Keuka Lake in Penn Yan, Finger Lakes region, New York. Editorial credit: PQK /

Penn Yan, New York

Penn Yan is a village in the US state of New York. It was built on land purchased from Native Americans in the late 18th century and incorporated in the early 19th century. The village owes its initial success to a canal built in the area. This canal, coupled with the railroad's arrival later in the 19th century, made Penn Yan an important agricultural, commercial center. Among the agricultural products produced in the area were grapes used by the wine industry. Today, viticulture and wine-making are still important in Penn Yan, as is tourism. 

Geography Of Penn Yan

Penn Yan, New York
Keuka Lake in Penn Yan.

Penn Yan is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, 60 miles southeast of Rochester. It is situated on the northeastern shore of the eastern branch of Keuka Lake. To the north of Penn Yan is the town of Benton. The village of Dresden is located to the east. The closest town to the south of Penn Yan is Barrington. The tiny Hamlet of Keuka Park is located to the southwest of Penn Yan, on the western shore of Keuka Lake, while the town of Potter is located to the west-northwest. The Keuka Lake Outlet, a river, flows through Penn Yan, dividing it into northern and southern sections. This river flows through the village's harbor, connected to Keuka Lake by a narrow channel. A series of small streams also flow through the village. 

Population Of Penn Yan

The total population of Penn Yan is 4,877. Almost 96% of the village's residents are white, of which 92.2% are non-Hispanic, and 3.66% are Hispanic. African Americans make up 1.98% of Penn Yan's population, while people of multiracial backgrounds comprise 1.29%. Nearly 94% of the village's residents speak only English, and 3.1% speak Spanish. The overwhelming majority of Penn Yan's residents, 96%, were born in the United States, while 80.64% were born in the village itself.

Economy Of Penn Yan

The average household income in Penn Yan is $53,918, the poverty rate is 11.81%, and the unemployment rate is 3.2%. In terms of number of employees, the village's largest industries are healthcare & social assistance, manufacturing, and construction. Penn Yan is the home of Birkett Mills, one of the world's largest producers of buckwheat products. 

History Of Penn Yan

Penn Yan
Downtown Main Street in Penn Yan.

Penn Yan was originally part of the territory of the Six Nations Confederacy, otherwise known as the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy. In 1788, two men named Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham negotiated with the Six Nations Confederacy to purchase over two million acres of land between Lake Ontario and Pennsylvania. This land included the location of present-day Penn Yan. George Wheeler purchased the land on which the village now sits in 1791.

The first settlers in the new community were followers of an American preacher named Jemima Wilkinson. In the 19th century, the community was settled by people from Pennsylvania and New England. During this time, the community was unofficially called Union. The community's residents, however, disliked this name and wanted a new one. However, this led to disagreement between the settlers from Pennsylvania, who wanted a name that reminded them of their old home state, and settlers from New England, who wanted a Yankee-sounding name, as "Yankee" was used as a term for people who came from New England. Eventually, a compromise was reached when the community was renamed Penn Yan, Penn for Pennsylvania, and Yan for Yankee.

Penn Yan was incorporated in 1833, the same year that the Crooked Lake Canal was opened, for which Penn Yan would be the western terminus. This canal spurred economic growth in the area. Many mills sprang up along the canal, including paper mills, plaster mills, potash mills, and tanneries. In 1850, the railroad arrived in the region. Penn Yan became a trade center for agriculture. By the late 19th century, grape-growing was particularly important in the village. Grapes that came from Penn Yan were labeled Keuka after Keuka Lake. This eventually became a brand known for its quality.

During the late 1800s through the mid-to-late 1900s, Penn Yan and surrounding Yates County became home to various ethnic and religious groups. For example, Danish immigrants and their descendants ran many of the dairy farms in the area, and even today, Danish names such as Christensen and Jensen are common. In the late 20th century, Mennonite and Amish families began moving into the region. There are now Mennonite and Amish settlements close to Penn Yan, including an Old Order Mennonite settlement, the largest horse-and-buggy community in all of New York State. 

Attractions In And Around Penn Yan

Attractions in Penn Yan and the surrounding region include the village's historic district. This district contains 281 structures, 210 of which are contributing. It encompasses the village's historic core on an area of 65 acres. The architecture of Penn Yan spans almost 200 years. Some of the buildings in the historic district include four churches, one mill complex, a library, a post office, and a winery. Structures built between 1820 and 1929 represent a variety of 19th and 20th-century American architectural styles, including Federal, Greek Revival, Second Empire, Romanesque, Eastlake, Queen Anne, Georgian Revival, and Neoclassical, as well as vernacular and eclectic interpretations of these major styles.

Penn Yan New York
Winery of the Keuka Spring Vineyards in the Finger Lake Wine Country. Editorial credit: PQK /

As part of the Finger Lakes region, Penn Yan and the surrounding region are well-known for viticulture and wine-making. In fact, Keuka Lake lies at the heart of the wine-making industry in the eastern United States. Thus, there are many vineyards and wineries in the area. Wine tours are also available. Visitors to the area will find wine and many other locally-made products at the Windmill Farm & Craft Market. Located on State Route 14A in Penn Yan, this market is open from the last Saturday of April to the last Saturday of November and features 160 shops and restaurants on 44 tree-lined acres. Other outdoor attractions in Penn Yan and the surrounding area include the Keuka Outlet Trail, a 6-mile linear park that follows the course of Keuka Lake Outlet. This trail is perfect for hiking and biking. Keuka College, an independent 4-year college, provides a waterfront ideal for watersports such as swimming, boating, and fishing.

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