Rolling Hills Asylum receives legends and lore marker

Aug 22, 2016

Established in 1827, Rolling Hills Asylum — previously known as the Genesee County Poor House — quickly became the dumping ground for the county’s outcast members of society.

Widows, orphans, drunkards, Native Americans, Civil War veterans and mentally challenged all mingled together under the same roof.

With more than 1,700 documented deaths and hundreds more not recorded, many believe the site to be haunted — a belief honored with a new marker celebrating the property’s supernatural legends and lore.

The new legends and lore marker is from the same foundation that gave Rolling Hills Asylum its historical roadside marker — the William C. Pomeroy Foundation.

“It’s a different criteria for legends and lore,” said Genesee County Historian Michael Eula, who helped Rolling Hills receive its second marker. “It’s not the traditional historic roadside marker. The criteria is that the historic site has some cultural significance which is different from a traditional historic roadside marker.

“For example, in this case, the Rolling Hills Asylum has become a nationally known center for those interested in the spirit world because of its history going back to 1827.”

Sharon Coyle, proprietress, said the marker gives Rolling Hills Asylum credibility as being a relevant part of New York history.

“The legends and lore marker is kind of an interesting marker because it is based upon New York state folklore and also the supernatural,” she said. “To have a dedicated marker honoring (the asylum), this has validated supernatural activity.

“The folklore isn’t just folklore,” she continued. “It’s not just an urban legend if you will. It validates the paranormal, which is a big part of ... what keeps a roof over the property, and keeps the doors open for people to enjoy and learn the history of the county.”

In order to get the marker, Eula had to show the asylum was a center of national attention. He used articles published in various publications such as The Buffalo News and USA Today.

“You had to show to the satisfaction of the Pomeroy people that this was a place that occupies a significant niche in New York folklore and culture,” he said.

“As far as spirits ... we have many that identify themselves and many that don’t identify themselves, but are still very active,” Coyle said. “For me, the history of the property goes hand-in-hand with the paranormal because it’s about the people that actually, physically lived and passed away here. The people that lived here and now talk to them in here are actually documented as being factual people. In fact, many of their relatives are alive and are still in the area today.”

The entire process took 10 months, and there was a ceremony celebrating the marker placement in early July.

Unlike the traditional blue of the historic markers, the folklore marker is red.

Eula said he doesn’t know how many legend and lore markers are in the state but “it’s not as common as the traditional (historic) markers.”

“We’re proud to have the two historical markers, and we’re very grateful to the William C. Pomeroy Foundation for bestowing both the markers on us,” Coyle added, thanking both Eula and the previous Genesee County Historian, Sue Conklin, for obtaining the markers. “We’re just very happy to keep this property open. It’s a very important part of New York state history.”

For more information on Rolling Hills Asylum or to book a tour, visit www.rollinghillsasylum.com.

By MALLORY DIEFENBACH, Batavia Daily News