This is another location where the early history is something of a mystery, and I’m not even sure of the accuracy of what I did manage to find out. Smith’s “History of Cortland County” provides a date of about 1863 for an early structure, at which point the firm of Mills & Goodrich (dealers in hardware, stoves, and tinware) moved a frame building from the corner of Main and Court Street to the spot to serve as their new store. Smith indicates that in its old location, the building had been occupied for many years as a seminary. This would refer to Cortland’s female boarding seminary school, which operated from 1828 to 1838. Other sources indicate that the seminary building crumbled away in its original spot. I have yet to confirm one way or the other!
Alternatively, there may have simply been an old frame structure already at no. 44–46, as seems to be implied by the presence of a building shown in the spot on the 1855 village map.
What can be known for sure is that 46 Main Street would have been the location of a hardware store for over one hundred years. After Mills & Goodrich located there in 1863, such as the case with many businesses in Cortland, the partners would trade in and out, the name subsequently changing to reflect new ownership.
Ferdinand D. Smith (1846–1925) was born in Port Jervis and started his career in New York City. When he came to Cortland, he entered into partnership with his brother-in-law, Theodore Perkins, under the name Perkins & Co. in 1870, the pair having purchased the interest from Mills & Goodrich.
Perkins retired, and it became Newkirk and Smith, then, in 1875, Smith & Kingsbury. According to Kurtz’ “Past and Present, Cortland, N.Y.,” (1883), they occupied “the entire building, twenty-seven feet wide and ninety feet in depth, with one storehouse in the rear and another on the north side.”
In 1884, . Bates purchased Kingsbury’s interest, and then Smith bought out his partner in 1887 and incorporated in 1902 as F.D. Smith Hardware Co. “The location of the store from first to last has been unchanged, at 46 Main St., though in 1888, a fine new building was erected in place of the old one, which was then torn down. A portion of that old building is the present Tavern at Orchard St., which the Smith hardware concern occupied while the new structure, which is owned by the estate of the late B. F. Taylor, was being erected” (obituary of F.D. Smith, Cortland Standard, 10/14/1925). Just last year, we received a photo of the tavern on Orchard Street, which provides us with a closer look at the old structure that served so long as the hardware store on Main Street.
The new building was put up by Benjamin F. Taylor, one of the founders of the Cortland Waterworks, its first superintendent, and proprietor of a hotel and restaurant. According to his obituary, “His ear was always open to the sound of distress, and the strings of his purse were always loose. Few knew the extent of his charity, and many who were helped by him never knew their benefactor. Mr. Taylor was born in New York City on July 3, 1841, and was the son of William Taylor, a lumber merchant in that city. He came to McLean, Tompkins County, as a young man and, at the outbreak of the Civil War, enlisted in Co. C of the Seventy-sixth Regt. N.Y.S. Vols., the Cortland County regiment. He was a good soldier, a fighting member of a fighting regiment. He saw hard service and knew war in all its horror. So impressed was he with the horrible side of war that it was seldom that he could be persuaded to talk of the war, but when he did tell of his experiences, those who were privileged to listen knew that his words rung true and that what he told was in no sense an exaggeration” (Cortland Standard, 9/24/1915).
For some reason, the impression that Mr. Taylor was a bachelor, living alone in the upper floors of the new Taylor building, began and persisted in several sources. But he married Sarah Van Rensselaer in 1870, and the two lived together in the plush apartment upstairs from the hardware store.
The business of F.D. Smith Hardware carried on until it was purchased in 1958 by F. Russell Bentley. In 1973, Bentley took on the task of renovating the upper floors. The third floor, previously the repair shop and storage space for the Red Cross ranges carried by Smith Hardware, was converted into six apartments. The second floor, which served as the Taylor home, became three renovated apartments.
Bentley’s continued until 1997, closing out the over 130-year span that the spot had served Cortland as a hardware store.
Since then, the building has housed businesses that include an antique store remembered by its sign that read “We buy dead people’s stuff,” Barsoni’s Pizza, Hot Tamale Southwestern Grill, and presently Sacred Art Tattoo & Piercing. Images online show that while there have been more recent renovations, much of the original character is maintained throughout.