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Center Village

The mid 19th Century

Rather than the scattered, self-sustaining small farms of the pioneer period, by 1830 the Genesee Valley was comprised of homes that were gathered around a proper town center.

Rather than the scattered, self-sustaining small farms of the pioneer period, by 1830, the Genesee Country was comprised of homes that were gathered around a proper town center. Villages popped up at bridgeheads and waterfalls or where main roads intersected.

Yankee settlers brought their own ideas of how houses should be built, how towns should be laid out, and what to do with all the rocks found in their fields. They built stone walls and lined their tidy village green with churches, businesses, and a town hall. White (or cream, made from linseed oil) was the preferred color of buildings constructed before the Civil War. In Western New York, entire towns and villages were painted white with bright grassy green shutters—all part of the Greek Revival style.

On the farm, settlers shifted from growing just enough food to feed their families to producing crops for sale, such as wheat. Soon the demand grew for cheaper and faster ways to get produce and other goods to market. The opening of the waterways and the railroads helped distribute Western New York wheat to the rest of the nation and the world.

As wheat was shipped out, products from the east were brought to Genesee Country homes: cast iron stoves, tools from machine shops, cotton and woolen goods from textile mills, carpets and wallpapers, oil lamps, china, and glass. These items can be seen in the homes and other buildings of the Center Village, such as the Livingston-Backus House and the Foster-Tufts House.

Altay Store

built c. 1848, interpreted 1852, Altay, NY

Storekeeping in the country was a challenging business. It is no wonder that many country stores were partnerships: someone always had to mind the store.

The goods and services offered during store hours were indispensable to the well-being of the rural community and central to its economy. But work behind the scenes when the shutters were put up was just short of endless. The little cash that came in over the counter had to be counted and put away, accounts had to be gone over, the store’s own bills had to be paid, and orders had to be prepared.

Judging from the bundles of invoices, statements, and order records that lay stacked in the upper storeroom of the Altay Store when it was acquired, founding partners Roswell Sheperd, Josiah Jackson, and Charles Clark had a complicated tiger by the tail. In addition to the normal handling of hardware, footware, groceries, notions, tools, books, and clothing over the counter, the partners operated a gristmill and sawmill, and shipped butter, eggs, and other fresh foods from the country to Elmira and New York City.

The Altay Store stocked most of the same staples as the old frontier trading post and sold or, like the old trading post, bartered them away. However, operations like those of the partners in the little hamlet of Altay were many times more complex than those at the pioneer trading post.

The Altay Store was built about 1848 when new owners took over the business. The structure’s deep frieze, heavy cornice, and pilasters declare its debt to the Greek Revival style.

The store, located in the tiny Finger Lakes hamlet of Altay, closed its doors in 1899, and for the next 70 years, the building stood unused. When it was dismantled and moved to the Village in 1970, it had suffered from disuse and decay, but there had been only negligible change to the interior. Its counters, shelves, and cupboards, although empty, were still in place. They are now stocked with hundreds of items of general merchandise corresponding to the store’s own records from 1852. Many of the store’s receipts and business records from the 1840s through the 1860s were found intact in the building’s attic.

Altay General Store

Boot & Shoemaker's Shop

built c. 1820, East Avon, NY

As often as other members of his family went barefoot, the pioneer farmer himself, for the rough work of chopping and clearing the forest and to keep his feet from freezing in the winter, needed a pair of boots. While his wife could make him new clothing she could not replace her husband’s boots when they gave way and to repair a leather boot properly required special tools and skills.

Leather from local tanners was cut into pieces, which were sewn by village women in their homes to form the uppers. The bottoming was done by the shoemaker in his shop using waxed linen thread and needles made of pig bristle. After about 1830, the new-fangled way to assemble shoes with wooden pegs became popular in the Genesee region.

While the shoemaker was capable of providing the community with a wide range of choices in footwear, from elegantly finished riding boots for gentlemen to lightweight fabric slippers for ladies, the most common type of shoe was the “coarse shoe” with an inch-thick sole.

A village of sufficient size offered a livelihood for the journeyman bootmaker who would settle down and open a shop. The workshop could be almost anywhere, even in a corner of his house. The bootmaker’s work required very little space, enough for his benches and perhaps a table.

About 1820 in East Avon, NY, a young lawyer built this small frame building and established his practice. According to local legend, the lawyer left the village on horseback one day with an important sum of money. While the horse returned, the lawyer and the money were never seen again. A bootmaker later occupied the place.

Boot and shoemaker's shop

Brooks Grove Methodist Church & Parsonage

built c. 1844, Brooks Grove, NY

Where churches could so afford, housing was furnished to the ministers to help offset the generally low salaries they received. The Brooks Grove Church, because of its importance in the regional Methodist Church affairs, provided a house to be used not only as a residence for its own minister, but also as a place where the circuit leaders might hold meetings.

On the lot immediately south of Brooks Grove Church stood this one-and-a-half story frame house. It was built by Henry Jarvis in 1835, and thus predates the church by several years. Although it was the church’s closest neighbor for a long time, there is no record of its use as a parsonage until it was set down to serve that purpose at Genesee Country Village & Museum.

The parlor serves as the pastor’s study and a place to receive visitors. All other activities of daily life in this small house are crowded about the kitchen. Like the Foster House of similar date, the house that Jarvis built declares its architectural debt to the widening Greek Revival influence, while retaining features, such as the fan light in the gable, associated with the earlier Federal style.

This church can accommodate 175 people and is available for wedding rentals all year long.

A white historic building.

D.B. Munger & Co. Confectionery (formerly Physician's Office)

built c. 1840, South Valley, NY

No place emits that warm, nostalgic feeling better than an old-fashioned confectionary with its colorful jars, bottles, and trays of sweet delicacies, now found at the Museum. 

Part exhibit, part true confectionery with fancy treats for purchase, the Historic Village opened its confectionery in June 2014, in the former Physician’s Office. (Dr. Frederick Backus is now taking care of patients formerly handled by the Doctors John Sterriker Sr. & Jr.)

Purchase freshly baked authentic or historically inspired delights such as Chelsea buns, fruit tarts, elderberry or other seasonal fruit hand pies, or the ever-popular rosewater currant cakes, sugar tea cakes, and maple cakes (cookies).

A number of the bottles on exhibit are replicas of those found in several mid-1800s shipwrecks more than a century after the vessels went down. In some cases, the food was still edible.

D.B. Munger & Co. Confectionery

Cooper Shop

built c. 1805, Stafford, NY

Containers have always been a necessity in households and were a matter of survival to the settlers. On the farm, baskets were handy for light, dry, and loose things; earthenware jugs and crocks were fine for liquids; iron kettles contained the simmering stews and soups, heating milk and boiling ashes.

But wooden vessels of various forms, sizes, and capacities were required where nothing else would do — or do as well — in the country and the town. Wooden buckets drew water from the well to the kitchen and barn. They were used to carry feed to the calves and milk back to the kitchen, and to collect and carry sap from maple trees. There were wooden wash tubs, butter churns, and butter firkins. Without some or most of these wooden wares, the farmer-settler and his wife were inconvenienced.

There were not quite as many demands for wooden containers around the village homes, but flour, sugar, and salt were kept in them, and every well had its wooden bucket. The storekeeper received flour, fish, rum, molasses, and pork by the barrel. Barrels traveled in the other direction carrying apples, cider, and vinegar. The Altay Store shipped butter and eggs to Elmira and New York City in wooden barrels.

The cooper made and supplied these round wooden containers. Some farmers did a little coopering during the winter, turning out barrels, tubs, and buckets. Others made only the staves that could be used for barter or, even better, sold for vitally needed cash. Barrel staves were one of the most important exports from the Genesee Country to Canada in the early 19th century.

As the economy and trade of a settlement grew, there was work for the full-time cooper. The “tight” cooper made barrels for cider, vinegar, whiskey, beer, and meat. The “slack” cooper, less expert, made barrels that did not need to be watertight. The cooper “rived” (split) the staves from pine or oak blocks, beveled, and jointed them to fit together, shaped the bottom to fit the “crove” (groove left to receive the bottom), and banded the whole affair together with hoop poles of hickory or oak. It was not easy work.

Sometime around 1805, William Rumsey built this structure along the Ontario and Western Turnpike in what is now the Town of Stafford, NY. Rumsey was a surveyor for the Holland Land Company and, until his death in 1820, he was one of the most influential settlers of the area.

This unusually sturdy construction is of special interest as the hand-hewn members were formed into trusses. Because of the unique character of the framework, portions have been left exposed. The building is presently used to exhibit the tools and equipment of the village cooper.

A wooden historic building.

DeLancey Stow Insurance Office

built c. 1825, interpreted 1870s, Clyde, NY

The association between DeLancey Stow and, his father, William Stow, (both of whom also practiced law) and the insurance business began when the elder Stow built the one-story office for his legal practice and insurance business in the thriving canal town of Clyde, NY in 1825. This was early enough for the Stows to call their quaint building, “The Oldest Insurance Office in the United States,” a claim subject to challenge, perhaps.

The Erie Canal had just been completed when William Stow set up his ventures. Life insurance might come along later, but William Stow did well enough selling fire, accident, and marine insurance. After his son, DeLancey, was admitted to the bar in 1862, the two worked as partners for nearly 20 years. When the elder Stow died in 1880, DeLancey Stow carried on until his own death at age 83 in 1925 — ending just a century of “business as usual” in “The Oldest Insurance Office in the United States.”

Historic law office

Dressmaker's Shop

built c. 1825, Roseboom, NY

The one-and-a-half story frame structure housing the Millinery and Dressmaking Shop was built in Roseboom, NY, about 1825. Like many small buildings in country villages, it was put to various uses over the years.

By the middle of the 19th century, a ladies’ hat trimming and or dressmaking shop might be found in a small New York State town. It would be a means for a widow or otherwise single woman to eke out an existence. In addition to the wares she made to order, she did alterations, and she would supply small items for the home seamstress.

Pink dress maker's shop

Drug Store

built c. 1835, Tyrone, NY

The drug store as a separate enterprise made a surprisingly early appearance in the Genesee Country. In the outlying areas, the only source of drugs would be the doctor, except for some herb concoctions or nostrums a wife or midwife might stir up. The doctor, for the most part, prepared his drugs in his own office and carried a supply of them in his saddlebag.

In the larger villages, however, there was sufficient demand to attract the services and skills of a man versed, if not professionally trained, in the art of preparing medicines, remedies, and drugs. Many of the druggist’s compounds were prepared with no other guidance than a pharmacopoeia, a massive tome giving Latin names, ingredients required, quantities needed, methods of preparation, the condition to be remedied, and the hoped-for results — everything but how much to charge.

Early in the 19th century, the village pharmacist was likely to find himself in competition with the village doctor, both of whom were accustomed to prescribing and selling medicines for their customers and patients. But by mid-century, pharmacology and medicine evolved into separate and more scientific professions.

Along with a wide assortment of remedies and medicines that the pharmacist measured and mixed in his shop, he carried an impressive array of patent medicines. In addition, he often handled painter’s supplies, colors for oils, window glass, and perfumery.

For more than a quarter of a century, the building now housing the Drug Store stood vacant near the Finger Lakes hamlet of Tyrone, a few miles from the Altay Store. Like other hamlets that have been bypassed as travel routes are altered, Tyrone retains much of its 19th-century character. The building, c. 1840, is representative of the Greek Revival temple form, adapted to serve commercial purposes.

Apothecary shop

Flint Hill Pottery

reconstruction, c. 1845

In the kitchens and pantries of the Village are scores of examples of the Genesee Country potter’s art, both lead-glazed earthenware (also called “redware”) and salt-glazed stoneware. These relics survived generations of everyday use for food preparation and storage in the 19th century before drawing notice from collectors, antique dealers, and museum curators.

The work of regional potters has also earned the attention of archaeologists. Of the several sites excavated by the Rochester Museum & Science Center, the best documented are the Alvin Wilcox Pottery (c.1825-62) in Ontario County and the Morganville Pottery (c.1829-1900) in Genesee County.

The lead-glazed earthenware produced by these and other early 19th-century rural potters included crocks, jugs, jars, and bottles; plates, bowls, pitchers, and porringers; milk pans and butter churns; candle and cake moulds; drain tiles and flower pots; chamber pots and spittoons.

The country potter worked hard. For her earthenware products, she dug the clay from a nearby pit, ground it in a pug mill (sometimes horse-powered), turned the simple shapes on her wheel, applied the lead glaze, fired them in her kiln, and then sold them at the pottery or carried them to storekeepers who would pay the potter in cash or goods.

With the completion of the Erie Canal, stoneware factories producing the familiar light-colored and blue decorated wares were established in towns along the waterway. Clay could be brought in from Long Island and New Jersey, and the stoneware products were shipped out readily on the canal. Stoneware was fired at higher temperatures, which fused the clay so that it did not have to be glazed, although a salt glaze was commonly used. The insides of stoneware vessels were coated with “Albany slip,” a brownish-black clay wash, to provide a smooth finish.

Fortunatus Gleason, Jr., and his son, Charles, operated the Morganville Pottery in Stafford Township, Genesee County, until about the time of the Civil War. By then, most of the rural earthenware potteries in the region had succumbed to competition from the larger stoneware factories, but the Morganville Pottery turned away from jugs and jars, concentrating on earthenware flower pots and drain tiles for which there was sufficient demand. Through a succession of family-related potters, the Morganville operation survived into the 20th century. Some time after the pottery was closed, the structure was moved and adapted into a dwelling.

Excavations at the Morganville site by the Rochester Museum & Science Center in 1973 uncovered the building’s foundations as well as the floors of two kilns, one inside and one outside the building. Also found were quantities of earthenware fragments which have helped to identify and document surviving examples of Morganville pottery.

The archaeologist’s report and an early 20th-century photograph of the old building formed the basis for the replica of the Morganville Pottery in the Historic Village. The wares produced in the Museum pottery follow closely documented examples of those turned out by the 19th-century rural potters of the Genesee Country.

The reproduction pottery created on-site is sold at the Flint Hill Store. Selections include redware, Albany slipware, Bristol ware, and wood-fired salt-glazed stoneware items ranging from pie plates and tankards to jars and jugs. Click here to shop our handcrafted pottery online.

Historic potter's shop

Foster House

built c. 1836, Pavilion, NY

In 1826, Charles Foster brought his wife, four sons, and four daughters to the Genesee Country in a horse-drawn vehicle. According to family tradition, two of the children rode in the potash kettle. The kettle would indicate that Foster expected to be clearing land. That the 58 acres he eventually purchased were on a hill would suggest that a better site was unavailable or beyond his means.

Foster’s first house in Genesee County was made of logs. When in 1836 he was able to put up a frame house, the result was surprisingly sophisticated, without any known local precedent. His one-and-a-half story house carries post-Colonial (Federal) detailing on the exterior, while the widely overhanging roof and the interior trim point to the newer Greek Revival style. Such a combination of modes is often the result of an owner’s reluctance to cast off all familiar forms and his tentative acceptance of the new.

The house’s entrance is of special interest. Fluted pilasters extend to the frieze, framing not only the front doorway but the window above. These two elements are separated by a projecting shelf with egg-and-dart molding. Inside, a bridge-like landing above the entrance hall and behind the window receives the delicately detailed stairway and provides access to the upper bedrooms on both sides of the house. This landing, floating free from the front wall, permits light from the window above the front door to reach the entrance hall below.

One of the Foster daughters married Ely Tufts; ultimately, three generations of Tufts occupied the house before it was turned over to secondary usages. The house was in precarious shape when the Museum acquired it. It had served as a chicken house for some time, and had lost its kitchen and woodshed wing to the elements. In its restored state, the house appears very much as it did when new in 1836.

A green and white historic building.

George Eastman's Boyhood Home

built c.1840, interpreted 1854-1860, Waterville, NY

George Eastman (1854-1932), founder of Eastman Kodak Company, spent his early youth in and around this one-and-a-half story Greek Revival dwelling in Waterville, N.Y.

Eastman’s father, who had been a nurseryman in Waterville, moved the family to Rochester, where he founded a business school. At the elder Eastman’s death, young George and his mother lived for a time on Livingston Park (near the residence of Dr. Frederick Backus, which now faces the Village Square), where the widowed Mrs. Eastman took in boarders.

The main block of George Eastman’s Boyhood Home is a clear and compact translation of the Greek temple idiom into the American vernacular. The essential elements of temple architecture — the post, the lintel, and the pediment — are here scaled down and rendered in wood. The broad porch is the podium of the temple; four fluted Doric columns carry the wide entablature (horizontal bands above the columns), which is capped with a fully developed pediment.

None of the home’s current furnishings belonged to the Eastmans, but have been selected to demonstrate the comfortable circumstances the family enjoyed while living in Waterville.

A quilter now works daily in this house throughout the season.

A green and white historic building.

Gunsmith & Cabinetmaker Shop

built c. 1870, Nunda, NY

During the first two-thirds of the 19th century firearm development improved with technological innovations such as more reliable and safer gun mechanisms. Accordingly, gunsmiths in New York State became suppliers for custom guns and firearm parts. With several gunsmiths opening their doors in and around the Genesee Country, the supply grew as guns became more prevalent in everyday life. However, like many trades in the 19th century, the craft of gunsmithing began to decline once the production processes became mechanized in the midcentury. By the latter third of the 1800s, custom firearm fabrication gave way to mass produced firearm manufacturers, but local gunsmith businesses remained intact as their skills were needed for repairs, assembly, and replacements.

The Gunsmith and Cabinetmaker Shop at Genesee Country Village & Museum gives a glimpse into this late 1800s era. Owned and operated by the Thompson brothers, Jonathon and Joseph, the business established its roots in Nunda, NY around 1870, and opened its doors as a general metal repair and gunsmithing shop. At the same time, the 1870 census reported the brothers’ occupation as carpenters, indicating that they also practiced woodworking as a profession. Throughout the years, the brothers wavered between different labors, sometimes listed as a farmer, other times a carpenter, but always had the gunsmithing business as a secondary occupation to bring in extra income. Later, the local newspapers recounted the quality of work that the Thompson brothers produced in their ironworking and woodworking crafts.

The structure itself was a part of a farmstead owned by the mother and father, Luther and Martha Thompson. On the family property there were barns, a farmhouse, and other farming structures all appearing to be built around the same time and style as the gunsmith shop.

Gunmaker and cabinet shop

Hastings Law Office

built c. 1848, Mt. Morris, NY

As soon as settlement built up in the Genesee Country, there was work for the lawyer. While many agreements were of the handshake variety, the clearing and conveyance of land titles required the service of a lawyer if there were any complicated issues involved.

Lawyers were needed to draw wills, execute deeds and mortgages, and sort out and help resolve cases of disputed ownership. The lawyer was often called upon to represent landlords, land agents, and mortgage holders in the actions against the delinquent farmer-settler. As one historian noted, “Lawyers served a society which by its political nature was litigious.”

When towns and villages were being organized, the lawyer was needed to prepare the formal documents. Many country lawyers embarked upon political careers and were elected to the state legislature or assembly. Some went on to become congressmen, some became judges, and some grew rich.

After an apprenticeship as a clerk in an established lawyer’s office, George Hastings came to Mount Morris, NY in 1829 and hung out his shingle. For 36 years he enjoyed a successful practice, in the course of which he distinguished himself as a political leader, congressman, and judge. The Hastings Law office now in the Historic Village was built around 1848.

People in costume standing on porch of law office

Hosmer's Inn

built c. 1818, interpreted 1830s, Caledonia, NY

In 1809, Sylvester Hosmer, one of five sons of physician Timothy Hosmer, married Laura Smith, one of the daughters of innkeeper Major Isaac Smith. The major’s tavern, known as the Forest Inn, was a log building situated alongside the Ontario and Genesee Turnpike, a few miles west of the Genesee River crossing near Avon, NY, on New York State Route 5.

Following his father-in-law’s death in 1814, Sylvester Hosmer became its proprietor. Accommodations and food were pronounced excellent by those who stopped at the log inn while travelling the main route through western New York.

Business was good and in 1818, Hosmer replaced his log building with the two-story Georgian-style frame structure that now looks across the Village Square.

The inn has seven fireplaces. The brick-floored kitchen and storerooms are on the ground level and are accessible through a covered entrance on the right side of the building. The first floor includes a taproom (reached through an entrance on the left side of the building), a public dining room, a ladies’ dining room, and a ladies’ sitting room. On the second floor are the landlord’s own quarters, four private sleeping rooms, and a combined meeting room/ballroom.

The old inn was occupied as a residence in its later years, although it was being used as a granary when the Museum acquired it. The yard behind Hosmer’s contains a wagon shed and Hosmer’s old brick-lined ice house. The ground-floor kitchen is staffed on some special event weekends by one of the Museum’s talented open-hearth cooks.

Click here to learn about historic dining opportunities in Hosmer’s Inn. 

Hosmer's Inn

Humphrey House

built c. 1797, Lima, NY

Amherst Humphrey’s 1797 house, though of a type common for well over a century in his native Massachusetts, was ahead of its time in the Genesee Country. His ten-roomed “framed” house would remain conspicuous among the log houses of other pioneers then settling the area.

Houses such as Humphrey’s, organized around a central chimney system, were basic and logical. There were no hallways — the rooms all interconnected. A large fireplace was a necessity for cooking and an oven was needed alongside it for baking. An iron crane swung from one side of the fire chamber, supporting the kettle; on the wide hearth was room for food that needed heat for preparation or serving.

Two other fireplaces heated the two front rooms. These were smaller, nestled back into the mass of masonry needed to contain the kitchen fireplace and oven, and they used the same central flue. The central chimney accommodated a fireplace on the second floor as well, furnishing welcome heat to the largest of Humphrey’s five second-floor chambers.

The great pile of masonry in the central chimney type house served as a solid anchor for the structure’s heavy timber frame, portions of which might rest against the chimney. While Humphrey’s fireplace, oven, and chimney are of brick, the base beneath the full cellar is of stone and contains its own fireplace opening — probably used for the messier business of lye-making and lard-rendering. The basement floor is of cobblestone. There is a cistern beneath the summer kitchen (added in the 1830s) and an inside privy at the far end of the attached woodshed.

Humphrey House, like thousands of story-and-a-half New England precedents from which it derives, is almost totally lacking in exterior ornamentation. However the interior features include not only paneled and molded doors, door and window surrounds, and chair rails, but also mantelpieces and cupboards carried out in moldings hand-planed by a craftsman with a light touch and an eye for proportion. Remarkably, the work of the unknown craftsman survived a century and three-quarters of continuous occupation as a working farmhouse in Lima, NY

Daily throughout the season, visitors can chat with a weaver and learn about the variety of items woven in the Humphrey House.

Humphrey HOuse

Jones Farm

built c. 1820 - 1835, interpreted 1830s, Orleans, NY Corncrib - built c. 1830, Livingston County

Pioneer Ezra Jones arrived in the Genesee Country from Connecticut in 1805 and was able to purchase 120 acres of excellent land for wheat in what is now Ontario County. There, in the midst of a settled area, he enjoyed the improved roads that placed him effectively nearer to markets in Canandaigua and Geneva. The first dwelling of this ex-Continental Army soldier was of logs. It may be reasonably assumed that his next major project was a frame barn, although no trace of such a structure survives.

In the 1820s, Jones erected this unpretentious story-and-a-half frame house. A summer kitchen wing was added in the 1830s. However, even this simple, serviceable dwelling was in time demoted to the role of tenant house when a large two-story Victorian country house was erected in the 1860s. Under such a succession of roofs (and owners), the old Jones farmstead reflected half a century of change in farmhouse architecture, as well as decoration. The Jones Farmhouse is decorated with stenciled walls, probably done by an itinerant 19th-century artist, although some may have been done by the owners themselves.

The Jones Farmhouse comes from Tileyard Road, near Orleans, in Ontario County, and was given to the Museum by the Gillam brothers. Its design, derived from Connecticut precedents, is typical of the small early 19th-century Genesee Country timber-framed and clapboard-covered farmhouse.

This house features one of the four working kitchens in the Historic Village. Here visitors will see daily demonstrations by the farmer’s wife as she prepares the noon meal, just as she might have in the 1830s. Every Wednesday and Saturday during the season the woman of the house produces cheese in addition to the meal.

White farm house with red door

Livingston-Backus House

built 1827-1838, interpreted 1850s, Rochester, NY

One of the entrepreneurs who fashioned a fortune from milling, banking, and speculative ventures in Rochester was James Livingston, a descendant of an old Hudson River family. In 1827, Livingston built one of the first grand mansions in Rochester’s Third Ward, soon to be full of other columned monuments to their newly wealthy owners.

In 1835, the house was sold to businessman Joseph Strong, who, three years later, sold it for $10,000 to Dr. Frederick Backus, a prominent figure in civic and cultural affairs and an elected official when the City of Rochester was formed in 1834.

Backus made substantial structural alterations to the house, employing Greek Revival elements and detailing. A one-story ell attached to the main block permitted the doubling of the parlor, while the entrance hall and stairway were shifted from the front to the side. Stylish decorative alterations were made on the interior. These changes, some very subtle, record an important phase in the history of the structure and were retained in its restoration.

Following the Civil War, the house again underwent change. The kitchen wing was replaced by a large brick addition as the building was converted into a fashionable girls’ school. For three-quarters of a century, Livingston Park Seminary attracted genteel young ladies from the eastern United States.

When this important structure was threatened with destruction in the 1950s, a prominent Rochester benefactor acquired it and had it carefully dismantled and stored until an appropriate location and use could be found. In 1970, the benefactor found a location that satisfied his requirements. He presented the house to the Museum and shared in its reconstruction cost.

Head upstairs to the second floor of the Livingston-Backus House to explore the exhibit Yesterday’s Child, which explores childhood in the 19th century and includes 18 portraits. 

Livingston Backus House

MacArthur House

built c 1834, York, N.Y.

In 1833, a young Duncan J. MacArthur moved to York, N.Y. with his wife, Elizabeth, son, John, and a baby on the way. Being that the area of York was heavily settled by Scottish immigrants, the MacArthurs fit into the township immediately. With a small but growing family, Duncan MacArthur settled quickly. John McNab was a son of an early settler, James McNab, and owned a sizeable plot of land, which he eventually sold an eight acre plot to MacArthur in 1835. In the first year, it is presumed that the MacArthurs either lived on the McNab property or lived with another family while the MacArthur family house was being built. By 1834, the MacArthur house was ready for occupants. The MacArthurs welcomed their daughter, Isabel, in 1835 and later their son, James, in 1838.

Duncan MacArthur was also a tradesman and supported his family through his leatherworking skills. He established his own business as a boot and shoemaker in a small building near the family’s home. His business flourished and by 1854, he decided that he wanted to move the business into the village of York. By then, his sons reached young adulthood and could help support the business by partnering with their father. The family house was sold to a young neighbor, John W. Stewart, and the family moved to the village. The home exchanged hands a number of times and acted as a family home, boarding house, and was eventually sold to the Genesee Country Village & Museum in 1968.

The MacArthur house is a “salt-box” style house. This architectural style was popularized in New England and lent itself to bearing the burden of the northeastern winters with its steep rooflines. The back portion of the house, where the kitchen and pantry reside, has a sloping roof pitch. This became a characteristic of the architectural style since additions to the back of the house were originally temporary or semi-permanent lean-tos. The house is also considered to be built in the Federal style. Although, looking at the front façade of the structure, it is clear that it is not symmetrical but rather asymmetrical. The door is shifted to the left side of the house as opposed to having it centered with two identical windows flanking it on their side, which is a key characteristic of the Federal style. That is because it is known as a “half house.” This term comes from the thought that a man of growing establishment would one day be able to construct the other half of the house, completing the symmetry of the structure and expanding the home for family. The first floor of the house consists of a sizeable parlor room with fireplace, a kitchen with fireplace and sink with drainage, a pantry, and a small bedroom. The second floor has one large and one small bedroom.

The MacArthur House is now mainly used as programming space, housing some of the Museum’s summer camp activities and special event weekend happenings.

Small green house

MacKay Homestead

built c. 1814, interpreted 1840, Caledonia, NY

Unlike his fellow Scots who had settled in the “Big Springs” area (at the site of present-day Caledonia, NY), John MacKay, a Scot from Shamokin, PA, arrived at the Big Springs as an entrepreneur. By 1814, MacKay had prospered sufficiently to build the two-story brick-lined house that now looks out across the Village Square.

The design of MacKay’s new house was as up-to-date as his ledger books. The American version of the modified Georgian style popular in the period is termed “Federal” or “Post-Colonial.” Its lightened and attenuated forms are seen in the architectural detailing of the MacKay House with its gable end turned toward the road. The elegant three-bay facade is articulated by four pilasters, linked by blind elliptical arches, and crowned by a full pediment. Positioning the short side of a house to serve as its front had an important effect upon its interior plan: the narrow end allowed for only a single room across the front, with the entrance moving to one side.

MacKay’s fine house was to have had a full-height portico across the front, but when the four columns ordered for the job could not be shipped from Kingston, Ontario, during the War of 1812, MacKay finished off his house without the projected frontispiece.

Some of the rear sections of this ample house were torn away in the early 20th century. An archeological program conducted in cooperation with the Rochester Museum & Science Center uncovered remains of the foundations of the missing portions, including footings for the kitchen hearth, fireplace, and oven.

MacKay’s house and several pieces of his furniture were given to the Museum by his descendants Mrs. Marianna Wilkins, Mrs. Mary Enderton, and John Newton MacKay.

MacKay House

The Village Mercantile

The Village Mercantile, from Hart’s Corners, Monroe County, is an early 19th-century building which was recast in the 1840s with quaint and unconventional Greek Revival details. In the 1990s a wing was added on the right side of the original building, and today it serves as the home of the Museum’s costume department.

The exterior of the Village Mercantile.

St. Feehan’s Church

built c. 1854, Chili, NY

The first Catholics in the area worshiped in their homes or by traveling to Rochester or Scottsville.

In 1854, one group of families in Chili, near Rochester, began building their own church. Within a year, they had completed St. Feehan’s Church without architect or contractor, and affixed a simple wooden cross at its peak. The land where it originally stood was given by a parishioner who, it is believed, influenced the decision to call the new church after his family’s old parish in the west of Ireland. It would serve the growing influx of Irish canal workers in the mid-19th century.

Because it flooded during spring thaws, it became known as the “Swamp Church.” During the 1880s, it was moved a short distance to higher ground. Marks on the walls and floors indicated that during its history, the pews had been moved closer together to accommodate more communicants. The pews installed during its restoration at the Museum came from St. Mary’s Church in Scottsville, the same pews the builders sat on during the 1850s when they journeyed to Scottsville to attend mass before their own church was built.

St Feehans catholic church

Thomson's Tavern

built c. 1808, Riga, NY

Joseph Thomson, from Peru, MA, erected a one-and-a-half-story building along the well-traveled road to Braddock’s Bay at what is now Riga Center, NY. His partner, David Tuttle, remained in Peru minding another store and sending supplies to Thomson, who was busy establishing a trading post in their new building on the western New York frontier.

Food and refreshment were available to those journeying through the area or coming to Thomson’s for supplies. Drovers passing to and from the Niagara region found lodging for the night in one of three upstairs bed chambers.

A large arched ceiling meeting room or ballroom on the second floor could accommodate additional overnight guests when the place was crowded. A large brick oven in the basement baked bread for nearby settlers whose more rustic dwellings did not boast ovens.

Thomson’s old place, which served as a store and post office, meeting place and bakery, came from Warren Adams, whose family held the property since acquiring it from Thomson’s heirs in 1845.

Dark red tavern building

Town Hall

built c. 1822, South Lima, NY

The first wave of settlers in the Genesee Country had been colonists, living under a king who ruled by hereditary right. Now the Genesee Country settler had a president who was elected by representatives of the people, and who ruled without any royal trappings. The new constitutional government was by definition “of the people,” and public policy was shaped by public opinion, as expressed through elected representatives. The fact that a single citizen now could play a role in the nation’s decision-making process changed the political attitude of most Americans. This new sense of civic responsibility was reflected in the rapidity with which town governments were formed in the Genesee Country.

The first town meetings took place in private homes, taverns and inns, schoolhouses or barns. At the annual meeting, usually held the first week in April, town officials were elected, among them supervisors, assessors, fence viewers, and pathmasters. Issues of public concern — schools, roads, bridges, and taxes — were discussed at regularly scheduled meetings and were voted upon by eligible tax-paying voters.

As soon as the town’s resources permitted and the necessary vote was taken, a town hall was built. The new addition to the community quickly became not only the seat of local government, but a center for a multitude of community activities. Many things to many people, the town hall has remained a symbol of the new nation’s democratic spirit.

The Town Hall on the Village Square is an adaptation of William Hamilton’s 1822 inn from South Lima, NY, as it was enlarged for public purposes. A tower and clock from a Buffalo church were added when the landmark was reconstructed at the Museum in 1980. The Town Hall, like its early counterparts across the country, provides the setting for many of the Village’s activities.

White town hall building

Printing Office

built c. 1820-1830, relocated 1850, Caledonia, NY

A rural village was fortunate if there was a printer in its midst, particularly if the printer had the temerity and energy to print a newspaper. The printer was fortunate if he gained enough subscribers to support the paper. He was particularly lucky if at least some of his subscribers paid in cash.

The bargaining instinct was strong in country settings. Advertisers and subscribers alike were prone to bring the printer garden or orchard products, a chicken, or maple trees in exchange for notices of a cow for sale, a horse that had strayed, a new arrival of merchandise at the store, or a new line of printed cottons at the draper’s.

A bushel of apples, perhaps, was good for a six-month’s subscription to the weekly newspaper, which carried advertisements on all four pages (including the front page), legislative reports, the proceedings of Congress, poetry, anecdotes, letters from abroad, and month-old “news” and editorials reprinted from distant and foreign papers.

Whether it was putting together a newspaper or printing broadsides and handbills, the printer set the type and well-worn woodcuts by hand. She then locked the form with wooden quoins, placed it upon the bed, applied ink with a leather tampion, laid down a sheet of paper, and pulled the big handle on the press. The printed sheet was then hung to dry.

The printer’s equipment consists of a mid-19th-century Washington type press, several cases of old typefaces and woodcuts, a proof press, and many other early items gathered from area print shops.

The two parts of the Printing Office were once separate shops along the main street of Caledonia, NY. They were moved in 1850 and joined to a larger house. There, one served as the dining room and the other as the kitchen. The Greek Revival front portion dates from about 1835; the rear section is older, c.1820.

In 2002, the Printing Office was converted to that of an abolitionist newspaper, patterned after the American Citizen, first published in Warsaw and Perry, NY.

Print Office

Wagonmaker & Wheelwright Shop

built c. 1850

Wagons would have been useless to the first settlers of the Genesee Country because there were no roads. If somehow the Yankee emigrants on their exodus from the stony hillsides of New England rode as far as Schenectady, NY, in wagons, they rode them no further. From that jumping-off place, they would travel either by water or over old Indian trails by packhorse.

As more settlers arrived, trails were cleared of underbrush and widened sufficiently to permit the passage of an ox-drawn cart or sledge. During the 1790s, these primitive roads were gradually upgraded and new ones were surveyed and built.

There was work for the wagonmaker in the Genesee Country. He was not far behind the blacksmith in setting up shop in the larger villages, often locating near the smith on whom he depended for iron tires for his wagon wheels and iron runners for the sleighs and bobsleds he made. The blacksmith might make minor wagon repairs, but the skills of the wagonmaker/wheelwright were required to mend a broken wheel.

The settler’s initial demand was an ox-cart, rather than a wagon. A two-wheeled cart was more maneuverable over and around stumps and boulders in newly cleared fields — only one pair of wheels to manage and protect. If the pioneer had not brought such an indispensable vehicle with him, the wagonmaker could make him one.

Then, in time, as his fortunes progressed, the farmer could go to the wagonmaker for a 4-wheeled wagon — to be horse-drawn to and from the fields and back and forth to the village. The farm wagon was so constructed to permit the box to be lifted from its wheeled undercarriage and mounted upon a pair of bobsleds. Heavy loads could then be easily moved over frozen fields and roads during the winter.

The wheels of a farm wagon were of such a height to enable it to clear furrowed harvest-fields, the outcroppings of bumpy meadows, rough and rutted lanes, and gateways trodden deep in mud by cattle. But they should not be of too great a diameter lest the box be too high for pitching hay onto it or for loading sacks from it onto a man’s shoulders. Necessity shaped the requirements for the wheels, shafts, axles, carriages, boxes — everything. The American farm wagon at its evolutionary best was a useful and portable example of folk art — carrying, in addition to the farmer and his cargo, a distinctive beauty in which form followed function.

Wagonmaker's shop