Penn Yan (pop. approx. 5,000) is a village on Keuka Lake and is the Yates County seat. The area was first settled (ca. 1790) by Jemima Wilkinson’s eccentric religious community. Ninteenth-century Penn Yan drew settlers from Pennsylvania and New England, hence its name: Penn(sylvania) Yan(kee). The economy centered on agriculture, trade, and for a time a regional canal. Today, central Penn Yan is an attractive historic district.
Methodists split over slavery in the early 1850s. In Penn Yan, abolitionist “Wesleyans” built a small church and supported multiple reform causes. Susan B. Anthony led a regional woman’s rights (nineteenth-century practice was to use the singular, woman's; later practice was to use the plural, women's) convention there in 1855. In later years, local freethinker Charles Elmendorf demonstrated that during the early twentieth century, open freethinkers could rise to social prominence even in a small community such as Penn Yan.