When arriving in Essex, NY by ferry from Charlotte, Vermont travelers are greeted by a row of stately homes known as Merchant Row. The Dower House (aka the Daniel Ross House) is the northernmost residence with gambrel roof, white clapboard exterior and red shutters.
The Dower House on Lake Shore Road was built prior to 1793 by Daniel Ross, son-in-law of William Gilliland, and is the oldest documented structure in the area. Probably the first clapboard frame structure (residence) to be erected in the hamlet, its gambrel roof and five-bay layout displays its 18th century character beneath later alterations (Belden Noble Memorial Library. Essex, New York: An Early History. Burlington, VT: Queen City Printers, 2003. Print. p. 50)
William Gilliland had acquired lands stretching from Crown Point to Cumberland Head, and was the founder of several towns including Essex. After the Revolutionary War, which had destroyed many of Gilliland’s settlements, he returned to the Champlain Valley to start over though he was facing legal difficulties.
Although there is some discrepancy in the records over when the house was constructed (as well as whether it was constructed by Daniel Ross or by William Gilliland prior to, or even after, his incarceration), the Dower House was most likely built sometime between the late 1780’s and the turn of the century.
McNulty’s Essex: The Architectural Heritage states that Gilliland returned to this area after 1780; was arrested in 1786 because of litigation fees; was released from jail in 1791; and then moved in with his daughter, Elizabeth, and Daniel Ross where he lived until the end of his life.
This would suggest that the Dower House was already built when William Gilliland returned from prison. So, was the Dower House built by Gilliland before he went to jail or by Ross while Gilliland was incarcerated? Please share your knowledge and speculations in the comments below.
Also referred to as the Daniel Ross House, the name “Dower House” is actually a misleading misnomer because the home was not part of Elizabeth Gilliland’s dowry, although more than 1,000 acres of land were part of the dowry, and the land upon which the house is built were likely included in the acreage Daniel Ross received when he married Elizabeth (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 31).
Dower House Architecture
Predominantly Georgian in style and constructed of wood and sided with clapboard, the Dower House is two stories high with the gambrel roof’s gable ends situated perpendicular to Lake Shore Road, orienting the front of the house toward the street with an impressive view of Lake Champlain and Vermont’s Green Mountains. A central entryway on the eastern facade is flanked by two windows placed symmetrically on either side of the doorway.
The gambrel roof and dormers of the house most likely echo Dutch influence (Everest, Allan Seymour. Our North Country Heritage; Architecture Worth Saving in Clinton and Essex Counties. 23) or were possibly derived from an earlier Colonial style influenced by the English Georgian style (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain. 108).
Additional Resources for the Dower House
This map (with satellite image overlay) will help you locate the Dower House and see how its location relates to other historic buildings in the historic district.
View Discover Essex on Lake Champlain in a larger map
References for the Dower House
Belden Noble Memorial Library. Essex, New York: An Early History. Burlington, VT: Queen City Printers, 2003. Print.
“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” Essex Community Heritage Organization, 1986.
“Essex Village Historic District.” Living Places. Ed. Julia Gombach. The Gombach Group, 2010. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <http://www.livingplaces.com/NY/Essex_County/Essex_Town/Essex_Village_Historic_District.html>.
Everest, Allan Seymour. Our North Country Heritage; Architecture Worth Saving in Clinton and Essex Counties. Plattsburgh, NY: Tundra, 1972. Print.
Hislop, David C., Jr. Essex on Lake Champlain. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2009. Print. Images of America.
“Historic Essex.” Historic Essex. Essex Community Heritage Organization. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <http://www.essexny.org/>.
McNulty, George F., and Margaret Scheinin. Essex; the Architectural Heritage. Burlington, VT: Queen City Printers, 1971. Print.
Smith, H. P. History of Essex County: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Syracuse, N. Y.: D. Mason &, 1885. Print.