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The "Little House"


Recently it occurred to me that there may be some people who read these bi-weekly Pittsford articles, who do not know what is the "Little House", how it came to be, and why it is so important to the community. It is now the office for Historic Pittsford, however, the Town and Village Historian is not ensconced therein, but instead in the lower level of the Town Hall.

The "Little House" gained fame when it was being endangered by progress. Mr. James Burdett, who owned the property where it was situated wanted a driveway from Monroe Avenue to his parking lot and the "gas" station owned by Chase & Courtney and Atlantic Refining Corp. adjacent to it, needed more room as well.

It had to go!

A group of concerned and civic-minded citizens decried the situation and vowed to save this small Federal styled building constructed of bricks from Elihu Doud's brickyard, built by Ira Buck, an attorney. It began its life about 1819, first as a lawyer's office, then a doctor's office, later a private residence, then a bakery, once a library, then a nursery school and finally the Pittsford Travel Agency. The latter business needed a larger space and so the building was left without a tenant.

A professor of fine arts at the University of Rochester pointed out that it was "a fine example of Federal style architecture" and often told his students to go and study it to become familiar with the style. It gained its name because it is a little house - only 18' x 28'. A twin of this structure was built about the same time on West Main Street in Rochester where the Monroe County Courthouse now stands. It had two rooms minus a poorly constructed frame addition on the rear. Now it was in danger of being torn down unless it could find another location. Mr. Burdett was willing to sell the building for a very nominal price, but it had to be moved!

Rochester Community Savings Bank had a busy branch in Pittsford Village and they became one of the first donors to a fund to "Save the Little House". Other businesses and individuals also donated to this fund and Andrew D. Wolfe took on the chairmanship of the" Little House Coordinating Committee". Mr. Fletcher Steele, a noted landscape architect, whose father had once used the building as a law office, donated a small corner of his property almost directly across from the original site.

And then the fun began! A basement and foundation had to be built; the process of moving a structure across a busy state highway had to be addressed; electric and telephone wires had to be replaced; and a conveyance on which to place the building had to be found. Such a huge involvement for such a little temple style building!

The moving took place in 1963 and in a few hours of disruption, The Little House was ensconced on its new foundation on a site just a few yards from where it had begun. The furnishing and interior restoration of a "country lawyer's" office was carefully overseen by Mr. Stuart Bolger and Mrs. Charles Wadhams and many law books were donated by The Lawyers Coop of Rochester. The back room was furnished as a sitting room- bedroom for that young lawyer and a fireplace was added and a rear door had steps leading to the back yard. Another addition to the office was a small wood stove donated by a longtime Pittsford resident, Mrs. Esther Plain. Esther's family came from Pawlett Vermont and traveled on the newly completed Erie Canal to arrive here in Pittsford about 1826. That stove was constructed in Pittsford, Vermont and traveled with the family on the packet boat along with all of the family's belongings.

Historic Pittsford, which is Pittsford's Historical Society, uses this building as their office and museum. It is lovingly and carefully maintained by that organization. Exterior painting and plantings have all been completed to be compatible with a 19th century building. It is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9:00 AM to 12:00 noon. There are interesting pictures, maps, and volumes on display and other articles for sale such as notecards, books, and postcards.

The Little House looks very comfortable in its surroundings, even though its life began on the other side of the street. Now when you drive or better yet walk by the little building next to Pittsford's Firehouse #1, you will have a better sense of what it is, its origins, and how it came to be so important to the life of the community.