Village, owner consider rebuilding options
PENN YAN—After the complete collapse of the Owl’s Nest last week, new options are being considered on what is next for the site. Penn Yan Mayor Leigh MacKerchar said the village is working with Birkett Mills President Jeff Gifford to get the site cleaned up before any decisions can be made on the future of the property.
“We are looking at different options, and I know Jeff [Gifford] is looking at different options,” MacKerchar said. “We have to do a lot of cleanout that is mostly underneath there. There is still debris down in there. It’s mostly out of the way but there is a lot of work that has to be done in and around that site.”
The mayor said if another building were to be erected at the site, it would not be located over the top of Jacob’s Brook. MacKerchar said there would be a lot of engineering and planning to be done before a new building is constructed, and “those things would be scrutinized very carefully.”
Yates County Historian Fran Dumas said the Owl’s Nest was built in 1824 as a tavern and inn for the canal workers. She said the building previously straddled Jacob’s Brook at the time it was built, with the brook flowing underneath. Dumas said they put a large culvert in sometime in the 1980s by where it was open and visible, which Dumas said covered up an eyesore area with a parking lot on Basin Street..
The historian said there had not been any previous flooding concerns at the site in its history. She said with the brook being buried, the culvert got clogged with debris, which caused most of the issues during the May flooding. Dumas said historically, conditions have changed since the 19th century that has since made the area more susceptible to flooding.
“You have to remember for most of the 19th century, there was a dam just upstream here,” Dumas said. “There was a millpond for a tannery behind where 165 Main St. is now. It was there from very very early in the 19th century. they closed up the sluice and the pond filled up with water during the nighttime. In the daytime they used it up, but there was a dam there that would have prevented a lot of the debris from coming down.”
Dumas said with all the vegetation changes since the 19th century, there would not have been as much debris to cause such a big problem.
“I don’t think anybody was in a flood plane because it had never flooded,” Dumas said. “One might expect it with the building being over water but as things change the environment changes. [...] It’s there for so long and changes are so slow, people don’t understand that now we have a problem.”
Both Dumas and MacKerchar said the building changed hands several times, for uses including a cold storage building, community center and Salvation Army center.
“It was at one time an inn where a lot of the people who worked on the canal would go in and have a dinner and a libation,” MacKerchar said. “I don’t know when the Salvation Army got it or what happened prior to that but the Salvation Army operated it for many years. The last area that came down, that was the basketball court area. Then when the Salvation Army was scaling back on their operations, they left town and the village acquired the building. We had a community center that wasn’t very successful, but it was active for a few years. Then we leased it to the Arc [of Yates].”
MacKerchar said the building went into private hands 10 years ago, with Gifford being the most recent owner of the property. He said Gifford had purchased it within the last year and was just rehabilitated for offices and a conference room.
Jacob’s Brook is also one of the tributaries leading through the village that the village is working with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to restore to its 1972 conditions. MacKerchar said Jacob’s Brook and Sucker Brook flow into the Keuka Lake Outlet, which will also be addressed. He said there will also be additional creeks, including the one by Court Street, that come through the village that will also be returned to their previous states.
“That was mentioned early on,” MacKerchar said. “There is a procedure for putting the tributaries to their normal conditions. [...] That is a DEC program and requirement, that I believe we have to do.”
The mayor said the village is still waiting for the federal disaster declaration to come through so the village can have a better understanding of what the funding for this work will look like. He said the village is still working on the estimates for how much the restoration work will cost.
“The more you look into it, the more you are going to find things,” MacKerchar said. “With the Owl’s Nest coming down, we found some additional work there, and the sluiceways. I don’t have current numbers on it. It was up to $10 million for the infrastructure in Yates County.”