County Bicentennial 2021
Livingston County is celebrating 200 years!
Check back here for countywide events as we commemorate this milestone in our community’s history. View the full schedule of monthly signature events for 2021, planned with health and safety in mind.
- Art show at the Genesee Council on the Arts on Murray Hill; selections from local historical societies' collections; (runs September 2-25)
- Bicentennial Tree Planting: 200 trees will be planted around the county, sponsored by the Genesee Valley Conservancy (September 18-19, see www.geneseevalleyconservancy.org/ for updates)
- Book launch: Women's Biographical Review: Achievers, Leaders, and Role Models, Livingston County, NY. This publication features 200 women from the last two centuries associated with Livingston County.
- Saints and Sinners: Cemeteries OnCell Heritage Trail (November 1)
- Tribute to Livingston County veterans from all eras (watch Official Livingston County Facebook page and this website)
- Placing of time capsule and end of year celebration (details TBA)
More events to be announced!
- Hosted Scanning Days for the public and County departments (Jul. 2019)
- Created a new office brochure (Aug. 2019)
- Produced an historical map exhibit at the Government Center (Oct.-Nov. 2019)
- Launched new OnCell Heritage Trails: Women's History Trail (Mar. 2020), Historical Markers Trail (Jan. 2021), Around the Towns (Apr. 2021), Churches and Religious Sites (Jun. 2021).
- Released new video, Local History Out Loud, Part Two: Civil War to the Industrial Era (Sept. 2020)
- Published Bicentennial Special Supplement to the Livingston County News (Jan. 2021)
- Marked the 200th anniversary of Livingston County's formation with a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors; view commemorative program (Feb. 2021)
- Celebrated Women's History Month with profiles on Facebook and a video about Gail McGuire of Avon (Mar. 2021)
- Dedicated a new historical marker at the county courthouse (Apr. 2021) and the County Poorhouse (Jun. 2021)
- Rolled out Cheers to 200 Years! Livingston County craft beverage trail (May-Nov. 2021)
- Released the Bicentennial Geocaching Trail, with caches at over 30 historical sites all over the county (Jun. 2021)
- Dedicated the County Poorhouse Cemeteries and read names of those buried, dedicated historical marker for poorhouse farm site (Jun. 2021)
- Classic Car Cruise and Show - a cruise through all 17 towns ending with a full show field of classic cars (Aug. 2021)
- Dedicated Murray Hill historical marker (Sept. 2021)
- Co-sponsored "An Art and History Affair" exhibit at GVCA featuring art from historical societies' collections (Sept. 2021) @(Model.BulletStyle == CivicPlus.Entities.Modules.Layout.Enums.BulletStyle.Decimal ? "ol" : "ul")>
Livingston County Bicentennial Moments
To help count down to 2021, the County Historian's Bicentennial Moments aim to share interesting stories about people, places, and events that are a significant part of our shared history. Here are the latest installments:
Bicentennial Moment #15 - New York State Historic Marker Project
The familiar blue-and-gold signs mark important spots along the highway.
Residents of New York State are generally familiar with the ubiquitous blue-and-gold historic marker signs that dot the main highways. Most of these signs were erected between 1926 and 1936 by the State Education Department as a way to commemorate historic sites during the 150th anniversary of the American Revolution. During this period, over 2,800 historically significant sites were identified around the state.
This program coincided with the age of new and improved highways that encouraged motorists to travel by automobile rather than by train. The slower rate of travel and recognizable colors of the historic markers allowed people who were curious about a place to learn a bit of history along the way. Although state funding for the historic marker program ran out about 1939, the overall project was a huge success in raising long-term awareness of local history.
Several dozen of the original historic markers were installed around Livingston County. The majority of signs have been well maintained, but over the course of time several have been stolen, vandalized, lost, or put in storage when highways were widened. Public awareness is key to maintaining these important symbols of local history. Despite lack of funding from the state for replacement or repairs, the historic marker program has remained one of the most visible representations of New York State’s commitment to promoting local history and cultural education. Over the years, local municipalities, organizations, and private citizens have donated time and energy to the restoration of these signs.
The William G. Pomeroy Foundation in Syracuse has continued in the tradition of New York State with the establishment of a unique grant program to fund new markers. Hundreds of Pomeroy markers have been installed around the state and many can be spotted throughout Livingston County, helping to educate the public and promote historical tourism. The County Historian’s Office is the recipient of three markers that will be installed in 2021 in honor of the County’s Bicentennial.
(Note: Grammatically speaking, the proper term should be “historical marker” rather than “historic marker.” Both terms are often used interchangeably. For this essay, I chose to use the more commonly used phrase.)
#14 - Christmas past and present in Livingston County
Residents of Livingston County have likely celebrated Christmas throughout generations the way most people have in rural New York – gathering with family and friends over a special meal, offering toasts, decorating a tree, caroling, exchanging gifts, and going to church.
Excerpts from diaries in the County Historian’s archives reveal some interesting insights into the way Christmas was celebrated in the 1800s and in the early part of the 20th century. While the entries are varied, often the passages conveyed simpler times with quintessential Dickens-like traditions.
From the diary of entrepreneur Moses Long (1821-1860) of York:
Monday, December 25, 1843 – assisted in preparing for concert of the Y.B.B [York Brass Band] at [Baptist] church – in the evening played at concert #1 of Y.B.B - Great assemblage.
Tuesday, December 25, 1849 – Christmas all about the village.
Moses Long’s diaries span from 1842 to 1860. The majority of entries on Christmas day show that Long went to work at his store, sometimes in the morning and returning in the evening. He also carried out numerous other legal or financial matters in addition to the holiday dinner with close family and friends.
From the diary of Maggie Adelia Crine (birth and death dates unknown) of Wayland who worked at Our Home on the Hillside (Jackson Sanitarium) in Dansville:
Sunday, December 24, 1882 – I was at our home [Jackson Sanitarium]. I went to church to Communion this morning. J.V.K. was up this eve to see me & Mary came up, stayed all night and we all went to midnight mass.
Monday, December 25, 1882 – Christmas day at our home [Jackson Sanitarium}, did not go to church. I got some nice presents.
From the diary of prominent farmer James Harrison (1838-1924) of Groveland:
Wednesday, December 25, 1907 – Went to Bailor’s for Christmas dinner. I received from the Christmas tree a pair of suspenders and a bill book and ink stand. Katie [Harrison’s new bride] received a sugar and milk set…one dollar and a little plate.
In many ways these traditions have carried into the 21st century, with events such as candlelight dinners at the Mills Mansion in Mt. Morris, the community sing-along at the fountain in Geneseo, and Christmas in the Village in Dansville.
Every community has hosted its share of holiday bazaars, concerts, and visits with Santa. Local attendance has soared at churches for midnight masses and viewers have bundled up during the darkest and often coldest time of the year to witness live nativity scenes.
Beginning in the 1970s, shopping locally was replaced with “shop ‘til you drop” at the malls in Rochester, making it more difficult for local stores to compete. And as marketing efforts capitalizing on the holiday season increased, jetting off to exotic places for the Christmas break or spending thousands of dollars on gifts or parties became common in many households.
In the present day, lights and decorations often go up before Thanksgiving and shopping online has become the norm; yet, downtowns in the county have benefited from concerted revitalization efforts. Merchants embrace the season and sport the colors of Christmas with evergreens, red and gold ribbons, and candy canes in store windows. Although online shopping has seriously challenged retailers, many residents still prefer to stroll along main streets, soaking up the historic ambiance in search of a one-of-a-kind gift for a special person that can’t be found in the big box stores.
Despite the global pandemic in 2020, the holiday spirit is apparent, albeit subdued this year. Social distancing rather than social gatherings are promoted as a necessary means of slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Clothing, food, and toy drives have taken on a higher level of importance as so many families struggle with unemployment and uncertainty. Those working in the medical field taking care of COVID patients will likely be working overtime during Christmas.
Perhaps customs and traditions of Christmases past will emerge in full force as this year’s holiday takes on a different tone and residents of Livingston County adapt to a new normal.
Bicentennial Moment #13
Lockwood L. Doty (1827-1873) – Author of the first published history of Livingston County
The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That same year, President Grant urged Americans to write histories of their hometowns, sparking the first wave of local histories that included the publication of A History of Livingston County by Lockwood L. Doty.
Lockwood L. Doty was born in Groveland in 1827, and at the age of 20 he entered the law office of John Young of Geneseo, launching a lifetime of public service. When Young became Governor of New York in 1847, he offered Doty an appointment in the Office of Canal Appraiser and in the succeeding years Doty worked in numerous prestigious positions at the state level. He eventually chose to return to Geneseo. He purchased the Livingston Republican newspaper in 1869 and played a prominent role in the establishment of the State Normal School (now SUNY Geneseo).
Doty’s interest in local history resulted in the publication of the first comprehensive history of Livingston County. His health had rapidly deteriorated during this time period and in 1873 he died at the young age of 46. With the book nearly completed at the time of Doty’s death, his close acquaintance, A. Tiffany Norton of Lima, stepped in to finish the research and three years later Doty’s book was published. Although Doty often relied on hearsay and anecdotal information to fill in where primary sources were lacking, his effort produced a foundational study of the area’s early history.
Bicentennial Moment #12: The Unexplained Death of Eleanor Bonney
During the 19th century, western New York experienced intense waves of spiritual and religious revival, lending the region the name of the “Burned-Over District.” Followers of Spiritualism believed in an active realm of the supernatural. In the autumn of 1873, Eleanor Bonney, a 25-year-old clairvoyant, claimed that she would soon leave her body and join with the spirit world, only to return and prove the principles of Spiritualism. She described to friends and family in detail the particular phenomena that would occur, how her body would appear, and the vigil of at least several weeks or months that must be held in order for her successful revival.
As the autumn wore on, Bonney spoke often of her impending “going out” but was healthy, noticeably cheerful, and industrious. She worked around the farm of her foster-parents, Lyman O. and Louisa Preston, in eastern Caledonia. According to accounts of the trusted friends who attended her, including a Rochester physician and clairvoyant, Dr. Jennie C. Dutton, Bonney stated on the morning of November 10, 1873, that that very evening was when she would “go out.” She predicted that by 2:00 AM that night she would be separated from her body and the sound of ghostly bells would toll to mark the moment. She stipulated that only a select few should keep vigil or be permitted entry to the house during her soul’s absence, and that her room must be kept warm, between sixty and seventy degrees, with a constant fire in the little stove. Having finished her chores, washed, and eaten a hearty supper, she climbed into bed at 10:00 PM. As she finished relaying her particular wishes, Bonney’s breathing began to slow, and her pulse ceased at 2:00 AM, exactly the time she had predicted. Her family, the Prestons, reported that “the tinkling sound of a bell was heard proceeding from some unexplored quarter of the house.”
Dr. Dutton and the Prestons watched over the body as instructed while discussions and rumors circulated near and far in the community. It was about seven weeks before the media was finally begrudgingly permitted entry to house to report on the situation. Bonney’s family and friends did not deny that Bonney had died, but stated their conviction that she would return. Media reports about the strange situation immediately rang out across the state, replete with descriptions of the scene in the little bedroom. A coroner’s inquest, physical examination, and necessary burial quickly followed. An eventual chemical analysis could find no trace of poison or other cause of death, but a jury ruled Bonney’s passing a suicide.
During the time of roiling of religious movements in the Burned-Over District, Bonney’s respected record of prior fulfilled prophecies and commitment to her beliefs persuaded those around her to believe in something greater. Her story is a reminder of the power of spiritual conviction and the search for truth during that time.
(By Holly Watson, Deputy County Historian)
Bicentennial Moment #11: Dr. Myron H. Mills Memorial Fountain, Mount Morris
The phrase “imitation is the highest form of flattery” aptly applies to the Mills Memorial Fountain located in Patriot’s Park at the intersection of Rt. 408 and Main Street, Mt. Morris. The granite fountain donated by the family of Dr. Myron H. Mills in 1903 is nearly identical to the Emmeline Austin Wadsworth fountain on Main Street in Geneseo, installed in 1888. The Mills Memorial fountain has a storied past similar to Geneseo’s but with its own twists and turns.
Dr. Myron H. Mills (1820-1987), son of pioneer General William A. and Susannah Mills, had a long and distinguished career. He practiced medicine in St. Louis, served in the Mexican-American War, and was promoted to assistant surgeon of the U. S. Army. He later came to Mt. Morris and purchased his parents’ homestead, now known as the Mills Mansion, occupied by the Mt. Morris Historical Society. Dr. Mills was a leading citizen in the county and well-known as a historian. He was one of the founders of the Livingston County Historical Society, founder of the Livingston County Pioneer Association, served as president of the local Board of Education and established the Mills Water Works Company system.
The Mills Memorial Fountain was created by the Worden Brothers Monument Manufacturing Company in Dansville from red granite shipped from Maine and adorned with a polished ball and majestic bronzed eagle ornament on top of the pedestal. The fountain was installed in a prominent location at the intersection of Main Street and Lake Street in Mt. Morris and custody was turned over to the village trustees. The fountain was used by more than just a thirsty horse or pedestrian on a hot day – the late Fred Beuerlein, Mt. Morris town historian, recalled circus elephants being led from the train station to the fountain and the gigantic animals draining the basin dry and then standing by waiting for a refill.
In 1903, automobiles were still in their infancy and not much of a concern when the fountain was placed in the center of the main thoroughfare. As the new century progressed and automobiles became affordable to the masses, the Mt. Morris fountain, like the Geneseo fountain, became a magnet for pranksters and car crashes. The earliest report of vandalism occurred during the July 4th festivities in 1915 when someone poured gasoline in the fountain and lit it on fire, causing severe damage. The following year, a group of school boys were sent to the State Industrial School for juveniles after stealing metal off the fountain and selling it to junk dealers.
During the late 1920s and early 1930s, the 40-ton Mills Memorial Fountain was hit repeatedly and knocked off its base by both cars and trucks. After much debate, the village finally moved the fountain in 1931, out of the center of traffic to a more secure spot at the new Mt. Morris Cemetery on the western edge of the village. Here the legacy to Dr. Myron H. Mills resided peacefully for over 50 years but began to show signs of age.
The national trend to revitalize main streets that began in the 1980s, spurred the Mt. Morris Rotary Club to advocate for refurbishing and returning the Mills Memorial Fountain to a visible spot downtown – not in the center of the street, but to a pocket park for all to enjoy and to enhance community pride. The effort was squashed as the cemetery association voted unanimously to keep the fountain where it was, for people had grown fond of the fountain as a focal point in the cemetery’s serene location.
In 1992, the community was shocked to discover the bronzed eagle ornament had been stolen off the top of the fountain and sold to an antique dealer from out of town who had recently opened a shop on Main Street, Mt. Morris. When locals saw the eagle on display, the Sheriff was notified and began an investigation that led to felony indictments against the antique dealer and three local men. Meanwhile, the bronzed ornament, worth thousands of dollars, had been sold and was never recovered. Most of the felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors, probation, and restitution. The impact of the scandal rocked and saddened the residents of the small town who mourned the loss of a beloved symbol of its local history.
The Mills Memorial Fountain was reborn again in 2010 after the state completed extensive road repairs and a new Patriot’s Park was established at the intersection of Rt. 408 and Main Street (Rt. 39). With pomp and circumstance, the fountain was moved from the cemetery to the park and a replica of the ball and bronzed eagle was placed on top. Around the circumference of the eagle an inscription now reads: “The eagle returns and the spirit lives on.” The new location is a tribute to the lasting memory of the contributions of Dr. Myron H. Mills and to the fountain’s community caretakers.
Bicentennial Moment #10: Squawkie Hill
Letchworth State Park is a magnet for those seeking to enjoy the brilliant colors of autumn. It is also where a former Seneca Indian Reservation called Squawkie Hill was located overlooking the Genesee Valley. Visitors can view interpretive signage and a boulder inside the park's Mt. Morris entrance before the main gate.
The name Squawkie Hill is said to be derived from the tribal name Muskwaki, meaning “red earth”; the Muskwaki were a Michigan tribe conquered by the Seneca. Captives were re-named Squawkiha and taken to Newtown, New York, present-day Elmira, and incorporated into the Seneca Nation. Mary Kennedy, the last descendent of the Squawkiha, tells the story of how her family escaped Newtown in 1779 during the Sullivan Campaign of the Revolutionary War and fled to the Genesee Valley. The land where they lived has since been known as Squawkie Hill. Although she was considered a member of the Seneca Nation, Mary never lost her identity as a Squawkiha.
Arthur C. Parker, State Archeologist for the New York State Museum and a descendent of the Seneca, visited the home of Mary Kennedy on the Cattaraugus Reservation for an interview shortly before she died in 1905. He translated her story from the Seneca language to English. Her story was later adapted by Irene A. Beale in Genesee Valley Women, 1743-1985.
Read the full story on Oncell.com.
Bicentennial Moment #9: First Black Elected Official in Livingston County
Newspaper articles from 1978 announce the election of Dale Griffin to the Geneseo Village Board of Trustees, claiming that he was the first Black elected official in Livingston County’s history. His election was indeed a milestone, but was it a first? A challenge comes from the town of Leicester that may predate Geneseo’s claim – by 101 years.
In March of 1877, results of town elections were printed in the Dansville Advertiser. In Leicester, it appears that David Bryant, a Black resident, was elected on the Republican ticket to the position of Game Constable. This was a rather new position authorized by the County Board of Supervisors as of 1871, in accordance with a New York State provision. This officer would enforce any fish and game laws in place, such as hunting seasons and manner of harvesting, and his compensation would be the same as fees allowed to constables, plus half of the fines recovered in prosecutions of game laws. The term was one year.
A few weeks later, the Mt. Morris Union commented that Moscow, as the Village of Leicester was then known, “boasted” of electing the first Black man in Livingston County. Although nothing more can be found about David Bryant’s term as Game Constable, research has shown he was a laborer and lived just north of the Village of Leicester with his wife, Mary. Shortly after he quietly made history in Livingston County, he passed away in 1881 at about 80 years of age.
Bicentennial Moment #8: Quarantining in 1888
Strict quarantining is not new as exhibited by this notice issued in 1888 that imposed harsh restrictions on the residents of an area in Springwater. The sudden death of a woman ignited fear in the community that she had small pox, a highly infectious disease. The town and county took swift action to halt the potential spread.
According to the Center for Disease Control, thanks to a successful vaccine, the last outbreak of small pox in the U.S. was in 1949 and the disease was eradicated world-wide by 1980.
Bicentennial Moment #7 - Livingston County’s first hanging
On Friday, July 9, 1858, at exactly 21 minutes past 3:00 P.M. the first execution in Livingston County took place on the side lawn between the Courthouse and the Jail in Geneseo.
Isaac I. Wood of Dansville was convicted of administering arsenic to his brother David J. Wood in 1855. Isaac’s motive was to gain access to his brother’s bank account. David’s wife, Rhoda, and their two children were out of town when David died suddenly with Isaac at his side. Upon learning of her husband’s death, Rhoda returned and soon she and the two children became sick. Isaac had poisoned them as well. The children recovered but their mother died. Locals suspected foul play but didn’t have the evidence to indict Isaac.
After leaving the area, Isaac’s wife died in a similar fashion as his brother and sister-in-law. Finally, after the bodies of his victims were exhumed and a chemical analysis was done, the serial killer was arrested, tried, convicted, and hung before an audience of curiosity seekers who came to witness the gruesome historical event.
Only two other hangings occurred in Livingston County. Henry Wilson, a notorious hardened criminal, went to the gallows in 1865 and William Pierson, who poisoned his victim, faced the same fate in 1880. The salacious details of all three hangings made national news and left an indelible mark on the county’s past.
Image of Isaac I. Wood
Bicentennial Moments Archive
Miss a moment? Catch up here on interesting, impactful, or unexpected moments in Livingston County history.
- #1 - John Trumbull (1756-1843), Patriot and Artist of the American Revolution
- #2 - the Naming of Livingston County
- #3 - the Groveland Shakers
- #4 - the Sullivan Campaign of the Revolutionary War, 1779
- #5 - Mary Jemison (1743-1833), White Woman of the Genesee
- #6 - Dr. Benjamin Swett (1771-1853) - Physician and Inventor
- #7 - Livingston County's First Hanging
Covered bridge, Mt. Morris