In 1828, Orestes Brownson moved to Auburn, where he edited a Universalist newspaper, the Gospel Advocate and Independent Investigator. In its columns, Brownson wrote openly of his growing religious doubts. More conservative clerics labeled him “a secret agent of infidelity,” and by October 1829 one of them managed to buy the newspaper out from under Brownson. By this time, Brownson was an open freethinker who had made the acquaintance of radical abolitionist and freethinker Frances Wright.
Locating sites from this early period, a mere thirty-five years after Auburn’s founding, is extremely difficult. Only after Herculean efforts by the Cayuga County Historian’s Office was it determined that the Advocate’s office was located on the southeast corner of Genesee and South Streets, where the Second Empire/Renaissance-style Phoenix Building (erected 1871) stands today.
Starting in 2014, the building has been extensively restored.