Take a walk down Main Street in Penn Yan, heading in the direction of the bridge, and you can’t miss a somewhat unusual building on the corner of Main and Water streets, perched just a few steps away from the Keuka Outlet. Constructed of bricks painted a light cream color with dark brown trim, the building was done in the Italianate style, complete with a turret. A modern addition protrudes from the front. This is the Knapp Hotel, a 37-room inn constructed in 1897 by Oliver Knapp.
This block upon which the Knapp sits has been the site of many important historical developments in the village, especially because of its association with the Wagener family and Abraham Wagener in particular.
Wagener was the son of David and Rebecca Supplee Wagener, who had followed the Public Universal Friend from Pennsylvania in the 1790s. David laid out what is now Main Street. He also purchased land in 1796 along the Keuka Outlet and constructed a gristmill on the south side and a home and sawmill on the north side, where the Knapp Hotel sits today. Rebecca stayed in the home after David’s death, and it became known as the Grandmother House. Abraham inherited a large amount of land north of the Outlet, and aggressively purchased and developed additional lots. This — plus his push to have Penn Yan made the county seat in 1823 — is why he is referred to as the founder of Penn Yan. Wagener was known to have a difficult personality, but he was successful in shaping Penn Yan into a community, albeit a very rough one in its early years.
After Rebecca Wagener’s death in 1812, her house was moved to Chapel Street and Abraham began construction on a new and larger frame house for himself.