Copeland Avenue takes its name from William S. Copeland, one-time proprietor of the Messenger House, the iconic hotel which used to sit on the corner of Port Watson and Main Street. Information on Copeland is scanty, but what I did find was that his former residence became the hospital when it had outgrown its buildings.
William Copeland was born in Tully in 1819. Very little is written about him, but I was able to find that he married Harriet Emerson of Solon, in September of 1847. He kept a tavern in Solon for a time and eventually landed at the Messenger House in Cortland. According to Grip’s Historical Souvenir, he added a third floor to the hotel to accommodate the increased business. I found that he was a member of the Knights Templar and a trustee for Cortland Rural Cemetery. That was about it for what I could glean from our files and the often-used Cortland history books.
However, there was one fabulous article about the house he built with Fitz Boynton which they and their families would share. The house was built on five acres of prime real estate which had been owned by Copeland for 15 years. He had purchased it from a Mr. James Hunter who had graded it, laid out walks and drives, piped it for gas, and planted evergreens. This property had previously been the location of the “old Baptist church” which had been dissembled, loaded up, and taken to Blodgett Mills where it was rebuilt for the Methodists.
Archimedes Russell of Syracuse drew up the plans for the house and Dudley G. Corwin was the builder. Corwin was a noted builder, having also built the Second National Bank and the Squires Block. The home was built with the entrance facing east on the road to Homer (Homer Avenue) and was constructed of brick from Cortland brickyards. It was two stories high with a slate roof and two expansive verandas and a port cochere (a porch where vehicles would allow passengers to exit). The house was very large with 26 rooms above the cellar. Solid oak front doors were supplied from H.F. Benton (Benton Lumber Company, which we have previously covered) and were said to be the best ever turned out from the company. There was a 15 X 20-foot bay window in one of the rooms! There was interior plumbing as well. The two families moved in around April 1, 1887.
In addition to the fine home, there were several outbuildings on the property: a two-story horse barn with stalls for six horses, a one-story cow barn, and a very large hen house (16 X 40 feet).
Both William and Harriet Copeland died in 1900. In 1908, a decision was made by the hospital to acquire the property to increase its capability to serve the community. The home was now owned by George H. Wiltsie and the price was $18,000 which was a huge sum for the struggling organization to come up with. Chester Wickwire felt strongly that the community needed to have a good hospital, and he donated $70,000 towards the endeavor.
Although not much was found about William Copeland, it was quite interesting to see how his home became the hospital, an anchor of our community. Another story I hope to cover is Fitz Boynton. He was who Fitz Avenue (now West Main) was named after. We’ll see what the files have tucked inside! ~Tabitha

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