The Van Ornam building is currently undergoing renovations under the guidance of Karen and Rick Dalton to transform the second floor and rear annex into the national headquarters for College for Every Student.
The Old Brick Block was a mercantile shop(s) in Essex, NY that burned in 1924. It was replaced in 1937 (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain. 63) with the Van Ornam building, so called because the Van Ornam family was closely connected to the building. The Essex Post Office was moved to the Van Ornam building in 1937 and it remains there today despite periodic (and ongoing) relocation/closure considerations. The old Essex Post Office had been located a few buildings north, next to the Old Brick Store (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain. 60). See some images of its old location as it is today.
Some Van Ornam History
C.E. Van Ornam was the second man in Essex to purchase an automobile. Unfortunately he wrecked the prized Buick in 1913 (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain. 38). C.E. Van Ornam was appointed as Essex’s post office director in the 1920’s (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain. 60). Gerry Van Ornam moved into the Van Ornam building after World War II (after 1945) with unfinished work still going on, but the Post Office already occupying the space (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain.63). Over the decades the Van Ornam family owned several different buildings in Essex, including Wright’s Inn which was known as Adirondack House at the time (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain. 90). A brief history about some of the Van Ornam family from Essex can be found here.
Van Ornam Building Uses
Over the years the Van Ornam building has served many purposes in addition to accommodating the Essex Post Office. The building was once home to Essex’s own movie theater. It opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1940 with the film Third Finger, Left Hand (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain. 63). This Van Ornam building has also served as the Atea Ring Gallery, and more recently the architectural office of Beverly Eichenlaub and Bryan Burke. Today the south side of the first floor still houses the Essex Post Office, and the second floor (and soon-to-be-completed rear annex) are occupied by CFES (College for Every Student), the organization responsible for current renovations.
Perhaps you know some other organizations/businesses that have taken advantage of the space in the building in the middle of Main Street? Share your memories in the comments below.
Additional Resources for Van Ornam Building
This map (with satellite image overlay) will help you locate the Van Orman Building and see how its location relates to other historic buildings in the historic district.
View Flaneur’s Guide to Essex, New York in a larger map
References for the Van Ornam Building
“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. .
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.
Sandra VanOrman says
Thank you for posting the article about the VanOrnam family and the VanOrnam building.
My VanOrnam ancestors settled in Essex co. and C.E. VanOrnam was my great great grandfather’s brother. A VanOrnam cousin just sent me this information concerning the building.
Many thanks, again for posting this interesting article about our family’s history!
G.G. Davis, Jr. says
You’re welcome, Sandra. And thank YOU for dropping by and commenting. We’d love to share more about the VanOrnam family, so encourage your family to dig around in the archives for interesting artifacts. Your recent ancestors left an enduring legacy in Essex, and we’d be thrilled to help share the story!
Dena DeLude says
I really enjoyed finding this information on the Vanornam history in Essex. Charles Vanornam was my great great grandfather. His son in law Clarence Seeley helped rebuild the movie theatre/post office around 1933-36 I believe. Clarence’s wife Jessie Emnot Vanornam was a teacher in the octogon schoolhouse. My grandfather recently passed away & I am trying to honor him by researching our family history. Any additional information you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for this valuable information!
Dena, I’m thrilled that you found this post. I’m sorry that you recently lost your grandfather, but you’re serving his legacy well by exploring your family genealogy. Please return to share your discoveries along the way!