History of the Home of Seneca Harbor Wine Center
Charles Sherwood Frost presumably had a "good war" with the 48th New York Volunteers. That regiment's biggest action in his 13 months of service was the almost bloodless bombardment and capture of Fort Pulaski in Georgia. Frost was mustered out honorably at Pulaski in February, 1863. He spent his first month as a new civilian in moving to Watkins (now Watkins Glen), getting married, and starting a marble business.
The Schuyler Marble Works specialized in monuments, gravestones, furniture tops, and mantles, importing its stone from as far off as New England. Frost had a good location on Franklin Street. Not only was Franklin the main commercial district, but he was right across from the Northern and Central Railway depot (later Pennsylvania Railroad), and hard by the waterfront.
In 1873 he capitalized on those location advantages to erect the three-story 100' by 60' "nearly fire proof" Italianate brick building, "by far the largest and best which has ever been erected, for the purposes designed, in Schuyler County." The steam engine was the "very best, of great power, and works to a perfect charm." The thrifty Frost used sawdust from a lumber yard, and corn cobs, for fuel.
It turned out that 1873 would be a busy year. Ulysses S. Grant started his second term in the White House. The Highland and Schuyler Granges were founded in 1873, and so was the Schuyler County Teachers' Association. A sparkling wine from Pleasant Valley became the first American champagne to win a gold medal in European competition.
Here at home, Schuyler Iron and Agricultural Works included a foundry and machine shop, working in iron, brass, and other materials. America was cautiously but irrevocably stepping into the machine age, frequently stubbing its toes in the process. Parts often broke, and getting replacements could mean a long wait, fatal to work on a farm or in a factory. Besides all that, standardization was still sketchy. Even parts produced by the original manufacturer didn't necessarily fit properly.
Frost's machine shop, using the original part for a pattern, could mill to the specimen. The foundry also manufactured plows -- the Eureka, the Penn Yan Improved, the Bully of Yates, the Schuyler County, and the Improved Hillside. Farmers crowded the sheds every day to use the services of Frost's Schuyler Flouring and Gristing Mill.
A little after noon on January 16, 1884, the plant engineer checked his boilers, found them all in order, and strolled to the front of the shops. The engineer missed something, and at 12:25 an explosion rocked the village. Besides wrecking the boiler room it blew out a brick partition, brought down the second and third stories on the back side, broke every window in the structure, and threw the north wall several inches out of plumb.
Frantic investigation revealed the bewildering but welcome news that human casualties consisted of one man slightly injured. Only five men had been in the building, since the other employees were all out at "dinner." Showing again the vim that he had demonstrated in his first month home from the war, Frost had the whole place up and running again in six weeks.
When his uncle ran into financial difficulties, Frost assumed the ownership and liabilities of the Glen Park Resort. Since he also operated a large farm and garden, he was by this time a sort of one-man conglomerate. Just to keep busy, he organized the Seneca and Elmira Electric Railway. As company president he set the first trolleys rolling in 1900.
Frost served four terms as supervisor for the town of Dix, and with his sons worked hard to secure state purchase of the Glen. His son George, who had been depressed for some time, committed suicide in February 1902 by throwing himself into the pool at the lower entrance to the Glen. C.S. Frost himself died in 1906 of typhoid pneumonia; he had overheated himself in cold weather racing for a trolley.
His businesses carried on through three generations, and son C.L. Frost helped establish the Schuyler County Farm Bureau in 1917. Demand for the businesses, of course, dwindled over the years. A runaway truck destroyed the original marble works building in 1970. Frost's Machine Shop and Frost's Feed Mills finally closed their doors in 1983.
The 1980 Watkins Glen Tomorrow study recommended turning Frost's into a salt museum. This project never crystallized, but White Water Development Corporation reopened the place as Seneca Markets in 1984. In the following decade the Glen Vintage Auto Museum and the Professor's Place coffee house both passed through the building.
Offices originally faced Franklin Street, with the dirt-floored foundry in the northeast corner. Molding room (also dirt floored), blacksmith shop, and feed mill all occupied the southeast. The woodworking shop was on the second floor, and the pattern shop on the third.
Mr. Frost's family businesses occupied his dramatic building for 110 years. The businesses, the resort, and the electric railway are all gone. But at the southern end of Franklin Street, Watkins Glen State Park demonstrates his vision and his commitment to community.
At the north end of Franklin, in a revitalized waterfront, Frost's 19th century edifice welcomes village visitors in the 21st century. Now Seneca Harbor Wine Center, the Frost Building is a recent outreach of Pleasant Valley Wine Company in Hammondsport. Founded even before C.S. Frost enlisted for the Civil War, PV is U.S. Bonded Winery No. 1. Seneca Harbor lies midway between Pleasant Valley's vineyards on the east and west shores of Seneca Lake. Pleasant Valley has long been proud to be a part of life in Hammondsport. We're equally proud, after more than 140 years, to be part of the Watkins Glen and greater Schuyler County community.
- Researched and written by Kirk House