GENESEO — Two new exhibits are on display at the Livingston County Historical Museum.
"Our Towns: The History of Livingston County in 25 Objects" and "The Big Tree of The Genesee" are both open to the public.
Sally Wood and Pat Weber, both volunteers at the museum, gave Genesee Country Express a tour of each exhibit.
Wood explained that each item had a special meaning to the town it represented. For instance, there is a shoe on display from Blum’s Shoe Factory in Dansville. A synopsis of each item is offered to explain why the item was chosen to be on display.
“After arriving in Dansville around 1855, John Blum, originally from Germany, opened the Blum Shoe Factory with just a few workers, out of a storefront on Main Street. The factory found a home in several places before its permanent location at the former Allen Hotel. Expansions would become commonplace at the ever-growing Blum Shoe Factory. At its height between the 1930s and 50s, the factory employed 325 people who made 9,300 pairs of shoes every day; the factory was producing one million pairs of shoes per year. The decline began in 1968 and the building was demolished in December of 1980. Currently, a CVS Pharmacy stands at the location of the former factory,” the synopsis reads.
One of the biggest and favorite accomplishments of the museum was The Big Tree exhibit. This was a long and carefully planned process.
Weber said in the Home and Hearth room there is a beautiful wooden cabinet made from The Big Tree.
“The Big Tree was in Pennsylvania for a few days getting preserved before it was sent back to us,” Weber said. “It took us a few days to get it here for the exhibit. This is not the base of the tree, but part of the trunk. It is the last piece still left of the tree.”
It all started with the Seneca tribe long before the Wadsworth Brothers came to the lands now known as Geneseo. The Seneca’s led by Red Jacket gathered at The Big Tree, and for a while that is what the settlement was known as. It was already settled, farmed, and inhabited by the tribe for many years before the European settlers came.
The exhibit tells the story of The Big Tree, the Seneca’s, the Wadsworths, and what happened along the way of its journey. It would soon meet its end in the 1800s at it crashed into the riverbed. The glorious white oak tree was the largest in the land, and it had withstood the test of time for about 500 years.
“Red Jacket advocated for peace. He was a great speaker, and even had a peace medal with George Washington. There was a treaty of Big Tree signed with the Senecas,” Weber said. “We wanted people to know that the story began with the Native Americans.”
Wood said she was able to go on a walk by the land where The Big Tree met its end.
“It is behind the Geneseo Warplane Museum. We all went for a walk behind there to where the tree fell. It is all an overgrown bank now. You have to fight to get back there now with all the trees and bushes,” she said. “We stood in the area of where The Big Tree once stood, and it was really neat to be there. You will see a sign on the side of the road that talks about The Big Tree. When the Senecas were here it was called The Big Tree, and there was a farm and road by the same name. The Seneca were in the practice of burning the dead wood, so that the good oaks could live through it.”
Anna Kowalchuk, Livingston County Historical Museum administrator, said there is a child aspect to the exhibit as well, so that it is family-friendly.
“It has a kid aspect too, so they can learn all about The Big Tree. The land was settled by the Senecas, and they would burn the dead wood to clear the land. They had already farmed the land as well,” she said. “We share information about the culture centers in Ganondagan and Salamanca, so it all comes full circle in the exhibit.”
Kowalchuk added that although it is important to share the story of the past, it is equally important to talk about what is happening today.
“We tell the whole story of The Big Tree, but we want to talk about what is happening today too,” she said. “We had a great team come together to help us put this exhibit together. It cost us about $23,000 to conserve The Big Tree. We had to make sure the floor was strong enough to hold it, and work together to get it in here, and a man named Brian Howard preserved it for us.”
Kowalchuk said there is another huge grant recently given to the museum to create a ramp on the west side, two new handicap accessible bathrooms, new entrance, and a new heat and air system.
The other towns represented in the Our Towns exhibit are Avon, Conesus, Caledonia, Geneseo, Groveland, Leicester, Lima, Livonia, Mount Morris, Nunda, Ossian, Portage, Sparta, Springwater, West Sparta and York.
Livingston County Historical Museum is located at 30 Center Street in Geneseo. It is open Thursdays and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m. It can be reached at 585-243-9147. For more information visit http://www.livingstoncountyhistoricalsociety.com/