GENESEO — It has been over two centuries since a prominent family saw great potential in a sleepy valley.
James and William Wadsworth were two brothers that came to Big Tree (Geneseo) in search of a better opportunity in 1790. Their father, Jeremiah Wadsworth, worked with the Senecas during that time period. They were the first European settlers of the area; before that it was settled by the Seneca Tribe and referred to only as Big Tree. This name was derived from the giant tree that withstood the test of time by the riverbank. This big tree was a strong reason why the Wadsworth Brothers chose to live in the area. The tree sadly was overtaken by the riverbank in 1857. It had been salvaged and turned into several different things.
It all started with a Big Tree, a dream, and a strong sense of agricultural development. Will Wadsworth, Wadsworth Homestead manager, gave a presentation at the Livingston County Historical Museum of the history around the house on March 10. It was so well attended that the room filled up fast. Therefore, some were unable to attend the program. Wadsworth and the museum plan on doing the program again for those who missed it.
“My family chose to settle here, because it was a well established trading center,” Wadsworth said. “They came down June 10, 1790 and went to build a cabin. William managed the farm and established a militia. James went on to handle the business aspects. The Homestead was built in 1800. James moved into the Homestead in 1804 after marrying Naomi Wolcott.”
The earliest photos of the house stem from around 1823, which shows the original frame of the home.
William Wadsworth never had any children, but James had five children with Naomi. In 1815 the house was changed to accommodate the children. There are several humorous additions to the home to suggest the parents wanted some quiet time away from the children. For instance there was a closet and doors to separate the children's rooms, and upstairs had been sealed off, and there were back stairs to keep the children away.
In 1844 James’s son William Wolcott Wadsworth married Emmeline Austin. Sadly, her husband died when he fell and hit his head in 1852. This left the estate to Emmeline A. Wadsworth and her three sons.
“Emmeline had been so troubled by the noise on Main Street that she wanted to move the street 150 feet away from the house,” Wadsworth said. “She had sent out letters to her sons casually saying how she wanted to move the house.”
William Austin had sent several letters to his mother pleading with her not to move the house or the street, but to no avail. In those days it would cost the family $2,000 to move the home.
However, the sons lost the battle with the determined mother and the home was moved in 1875. By 1876 the home was used to showcase the marvelous items the family had collected to wealthy friends. Sadly, there had been several arsons that took place in the 1870s that caused the barns to be burned down.
There had once been a grand widows walk on the roof to oversee the village and pasture. It has since been taken down and stored in the attic. The plan is to restore the widows walk at some point. There are several old artifacts in store at the attic that the family wishes to restore.
“We had to fix the roof in 2005, and decided on a quick fix with a rubber roof. The widows walk was very old, and we want to reproduce it,” Wadsworth said. “The flag pole had blown down a couple weeks ago, and thankfully did very little damage. We want to fix that up too.”
In the 1890s the whole home had been equipped with steam heating systems. There are still 14 fireplaces that work in the house. The home was meant to accommodate the family for three seasons, since they always spent the winters in Boston.
William Austin Wadsworth created the Genesee Valley Hunt in 1875, and it is still considered the biggest hunt in America. He had planned on living his days a bachelor, but realizing the need for an heir he married at the age of 54. He married Elizabeth Perkins and had one son. William Perkins Wadsworth carried on his father’s legacy of the Genesee Valley Hunt.
When the new generation took over ownership of the home in 2010 a lot of work had to be done to restore the Homestead. Will Wadsworth took over from his father, Austin Wadsworth. There are 10 people in the family that own the home now. There have been countless volunteers that have helped restore it.
The Wadsworth Homestead was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. In 2010 they had to take that into consideration when restoring the home. The deep renovation years encompassed 2010 to 2014. They redid the bathrooms, walls, put in new heating system, changed the electrical wiring, restored the outside, made everything handicap accessible, and much more. Not to mention they redid the landscape with over 4,000 plants. The place is used for weddings, events, and historical tours now.
When work was being done on the home in 2012 there was a fire. This came from replacing the gutters, and having the machines grind on 212-year-old wood.
“It was terrifying to race back home and see the house on fire. I thought we were going to lose the home,” Wadsworth said. “We were thankfully able to save the
The Save the Wall campaign is still going on. This has been a hit with the locals for seven years now to save a miles worth of the old stone wall. Anyone interested in helping out can do so on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon the first week of June until the last week of September.
The Wadsworth Homestead is open for weddings and historical tours. Historic Tours are available by appointment with $15 per person. You can reach Will Wadsworth for a tour at 585-764-9005 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org For more information on the Wadsworth Homestead visit http://www.wadsworthhomestead.com/