The Pleasant Valley
THE Genesee is a quick-change artist. And Mount Morris is the stage for the great transition scene.
At Portage, the Genesee is a flamboyant, capricioussiren, flaunting her allure amid the thunder of cascading waters andin a setting of rare beauty.
At Mount Morris, almost in the twinkling of an eye, theGenesee is transformed into a sedate, cool-eyed gentlewoman, walking with unhurried tread through a well ordered garden.
As I left Squawkie Hill, last high bluff along the river, andset foot on the broad flats at Mount Morris, I crossed an invisiblebut clearly drawn dividing line.
I had seen the last of the rugged hill country. The rest ofmy march to the shores of Lake Ontario would be through a vastcheckerboard of fertile fields and gently rolling hills.
This is the land that the Senecas, proud keepers of the LongHouse's Western Door, chose as their seat of empire and with theirinstinctive genius for the right descriptive word, called "ThePleasant Valley."
This is the countryside that so charmed the soldiers of Sullivan's punitive expedition against the Senecas, that after the Revolution,they came back, not to the roll of the war drums, but to the rumble of settlers' wagons, to live the rest of their days in "The Pleasant Valley."
Topographically speaking, the Genesee joins the valley thatbears its name at Mount Morris. For the countryside that stretches16 miles to the southeast and is threaded by the Canaseraga, a tributary of the Genesee, is really a continuation of "The Pleasant Valley." And Dansville, although miles from Genesee water, isreally the head of the Valley.
The more rugged, harsher landscape through which I hadtramped as the Genesee courses northward to Mount Morris, seemsto belong to another realm.
Nor is the transition at Mount Morris entirely topographical.In the Allegany hills the people are nearly 100 per cent Nordic, theYankee predominant, with a sprinkling of long settled Irish andGermans. At Mount Morris where many hands are needed toharvest the rich crops of the river bottoms, black-haired, black-eyed,volatile, music-loving Latins have added a dash of piquancy to theGenesee Valley pattern. The Livingston County segment of theGenesee Country has a sizeable Italian-American population, whohave assimilated well with the old Yankee stock and who arepolitically tractable and vote the Republican-Wadsworth ticket.
At Mount Morris I immediately got the feeling that I was nearing home. To this river town, Rochester is the Big City. The talkwas about Rochester, of familiar names and places. Along thesouthern end of the river there had been a decided Buffalo flavor.
It is significant that the first white settler at Mount Morris,Ebenezer Allen, established a trading post. The year was 1784,five years before Allen built his mill at Rochester.
Ever since then, Mount Morris has been a trading center. Inthe early days logs came down the river and the Genesee ValleyCanal to be sawed, and grist to be ground in her mills.
Mount Morris may not possess the romantic traditions ofGeneseo, with its landed gentry, manor houses and fox hunts. Itmay not abound in such mellow memories as Avon, once a famouswatering place.
Mount Morris is too busy to care much for that sort of thing.In this river village, life is real, life is earnest. There are tons ofproduce to be harvested and canned that the nation may eat. Thereis a wide trading area to be served. An air of brisk efficiency pervades this friendly, self-contained market place.
In the beginning the village was named Allen's Hill afterthe bigamous Indian Allen. Later on when Col. Jonathan Trumbull,the celebrated artist of the Revolution, established a brief residencethere, it was renamed Richmond Hill.
Its present name is in tribute to Robert Morris, who once owned the village site, along with thousands of other acres of WesternNew York lands.
One of the earliest notables was Tall Chief, a Seneca of splendid physique and great dignity, who once smoked the pipe of peace with President Washington at the capital.
A venerated pioneer was General William A. Mills. He cameto the wilds in 1794, a boy of 17, with one suit of clothes, a rifle, anox and a silver franc piece. When he died he owned 800 acres ofriver bottoms. His first home was a log hut he built himself. Hedied in a mansion. Mills was friendly with the Indians who calledhim "Big Kettle," meaning generous. Mills organized a companyof militia and loaned money to the settlers on liberal terms. Whenthe frost of 1816 destroyed all the crops and the farmers facedfamine, they came to Mills for help. He filled their sleighs withcorn and grain and pork and did not ask a cent. The next summerthe same farmers came back and paid their debt by working Mills'land.
When I entered Mount Morris, the sign "Mount Morris Union,established 1834," caught my eye. I found the editor of the Union;William T. Larkin, and his young assistant, Fred Beurlein, mosthelpful. They dug out old papers and histories and Fred took meon a tour of the village.
Here are some of the odds and ends I picked up at MountMorris on the Genesee:
A log cabin still stands at Grove and Stanley Streets, probablyall that is left of the primitive settlement of General Mills' time.It is one of the few such structures left in this area. The buildingis on private property and stands in the rear of a dwelling. Nobodypays much attention to it. It has been there a long time and as Isaid, Mount Morris people are busy folk.
* * * * *
Everybody has heard of New York City's Murray Hill, becauseof its hotel and telephone exchange, if for no other reasons. MountMorris has a Murray Hill, too, and it has a direct link with themore famous one in the big city. A huge State Tuberculosis Sanatorium stands on Mount Morris' Murray Hill, high above the riverand the village.
Once there was a stately mansion, with spacious gardens filledwith rhododendrons and rare flowers under glass, with fish pondsand curving walks and giant oaks and chestnut trees.
It was built in 1838 by John R. Murray, one of the original proprietors of the village tract and son of John Murray, owner ofMurray Hill in New York, whose residence had been the headquarters of General Washington during the Revolution.
John R. Murray became an influential citizen of the new community and his residence a showplace. Talleyrand once visitedthe hill and remarked on the magnificence of the view. It is just asfine today.
In 1862 Murray disposed of his estate and moved to Cazenovia.After his wife's death he returned to Mount Morris to live in acottage near his former mansion. He and his wife are buried on thegrounds of St. John's Episcopal Church on land they gave theparish. A tall shaft in the shadow of the church marks their uniqueresting place.
Other proprietors of Murray Hill, prior to its acquisition bythe state for a hospital, were William O. Shepherd, Col. GeorgeWilliams, one-time treasurer of the Pan-American Exposition atBuffalo, and another Buffalonian named Patterson.
* * * * *
On a side street is an old house in whose yard stands the familiar blue historical marker. It is the birthplace of Francis Bellamy. Bellamy may be forgotten by most people today but all overAmerica there are thousands of boys and girls who never will forgetthese lines they recited in class rooms:
"I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands. One nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."
Francis Bellamy wrote those lines in 1892. The author of thePledge of Allegiance once lived in Rochester, as do his descendantstoday. Five years ago Mount Morris dedicated a park and athleticfield in his honor and named it Bellamy Park.
In a modest home along the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad tracks a boy was born 57 years ago to a railroad workerand his wife. That boy today is the junior United States Senatorfrom New York. His name is James Michael Mead.
* * * * *
There is one street in Mount Morris on which no " foreigners" are allowed to live. That was one of the conditions under which it was granted to the village by its late owner, a woman.
* * * * *
Mount Morris' most picturesque citizen has been dead forseveral years. But Charles Flaherty is by no means forgotten. Hewas probably the most hated and best loved man in the Valley.A clerk, who had been unfrocked by his church, a lawyer withoutdiploma, a physician without a license, nevertheless he ministeredto Valley people in all three fields,
There are two schools of thought regarding "Father" Flaherty.One group holds "he got into trouble trying to help other peopleout of trouble." The other school violently dismisses him as "anunprincipled so and so."
For 50 years this white haired, crag-faced man in clerical garb and wide-brimmed black hat, who always carried a stout stick, was a contentious figure in the Genesee Valley. He came to know the inside of at least two of the state's penal institutions and I was told he was writing a book on his prison experiences when he died. That manuscript should be worth reading.
* * * * *
Next time you visit Albany, go to the State Museum and askto see the Indian exhibit there. In the Iroquois group, you will seelifelike wax figures of Indians hulling corn in primitive fashion in the foreground and the unmistakable High Banks of the Geneseein the background. A replica of that exhibit appears on every checkof the Genesee River National Bank of Mount Morris.
* * * * *
Ever heard of "The Doodlebug?" Or of the D and M Railroad? D and M stands for Dansville and Mount Morris. The natives jocosely call it "The Dead and Mortified."
"The Doodlebug" was one of the strangest passenger trainsever to whistle for a crossing. The coach was an old bus riggedup to run on rails. "The Doodlebug" was an oil burner and had atop speed of some 20 miles an hour. For years it hauled passengersbetween Mount Morris and Dansville.
The 16-mile line was built in 1870 as the Erie and GeneseeValley Railroad. The first engine was a wood burner, The D andM met all Erie trains out of Rochester. When the Erie discontinuedservice between Avon and Mount Morris, the D and M shortenedits line to connect Groveland Station and Dansville, a distance of10 miles. Long ago all passenger service was abandoned. But abouttwice a day, a train still hauls freight over the tiny railroad fromthe DL&W at Groveland to Dansville. "The Doodlebug" willnever be forgotten in the Valley.
* * * * *
I was particularly interested in the dam at Mount Morris.For all the 21 years I have been with Rochester newspapers, everyspring in flood time, I have heard reporters call the dam at MountMorris to get the river reading. The Mount Morris dam was a surebarometer. We knew that whatever the Valley was getting in theway of a flood would hit our city just about 24 hours later. Sometimes it was plenty!
For many years a far bigger dam and reservoir have beenprojected at Mount Morris. Way back when the New York CentralRailroad owned the local power utility, there was talk that thisdam would provide power for the electrification of the Centralacross the state. Many plans have been drawn and the MountMorris dam project bobs up every year or so. Maybe it will fit intothe post-war world we are hearing so much about.
* * * * *
During the noon hour I noticed scores of women in white onthe streets of Mount Morris. I thought they were employes of thebig hospital on Murray Hill but I found they were workers in oneof the canneries and that the white uniform was regulation.
As I ambled down the road to Geneseo, I passed one of thesecanneries. Tons of peas were being unloaded from a long line oftrucks and the air was fragrant with their odor.
Substantial, practical Mount Morris was doing its part in thebattle for food on the home front.
* * * * *
For 47 years the state of New York has maintained at Sonyeain the town of Groveland, the Craig Colony for the treatment of epileptics.
The site once had another name and served another purpose.It was the Shaker Settlement and housed members of a religioussect that established the first communistic communities in America.
The followers of "Mother Ann" Lee, who claimed to be"Christ in his second reincarnation," were banded together intothe Society of Christian Believers. They were popularly known asthe "Shaking Quakers" or "Shakers," because of the violent movements of their bodies during religious services.
In the early days of the 19th Century, the sect flourished in Western New York, ever a fertile ground for religious fanaticism. The Shakers once had a settlement at Sodus Bay on the presentAlasa Farms of Alvah G. Strong of Rochester. When in 1836 acanal was projected from Clyde to Great Sodus Bay, the Shakerssold their holdings and bought 1,700 acres of Groveland land fromDaniel Fitzhugh, of the Valley gentry.
There they built an extensive colony. Old histories of Livingston County show pictures of the buildings. They included asewing house, a meeting house, a laundry, a joiner shop, a fruithouse, an office, horse barn, carriage house and dairy.
The sect slowly languished and was glad to sell its propertyto the state in 1896, when, largely through the efforts of WilliamPryor Letchworth, donor of the state park that now bears his name,Craig Colony took over the erstwhile settlement of the ShakingQuakers.
* * * * *
Buried in "The Pleasant Valley" of squires and manor housesand lordly oaks and tall brown pasture grass, on the road toGeneseo, is a "lost city."
In the late years of the 18th Century, Charles Williamson,the great land agent, planned a city at the confluence of the Geneseeand the Canaseraga. It was to be the most important commercialcenter west of New York. He called it Williamsburg, in honor ofhis principal, Sir William Pulteney, owner of a million acres ofGenesee Country wilderness.
Williamsburg's story is an oft-told tale. Carl Carmer pictured the German colony there graphically in his "Genesee Fever," The German emigrants that Williamson brought to his "city" caused him nothing but trouble and he was well rid of them. For a time a booming town flourished at Williamsburg and the first fair and horse races in the Genesee Country were held there. In twenty years the place had virtually vanished from the scene.
The site is known now as Hampden's Corners. Once theCarrolls and Fitzhughs, the Maryland aristocrats who came northwith Colonel Rochester, had mansions and great estates there.
Now all that is left of Williamsburg is the old cemetery onthe hillside.
Behind the iron fence with the locked gate and the tall spikes sleep generations of Carrolls and Fitzhughs. It is a lonely spot and the grass and weeds grow high around the old tombstones.
On a tall shaft in this all but forgotten burying ground is engraved a name that once was a famous one in America.
"James G. Birney, 1792-1857."
James G. Birney was twice a candidate for the presidency ofthe United States, on the Liberty (Anti-Slavery) ticket in 1840and 1844. He was leader of the Constitutional Abolitionists and inhis day one of the most powerful and eloquent men in public life.
He was born in Kentucky, a member of a wealthy slave-holdingfamily. He once owned an Alabama plantation and hundreds ofslaves. He freed his blacks and became a leader in the anti-slaverymovement. Driven from his native Kentucky because of his beliefs,he established an abolitionist paper in Cincinnati. His life wasmenaced by mobs and his presses were smashed. But he neverswerved in his devotion to a cause.
Birney was no fanatic of the Garrison-John Brown school. Hesought the abolition of slavery through peaceful, constitutional and educational means and hoped to make the South see the error of itsways. He died before the outbreak of the Civil War which he foresaw and dreaded.
His second wife was Elizabeth Fitzhugh. That is why thename of this great American, now virtually forgotten, appears ona tombstone on a bramble-covered hillside cemetery in the GeneseeValley.
Nearby is a crumbling stone with "Mammy Rowan, 96" on it. That is all. Maybe she was one of the slaves that Birney sought to free.
Patricians in Pottsville
GENESEO has as many sides as a chameleon.
Just what is Geneseo?
Is it the haughtiest, swankiest town in all the Genesee Country; for acentury and a half the seat of a great land-holding dynasty, the shiretown of the Bluegrass?"
Or is the rustic county seat, so provincial to the metropolitan eyes of Writer-Lawyer Arthur Train that he made it the backwoodsPottsville of his famed "Mr. Tutt" stories?
Is it a bit of Old England transplanted to the Western NewYork countryside, with its landed gentry, tenant farmers, manorhouses and fox hunts?
Or is it just another pleasant, old fashioned country village, where farmers flock to trade and see the movies on Saturday nights;just Arthur Train's Pottsville of "ramshackly old buildings, smuttywooden 'deepo' and horse trough in the center of Main Street ?"
I reckon Geneseo is a little bit of all these contradictory things.And the Merrie England-horse and hounds-squire and yeomanside is just the fancy frosting on a cake whose base is of sturdy, NewEngland texture.
To me Geneseo is a distinctive old village in a lovely Valley whose charm will never fade.
* * * * *
That Valley was drenched in summer sunshine the afternoon I journeyed up the Mount Morris-Geneseo road.
The river winds and loiters through that broad, alluvial Valley as if loath to depart.
For it is a land of still waters and green pastures, of noble old oaks and thoroughbred horses and cattle, of gently rolling hills with a mystical sort of beauty-there is no Valley like it in all America.
And on the kaleidoscope of its history flash stirring pictures.
In a far off, almost legendary time, two savage armies arelocked in mortal combat and you hear the triumphant war whoops of the Senecas as they drive out of their "Pleasant Valley" forevertheir ancient foes of the Neuter Nation.
You see the Senecas, keeping inviolate for more than a centurythe Western Door of the Long House and after ranging from LakeChamplain to the Illinois, from the banks of the St. Lawrence tothe everglades of Florida, the mightiest warriors of the continent,bringing home the spoils of conquest to their villages on theGenesee.
"The Black Robes," the Jesuit missionaries, bear the Cross intothe Valley and you find on old trees the symbol of Christianityrudely carved beside the lilies of the Bourbons.
You hear the tread of invading armies-of Denonville's Frenchlegions and their savage allies in brief, inglorious invasion, of Sullivan's avenging Yankees laying waste the Indian domain and breaking for all time the power of the Senecas along the Genesee.
You hear the rumble of many settlers' wagons, the ring ofmany axes, and see smoke arising from many cabins.
You see James Wadsworth, polished graduate of Yale College,lost at night on his wild new acres and following a light, comingupon his more rugged brother, William, fitting planks for the floorof their shanty at Big Tree, to the light of a candle in the handsof the Negro slave, Jenny.
You see the waving fields of wheat and the barges laden withgrain to be ground into Genesee Hour, proudest label in the world's markets-until the blight and the plow that broke the Western plants combined to dim the luster of the Valley as the breadbox of the nation.
You see blue-coated riders, sleek, blooded horses, pantinghounds sweep by. It is the Genesee Valley Hunt, second oldest inAmerica. In its ranks through the years ride the burly figure ofTheodore Roosevelt, princes of the royal house of Sweden, ArthurBrisbane, "Wild Bill" Donovan, Wadsworths and Chanlers andFitzhughs, the squires of the Valley and their ladies.
History, legends, Senecas, settlers and squires-the windingriver under the willows, the haze on the far blue hills, this is amagic valley whose spell you cannot put into words.
* * * * *
A hearty voice broke in on my reveries.
"Want a ride? Jump in."
I did and rode into Geneseo with a middle-aged, pleasant-faced, plump man who said he used to work on Buffalo newspapersand was much interested in my river ramble. He had lived for yearsin the Valley of which he spoke with affection and an intelligentperspective.
As we neared Geneseo village, he said with a wave of his hand:
"This is all Jim Wadsworth's land along the road, almost as far as you can see."
There was no fawning servility in his voice. He was casually stating a fact that he thought might be of interest.
He did not say "Senator" or even "Mr." Wadsworth. He said "Jim."
Now in Rochester I know men of consequence who still invariably speak of the late George W. Aldridge as "Mr. Aldridge"although it has been 20 years since their leader fell dead on thelinks of Rye. I know other men who with awe in their voices, stillsay "Mr. Eastman," more than a decade after the Kodak King'sdramatic death.
Maybe the district prefers to be represented by men of brains and training than by political hacks.
* * * * *
The motorist who picked me up turned out to be J. HunterBlack, veteran Clerk of Livingston County. He is a Repubicanstalwart and owes allegiance to the political organization, of whichRepresentative James W. Wadsworth, like his father md grandfather before him, is a power.
Yet he spoke of him as "Jim."
So did everybody else in Geneseo. Mrs. W. Austin Wadsworth,who owns the ancestral homestead at the south edge of the villageand thousands of acres besides, was referred to as "Madame Wadsworth." Her son, who has traded the regalia of the Master of theGenesee Valley Hunt for the uniform of an officer in the Army ofthe United States, is "Bill."
There is another Wadsworth, now dead for years, of whomeverybody up and down the river spoke of with downright affection.That was genial, horse-loving Jim Sam.
I found people north and south of Geneseo who would twist the old Boston bean and cod, Lowell and Cabot jingle into something like this:
That notion is sheer tommyrot. The Chanlers and the Wadsworths speak to everybody and usually by first names.
I was told that had I arrived in Geneseo a few hours earlier,I would have seen James Wolcott Wadsworth, master of HertfordHouse, for 12 years a Senator of the United States, changing a tirein the main street with his own hands.
Geneseo people don't regard themselves as serfs or yeomenin a comic opera English countryside. They like their landed gentryand are proud of them-without any pulling of their forelocks tothe squires.
The Wadsworth families-the James W. and W. Austinbranches at opposite ends of the village, still own thousands ofacres of Valley land, although chunks of it have been sold off inlate years. They probably have at least 200 tenant farms in theneighborhood. The former Senator still maintains the system offarm agents to look after his properties that was instituted by hisgreat-grandfather, the founder of the dynasty in the Valley.
You cannot walk in any direction out of Geneseo without passing mile after mile of Wadsworth land. There was a legend-and it is pure legend-that James Wadsworth, the first, could ride from his home in Geneseo to Rochester along his own land. It was almost true. As late as the 1850s the family was considered the largest owners and operators of cultivated land in the United States.
For four generations the James Wadsworths have been political potentates in the Valley. This branth of the family went in for state-craft and steers, rather than hounds and hunts. General James S.Wadsworth, son of the founder of the house, was military governorof the District of Columbia and a candidate for governor of NewYork before he fell in the Battle of the Wilderness in the Civil War.His son, James W., Sr., whom I remember as a bronzed old grandeewith distinguished iron gray hair and flowing mustache, was foryears a member of Congress.
His son, James W., Jr.,"Young Jim," served in the Assemblyand at a tender age was its Speaker. Then from 1914 to 1926 hewas a United States Senator and a power in the land. Defeated in'26, he returned to Congress as representative of the 39th Districtin 1930 and has been there ever since. His son, James J., "Jerry,"was Livingston County assemblyman until he resigned two yearsago to become an executive of a Buffalo war plant.
Enemies have called the Valley the Wadsworths' "pocket borough" that for generations, in the English tradition, has elected oneof the clan to "Parliament." It is only fair to point out that Geneseo is only one town in Livingston County and that Jim Wadsworth'sdistrict embraces three counties and a part of a fourth, besides hishome balliwick, and that the freemen of the 19th Ward of Rochestercan hardly be called vassals of the squires of the Genesee Valley.
At the height of the agitation over the Selective Service Bill, of which Jim Wadsworth was co-author, a cavalcade of earnestRochester pacifists under the aegis of "The Peace MobilizationMovement" made a pilgrimage to Geneseo with a petition of protest against the draft.
Their coming had been heralded by the press and when themotor cavalcade entered Geneseo, they found the streets lined withgrim-faced, silent farmers and villagers. The pilgrims went to themanor house where their petition was courteously received by JerryWadsworth in his father's absence. The pacifists departed withoutdemonstration. It was an admirable example of self restraint onboth sides.
But had there been an overt act, the story might have endeddifferently.
Geneseo does not relish invasions by outlanders, especially cityfolks whom they suspect of a "red" tinge. Those silent farmersmobilized in the village meant business.
You can't write about Geneseo without dwelling on the Wadsworths. There are so many of them and they have been thereso long.
* * * * *
If it were not for two Wadsworth brothers who came into theValley in 1790, there might not be any Geneseo to write about today.
James and William Wadsworth came from Connecticut andbought from their uncle, Col. Jeremiah, of Hartford, 2,000 acresat cost (eight cents an acre) - There then were only two or three settlers in the whole Valley. They built a rude cabin on table landsouthwest of the present village and near the Indian town of BigTree, named after an Indian chief, who in turn got his name froma great oak by the river.
James Wadsworth was a born promoter. William was thepractical farmer. The brothers acquired more and more acres andJames went to New England to bring colonists to his Valley. Healso interested English capital in the Genesee Country. He importedblooded stock and scientific methods of husbandry. He was a patronof education and established free libraries. He was the head manin the Valley, a cultivated, educated man far less at home in thewilds than his brother, "General Bill," The latter was a heroicfigure on his black charger on muster days. He served with distinction in the War of 1812 and died a bachelor, leaving his brothersole master of one of the largest estates in America.
The Duke de Liancourt visited Bill Wadworth's cabin in 1795and had this to say:
"It was a small log house as dirty as any I have ever seen. Stores of all kinds, meats and vegetables and live poultry werecrowded in and about the house."
The Frenchman's delicate nostrils were affronted by the odors and he was not overpleased with the beds.
James Wadsworth had an inordinate craving for land. His promotions were not limited to the Valley, but extended into MonroeCounty west of the river. He coveted the 100-acre tract the threeMarylanders had bought at the Falls of the Genesee. He establisheda settlement called Castletown at the Rapids, at the present intersection of Plymouth and Brooks Avenues in Rochester.
Orasmus Turner had the temerity to write in 1851:
"It would have been better for this beautiful valley, where Mr. Wadsworth cast his lot early in life-if his ambitions for large possessions had been more moderate."
Perhaps at taxpaying time in the 1940s, some of James Wadsworth's descendants echo that wish for moderation.
* * * * *
The Genesee Valley Hunt has been a picturesque part of theGeneseo scene since 1876. It is the second oldest in the nation.This year of war, when so many riders are in khaki or navy blue,the hunts will be considerably curtailed. There probably will beno traditional racing meet on the Hats of the Kennels farm, withits steeplechase and farmers' races, For years it was a fall classicin the horse-loving Valley and at night the beauty and the chivalrydanced at the Hunt Ball.
The late W. Austin Wadsworth was a moving figure in the organization of the Hunt Club and the first master. Winthrop Chanler succeeded him. The present master, in the absence of William P. Wadsworth in the military service, is Edward D. Mulligan of Avon. The "angel" who has kept it going through recent parlous years is not a resident of Geneseo at all. He is Ernest L. Woodward, the Jello millionaire of Le Roy.
The hunt has its democratic aspects. Valley farmers and horsebreeders ride with the squires and their ladies. There is a sprinkling of Rochester and Buffalo society. Even people, who were non-members and strangers, have "crashed" the Hunt. It is not recorded, however, that they were invited to the hunt breakfasts in the manor houses.
Harry Andrews, who came to the club as huntsman in the daysof Major Chanler, is on the job daily training the pack of costly,imported hounds at the Kennels. A wounded veteran of World WarI where he served with the British Life Guards, he has a delightfulEnglish accent and many a tale of fox hunts in the Hudson andGenesee Valleys. Horses and dogs have been his life. On hismantelpiece is a curious china music box that plays one tune: "Doyou ken John Peel?"
Only recently the Kennels farm passed out of the hands of the Hunt Club. The future of the historic fox hunt in the Valley is not roseate in this second year of war.
Let's take a look at the glory of the Genesee Valley Hunt in the year 1907 as revealed in old newspaper files:
"From daybreak on, a steady stream of tallyhos and drags,hunting and coaching parties poured into Geneseo and drew upin front of the Big Tree Inn. Many announced their arrival a mileaway with hunting horns and dazzled spectators on Main Streetwith their ensemble of footmen and outrunners and colorful costumes in passing four-in-hands.
"The Black Walnut Meadows never presented so thrilling apicture, with long lines of traps and drags, many of them gay withflags and brilliant costumes of the women."
No wonder a Merrie England tradition was built up around Geneseo.
* * * * *
Around 1886, the daughter of the fabulously wealthy AugustBelmont of New York, and her husband, Samuel Howland, established themselves as landed gentry on an estate near Groveland.They had many guests and decided to have a fox hunt and a packof hounds of their own, But there was already in the Valley, theGenesee Valley Hunt Club, founded by the Wadsworths and othersof the long established social hierarchy.
The Howlands did NOT start a new hunt club. Where couldthe daughter of August Belmont and her guests ride to houndsexcept over Wadsworth land? And permission to use that landwas not forthcoming.
The village for years had a crack baseball team. James W.Wadsworth Sr. formed it around 1870 as the Livingston Club andloaded it with stars. The heyday of the Geneseo nine was 1897,when, with an all-star college cast that included "Young Jim"Wadsworth of Yale, at first base, it toured the country in privatecar, meeting the best amateur teams in the United States and Canada-with the senior Wadsworth footing the bills, Later on, JerryWadsworth played on the team in his father's old spot-but notas ably.
In those halycon days when Geneseo's ball club was one ofthe crack amateur outfits of the nation and "Young Jim" Wadsworth played first base and Craig Wadsworth guarded the thirdsack, with the rest of the roster made up of well paid outside stars,there was keen rivalry between Mount Morris and Geneseo. Theriver towns prepared one summer for a momentous clash on thediamond. Feeling and wagers ran high.
Business-like Mount Morris resorted to some deep and crafty strategy. Mount Morris hired a battery from the Brooklyn Nationals, unbeknown to her rival. When the "ringers" trotted outon the field, they wore overalls cut off at the knees and looked likehillbillies who had never been to town before. Geneseo fans howledin derision and looked for easy conquest. They were soon disillusioned, The Brooklyn pitcher mowed down their hitters. MountMorris won the battle-and considerable money stayed in the south.em river village.
Nowadays, I was told, Craig Wadsworth, the retired diplomatwho lives in the village, sees to it that the rising generation issupplied with bats and balls and gloves. So maybe after the waris over, Geneseo will field a crack team again.
* * * * *
Geneseo is the seat of a State Teachers' College, called in other days the State Normal School. Recently it has added some finebuildings, along with a flossier name. Hundreds of schoolmarms and some schoolmasters have been trained within its ivy-covered walls. Men students are as scarce as butter now in wartime.
The school's presence gives the village a collegiate air. Bevies of chattering girl students, professors and their wives, no end of boarding and rooming houses, combine to make Geneseo a differentsort of river village.
Geneseo is not all squires and gentry or students and professors. There are horny handed farmers who plow the same acrestheir grandsires did in the Valley. The village is full of retiredfarmers. Many of them keep rooms and serve meals for thestudents, There is also a sizeable Italian-American population,mostly living "under the hill."
At the local "pub" which is called the Big Tree and not inthe British tradition, the Wadsworth Arms or the Red Boar, youcan meet a cross-section of Geneseo. The village tailor, born inSouthern Europe-a wounded veteran who went to France with theValley troops in World War I-a couple of quiet business men-afarmer or two, concerned about the pea crop-maybe a squire willdrop in. No caste system there.
In Geneseo there are grand old men like tall, straight-as-a-ramrod, white-knickered Gene Shepherd, who at 80 had just played 18 holes of golf that day over the sporty, gulley-riven Livingston Country Club course.
* * * * *
If you fancy scenery other than the magnificent panorama ofthe Valley itself, walk up the Mount Morris road to Fall Brook nearthe estate of Mrs. Winthrop Chanler, author of "Autumn in theValley."
You will find there a 90-foot, nearly perpendicular cliff, over which trickle crystal waters. It has a wild beauty reminiscent ofthe grandeur of Portage and the High Banks.
Around Fall Brook cluster legends. One concerns an Indianmaiden who in the long ago was commanded by her father to marrya brave she did not love. One twilight in the autumn she leapedover the precipice, chanting a love song for an absent warrior, Theysay that in the time of falling leaves when the shadows creep overthe Valley, you can hear a plaintive voice even now singing the oldrefrain at Lovers' Leap.
There is another legend, wholly unconfirmed by historical fact, that Sullivan's Yankee army drove a party of Senecas to their deaths over the cliff.
* * * * *
Around the lower falls of Rochester there lingers a legend that bears repeating even out of its proper geographical sequence in this River Ramble story. It is sheer apocrypha but still it is a picturesque and haunting tale.
Long ago when an Indian village stood beside the falls, a palefaced young stranger came paddling up the Genesee. The tribemade him welcome and he lingered there beside the tossing waters.In time he forgot his own land and his own people. He wooed andwon a forest maiden and they were married in the Indian ritual.He and his dusky bride lived in a lodge where the singing waterslulled them to rest at night and where all the days were sunny ones.
But one day in the time of falling leaves, a strange canoe,filled with bearded pale faces, came up the river from the lake.They had come to take the young stranger back to his own country-for he was a nobleman of France. He refused to go and claspinghis Indian bride in his arms, strode to the edge of the cliff. Thentogether, they leaped into the foaming waters, which still chant arequiem over their grave.
* * * * *
The Cavalry Armory, opposite the James Wadsworth mansion,is a desolate, almost deserted place these days. Once it was thelively headquarters of Troop M, pride of the Valley. They werestraight, hard riding cavalrymen who rode with Pershing on theMexican border, who left their mounts behind to fight in France in World War I, who returned to ride them to glory in Valleyhorse shows and now again are without their steeds in this mechanized war. Thanks to Jim Wadsworth, a founder of the troop, it wasone of the last cavalry units in the present army.
The boys of the troop are scattered on far battlefields now.The fine horses that once cantered so proudly out of the Armoryhave been sold.
Geneseo without her cavalry-it is Russia without her Cossacks.
* * * * *
I found a Geneseo man who was touchy about "Mount Morrisgetting all the glory at floodtime." He said: "The newspaperscome up here and take pictures of the flooded Geneseo flats andthen label them the Mount Morris lowlands."
* * * * *
I sat on the stone steps of the old red brick courthouse at the north end of the principal street and thought of a famous trial held there in 1914.
That trial brought Arthur Train, then a prosecutor on the staff of District Attorney Charles S. Whitman to the village that became the Pottsville of his stories. Train had been assigned toprosecute Henry Siegel for fraud in the collapse of his mercantileand banking enterprises. A change of venue had been obtainedfrom New York where feeling ran high among poverty strickendepositors against the Lilliputian merchant prince.
Train tells the whole story in his "My Day in Court." He won his case and the gates of Monroe County Penitentiary closed on Henry Siegel.
Geneseo so impressed Train that when he came to write his"Tutt" stories, whose hero is an elongated, Lincolnesque figure ina stovepipe hat, who brings about justice by invoking obscure pointsof law, he picked the Livingston County seat as the prototype of hisPottsville, merely moving it to the Mohawk Valley.
* * * * *
Let's leave Geneseo and backtrack along the river to Cuylerville, in another day Little Beard's Town and "the principal castle of the Senecas."
It was from that Indian town that Little Beard, ally of theruthless Tory Butlers, led his Senecas to pillage and massacre inthe Wyoming Valley settlements. These atrocities brought uponthe Seneca Nation the avenging fury of the Sullivan expedition in1779.
You can picture again the terror of the Indians as, ears to theground, they heard afar the tramp of the Yankee army as it advanced from Conesus and the boom of the fearsome Yankee bigguns. Sullivan's men laid waste this particular town as thoroughlyas Sherman sacked Atlanta.
There was a reason. It was to this town that the Indians took their captives, Lieutenant Boyd and Private Parker, members of ascouting party they had ambushed near Groveland. Most othermembers of the party were killed on the spot but Little Beard'ssavages dragged Boyd and Parker to their "castle" and subjectedthem to horrible tortures. A boulder today marks the spot atCuylerville where their remains were found. It was the scene ofa widely attended dedication ceremony in 1928.
For some 60 years the remains of Boyd and Parker rested inthe Genesee countryside where they met such fiendish deaths.
In 1841 Rochester established a plot called Revolutionary Hill at Mount Hope and succeeded in having the bones of the heroesremoved there from Cuylerville. There were parades and floridoratory and fanfare as a wooden box, containing the purportedremains of Boyd and Parker, was brought to Mount Hope. A sudden downpour scattered the gathering.
Charley Whitcomb, the Sage of Belvidere, told me this storyof the incident:
The Boyd and Parker wooden "sarcophagus" was never interred at Mount Hope because of the storm. Some boys pokingaround the cemetery later found it and scattered the contents tothe winds. Charley said he got the tale from John Minard, respected Allegany County historian and that Minard got it from one of the prankish boys.
At any rate, Rochester did not cover itself with glory as custodian of the remains of the Revolutionary martyrs.
In a few years, the city fathers voted to abandon Revolutionary Hill and leveled it off. The remains of Boyd and Parker and other war heroes were consigned to Potters Field. From that ignominyIrondequoit Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolutionrescued them and erected appropriate markers in a new plot.
The incident was a bitter political issue of the time. TheDemocrats claimed the whole removal project was a Whig "trick"and even intimated that the bones brought up from Cuylerville werethose of animals.
Be that as it may, one wonders, across the gap of a century, why the people of Livingston County ever consented to part with the remains of the martyrs of Sullivan's Army.
* * * * *
Senecas, settlers, squires-Wadsworth shanty and Wadsworthmansions-Bluegrass capital or Mr. Tutt's Pottsville-tallyhos andtenant farms - patricians and plowmen - Geneseo is a strangemixture-the diamond of the Valley with many facets-the mostintriguing town on the river that begins in the mountains and endsat the inland sea.
To Chapter Listing
To next chapter
To On-line Books Page
To GenWeb of Monroe Co. page.