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The Old Barber House

February 11th, 2013

The old Barber House at the corner of Short Tract and Oakland Road in the Town of Portage. [IMAGE: Emily Stauring]
John Failings Barber settled in the area of Portage, NY during the pioneer days. He struggled with tragedy and hardship and eventually became a prosperous farmer and banker. He built this home—which he called, “Chestnut Place”—on the corner of Short Tract and Oakland roads external link. Before I continue, please be advised, this house is on posted private property.

Emily Stauring external link is a photographer from Arkport, NY. She took most of these photos while out for a drive with a friend…

The old Barber House at the corner of Short Tract and Oakland Road in the Town of Portage. [IMAGE: Emily Stauring]
I asked Emily how she found the place, and what she knew of its history. She says:

Apparently the first people who built it all died of illness, then the next family had a bunch of people pass away, and apparently the latest person who bought it to fix it up had a bunch of plywood fall on one of the contractors and kill him. Now, this is just what I have heard and you know how rumors are! I talked to a lady who used to live in it and was haunted by an old lady she said. It was actually a house that college kids used to party in, and a friend of mine remembered where it was. Three levels—definitely a mansion—apparently it used to have a curved staircase and awesome old fireplaces and a piano, but people have stolen pretty much everything in it. It absolutely had an eerie haunted feeling to it. But I couldn’t resist!

The old Barber House at the corner of Short Tract and Oakland Road in the Town of Portage. [IMAGE: Emily Stauring]
In 1819, John Barber’s mother died. He was just 9 years old at the time. His father brought him and his siblings to Portage external link from Canajoharie, NY external link. When John’s father died in 1827, John was left with 3 younger brothers and a sister to care for – which he did.

The old Barber House at the corner of Short Tract and Oakland Road in the Town of Portage. [IMAGE: Emily Stauring]
John saw to it that his brothers and sister received educations. He worked hard clearing land with an ox and bull plow which his father had made. In 1835 was able to buy 50 acres of his own land. In the winter he lumbered and rafted timber to Rochester on the Genesee when the river could be run during the spring. He is known to have walked home from Rochester.

The old Barber House at the corner of Short Tract and Oakland Road in the Town of Portage. [IMAGE: Emily Stauring]
The photo above was taken by our friends Chris and Luke (of the Burnt Over District external link blog). This looks like an opening for a missing staircase.

The old Barber House at the corner of Short Tract and Oakland Road in the Town of Portage. [IMAGE: Emily Stauring]
According to a local newspaper article from 1884, Mr. Barber became a very successful business man and banker, although he also continued farming.

The old Barber House at the corner of Short Tract and Oakland Road in the Town of Portage. [IMAGE: Emily Stauring]
Sometime after 1872, Nathaniel Alward, John’s brother-in-law, started to build this house on the site of an earlier one. For some reason Alward decided to go back to Cayuga County (where he had come from). John purchased and completed the house himself. He called it “Chestnut Place” because of the many chestnut trees there.

The old Barber House at the corner of Short Tract and Oakland Road in the Town of Portage. [IMAGE: Emily Stauring]
Robert Gath and his family were the last to live here. Robert wrote this description of it: “Fifteen rooms, a half mile of halls, 9 closets, one fireplace of black marble and two of oak. The doors are curly maple and winding staircase cherry. The wall paper in the the upstairs rooms in the original paper.” He said the marble bathroom is gone.

The old Barber House at the corner of Short Tract and Oakland Road in the Town of Portage. [IMAGE: Emily Stauring]
John Barber’s granddaughter Ethel, her husband Arthur Yates Bennett, and their daughter Dorothy, were the last family members to live in the house. They moved to Alden, NY external link in 1920.

The earliest known photo of the old Barber House, 1960. [IMAGE: Roy Gath, courtesy of Nunda Historical Society]
This is the earliest known photo of the old Barber House, taken in 1960 by Roy Gath. On February 23, Joan Schumaker, who has been working on collecting information about the Barber house, will be giving a talk at the Mt. Morris Dam on John Barber. See the Nunda Historical Society’s website external link for more information.

UPDATE: The article previously stated that “John Barber’s granddaughter Ethel, her husband Arthur Yates Bennett, and their daughter Dorothy, were the last people to live in the house.” In fact, they were the last family members to live in the house. Robert Gath and his family were actually the last people to live here. A few reader’s correctly pointed this out.

Thanks to:

Luke & Chris (exploringtheburnedoverdistrict.wordpress.com external link) for the photo of the staircase opening, and for tipping me off to this fascinating story.

Emily Stauring. You can see more of Emily’s photos (and buy prints) from her March 2011 trip here external link.

Tom Cook and the Nunda Historical Society external link for the 1960’s photo and all the great information.

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This entry was posted on Monday, February 11th, 2013 at 6:53 am and is filed under Rochester Destinations, Rochester History, Rochester Images, Urban Exploration. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

48 Responses to “The Old Barber House”

  1. Bill Y says:

    I’ve driven by this place often on my way to my hometown. Thanks for the backstory!

  2. Joel Helfrich says:

    Is the house for sale? If so, it would be a great addition to the back pages of THIS OLD HOUSE magazine.

  3. Peggy Armstrong says:

    Been by this house numerous times, just very intriguing, this would be a case for the Haunted House Hunters on the reality TV show!

  4. Linda Rainer says:

    My mom Alice Wing Kiefer lived there at some point and my aunt was born there. I don’t know details but will talk to my mom about it. She currently lives at the nursing home in Mt Morris. I remember her telling me she used to rollerskate in the house because it was so big.

  5. @Linda! That’s amazing! If you get a chance to talk to your mom about this let us know what she says. You can drop a comment back here or email me directly. Would love to find out more about this house.

  6. Jason Haremza says:

    Can anyone confirm the details on the Feb. 23 talk? I couldn’t find anything on the Nunda Historical Society Website.

  7. Lisa says:

    I had heard that Red Hook and Mt. Morris developer Greg O’Connell owns this property now. I never looked into it. Do you know who owns it?

  8. Tom says:

    Joan’s talk on John Barber and Chestnut Place on February 23 is part of the Mt. Morris Dam’s 2013 Discovery Series. The talk is held at the visitor center at the dam at 1 pm. There is also a model of the house and other materials at the Nunda Historical Society’s building in Nunda.

  9. anonymous says:

    Very cool! We actually used to “party” there, or drink like fish and go up there to scare each other. I don’t believe it’s haunted at all – but it was a great time back in the day. As an adult (now) I look at these pictures and remember back to the little things you could see inside the “Gath Masion” and how awesome it was. Vintage.

  10. Nina Vossler says:

    My mom and I walked through this house back in the late 80s/early 90s. Never got spooked. I stop for a photo every time I head to Rochester shopping. Shame to see how it’s dilapidating so much more rapidly in just the last few years. Would love to see that model house in Nunda. Even the out-buildings are cool here. Wish it could be renovated!

  11. carolyn. hale says:

    In recent years someone was working on it and it seemed they were going to restore the structure…we heard the restoration stopped because of permit issues. Is there any talk that the restoration would start up again?

  12. chevon duryea says:

    my mother dawn gath and her mother and father use to live there. everyone around here calls it the Gath mansion. ive been in this house b4 and havent ever got the haunted feeling from it. i think whoever claims its haunted is full of it… its def a cool house and i wish someone would fix it or rebuild it.

  13. Sharon says:

    Thanks for this story! This old house is on my shortcut road to Rochester–for years I’ve wondered about its history…and why no one has saved it. Fascinating story:)

  14. jo dockey says:

    I have also been so intrigued with this property. I also cruised through it with my mother, my sister comments as well, above. I was elated when I saw the work being done on the back side of the home. Many, many trips to Rochester have peaked my interest and awe of this property. I have wondered about the history, and daydreamed the remainder of my trip to Rochester regarding just how astonishing this home probably was. I have also wondered about a
    home in Portagville that looks of the same time and style(aprox across from their Post Office)and wondered if there was any connection. I think it’s awesome that with help maybe someone could contine to preserve it…… it’s falling fast. Thanks for the history and beautiful photos.

  15. Scott K says:

    I’ve been there a number of times as well. On my one and only attempt to explore the entire inside, I heard strange noises while upstairs, and got too paranoid to go up to the top floor. Ghost? Probably not, but it does get creepy in there on a cloudy day when you’re all alone. That main hall upstairs is bigger than some of the rooms in my own house!

    On one visit, I spoke to a lady walking by who lives down the road. Among other things, she told of a contractor who backed up to the house one day, and dismantled and removed the curved grand staircase. All that’s left of that now is a big hole in the second floor. You have to use the back stair to get uptstairs now. Not that I recommend trespassing, I was in there before the present posted signs went up.

    The house that used to be across the road was also very interesting, if much smaller. The local lady said it was burnt by local teens to destroy stolen property they had hidden there. Former servant quaters for the Barber home? Don’t know.

  16. Sue Emmons says:

    I have a paranormal group and this is very interesting. Does anyone know who owns the house now?

  17. JR says:

    My understanding is that Greg O’Connell did buy it but a contractor got injured (leg through floor?) and that no further work can take place until the workman’s comp case is completed – which could take forever.

  18. Ida S says:

    I used the house as a landmark location when chasing balloons. We called it the Munster house. Ms.Peek used it for a cat rescue for some time in the 90’s. I got 2 cats there.

  19. Linda Rainer says:

    I talked to my mom today and she said her dad rented the place for two years.My Aunt was definately born there. My mom was 10 years old at the time she is now 86. She also told about sliding down the bannister on the spiral staircase.

  20. Loren Tripp says:

    Funny I was looking at this and I am currently living in The old Barber homestead in Groveland NY. Which itself is a mansion.6500 sq ft. Also with a house across the street used by the farm hands. It is a shame these wonderful works
    of architecture are not preserved!

  21. Midge VanEtten says:

    My husband and I went to Letchworth yesterday on a Valentines date and stopped to see the house. I was surprised how the condition had worsened since the article pictures were taken. I took several photos and when looking in the upstairs window to the Right of the gable it looked like a tall, slender, white haired woman was looking out at us. I def. think a paranormal group should check it out.

  22. YIKES! Did you get a picture of the woman?

  23. Loren Tripp says:

    Could you please post the pictures of how the home looks now?

  24. Sue Emmons says:

    If anyone has current info on the house can you please contact me? I am the founder of the Southern Tier Paranormal Research Team and would love to know if my team would be allowed on the property.
    http://southerntierparanormal.webs.com/
    you can reach me at southerntierprt@gmail.com. Thank you.

  25. I live down the rd from this old house It is veryyyyyy unsafe around it its a shame that its slowlyy falling badly appart.There is no tresspassing around it.Very dangerous.I have have walked down taken pictures and i have seen what is to a figure of what appears of a person near the back side standing as to be watching towards road.

  26. tasha jeffords says:

    My husband and I were trying to purchase this property about 10years ago. We contacted the owners who lived in New Jersey. They said there was no way that they would sell. They had told us that it was an old railroad barrens house. And that he had built it for his mistress. I would still love to buy
    the place and fix it up, if only dreams could come true…..

  27. I lived there in 1973 with the Gath family. it was not haunted then so why later? I know the contractor that was fixing it up got hurt not killed. It is a huge home and to dream back, I bet it was beautiful..I use to look at where the Ball room was and dream.

  28. Ginelle says:

    I LOVE THIS HOUSE! If O’Connel is the owner, I would like to have a conversation with him.

  29. Laurie says:

    I am in contact with Greg O’Connell and I am trying to get the community involved as well. Mr. O’Connell has been very gracious and is interested. Would anyone on here be interested in volunteering? I would be interested to know the “contractor” who stole the staircase as well.

  30. barbara Mitchell says:

    We happened by this house today and were so intrigued. Great to find this website and have some questions answered…love the photos!

  31. Maria Bennett says:

    Is this home for sale and how much?

  32. greg o'connell says:

    This is a money pit and none of you have enough cash or credit to fix it.

  33. Marchelle Vianese says:

    A classmate and girlfriend lived in this house during the 60’s and 70’s. I often stayed over night. Not knowing about the history of the house, or probably not caring at that time, I always got a cold feeling inside. The house was fantastic inside, I remember. My girlfriend had said she had pushed by someone, she thought it was a lady a few times. And at one time, I was going there to visit her, and I was just out front of the place and I looked up, there in a window upstairs was a lady, old looking outfit, staring out. I asked my friend who was upstairs, she said no one, everyone was gone at that time! So, I guess, it just depends on the moment. If you believe or don’t.

  34. nicole says:

    This house is a part of a very large parcel of land. The last I knew there was a family (it was like six siblings) who owned it wanted 1.3 million. It came with the dairy barn down the road as well as the house across the road from the dairy barn. If you are driving on the road. Where the newer house is (it’s yellow) you can seee the grave that is dedicated to the originalnmembers of the family that died from illness.

  35. Scott K says:

    We stopped by there Saturday afternoon, and were appalled at the current condition. I hate to say this, but the place is toast. The west wall was stripped down to the studs, and very little new plywood nailed back up. The floor upstairs on that side was also gone, I assume removed during the attempted renovation. The chimneys have apparently also been removed, leaving even more holes in the roof. But the worst thing we saw, was the large gap in the north sdie of the foundation, with a view straight into the basement. The sagging side sill beam tells me that at least that part of the house will probably have collapsed by the next time I see it. A shame, really. Whatever the reason for the work stoppage, it was the worst thing to ever happen to the place. Too much has been left open and exposed to the weather.

  36. Becky Stephens says:

    Hello, My name is Becky Thomas Stephens. I lived in this house in 1982-1983 until we had a chimney fire. Yes this house is haunted I have seen the ghost of original owner John, and his daughter Mary. This place went to hell, and is posted. I feel this part of history is gone. I known that people say the Gath family is the last ones to lived there but that is not true. My grandmother Lucille Thomas and my dad lived there when he was a teen. This is when the Gath lived in the back and they had the front.

  37. Rich Edick says:

    I was raised in the area; but can’t remember this place. What I do wonder is Joan Schumaker, was she a Math teacher at Nunda?? I had a crush on her, always enjoyed the class, Ha. Ha.

  38. Gemma says:

    I find it quite ironic that the assumed owner posts on 10-31-13 that nobody has the money or credit to fix it. Apparently he doesn’t either, if this house is sitting wasting away. Sell it to someone who has the time and money to actually invest in this piece of history. I’m sure someone who has the $ and credit to fix it will step forward. Such a shame.

  39. Kathleen Gaddy Clarkson says:

    Hi,
    My name is Kathleen Gaddy Clarkson. I’m the grand daughter of Samuel W Barber. I have visited this home many times as a child. My grandfather had moved to A near by village, Scottsburg. It was a gorgeous home in its glory. My favorite thing was the winding staircase. I would believe it to be haunted. My grandparents home in Scottsburg was. After Grandpa SAMs death he visited with my Grandmother Ida many times. I myself had many experiences with my Great Aunt Bessie Barber. Family always refered to it as the house on the hill. Many memories of my childhood. I would live to have someone invest in this piece of history. The Barber’s we kind, hardworking and loving people. I loved Grandpa Sam very much!!

  40. Richard Jordan III says:

    I wonder if the roof is still up after all the snow this winter, almost 100 inches. I drive by this place often on my way to the Portageville Train Trestle from Rochester. It has always intrigued me. Thank you to everyone that has posted, very interesting.

  41. Gail Kellogg says:

    I’d like to make a correction about who lived in the house. I know there is some argument in town about this, but I live just down the hill, and I know who I played with as a kid, and who lived there.

    A few months after the Gaths moved out my friend John Ferrin and his family moved in. They were there for two years (mid 80’s, I think 1986-88) until his brother’s chemo treatments ended. We were in Kindergarten and first grade. It was sponsored through Ronald McDonald house and there was a waiver on the condemned status.

    Then Mrs. Peaks lived in the house with a million cats until 1993 or 1994 when she moved across the valley. I know it was that late because we took a little dog up to her, and the dog got dropped off in the summer of 1993. Most of the house was closed off at this time, but she showed me the living room, parts of upstairs and we got to peek in the 3rd floor, which was a disaster. I don’t remember her first name.

    It was empty for several years after that, but in 1999-2001 there was a squatter. He was a sandy blonde fellow who was supposed to be cleaning the place out. He stayed in a tent through the summer, but moved into the house when it got cold. I never got his name.

    A lot of partying, a lot of theft.

    The gentleman who owns the house now is Greg O’Connell. He hired a contractor to fix the place, and the back basement wall fell in on him. My father lifted the stones off of the man and helped haul him out. It was not plywood, and he is not dead. He had broken legs, but made a full recovery, or that was the last I heard. The reason it is not fixed is that the contractor failed to get the proper work permits and the town shut the project down. The house is currently open to the elements and in ever-worsening condition.

    There are bats that hibernate in several rooms. Aside from the risk to humans, disturbing them during the winter months is not healthy for them. I heard that from a local police officer. Many of the rooms are very, very unsafe to walk in.

    I would love to see the house saved. I think that is highly unlikely at this point.

    On a side note, several of the neighbors look after the property, and regularly call the police if there are trespassers. It’s a safety issue, and none of us want to haul bodies out of the basement – which floods in winter/spring.

  42. Keri A. Grotke says:

    my husband and I saw this house for the first time today. we had left letchworth and passed it on our ride. I had him turn around so that I could take pictures. it is such a lovely sad old shell of a house. one of the rooms on the first floor is completely open to the weather. the floorboards are gone and an animal has a large burrow in the dirt of the floor. what a dream it would be to fix up the old home!

  43. Keri A. Grotke says:

    it is a shame the the owners have neglected it so!

  44. Jordan Engel says:

    I travel upstate NY for sales, and passed this home last week while driving from Olean to Rochester. Like many others I circled around for a better look. I nearly missed the home because the foliage is so dense; the property is nearly swallowed by greenery. A shame that such a grand home has been allowed to rot away, but, I believe that fate has probably been in place for many decades. Homes like this are incredibly expensive to maintain – even when starting in good condition, let alone trying to come back from neglect. The photo from 1960, 55 years ago, shows the property in a sorry state even back then. I expect that the structure will collapse in a year or two. Thanks to those that explore, photo, and ultimately share the images online. I love being able to search something interesting I see in my travels.

  45. Karla Kates says:

    Oh my! I recognized this place immediately! I took pictures of it when I took a wrong turn on my way to Evergreen Trails. I always wondered about it! So wonderful to read this history.

  46. Mike says:

    My girlfriend and I stumbled upon this old house in 2013 while graveyard hunting (we photograph old cemeteries). It was VERY interesting to finally find out the history of this old home. What I was wondering though is if anyone had any old pictures of the interior before it became so run down? I see several people who used to live there have posted comments here, as well as relatives of the original owners. Do you have any photos you could share of what this house looked like in its heyday? I’d love to see this staircase, the marble bathroom, ballroom, etc. You must have some old pictures in a box in your attic somewhere I hope. If so, please share them here or even email me vaalkoth@yahoo.com because I love old abandoned houses.

  47. Veronica Petracchi says:

    I would be interested in volunteering to help with what I can on fixing it up. I have been drawn to this house since i moved her. told my husband many times it just draws me back to just stare at it! since its posted!please contact me if anyone finds out if something is going to be done about it. Gosh this would make a fantastic bed and breakfast or walk thru museum. veronicapetracchi@yahoo.com


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