In the entrance hall at CCHS, there are some fabulous maps that are important resources for research that we use almost daily. We have an 1855 Cortland County map, an 1855 Cortland map, an 1855 Homer map, and an 1888 Cortland map. They offer valuable insight into the past. For instance, William, Randall, and Huntington Streets are all labeled on the 1855 map, along with parceled lots, but neither the streets nor the lots are labeled on the 1888 map. In 1888, it simply says “William Randall, Est.” Interesting. Let’s go back to about 1812 to learn about William and Roswell Randall, two brothers who came to Cortland from neighboring Madison County for promising business opportunities, then we can learn how these streets came to be named.
The date of arrival for the Randall brothers varies from 1812-1814, depending upon the source you review. We’ll use 1812 to be consistent. William and Roswell Randall came from a large family which migrated to New York from Stonington, Connecticut. Their parents were Robert Randall and Lucy Pendleton. William was the elder of the two brothers who moved to the newly formed Cortland County. They set their sights on the developing village of Cortland where they set up a store on the north corner of Main and Port Watson Streets. They painted it yellow, and it became known as “The Yellow Store,” quite a marketing ploy. At the beginning, they had the store and they also dealt in potash and whiskey, two important early commodities. Potash was manufactured by burning trees as forests were cleared, and potash had many important uses such as making lye for soapmaking. It’s a fascinating early industry, and you can read more about it here: https://plainfieldmahistory.org/potash/.
William and Roswell were shrewd businessmen, and they each amassed a little empire. William was always more successful financially than Roswell, but they both had fine estates, multiple business endeavors, and plenty of real estate. Their early holdings included a store, a hotel, and a bank, and things only got bigger from there. They parted ways to work on their own projects and businesses, but the brothers remained close.
Brother Roswell Randall married Harriet Stephens, sister of Judge Henry Stephens whom we met last week. Roswell and Harriet’s home is still standing today on Clayton Avenue–you might remember that it was the Masonic lodge for many years and has most recently been the home to Cortland County Mental Health. They had four children: William Pendleton, Henry Stephens, Lucy Maria, and Harriet Eliza. Son Henry Stephens Randall was the author of the three-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson which was the most important work on Jefferson for 150 years. Henry was quite accomplished in his lifetime, and his home is still standing today at 18 Tompkins Street. Billy P. Randall was the nickname of William Pendleton, and his home also stands today. It is the YWCA. The four children of Roswell and Harriet were first cousins to Eliza Vennette Stephens, the namesake of Venette Street.
Brother William Randall married Betsy Bassett whose father was a jeweler. We have paintings of both her parents which hung in the William and Betsy Randall home on Main Street. William and Betsy had three children: William Randolph, Antoinette, and Wilhelmina. Their home was located on the lot that Bru 64 is on. Between William and his brother Roswell, they owned property from where Brix is today all the way down Main Street and straight up the hill, where there is a cobblestone farmhouse hidden away. The Randall family also owned property parallel to Port Watson Street all the way to Pendleton Street. This is seen in the 1855 map of Cortland. It was said that once William owned property, he never let it go, and his son William Randolph was the same way. It is surprising then that Chester Wickwire was able to purchase some land on (South) Main Street for his factory! Yay–we have finally arrived at a point where we can talk about how William, Randall, and Huntington Streets came to be named as such!
Unfortunately, this piece has already grown quite long, so we will finish the story next week (Boo!). This one has been tough to write in that I’m leaving out so many interesting parts of the stories because the goal is to get to the street names. If you are interested in learning more about the Randall family, I’d encourage you to not only tune in next Tuesday to see the conclusion but also to come visit us at CCHS! Our museum tour includes stories about the Randall brothers! If you enjoy reading, stop by to purchase a copy of “Stories of Cortland County” from our gift shop. There are many tales of the Randall family within! Until next week! ~Tabitha