atavia, is the largest town in Genesee County, both in point of territory and population, and sited practically at its center. The original town of Batavia included practically the entire Holland Purchase, a swath of three million acres bought from Continental Army financier Robert Morris. The lands from that purchase would eventually form ten New York counties. The town was formed by act of the Legislature, March 30, 1802. Batavia village, the county seat, is situated in the east half of the town and was founded in 1802 by Joseph Ellicott, surveyor and sub-agent for the land company.
Ellicott erected an office from which to direct his operations at the junction of the old Genesee Road and Tonawanda Creek, where two great Indian trails crossed. Ellicott proposed naming the place Bustia or Bustiville after the company’s general agent, Paul Busti but the honoree demurred, objecting that it sounded a tad ferocious, and proposed Batavia, the name of the Dutch republic to which the proprietors belonged.
Batavia’s early promise as a distribution hub in western New York was dashed when it was bypassed by the routers of the Erie Canal. Several decades later those hopes were rekindled when the railroads came through, following those old trade routes. Batavia developed into a lively industrial and trading center. Smack in the center of a bustling agricultural area, the town became known for the manufacture of tractors and agricultural implements with the largest manufacturer, Johnson Harvester Company setting up shop in 1868. Other products produced here included ladies’ shoes, paper boxes, shoe dyes and polishes, and flavoring extracts.
Batavia followed a familiar script in the 20th century - industries drifted away, downtown shriveled up, buildings sacrificed. In 1982 a core of civic buildings, including Joseph Ellicott’s land office, were declared a United States historic district. That’s where our explorations will center and we’ll begin at a small downtown park right next door...
This was the Brisbane estate in the 1800s and when the town acquired the property it became a public park, named not for the Brisbanes but for George Austin, a local jeweler who bequeathed funds for its development. Harold L. Olmsted, an architect and landscape designer who practiced for some 70 years in western New York drew up plans for the public greenspace that opened in 1931.
EXIT THE PARK FROM THE SOUTHEAST CORNER ONTO JEFFERSON AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT. WALK DOWN TO MAIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
United States Post Office
2 West Main Street
The first mail was delivered in Batavia in 1802 but the town never had a dedicated postal facility until this Neoclassical post office with recessed arch windows was erected by the federal government in 1919. It is notable for its fine English bond brickwork and the unusual parallelogram shape dictated by its lot shape.
10 West Main Street
James Brisbane was a New Englander who came west as one of the town’s original settlers. He would become the village’s first merchant and first postmaster and one of the area’s wealthiest landowners. Son George constructed this two-story brick Italianate-style mansion in 1853. The Brisbane family donated the family home to the city and assumed it would be razed for a city park. But about the same time old Ellicott Hall that was serving as city headquarters went up in flames. Frank Homelius drew up plans for remodeling the mansion for use as a new city hall without adversely altering the original architecture. The Brisbane Mansion debuted as City Hall on September 28, 1918 and continued its run into 2004, by which time the property landed on the National Register of Historic Places. The family’s most illustrious member, Arthur Brisbane, was William Randolph Hearst’s companion and confidante in the nation’s largest newspaper chain.
Genesee County Sheriff’s Office and Jail
14 West Main Street
This two-story brick structure has served the county as a sheriff’s office for over 100 years and looks like it has been doing duty for about 300 more. Poughkeepsie architect William J. Beardsley designed the Victorian Gothic building in 1903 with turrets to resemble a fortress, similar to the nearby Attica Correctional Facility which is another of his designs. He used locally quarried red Medina sandstone to craft his five turrets, raised foundation, arches, and corner quoins.
CROSS MAIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT, WALKING UP TO THE HOLLAND LAND OFFICE MUSEUM.
Holland Land Office Museum
131 West Main Street
After the American Revolution the new United States suddenly had millions of acres of land available. Much of these western lands were disposed of as a reward to war veterans and plenty more attracted the attention of land speculators. European investors, having the capital lacked by many Americans, bought up much land. The Holland Land Co. was one of the largest of these, formed in 1796 to purchase and resell millions of acres west of the Genesee River. In 1815 Joseph Ellicott, surveyor and local agent for the company, built at Batavia the third and last land office of the company. He chose a spot in a bend of the Tonawanda Creek and used cut gray limestone 20 inches thick for the small Federal-style building. Vaults secured by half-inch thick, nine-foot tall metal doors secured the valuable papers of the company’s holdings that included about 3.3 million acres. The large land sales declined in the coming decades and the company liquidated in the 1840s. The old land office found no new uses and fell into ruins but in 1894 it was rescued by the Holland Purchase Historical Society and became an early example of preservation.
TURN AND WALK EAST ON MAIN STREET, BACK TO THE HEART OF THE COURTHOUSE HISTORIC DISTRICT.
3 West Main Street
The core of this building was constructed in 1885 as a water works that would pump water from Tonawanda Creek into the town water mains. Henry Homelius drew up the plans for a small two-room brick building to house the pumps and he was called back in 1893 to convert the facility into a power station for Batavia’s emerging electric needs. The Romanesque towers and intricate brickwork patterns were added in 1906. A sewer works was added in 1912 which contributed to an explosion that ripped through the building. For many years thereafter the Municipal Building only housed pumping equipment again until 1948 when it was renovated for use as a fire station. In 1978 the fire department moved to new digs on Evans Street and the building’s nearly 100 years of service to the city was at an end. Saved from the wrecking ball, the hulking brick landmark emerged as a popular restaurant for many years before falling into disuse. Once again spared demolition, it was purchased by Genesee County for $250,000 at a foreclosure auction in 1996 and is still writing chapters in its evolving history of service.
Ellicott and Main streets
Charles A. Worden designed this granite memorial in 1919 to honor the soldiers and sailors from Genesee County who served in the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War I. A winged bonze eagle surmounts the 36-foot high obelisk and the west-facing soldier has come to be accepted as General Emory Upton, although there is no evidence that his likeness was intended for the memorial. Upton was one of ten children born on a farm near Batavia and won an appointment to West Point where he graduated 8th in his class in 1861. During the Civil War he served with such distinction commanding the artillery, infantry and cavalry that he he was brevetted on the field as a brigadier-general in 1864 at the age of 25. Celebrated as the finest tactician of the war, Upton enjoyed a post-war career as a West Point teacher, field commander and author. Plagued by headaches, possibly caused by a brain tumor, Upton shot himself in the head while in command of 4th U.S. Artillery at the Presidio of San Francisco in 1881 when he was only 41.
BEAR RIGHT ON ELLICOTT STREET.
St. Marys Roman Catholic Church
18 Ellicott Street
Circuit-riding priests ministered to the area’s Catholics beginning in 1817 and in 1849 St. Joseph’s Parish was organized. St. Mary’s was founded in 1904 to serve the west side of Batavia. John H. Copeland designed the Gothic-flavored church building and local contractor John Pickert constructed the building of rusticated Medina sandstone. The stained glass windows, depicting the life of Mary, Mother of Jesus, were designed by Leo P. Frohe, from the Art Glass Studio in Buffalo. The first mass was held on February 19, 1906.
CROSS ELLICOTT STREET INTO THE COURTHOUSE TRIANGLE.
Genesee County Courthouse
7 Main Street at point of Ellicott Street
The first courthouse constructed in this triangle, and the first courthouse built west of the Genesee River, was constructed under the supervision of Joseph Ellicott in 1802. The building, that contained the courts and jail, burned to the ground in 1918. By that time, however, it had long been replaced by this splendid structure, five bays square and constructed of locally quarried heavy gray Onondaga limestone. The courthouse, constructed upon Greek Revival lines, was in service by 1843. The brass bell in the cupola hung in the original courthouse and was salvaged from the 1918 fire.
Genesee County Building #1
Main and Court streets
The architectural firm of Bockacket & Brew drew the plans for this two-and-a-half–story, 13-bay brick building that replaced the historic Ellicott Hall, the original county courthouse, that burned in 1918. The Neo-Georgian office building is trimmed in sandstone with lintels, keystones above the windows, corner quoins and a balustrade at the roof. A recessed entrance is flanked by fluted pilasters. The entire building was completed at a cost of $150,000 and opened on July 6, 1927.
EXIT THE COURTHOUSE COMPLEX ONTO MAIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
201 East Main at northeast corner of Bank Street
This remarkable building stands today not only as the first bank built west of the Genesee River but as one of the few remaining examples of a Federal-style commercial building in New York from the 1830s. It is also one of only two extant works of Rochester architect-builder Hezekiah Eldredge in the state. Eldridge, who was commissioned by the Bank of Genesee to design the building, went to Cleveland to become one of that city’s most prominent early architects. The construction of the symmetrical brick building with parapets on either end went well over its exorbitant $6,000 budget in 1831. All windows have plain stone sills and lintels; on the front facade they are additionally flanked by paired wooden colonettes. The main entrance, with sidelights, is similarly decorated and topped with a heavy wooden bracketed flat-roofed hood. In 1886 the bank sold its building to the Batavia Club.
210 East Main Street
This movie house opened as the Mancuso Theater in 1946, with a single screen and seating for 1,650. It was later twinned in an effort to stave off extinction - the fate of most American downtown theaters in the late 1900s. Today the converted theater has been reborn as a church. Look up to see the molded remnants of the theater’s fanciful facade.
First Presbyterian Church
300 East Main Street
This was the first congregation to organize in Batavia, as a Congregationalist group in 1809. By 1818 they were Presbyterians. The Gothic Revival sanctuary, composed of rock-cut limestone blocks, came along in 1855. The entrances are heavy wooden lancet arched doors with beveled lead glass panels set in angled reveals. Enlargements in various architectural styles came along over the next century as the church grew to a peak of over 1,400 congregants.
First Baptist Church
306 East Main Street
The Baptists organized in Batavia on July 8, 1834 and eventually adopted the title of “Baptist Society of Batavia village.” In 1877 the society reorganized and took its present name. This church building was constructed in 1890-91 and reflects elements of the then-popular Richardsonian Romanesque style pioneered by legendary architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Among the hallmarks of the style on display here are contrasting light and dark rough-hewn stone, in this case Medina sandstone and Albion redstone, arched windows, often in groups of three, and corner towers. The turreted tower here camouflages a chimney stack.
St. James Episcopal Church
405 East Main Street
St. James Episcopal Church was organized June 6, 1815 with a house of worship coming along in 1822. The current sanctuary is an early Neo-Gothic style church constructed in 1908, fashioned from random ashlar sandstone and featuring a square bell tower. Church offices are located in an adjacent two story, Tudor Revival style wing. The rectory, constructed in 1929, is a two story Tudor Revival house with an attached garage.
WALK BACK TO ROSS STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Richmond Memorial Library
19 Ross Street
Whereas the First Baptist church hinted at the Richardsonian Romanesque style in its building, the Richmond Library is a full-blown example, highlighted by the powerful arched stone recessed entrance. The building is constructed of rough-hewn light gray Fredonia sandstone and trimmed out in red Albion stone. The library was completed on March 12, 1889, the gift of Mary E. Richmond in memory of her youngest child, Dean, Jr., who had died at the age of 31 in 1885. Vermont-born Dean Richmond came with his family at an early age to Syracuse where the Richmonds engaged in the salt trade. In 1818 his father died when he was only 14. Nevertheless, Richmond expanded the salt business until by 1842 he moved to Buffalo where he established a commission and transportation business, becoming one of the wealthiest and most influential citizens of the Great Lakes region. He became director of the Utica and Buffalo Railroad Company and, when Erastus Corning retired, he was elected president of the New York Central Railroad Company, America’s largest corporation. While president Richmond decreed that all trains, even expresses, must stop in Batavia. Dean and Mary Richmond lived in a palatial estate on Main Street before his death in 1866; the library is sited on part of their land. The grand mansion fronted by a Greek Ionic portico was razed for a parking lot.
TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON AVENUE.
Batavia Public Schools Administration Building
39 Washington Avenue
The current administration building stands as the only public school building in Batavia constructed in the 1800s. It was designed and built in 1885 by Henry Homelius, the go-to architect for important local buildings and the first of three generations of builders in Batavia. His son Frank gave the building its present Colonial appearance in 1904; children were educated here until 1956.
St. Paul Lutheran Church
31 Washington Avenue
This is the third meetinghouse for the congregation that organized in 1873. The brick church with an English Gothic look dates to 1952.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT AUSTIN PARK.