BATAVIA — Marking 200 years as an important historic site in not only Batavia but western New York as a whole, the Holland Land Office Museum was rededicated Saturday in the honor of the famed educator who saved the site from ruin.
The history of western New York has already been made on the shore of the Tonawanda by 1893, but the building that birthed the settlement of the region was in peril.
Batavia administrator John Kennedy became aware of the planned destruction of the deteriorating land office-turned-residence at a G.A.R. meeting in 1893. He rallied Batavia’s senior class to raise the money to save it, an effort that succeed the next year.
“Were rededicating (the museum) in memory of the man who helped save it,” Museum Director Jeffrey Donahue said of a ceremony meant to evoke the 1894 ceremony.
Jane Burk read the same poem Bessie Chandler wrote for the 1894 event, “A Soliloquy of the Old Land Office,” backed by local dignitaries.
They stood between a garden of peace and a museum that has kept the records of Genesee County’s servicemen in the memories of their beneficiaries, which Dr. Roger Triftshauser said is a testament to their honor.
“The museum houses hundreds of military artifacts … so we can pause and remember the dedicated citizens who served so we can be endowed with our freedoms,” said Triftshauser, a retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral. “Nearly every person who served is in the history research library.”
The museum’s story begins with those of nearly every hamlet, town and village in the region in the office of surveyor Joseph Ellicott; but the path diverted with the work of Kennedy.
“I hope (we keep) an awareness of the importance of the structure and its relevance to western New York,” Donahue said. “It’s here where it began.”
The preservation effort and the building’s history attracted visits from notables like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who wanted to buy the building and take it to Dearborn, his model city.
City leaders said no, which Jim Dusen, the president of the museum’s board, said along with the Genesee County Board of Supervisors purchase of the building 34 years later ensured its continued use.
“It’s not going anywhere, we can all be thankful for that,” he said.
Visitors still come from across the country and from beyond our borders, including newlyweds from Colorado on a honeymoon trip through New York.
Shay Copelin’s family lives in the area, and she and her husband Michael spotted the museum while having breakfast at Dunkin Donuts. It wasn’t open yet, but they saw that the celebration was planned for Saturday.
Museum board member Jim Owen predicted the land office has got at least another 200 years for those that missed out.