterville by 1816. The trip took two days and travelers needed a place to stay overnight. By 1825, the number of stage lines had increased and a 60 horse barn was built behind the Phoenix. (Too bad cars take up more space than horses!)
Architecturally, the building can be classified as old Federal style with stepped gables, double chimney profile and elliptical arches over doors and windows. This style is very similar to the Agustus Elliott house now called the Manse at St. Louis church. We think these two may have been designed by the same architect.
The building has had a long history - mostly as an inn or hostelry, and has had many names.
It was known as Old Heidelberg and featured German food and a German band. When Germany became an adversary, it was not good business to retain the German atmosphere, so the name was changed to the Pittsford Inn. The building suffered a tragic fire in 1963 and it sat empty for over a year, before it was purchased by Andrew D. Wolfe of Wolfe Publications fame.
Within a week, restoration began and this mighty, magnificent building was saved. The third floor, a 27 by 46 foot ballroom with its elliptical concave ceiling was restored. It now houses busy businesses and the first floor is the office of Mitchell Pierson, Jr. Realtors. Fortunately the corner still retains what Paul Malo calls a genuine monument of the earliest architecture of Western New York.
History of the Phoenix Building
The Phoenix Hotel was undoubtedly the largest and most imposing structure in the Village prior to the completion of the Library. Now that building is larger (and more modern) but still in keeping with the architecture and design of its much older neighbors at the Four Corners.
Architecturally, the Phoenix building can be classified as Federal style. Steeped gables, double chimneys and elliptical arches over doors and windows emphasize this. If you look at the old buildings in the village of Pittsford, you will see these features on many of the structures.
Pittsford was first settled in 1789 in what was then Ontario County and had one of the County's first taverns; located at the site of what is now known as the "Phoenix Building". Before this current imposing edifice was built, a frame building stood there whose owner and host was Glover Perrin. In 1814 fire destroyed the inn and John Acer, who built the current structure a few years later, purchased the property. Included were wide porches and a spring floor ballroom on the third floor. Named the Phoenix Hotel, it served as a hostelry for about 150 years.
Pittsford was a stop on the stagecoach line from Canandaigua to Rochesterville by 1816. Unpaved roads which became deep with mud and holes in spring and winter made for slow travel and almost every community had an inn or hotel in which weary, dusty passengers could get food, drink, and lodging. The tavern was also usually the liveliest spot in town. By 1825, the number of stage lines had increased with two from Canandaigua and one from Palmyra. A 60-foot horse barn was added and connected to the Phoenix Hotel in the rear in order to serve more patrons and stages.
When DeWitt Clinton was surveying the route for his "Big Ditch", (the Erie Canal) he stopped at the Phoenix. He wrote a not very complimentary, but graphic account in his day book. "We drew lots for the choice of beds, and it turned out in my favor. But I chose the worst bed in the house. I was unable to sleep on account of fleas, etc." When the Marquis de Lafayette made his grand tour of the country in 1825, he left the Erie Canal in Rochesterville and was taken by carriage to Canandaigua, stopping at the Phoenix on route. Daniel Webster was also a guest at the Phoenix, and in 1837, a party including some of the Vanderbilts of New York City stopped at the hotel.
The hotel changed ownership a number of times in its long life, but always remained a tavern of sorts. In 1927, new owners were George and H.L. Tyler who had been proprietors of the Hotel Despatch in East Rochester. They renamed the established Tyler's Inn. We have a wonderful old menu with prices of meals and liquid libations not exceeding $5.00 for Tyler's Special Club Steak Dinner Deluxe (for two). Printed on the flyleaf is this charming poem: "The House is Yours - Its portals open wide, and welcome you to all inside. Dear friend and guest, enter in peace and rest - The House is Yours."
In 1933, it was sold again and remodeled extensively. It opened as The Old Heidelbert, a Bavarian Inn. It featured "Otto Thurn and His Bavarian Entertainers, with Rudy". There were 20 musicians and dancers dressed in Bavarian costumes. A remote radio line was installed and the group was a regular feature on WHAM radio.
It was a very popular and successful operation until World War II when being associated with anything German was not good for business. In 1942 the name was changed to the Pittsford Inn.
During all of these changes, there were also changes to the exterior of the building. A beautiful veranda was removed, entrances changed, chimneys removed, and the exterior painted white. In 1956 the corner lot was leased to a gas station, which was built against the north side of the building, completely covering that entrance. Two disastrous fires occurred and the building stood empty and unused. There were rumors of destroying this historic building until 1964. It became the property of Andrew Wolfe, owner and editor of Wolfe Publications.
Almost immediately renovation began. Many features were retained and some that had been changed were restored. The tall chimneys were rebuilt and the white paint on the exterior bricks was carefully removed to restore the original appearance. The lease for the gas station was not renewed and it was demolished. A period doorway was installed on the north side and the third floor again looked like a ballroom. The building changed from being a hostelry to housing the headquarters for Wolfe Publications.
Pittsford is fortunate to have been able to preserve this historic and architectural treasure, now owned by Michael J. Newcomb .The building, according to historian, Paul Malo, "must be recognized as a genuine monument of the earliest architecture of Western New York". We are, indeed, blessed to have it located prominently on the Village Four Corners, setting the tone for the charm and ambience of the rest of our community.