March 1990

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


The William C. Mccay and Balcom Family House

On Pulteney Square, Bath


Nick Dugo

Facing west toward the southeast corner of Pulteney Square in Bath, New York, stands an elegant Greek Revival house built for William W. McCay in 1819. This date seems to be too early for the construction of such a fine example of a Greek style house in New York, particularly so far west. The builder and designer of the house are not known but obviously they must have already been familiar with a building style that was quite new in this country in 1819.

How did the new Greek style get to Bath, New York? Perhaps the McCay family had seen Greek houses in Ireland. William McCay was born in Ireland in 1790 and had been brought with his parents when they emigrated to Geneva, New York. He became a clerk in the Pulteney land office in Bath in 1818. The next year his father died in Pittsford. He may have left his son an estate that enabled William to build the Greek Revival house on Pulteney Square.

Craftsmen and other persons coming to this country from Europe brought with them pattern books and illustrations as well as their remembrances of the revived Greek style that had been inspired by the rediscovery of the ancient temples in Greece and Italy.

William W. McCay is remembered as a handsome and cultured man. He is said to have paid a great deal of attention to his dress and appearance; he usually wore a ruffle on his shirt and always dressed for dinner. Very likely he was also aware of the new trends in architecture, and desired to have his house built in the new Greek refinement of the classical mode. The house exhibits proportions and ornament that give it an inviting graciousness.

The McCay's had a large family and entertained with generous hospitality. Their house became the social center of Bath. One daughter, Fanny, married N. H. Howell, a lawyer, in Canandaigua. Another daughter, Mary, became the wife of Constant Cook of Bath.

McCay practised law and had his office in a single-storey frame building just north of his house, where the Surrogate Court building stands today. His office was later used as the Treasurer's office and as a Post Office.

He was also president of the Steuben County Bank. It was a Greek-style building that had gilded eagles on its pediment. William McCay must have been a Greek enthusiast.

McCay succeeded Dugald Cameron in 1828 as the sub-agent in Bath of the Pulteney Estate and held the position until his death, November 21, 1852. He was then only 62.

His estate passed to his wife, who sold the property to Joseph Fellows, who, in turn, sold it in October, 1868, to John Heermans. He sold it in September, 1872, to George W. MacDowell who in March, 1877, sold the property for $3,600 to Sarah L. Balcom. From that time until the present day the house has been called "the Balcom House."

Several pieces of the property were sold to various people and to the county by the Balcoms.

During the long period of residency by the Balcom family, the house was filled with fine furniture including a Grandfather's clock in the hallway and a Steinway grand piano in the living room.

On May 29, 1959, Samuel Balcom and his sister, Mrs. Margaret B. Bringham sold the house to the county. It was used for the meeting chambers of the Board of Legislators until the new county office building was completed in 1989.

The house is built in the temple style with a four-column portico facing Pulteney Square. This part of the house along Morris Street is two storeys high and broad. Toward the north a one and one-half storey wing extends more than half again the width of the front of the main part. A porch runs the full length of the side wing; its roof starts below the half-height windows of the upper floor. There are four smaller columns supporting the porch roof. They are all in the Ionic order like the main portico. At the back of the main part is a stepped-down section with its roof the same pitch only lower than the front part of the house. Where this part of the house connects with the main section there is an inset porch with a door into the old pantry.

A wide entablature runs along the sides of the house and across the front above the columns. The cornice is a cyma recta molding with dentils beneath. The pediment, like the front wall underneath, is smooth boarded. There is a round window divided into eight sections in the pediment.

One front entrance is on the left side, the wing side, of the main part. The doorway has sidelights and overhead lights. The side panes are protected by a scrolled metal grillwork.

Another, almost identical but slightly smaller in scale, doorway with the same lights and grillwork is under the side porch and next to the wall of the main part. Both doorways and all of the windows on the front of the house have a trim that has a rectangular block set in the center of the top. This piece and the surrounds are recessed in the center with raised flat edges.

CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR