Warm Up and Brush Up on Local History: 10 Museums to Visit this Winter
The snowy season is the perfect time to explore a museum (or two, or three). And Genesee County is the perfect place to find interesting information and interactive fun just waiting to be discovered. From surprising local history to immersive experiences to a whole gallery dedicated to the dessert that changed the world, we’ve rounded up a few great museums to set your sights on.
Get ready to warm up while you brush up on your local historical knowledge. The hardest part is deciding where to start!
Holland Land Office Museum
What better place to begin your journey than in Batavia, NY – called “the birthplace of Western New York?” Step into the Holland Land Office Museum, an 1810 stone building bursting with artifacts and information that tell the story of the area and those notable people who impacted it in a major way. See the Medal of Honor earned by Charles F. Rand, a Batavian who was to first soldier in the nation to volunteer for the Civil War. View an original gibbet used in hangings up until 1881. Combine your visit with a stop at the Batavia Peace Garden, located right next door.
In the spirit of the holidays, the museum currently has a tree wonderland exhibit where visitors can explore nearly 50 well-decorated trees, pictures and festive displays. The 2018 theme is “Favorite Holiday Movie,” so get ready for a trip down memory lane! The museum also hosts monthly trivia nights on the second Thursday of the month.
JELL-O Gallery Museum
Did you know JELL-O was invented right here in Genesee County in 1897? Follow the JELL-O brick road and see where it all began! Explore the history of “America’s Most Famous Dessert” while you enjoy old TV commercials and ads, famous JELL-O works of art, and lots of wiggly, jiggly fun facts. A stop at the museum isn’t complete until you browse the gift store and take home a souvenir in every color.
Rolling Hills Asylum
No plated glass, no guard rails, no barriers. Just pure unfiltered history at Rolling Hills Asylum. Once housing the Genesee County Poor Farm, the addition of the infirmary in 1938 sealed the fate of poor unfortunate souls who were sent there. This unusual museum provides a more hands-on experience for guests, allowing them to get up close and personal with its past. Take a history tour, a flashlight tour, join a guided ghost hunt, or spend several hours exploring during an overnight lock-in. Special events like painting parties, movie showings, and dinners are also offered year-round.
Genesee Country Village & Museum
Centuries of American history come to life (literally) in this 700-acre complex. Sixty-eight authentic, historic buildings dot the charming Genesee Country Village, with thousands of artifacts housed throughout. Find yourself immersed in 18th and 19th century life, as you browse homes from early settlers in the 1800s up to affluent members of society in the 1900s. Visit with farm animals, interact with costumed interpreters, attend a special event- and don’t forget to swing by the on-site brewery for a swig.
Harford House Barn & Livery
The Harford House Barn & Livery museum resides in the former 1880 Harford Hotels Livery Stables in downtown Bergen. Inside the barn, guests can browse interesting, life-size tableau's depicting a blacksmith shop, a general store, school classroom and more. Presentations are also available by village historian Raymond MacConnell for those curious to learn more.
Historic LeRoy House
Over 100 years of unique history can be found in this mansion-turned-museum! Built in 1822, the home was once owned by the Chancellor of Ingham University - the first female university in the United States to grant a four-year degree. As you tour three floors of period rooms, learn about local abolitionists, see a real open-hearth kitchen, and enjoy hands-on activities for the kids. The building itself is a sight to behold– listed on the National Register of Historical Places!
Tonawanda Indian Reservation Historical Society
Immerse yourself in the lives of local Native Americans. The history of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians is celebrated throughout the hallways of the Tonawanda Indian Community House. Wander the halls as you explore large-scale photographs and illustrations that displays the history and heritage of the Reservation. Learn about the tribe and the history of the Seven Nations, and don’t forget to see the chief’s headdress on the second floor.
Medina Railroad Museum
The Medina Railroad Museum is the largest freight depot in the country, with the largest collection of train artifacts and memorabilia housed under one roof. Browse the exhibits before hopping on a scenic train ride or themed seasonal excursion. Throughout the year you’ll find rides that travel along the Erie Canal, zip past fall foliage, take you to the North Pole to meet Santa and his reindeer – or allow you to hop aboard an Easter Express and meet the big bunny himself.
Local history can hold some surprising secrets… did you know that the town of Alabama, NY used to have three-gun manufacturers in town? The Alabama Museum resides in an old school house and features everything from a hammered dulcimer to an old doctor’s buggy. Browse the artifacts and get an understanding of a little local history, dating back to the mid-1800s. You can also grab a copy of the Alabama Cookbook for your home or as a gift. The 70-page cookbook includes cooking tips, favorite recipes from the locals, and some recipes from the 1895 Alabama Cookbook.
LeRoy Barn Quilt Trail
Who says a museum has to be enclosed? Barn Quilts of LeRoy began as a bicentennial project for the town and has grown to feature over 100 handmade quilts on display on barns throughout the area. Step-on bus tours are offered by appointment or you can hop in a car with some friends or your family and take the driving tour yourself! The quilts represent the pride of LeRoy, a town rich with heritage.
History buffs need not stop there!
See all of our local museums and find more fascinating facts on our Museums Page.