Walking a trail of history in Batavia

Jul 24, 2015








BATAVIA — Holland Land Office Museum may have been a fun place to visit as a kid, but now there’s an opportunity for families to include the West Main Street site in a historic walking trail of notable city buildings.

Centennial Committee members have unveiled a self-guided walking tour that goes from the museum eastward to the former Cary Mansion on East Main Street. It was a collaboration of City Historian Larry Barnes, committee members, artist Rob Dumo and with use of Genesee County History Department photographs.

“I think the material chosen for the guide works well as a part of the city’s 100th birthday celebration because it generally incorporates sites that existed before we became a city, were present at the time of the transition, and are still here a century later,” Barnes said.

He recorded all of the audio for the project. Some committee members had lobbied in favor of him finding “juicy” material to spice up the tour, which was a mission accomplished for most of the sites, he said.

Stop #1 is the Holland Land Office Museum. In 1797 the Holland Land Company purchased 3.5 million acres of land, which was called “the purchase” and stretched from near Stafford on the east to Lake Erie on the west. For those with Smartphones, scan the QR code to hear the audio portion.

Stop #2: Dedicated in 2012, Batavia Peace Garden marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812. It celebrates 200 years of peace between the United States and Canada and displays flags of where each peace garden has been planted. Check out the flowers, benches and stone path.

Stop #3: Ellicott Mansion used to stand majestically at Dellinger Avenue and West Main Street. It was the home of Joseph Ellicott and was built in stages spanning time from 1802 to 1818. A section of this site was apparently moved to a nearby street to become part of a current structure. Take the tour to find out where.

Stop #4, parts one and two: A small two-room pumping station used for Batavia’s water system, 3 West Main St. also served as a chamber for village officials. Parts three and four talk about the site’s big explosion, and parts five and six talk about the famed Engine House restaurant, a popular bar and dining place for locals. Pick up a copy of the trail to find out more.

Stop #5: Go directly to jail. Don’t collect $200 or expect a QR code (there is none for this stop). Instead, become enlightened about the facility built in 1902 to replace the Genesee County sheriff’s offices and jail that had once been at Oak Street Extension.

Stop #6: After a visit to the jail, it’s only fitting to stop by the former Brisbane Mansion, which once was City Hall and currently houses city police station headquarters.

Stop #7: Know which site is constructed from Onondaga limesotne quarried from a farm in the town of Le Roy? Scan the code or pick up a booklet.

Stop #8: A brick building at 10 Ellicott St. once served as the St. James Episcopal Church rectory. Another Episcopal church had been razed, leaving bricks to salvage for the St. James construction. What happened to the rectory? Check out Stop #9 to learn more.

Stop #10: Gas lights once lit up Batavia’s streets from 1855 to 1885. Gas manufactured from coal (and later from crude petroleum) was stored at 10 Evans Street and known as the Gas Holder Building. What is it today? Check out the trail.

Stop #11: Constructed in 1802, this site served as the county courthouse, a tavern and a jail. All at the same time? Find out on the trail.

Stop #12: Bulldozers ahead! That can only mean one thing for the city: urban renewal. Much of downtown was razed and rebuilt from the 1960s to late 1970s. Longtime locals can reminisce about C.L. Carr’s, Alexander’s and other popular shops, but for those not in the know, pick up a trail booklet.

Stop #13: It’s time to trolley, a mode of transportation that ran from 1903 to 1927. How did Batavia look at that time? It’s in the booklet.

Stop #14: This tour of Batavia wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the much bemoaned Genesee Country Mall on Main Street. Enough said.

Stop #15: Now known as Seymour Place or the GO ART! building, this site was once the Bank of Genesee and operated in Trumbull Cary’s home until 1831. It was then moved. Find out where on the trail.

Stop #16: The Cary Mansion is not actually here any more. Built in 1817 it was razed in 1964 by St. Jerome Hospital. That was after it was used for other purposes, including as a pizza parlor. Get a booklet to find out more about its historic beginnings.

There were some places that Barnes would have liked to include, such as St. Mary’s Church, the former Daily News office on Jackson Street and where the Masons met downtown. Those were kept out as a way to keep the tour at an acceptable 90-minute length, he said.

Barnes did also credit the assistance of incoming Business Improvement District leader Laurie Oltramari and City Manager Jason Molino and his confidential secretary Lisa Casey to tinker with the more technical aspects. Without them, it would not have come together, Barnes said.

Booklets include pictures of the 16 sites and text providing historic background of each location. For individuals with Smartphones, QR codes provide access to additional audio descriptions and pictures that complement the printed information.

They are available free of charge at the tourist information booth on West Main Street, the Holland Land Office Museum, City Hall, Office for the Aging, Genesee County Chamber of Commerce and Richmond Memorial Library.