Genesee Country settlers came from communities where churches had been an integral part of life. The early pioneers of the Genesee Country formed their churches in accordance with the established precepts of their denomination. However unconventional the setting — a house, a barn, an open field — the conduct of worship was generally as orthodox as circumstances allowed. Eventually, they felt the need to build a meeting house or church.
In the same way, local governments and town meetings in the newly opened land were organized along familiar lines. As soon as the town's resources permitted, a town hall was built. A post office and other public buildings followed. In addition, along with their religious and civic heritages, the Genesee Country settlers brought a tradition of public education to their new land. In the 19th century one-room schoolhouse, Genesee Country scholars learned their ABCs and their numbers. In the Genesee Country Village, each public building, church, etc. is authentically furnished and supplied with the objects appropriate to the building's use.
Click the name of the building to for additional details. The numbers in parentheses indicate the building's location on our Interacrive Map.
Quaker Meeting House
Shaker Trustees' Building
St. Feehan's Roman Catholic Church
Brooks Grove Methodist Church and Parsonage
Romulus Female Seminary
Brooks Grove Post Office/Store
Davis Opera House
built 1854, Wheatland, N.Y.
By 1803, a number of members of "The Religious Society of Friends," commonly called "Quakers," arrived from New England to settle a few miles north of Canandaigua in the small community of Farmington N.Y., where they organized a "Monthly Meeting." The following year, some of the Farmington Quakers moved to land just west of the Genesee River in the present Town of Wheatland, Monroe County. They were soon joined by other Quaker families from Chenango County in central New York. The "Wheatland Meeting" was organized and, in 1825, a small frame meeting house was put up. A cobblestone meeting house followed in 1834.
Some buildings are simple in the extreme. The interior of the meeting house (which has separate entrances for men and women) was divided by partitions that could be opened or closed, depending upon whether the men or women were to meet separately or together. The hard wooden benches have been reproduced from surviving examples of originals. Facing the seated congregation is a stepped platform across the front of the meeting house, where the older Friends sat. Two stoves, two wood boxes and two sets of shelves for books completed the interior arrangement.
The meeting was "laid down" (to use the Quaker term) in 1873, when the size of the congregation dwindled, and the structure was converted to farm use. In 1967, it was conveyed to the museum by Mrs. Richard Field, a descendant of one of the first Wheatland Friends.
Activist Quakers audio tour
The Posts of Rochester audio tour
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built 1822, Rush, N.Y.
Genesee Country settlers from New England brought with them a century-and-a-half-old tradition of public education. In 1788, the Adams family from New England built a log house along the trail leading from Canandaigua to the Genesee River. James Sperry, an early settler of Ontario County, recalled that when his family arrived in the same area in 1794, there was already a school near the Adams residence, kept by Laura, one of the Adams daughters. "The next spring," Sperry recounted, "a seven by ten log schoolhouse was built one and a half miles southwest."
Sperry also recalled that, in 1797, "a young man with a pack on his back came into the neighborhood ... and introduced himself as a school teacher from the land of steady habits; proposing that they form a new district, and he would keep their school." When his proposition was accepted, he helped build another log schoolhouse. "In this school," Sperry fondly remembered, "most of us learned for the first time that the earth was round." The promulgator of that heresy, who went on to become Justice of the Peace, a member of the legislature and a Congressman, was Micah Brooks, who gave his name to the Livingston County hamlet of Brooks Grove where once stood the church now on the square at Genesee Country Village.
Not all schools and scholars were lucky enough to have uninhibited and inspiring teachers like young Micah Brooks. Most teachers were only lightly qualified, having received little, if any, professional training. In some instances, teachers were held in low regard; in other cases they might stand next to the parson in the respect of the community. The wages for male teachers were from $8 to $20 a month; for the women, they were from $4 to $10. Teachers of either gender were boarded around the district, some getting along well enough, others nearly starving.
It was in such schoolhouses as the one-room building on the slope below the village that a great majority of Americans received all their formal education in the early 19th century. At times, as many as 60 pupils crowded into a single room. A child might enter when he was 3 years old. By 7, he was studying grammar. Then he would learn to write and how to "do sums." When he reached 10, his attendance was apt to be irregular, since he was then old enough to work on the farm. In some districts, there were two terms, winter and summer, the winter term nearly always was taught by a man, the summer term by a woman when the men often were engaged in farm work.
The long benches and rude desks in the Red Schoolhouse (c. 1825, from near Avon, N.Y.) have been reproduced in accordance with evidence found beneath overlays of wallpaper and paint on the wooden wainscot. The high homemade desk on a raised platform affords the teacher a position of authority.
Early Conditions of Schools & Education audio tour
built 1839, Sonyea, N.Y.
In 1776, the Shakers founded their first community at Niskayuna (now Watervliet) near Albany, N.Y. There, rejecting the ideas of personal property and predestination, they followed Mother Ann's teaching: "Hands to work, hearts to God." Visitors to Shaker revival meetings spread the word, and other Shaker communities were begun throughout New England.
During the early years of the 19th century, the Shaker movement spread westward through upstate New York, Ohio and Kentucky. In 1826, a small Shaker community was founded at Sodus, N.Y., on a broad bay of Lake Ontario graced with rich soil and protected from unseasonable frosts. The announcement of a proposed canal through Shaker lands alarmed the Believers (who preferred to live apart from "The World"), and they sold their property to the canal company in 1836.
The next year, the Society purchased more than 1600 acres in the Town of Groveland in Livingston County, at a site the Native Americans called "Sonyea," or "The open spot where the sun shines in." This was far from the worldly influences of the proposed (but never developed) canal back at Sodus. Ironically, within a short time, "The World" floated right past the Shakers on mule-hauled boats as the Genesee Valley Canal was constructed along the edge of the new Sonyea colony.
At Sonyea, the Shakers developed a community of some 30 buildings, including a meeting house, mills, shops, barns and residences. But in 1892, the Sonyea colony, reduced in numbers, closed its doors and its members moved to the Shaker community at Watervliet, N.Y. New York State purchased the vacated property to use it as a center for the treatment of epilepsy. In 1984, the New York State Correctional Department took over most of the old Shaker settlement, at which time Genesee Country Village & Museum acquired the Trustees' Building.
The structure at the left in this old engraving of the Shaker colony at Sonyea is the Trustees' Building, one of the first to be built when the Shakers moved to the new site in 1837. For half a century, the building was the headquarters and residence of the colony's officials, both male and female. A kitchen and dining room were on the ground floor; the top floor served as an infirmary. In the office and store on the first floor, the Shakers conducted their business with "The World."
On the first floor of the restored building, a Shaker "store" has been replicated, based on illustrations accompanying 19th-century magazine articles about the Shakers. Other rooms contain excellent examples of Shaker-made furniture and artifacts. On the grounds, is a vegetable and medicinal herb garden with plants similar to those propagated by the Shakers for their seed business.
The Shakers audio tour
The Groveland Shakers audio tour
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built 1854, Chili, N.Y.
By the 1820s, immigration to western New York was no longer confined to the predominantly Protestant settlers from New England and the mid-Atlantic states. From Europe came German Catholics and, then in larger numbers Irish Catholics, who found ready employment building canals. Some of these Irishmen turned to farming when the canals had been completed; others helped build railroads.
As the Roman Catholic population grew, congregations were organized and, as early as 1823, a stone church, St. Patrick's, was raised by the Roman Catholic Religious Society in Rochesterville. Toward mid-century, Catholic churches were built in some of the larger villages in the hinterland, and the country faithful could journey to a village to attend mass.
In Chili, N.Y. a farming community west of Rochester, a group of Catholic families were for many years dependent for their spiritual needs upon masses conducted by a priest in their homes, or by traveling to Rochester or Scottsville, several miles away. In 1854, the men of these families set about building a church. Within a year, with their own hands and without architect or contractor, they had completed St. Feehan's Church, and affixed a simple wooden cross at its peak. The cross remains there today at the church's new location in the museum's historic village.
By the 1960s, St. Feehan's ever-increasing congregation had outgrown its crowded quarters, and moved into an entirely new church. St. Feehan's was temporarily used as a recreation facility, and its pews were discarded. Those installed in St. Feehan's during its restoration came from St. Mary's Church in Scottsville, N.Y. where they were replaced by more modern (and more comfortable) seating. The pews in St. Feehan's today are those upon which its builders sat when they journeyed to Scottsville to attend mass before their own church was built.
This church can accommodate 125 people and is available for wedding rentals from May through October.
The Irish in the Genesee Country audio tour
Where Some Irish Lived, Worked & Worshipped audio tour
built c. 1844, Brooks Grove, N.Y.
Where churches could so afford, housing was furnished 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 antedates 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-Tufts 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 from May through October.
Camp Revivals & The Burnt Over District of Western New York audio tour
built 1855, Romulus, N.Y.
Beginning early in the 19th Century, private (sometimes referred to as "select") schools for girls were established in many western New York State villages and towns, as well as in the cities. This was, in part, to give the girls educational opportunities equal to those offered at the boys' private academies, and in part because of the concern of church groups to provide what they considered appropriate instruction for young ladies.
The Romulus Female Seminary was built in 1855. According to town records, a subscription of some $85 was collected to buy a bell for the seminary then being built, with said bell to be hung in its tower.
The Seminary closed in 1883, and the Presbyterian Church of Romulus purchased it to use as a chapel. It was moved to a site alongside the church.
In 1970, the old seminary building was moved once more, this time to Genesee Country Village. It has been restored and furnished as a typical girls' small seminary of the period. The well-appointed classroom contains a piano, drawing table, blackboard, wood stove, plenty of light and of course, a well-qualified teacher.
Built toward the end of the Greek Revival period, the one-story building includes the basic elements of that style. Two square columns are topped by a wide entablature which, in turn, is capped with a pediment with full returns of the cornice. The iron cresting on the bell tower is of a later period, presumably added when the seminary was converted into a chapel.
Female Seminaries audio tour
Romulus Female Seminary audio tour
built 1822, South Lima, N.Y.
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, N.Y., as it was enlarged for public purposes. A tower and clock from a Buffalo church were added when the landmark was reconstructed at the Genesee Country Village in 1980. The Town Hall, like its early counterparts across the country, provides the setting for many of the village activities.
Political Parties in New York State audio tour
The Whig Party audio tour
built 1834, Brooks Grove, N.Y.
Regular mail service crucial to the well-organized community did not come to the Genesee Country until roads were sufficiently improved to permit the passage of mail stages. During the first years of settlement, mail service was casual and unreliable, the mail sometimes carried by ordinary travelers and sometimes by post riders under federal contract. As the region became more accessible, postmasters were appointed to receive and distribute mail within a given locality.
Canandaigua resident Gideon Granger, Postmaster General of the United States, did much to improve mail service in his native Genesee Country. Granger established the Brooks Grove Post Office in 1834. Mail reached Brooks Grove by stagecoaches plying between Mt. Morris and Nunda, N.Y. During the early years, service was infrequent, but it is said that on "post day," half the village would turn out for the distribution of mail.
Customarily, the village post office was located in the general store, with the storekeeper an officially appointed postmaster. Melissa Carrier, who was appointed postmistress at Brooks Grove in 1876, had difficulty getting about. Her neighbors moved her small store and post office (c.1834) back from the road and attached it to her dwelling — the 1835 Henry S. Jarvis House, now serving as the parsonage near Brooks Grove Church. After nearly a century together, the buildings were separated when moved to Genesee Country Village & Museum.
built 1884, South Bulter, N.Y.
Called “opera houses,” buildings like this provided a cultural hub for a community, offering a broad range of entertainment from concerts and plays to performing bears. The first floor served for years as a general store; upstairs is the theater with a stage and elaborate stenciling on the ceiling and walls.
Finding Entertainment in the Genesee County audio tour
Davis Hall audio tour
Except for special events,
GCVM is now CLOSED
for the season and will
re-open May 13, 2017.