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, capricious siren, flaunting her allure amid the thunder of cascading waters and in a setting of rare beauty.
At Mount Morris, almost in the twinkling of an eye, the Genesee 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, and set foot on the broad flats at Mount Morris, I crossed an invisible but clearly drawn dividing line.
I had seen the last of the rugged hill country. The rest of my march to the shores of Lake Ontario would be through a vast checkerboard of fertile fields and gently rolling hills.
This is the land that the Senecas, proud keepers of the Long House's Western Door, chose as their seat of empire and with their instinctive genius for the right descriptive word, called "The Pleasant 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 that bears its name at Mount Morris. For the countryside that stretches 16 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, is really the head of the Valley.
The more rugged, harsher landscape through which I had tramped as the Genesee courses northward to Mount Morris, seems to 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, the Yankee predominant, with a sprinkling of long settled Irish and Germans. At Mount Morris where many hands are needed to harvest the rich crops of the river bottoms, black-haired, black-eyed, volatile, music-loving Latins have added a dash of piquancy to the Genesee Valley pattern. The Livingston County segment of the Genesee Country has a sizeable Italian-American population, who have assimilated well with the old Yankee stock and who are politically 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 talk was about Rochester, of familiar names and places. Along the southern 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. In the early days logs came down the river and the Genesee Valley Canal to be sawed, and grist to be ground in her mills.
Mount Morris may not possess the romantic traditions of Geneseo, with its landed gentry, manor houses and fox hunts. It may not abound in such mellow memories as Avon, once a famous watering 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 of produce to be harvested and canned that the nation may eat. There is 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 after the bigamous Indian Allen. Later on when Col. Jonathan Trumbull, the celebrated artist of the Revolution, established a brief residence there, 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 Western New 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 came to the wilds in 1794, a boy of 17, with one suit of clothes, a rifle, an ox and a silver franc piece. When he died he owned 800 acres of river bottoms. His first home was a log hut he built himself. He died in a mansion. Mills was friendly with the Indians who called him "Big Kettle," meaning generous. Mills organized a company of militia and loaned money to the settlers on liberal terms. When the frost of 1816 destroyed all the crops and the farmers faced famine, they came to Mills for help. He filled their sleighs with corn and grain and pork and did not ask a cent. The next summer the 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, most helpful. They dug out old papers and histories and Fred took me on a tour of the village.
Here are some of the odds and ends I picked up at Mount Morris on the Genesee:
A log cabin still stands at Grove and Stanley Streets, probably all that is left of the primitive settlement of General Mills' time. It is one of the few such structures left in this area. The building is on private property and stands in the rear of a dwelling. Nobody pays much attention to it. It has been there a long time and as I said, Mount Morris people are busy folk.
* * * * *
Everybody has heard of NewYork City's Murray Hill, because of its hotel and telephone exchange, if for no other reasons. Mount Morris has a Murray Hill, too, and it has a direct link with the more famous one in the big city. A huge State Tuberculosis Sanatorium stands on Mount Morris' Murray Hill, high above the river and the village.
Once there was a stately mansion, with spacious gardens filled with rhododendrons and rare flowers under glass, with fish ponds and 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 of Murray 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 visited the hill and remarked on the magnificence of the view. It is just as fine 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 a cottage near his former mansion. He and his wife are buried on the grounds of St. John's Episcopal Church on land they gave the parish. A tall shaft in the shadow of the church marks their unique resting place.
Other proprietors of Murray Hill, prior to its acquisition by the state for a hospital, were William O. Shepherd, Col. George Williams, one-time treasurer of the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, 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 over America there are thousands of boys and girls who never will forget these 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 the Pledge of Allegiance once lived in Rochester, as do his descendants today. Five years ago Mount Morris dedicated a park and athletic field 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 worker and his wife. That boy today is the junior United States Senator from 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 for several years. But Charles Flaherty is by no means forgotten. He was probably the most hated and best loved man in the Valley. A clerk, who had been unfrocked by his church, a lawyer without diploma, a physician without a license, nevertheless he ministered to 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 people out of trouble." The other school violently dismisses him as "an unprincipled 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 ask to see the Indian exhibit there. In the Iroquois group, you will see lifelike wax figures of Indians hulling corn in primitive fashion in the foreground and the unmistakable High Banks of the Genesee in the background. A replica of that exhibit appears on every check of 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 trains ever to whistle for a crossing. The coach was an old bus rigged up to run on rails. "The Doodlebug" was an oil burner and had a top speed of some 20 miles an hour. For years it hauled passengers between Mount Morris and Dansville.
The 16-mile line was built in 1870 as the Erie and Genesee Valley Railroad. The first engine was a wood burner, The D and M met all Erie trains out of Rochester. When the Erie discontinued service between Avon and Mount Morris, the D and M shortened its line to connect Groveland Station and Dansville, a distance of 10 miles. Long ago all passenger service was abandoned. But about twice a day, a train still hauls freight over the tiny railroad from the DL&W at Groveland to Dansville. "The Doodlebug" will never 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, every spring in flood time, I have heard reporters call the dam at Mount Morris to get the river reading. The Mount Morris dam was a sure barometer. We knew that whatever the Valley was getting in the way 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 been projected at Mount Morris. Way back when the New York Central Railroad owned the local power utility, there was talk that this dam would provide power for the electrification of the Central across the state. Many plans have been drawn and the Mount Morris dam project bobs up every year or so. Maybe it will fit into the post-war world we are hearing so much about.
* * * * *
During the noon hour I noticed scores of women in white on the streets of Mount Morris. I thought they were employes of the big hospital on Murray Hill but I found they were workers in one of the canneries and that the white uniform was regulation.
As I ambled down the road to Geneseo, I passed one of these canneries. Tons of peas were being unloaded from a long line of trucks and the air was fragrant with their odor.
Substantial, practical Mount Morris was doing its part in the battle for food on the home front.
* * * * *
For 47 years the state of New York has maintained at Sonyea in 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 religious sect 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 into the Society of Christian Believers. They were popularly known as the "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 present Alasa Farms of Alvah G. Strong of Rochester. When in 1836 a canal was projected from Clyde to Great Sodus Bay, the Shakers sold their holdings and bought 1,700 acres of Groveland land from Daniel Fitzhugh, of the Valley gentry.
There they built an extensive colony. Old histories of Livingston County show pictures of the buildings. They included a sewing house, a meeting house, a laundry, a joiner shop, a fruit house, an office, horse barn, carriage house and dairy.
The sect slowly languished and was glad to sell its property to the state in 1896, when, largely through the efforts of William Pryor Letchworth, donor of the state park that now bears his name, Craig Colony took over the erstwhile settlement of the Shaking Quakers.
* * * * *
Buried in "The Pleasant Valley" of squires and manor houses and lordly oaks and tall brown pasture grass, on the road to Geneseo, 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 Genesee and the Canaseraga. It was to be the most important commercial center west of New York. He called it Williamsburg, in honor of his principal, Sir William Pulteney, owner of a million acres of Genesee 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 the Carrolls and Fitzhughs, the Maryland aristocrats who came north with Colonel Rochester, had mansions and great estates there.
Now all that is left of Williamsburg is the old cemetery on the 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 of the United States, on the Liberty (Anti-Slavery) ticket in 1840 and 1844. He was leader of the Constitutional Abolitionists and in his day one of the most powerful and eloquent men in public life.
He was born in Kentucky, a member of a wealthy slave-holding family. He once owned an Alabama plantation and hundreds of slaves. He freed his blacks and became a leader in the anti-slavery movement. Driven from his native Kentucky because of his beliefs, he established an abolitionist paper in Cincinnati. His life was menaced by mobs and his presses were smashed. But he never swerved in his devotion to a cause.
Birney was no fanatic of the Garrison-John Brown school. He sought the abolition of slavery through peaceful, constitutional and educational means and hoped to make the South see the error of its ways. He died before the outbreak of the Civil War which he foresaw and dreaded.
His second wife was Elizabeth Fitzhugh. That is why the name of this great American, now virtually forgotten, appears on a tombstone on a bramble-covered hillside cemetery in the Genesee Valley.
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 a century and a half the seat of a great land-holding dynasty, the shire town 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 backwoods Pottsville of his famed "Mr. Tutt" stories?
Is it a bit of Old England transplanted to the Western New York countryside, with its landed gentry, tenant farmers, manor houses 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, smutty wooden '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 yeoman side is just the fancy frosting on a cake whose base is of sturdy, New England 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 are locked in mortal combat and you hear the triumphant war whoops of the Senecas as they drive out of their "Pleasant Valley" forever their ancient foes of the Neuter Nation.
You see the Senecas, keeping inviolate for more than a century the Western Door of the Long House and after ranging from Lake Champlain to the Illinois, from the banks of the St. Lawrence to the everglades of Florida, the mightiest warriors of the continent, bringing home the spoils of conquest to their villages on the Genesee.
"The Black Robes," the Jesuit missionaries, bear the Cross into the Valley and you find on old trees the symbol of Christianity rudely carved beside the lilies of the Bourbons.
You hear the tread of invading armies-of Denonville's French legions 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 of many 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, coming upon his more rugged brother, William, fitting planks for the floor of their shanty at Big Tree, to the light of a candle in the hands of the Negro slave, Jenny.
You see the waving fields of wheat and the barges laden with grain 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, panting hounds sweep by. It is the Genesee Valley Hunt, second oldest in America. In its ranks through the years ride the burly figure of Theodore Roosevelt, princes of the royal house of Sweden, Arthur Brisbane, "Wild Bill" Donovan, Wadsworths and Chanlers and Fitzhughs, the squires of the Valley and their ladies.
History, legends, Senecas, settlers and squires-the winding river under the willows, the haze on the far blue hills, this is a magic 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 newspapers and was much interested in my river ramble. He had lived for years in the Valley of which he spoke with affection and an intelligent perspective.
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 the links of Rye. I know other men who with awe in their voices, still say "Mr. Eastman," more than a decade after the Kodak King's dramatic 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. Hunter Black, veteran Clerk of Livingston County. He is a Repubican stalwart and owes allegiance to the political organization, of which Representative 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 village and thousands of acres besides, was referred to as "Madame Wadsworth." Her son, who has traded the regalia of the Master of the Genesee Valley Hunt for the uniform of an officer in the Army of the United States, is "Bill."
There is another Wadsworth, now dead for years, of whom everybody 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 Hertford House, for 12 years a Senator of the United States, changing a tire in the main street with his own hands.
Geneseo people don't regard themselves as serfs or yeomen in a comic opera English countryside. They like their landed gentry and are proud of them-without any pulling of their forelocks to the squires.
The Wadsworth families-the James W. and W. Austin branches at opposite ends of the village, still own thousands of acres of Valley land, although chunks of it have been sold off in late years. They probably have at least 200 tenant farms in the neighborhood. The former Senator still maintains the system of farm agents to look after his properties that was instituted by his great-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 governor of the District of Columbia and a candidate for governor of New York 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 grandee with distinguished iron gray hair and flowing mustache, was for years a member of Congress.
His son, James W., Jr.,"Young Jim," served in the Assembly and at a tender age was its Speaker. Then from 1914 to 1926 he was a United States Senator and a power in the land. Defeated in '26, he returned to Congress as representative of the 39th District in 1930 and has been there ever since. His son, James J., "Jerry," was Livingston County assemblyman until he resigned two years ago 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 one of the clan to "Parliament." It is only fair to point out that Geneseo is only one town in Livingston County and that Jim Wadsworth's district embraces three counties and a part of a fourth, besides his home balliwick, and that the freemen of the 19th Ward of Rochester can 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 earnest Rochester pacifists under the aegis of "The Peace Mobilization Movement" made a pilgrimage to Geneseo with a petition of protest against the draft.
Their coming had been heralded by the press and when the motor cavalcade entered Geneseo, they found the streets lined with grim-faced, silent farmers and villagers. The pilgrims went to the manor house where their petition was courteously received by Jerry Wadsworth in his father's absence. The pacifists departed without demonstration. It was an admirable example of self restraint on both sides.
But had there been an overt act, the story might have ended differently.
Geneseo does not relish invasions by outlanders, especially city folks whom they suspect of a "red" tinge. Those silent farmers mobilized 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 there so long.
* * * * *
If it were not for two Wadsworth brothers who came into the Valley in 1790, there might not be any Geneseo to write about today.
James and William Wadsworth came from Connecticut and bought from their uncle, Col. Jeremiah, of Hartford, 2,000 acres at cost (eight cents an acre) - There then were only two or three settlers in the whole Valley. They built a rude cabin on table land southwest of the present village and near the Indian town of Big Tree, named after an Indian chief, who in turn got his name from a great oak by the river.
James Wadsworth was a born promoter. William was the practical farmer. The brothers acquired more and more acres and James went to New England to bring colonists to his Valley. He also interested English capital in the Genesee Country. He imported blooded stock and scientific methods of husbandry. He was a patron of education and established free libraries. He was the head man in the Valley, a cultivated, educated man far less at home in the wilds than his brother, "General Bill," The latter was a heroic figure on his black charger on muster days. He served with distinction in the War of 1812 and died a bachelor, leaving his brother sole master of one of the largest estates in America.
The Duke de Liancourt visited Bill Wadworth's cabin in 1795 and 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 were crowded 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 Monroe County west of the river. He coveted the 100-acre tract the three Marylanders had bought at the Falls of the Genesee. He established a 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 the Geneseo 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 be no traditional racing meet on the Hats of the Kennels farm, with its steeplechase and farmers' races, For years it was a fall classic in the horse-loving Valley and at night the beauty and the chivalry danced 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 mi1lionaire of Le Roy.
The hunt has its democratic aspects. Valley farmers and horse breeders 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 days of Major Chanler, is on the job daily training the pack of costly, imported hounds at the Kennels. A wounded veteran of World War I where he served with the British Life Guards, he has a delightful English accent and many a tale of fox hunts in the Hudson and Genesee Valleys. Horses and dogs have been his life. On his mantelpiece is a curious china music box that plays one tune: "Do you 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 df tallyhos and drags, hunting and coaching parties poured into Geneseo and drew up in front of the Big Tree Inn. Many announced their arrival a mile away with hunting horns and dazzled spectators on Main Street with their ensemble of footmen and outrunners and colorful costumes in passing four-in-hands.
"The Black Walnut Meadows never presented so thrilling a picture, with long lines of traps and drags, many of them gay with flags 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 August Belmont 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 pack of hounds of their own, But there was already in the Valley, the Genesee Valley Hunt Club, founded by the Wadsworths and others of the long established social hierarchy.
The Howlands did NOT start a new hunt club. Where could the daughter of August Belmont and her guests ride to hounds except over Wadsworth land? And permission to use that land was not forthcoming.
The village for years had a crack baseball team. James W. Wadsworth Sr. formed it around 1870 as the Livingston Club and loaded 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 private car, meeting the best amateur teams in the United States and Canada-with the senior Wadsworth footing the bills, Later on, Jerry Wadsworth played on the team in his father's old spot-but not as ably.
In those halycon days when Geneseo's ball club was one of the crack amateur outfits of the nation and "Young Jim" Wadsworth played first base and Craig Wadsworth guarded the third sack, with the rest of the roster made up of well paid outside stars, there was keen rivalry between Mount Morris and Geneseo. The river towns prepared one summer for a momentous clash on the diamond. 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 out on the field, they wore overalls cut off at the knees and looked like hillbillies who had never been to town before. Geneseo fans howled in derision and looked for easy conquest. They were soon disillusioned, The Brooklyn pitcher mowed down their hitters. Mount Morris won the battle-and considerable money stayed in the south. em river village.
Nowadays, I was told, Craig Wadsworth, the retired diplomat who lives in the village, sees to it that the rising generation is supplied with bats and balls and gloves. So maybe after the war is 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 fine buildings, 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 different sort of river village.
Geneseo is not all squires and gentry or students and professors. There are horny handed farmers who plow the same acres their grandsires did in the Valley. The village is full of retired farmers. Many of them keep rooms and serve meals for the students, 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 in the British tradition, the Wadsworth Arms or the Red Boar, you can meet a cross-section of Geneseo. The village tailor, born in Southern Europe-a wounded veteran who went to France with the Valley troops in World War I-a couple of quiet business men-a farmer or two, concerned about the pea crop-maybe a squire will drop 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.
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If you fancy scenery other than the magnificent panorama of the Valley itself, walk up the Mount Morris road to Fall Brook near the estate of Mrs. Winthrop Chanler, author of "Autumn in the Valley."
You will find there a 90-foot, nearly perpendicular cliff, over which trickle crystal waters. It has a wild beauty reminiscent of the grandeur of Portage and the High Banks.
Around Fall Brook cluster legends. One concerns an Indian maiden who in the long ago was commanded by her father to marry a brave she did not love. One twilight in the autumn she leaped over the precipice, chanting a love song for an absent warrior, They say that in the time of falling leaves when the shadows creep over the Valley, you can hear a plaintive voice even now singing the old refrain 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.
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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 pale faced young stranger came paddling up the Genesee. The tribe made him welcome and he lingered there beside the tossing waters. In time he forgot his own land and his own people. He wooed and won a forest maiden and they were married in the Indian ritual. He and his dusky bride lived in a lodge where the singing waters lulled 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 clasping his Indian bride in his arms, strode to the edge of the cliff. Then together, they leaped into the foaming waters, which still chant a requiem over their grave.
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The Cavalry Armory, opposite the James Wadsworth mansion, is a desolate, almost deserted place these days. Once it was the lively headquarters of Troop M, pride of the Valley. They were straight, hard riding cavalrymen who rode with Pershing on the Mexican border, who left their mounts behind to fight in France in World War I, who returned to ride them to glory in Valley horse shows and now again are without their steeds in this mechan. ized war. Thanks to Jim Wadsworth, a founder of the troop, it was one 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 Armory have been sold.
Geneseo without her cavalry-it is Russia without her Cossacks.
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I found a Geneseo man who was touchy about "Mount Morris getting all the glory at floodtime." He said: "The newspapers come up here and take pictures of the flooded Geneseo flats and then label them the Mount Morris lowlands."
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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 to prosecute Henry Siegel for fraud in the collapse of his mercantile and banking enterprises. A change of venue had been obtained from New York where feeling ran high among poverty.stricken depositors 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 in a stovepipe hat, who brings about justice by invoking obscure points of law, he picked the Livingston County seat as the prototype of his Pottsville, merely moving it to the Mohawk Valley.
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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 the ruthless Tory Butlers, led his Senecas to pillage and massacre in the Wyoming Valley settlements. These atrocities brought upon the Seneca Nation the avenging fury of the Sullivan expedition in 1779.
You can picture again the terror of the Indians as, ears to the ground, they heard afar the tramp of the Yankee army as it advanced from Conesus and the boom of the fearsome Yankee big guns. Sullivan's men laid waste this particular town as thoroughly as 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 a scouting party they had ambushed near Groveland. Most other members of the party were killed on the spot but Little Beard's savages dragged Boyd and Parker to their "castle" and subjected them to horrible tortures. A boulder today marks the spot at Cuylerville where their remains were found. It was the scene of a widely attended dedication ceremony in 1928.
For some 60 years the remains of Boyd and Parker rested in the 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 heroes removed there from Cuylerville. There were parades and florid oratory and fanfare as a wooden box, containing the purported remains of Boyd and Parker, was brought to Mount Hope. A sudden downpour scattered the gathering.
Charley Whitcomb, the Sage of Belvidere, told me this story of the incident:
The Boyd and Parker wooden "sarcophagus" was never interred at Mount Hope because of the storm. Some boys poking around the cemetery later found it and scattered the contents to the 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 ignominy Irondequoit Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution rescued them and erected appropriate markers in a new plot.
The incident was a bitter political issue of the time. The Democrats claimed the whole removal project was a Whig "trick" and even intimated that the bones brought up from Cuylerville were those 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.
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Senecas, settlers, squires-Wadsworth shanty and Wadsworth mansions-Bluegrass capital or Mr. Tutt's Pottsville-tallyhos and tenant farms - patricians and plowmen - Geneseo is a strange mixture-the diamond of the Valley with many facets-the most intriguing town on the river that begins in the mountains and ends at the inland sea.
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