PORT JERVIS, NY – The history of 72 East Main Street, Port Jervis, which burned on Sunday evening, has conflicting recollections in verbal stories as compared to physical records. Research over the past few days has yielded documents showing the residence as having been constructed in the 1860’s by Martin D. Graham, other records as 1940 (no doubt one of the building’s multiple remodeling periods). It was most likely begun in the late 1860s and completed in 1870.
The structure is documented in Port Jervis tax assessor records with a 19th Century construction date, 1870. These records are backed up by Minisink Valley Historical Society and New York State Division for Historic Preservation documents showing initial construction date 1860-1870.
The first owner, Martin D. Graham and his wife Sarah Ridgway Graham, were originally from Pennsylvania. They had eight daughters, three of whom died before reaching adulthood. The five daughters who lived with them after they moved to Port Jervis in 1859 (and later married names) were Mary Ellen (Howard Marvin), Florence (Peter Witschief), Blanche (John Lester), Grace G. (Irving Elston), and Annie F. (William Dafoe).
One daughter, Florence, and husband Peter were both deaf and lived with the Grahams at 72 East Main. They were listed in prior census as both being non-hearing and non-speaking. This couple’s son was Graham Witschief, who was a Judge in Newburgh and a member of the Supreme Court in the 9th Judicial District of NY. This son was an advocate who helped with legal matters involving the deaf.
Newspaper archives show the Grahams as having built the 72 East Main Street house as their residence after moving to Port Jervis just before 1860.
Records show they also operated a grocery store on the D&H Canal until 1861, opened the
Graham House on Front Street (later called Commercial House), and listing Martin as a realtor, prominent local businessman, and very involved in Port Jervis community affairs. Martin Graham died in 1898.
The 72 East Main Street home was listed in the 1903 Atlas as belonging to Martin's widow, Sarah J. Graham. Sarah died February 13, 1909, still listed as having been living in the home. Her obituary states she had been a teacher beginning at age 16 and later operated the Exchange Hotel on Front Street with her husband, always making sure guests felt at home.
Later owners included George Kingston, Ast Construction Company, and most recently Red Knight Real Estate and Partners IV LLC, of Newark, NJ.
There are some passed-down stories being shared this week about the building’s historical use. Many view the building as a past hospital or sanitorium. However, there have been no records or documents located showing this as a use for that structure. There are records, however, showing a sanitorium/hospital on Prospect Street, right behind the 72 East Main Street home.
That Prospect Street building is labeled as #10, Deer Park Sanitorium, on a Library of Congress 1929 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Port Jervis, Orange County, New York, posted here.
Both the 72 East Main Street and 10 Prospect Street structures have been most recently used as multi-family apartment houses. Both are currently owned by Red Knight Real Estate and Partners IV LLC of Newark, NJ. The 72 East Main Street house is currently in the process of being demolished, following Sunday evening's fire.