Today Seneca Falls is known as the birthplace of the struggle for women’s rights that began in earnest in America in the 1840s but in the 19th century the town was known for the industry that was powered by those namesake falls. Job Smith is accepted as the first white settler in the area, arriving in 1787 where he set up a portage business for travelers to get around the series of rapids that tumbled some forty feet in the course of about a mile on the Seneca River. The Bayard Land Company was formed to exploit the power pent up in the rushing waters with the industrious Wilhelmus Mynderse serving as the concern’s resident business agent. Mynderse located here permanently in 1795 and soon had a grist mill in operation. Other mills and dams and the Seneca and Cayuga Canal would follow as he carved the most lasting legacy in the village’s history. The settlement was called Mynderse Mills for a time before the village was incorporated in 1831. In a few more years Seneca Falls was the third largest flour milling center in the world.
The water was also powering tanneries and distilleries and woolen mills. The most important technology developed along the Seneca River involved pumps and hydraulic engines. The town became known the world over for the quality of its water pumps and when the Silsby Manufacturing Company applied the technology to design and build their first Steam Fire Engine in 1856 Seneca Falls staked a claim as the “fire engine capital of the world.”
The go-go days of the 19th century began to come to an end in 1890 when the business district was decimated by fire. Then New York State decided to convert the old Erie Canal into the Erie Barge Canal which would modernize the old canal beds and locks and accommodate larger tonnage vessels and motorized propulsion. In Seneca Falls, the new, larger channel and locks required more water, to supply the forty-nine foot lift of the proposed locks. Sixty residential and 116 commercial buildings were torn down including the Goulds Manufacturing Company, Rumsey Pumps, and American LaFrance.
Seneca Falls’ industrial heritage began to recede from the public imagination. History books written in the 1930s scarcely made mention of it. Instead, an event that took place back in 1848 in a small brick chapel began to gain magnified importance in the story of women in America. Henry and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had moved to Seneca Falls in 1847 from Boston and she became increasingly involved in the community to combat the dearth of big-city intellectual stimulation she had known in Massachusetts. She had been exposed to social reform through her cousin, abolitionist Gerrit Smith and Quaker friend Lucretia Mott. While traveling together to London for a World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 the two women talked about holding a similar gathering for women’s rights. Eight years later, on July 19 and 20, 1848, Mott, Stanton, Mary Ann M’Clintock, Martha Coffin Wright, and Jane Hunt acted on this idea when they organized the First Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls. Some 300 people attended and at the end of the two days, 100 people made a public commitment to work together to improve women’s quality of life. Today that beginning is celebrated at the Womens Rights National Historical Park and that is where we will begin our tour, next to the visitor center...
Women’s Interfaith Institute
140 Fall Street
This Romanesque church was constructed in the early 1870s when the congregation moved over from its chapel. In 2003 the sanctuary was purchased by the Women’s Interfaith Institute, founded in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts in 1992 under the leadership of Dr. Allison Stokes. On March 5th, 2009, three days after renovations on the Great Hall, the building was struck by fire; it was saved by firefighters from nine companies.
TURN AND WALK TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE VISITOR CENTER, DOWN TO THE CORNER OF MYNDERSE STREET.
Wesleyan Methodist Church
northwest corner of Mynderse Street and Fall Street
This is the site of the First Women’s Rights Convention on July 19 and 20, 1848, although it would not be recognizable to any of the attendees today. A small red brick chapel had been constructed in 1843 for a congregation that began that year with 26 members. The work was completed in October for a cost of $1,770. The church rapidly became a local gathering spot for antislavery activity, political rallies, and free speech events. The congregation sold the building in 1871 and it was enlarged and extensively altered by subsequent owners, losing all ecclesiastical functions as it housed a theater, store and an automobile showroom. When the site was purchased by the National Park Service in 1985 the birthplace of women’s rights in America was serving as a coin-operated laundry. The building was rehabilitated using a bit of the original walls in 2009.
CONTINUE WALKING EAST ON FALL STREET.
108 Fall Street at State Street
The Goulds Manufacturing Company financed the construction of a Spanish-style first-class hotel in town in 1919. The four-story fireproof brick hotel rose on the site of the former Hoag House that burned on Thanksgiving morning, 1918. George B. Post & Son of New York City drew up the plans for the Gould Hotel that featured 72 rooms and eight apartments, fifty of which were equipped with baths, hot and cold water and telephone connections - all amenities that travelers expected only in big cities in 1920. After a recent six-million dollar makeover the hotel has re-opened as the Hotel Clarence, named for the angel in It’s A Wonderful Life; Seneca Falls fancies itself as the model for the movie’s fictional small town of Bedford Falls.
TURN RIGHT ON WATER STREET AND WALK DOWN TO THE WATER.
The original falls of the Seneca River were a series of rapids that tumbled over forty feet in the course of a mile. The first settlers dammed the rapids to create three falls, concentrating the surge of the water that was used to power early industry. To enable navigation on the river the Cayuga-Seneca Canal opened in 1817, eight years before the Erie Canal was completed. It was joined to the Erie Canal in 1828. In 1914 New York State decided to enlarge the Erie Canal system to accommodate bigger boats. The Seneca River was dammed and crews tore down the canal walls and buildings on the islands in the river. They then deepened the riverbed and built new, wider retaining walls. When water rushed in to fill the new canal in 1915, Seneca Falls disappeared.
Seneca Knitting Mills
across Cayuga-Seneca Canal
The first knitting mill appeared in Seneca Falls in 1830 and this massive three-story stone Seneca Woolen Mill, the sole survivor of the town’s days at the center of the Industrial Revolution, was constructed in 1844. The Seneca Knitting Mill company came along in 1860 with Seabury S. Gould at its head. After 155 years the mills sputtered to a close in 1999. One of the few extant examples of a large intact mill of its era, the building is slated to be the home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
WALK BACK UP TO FALL STREET AND TURN RIGHT, CONTINUING TO WALK EAST.
115 Fall Street
Born in Connecticut in 1797, Erastus Partridge migrated to Cayuga when he was 23 and engaged in the mercantile business. His store expanded to the point that he opened a banking and exchange office in one corner in 1837. The financial business would evolve into the Bank of Seneca Falls with Erastus as president and his son LeRoy as cashier. Partridge died in 1873. The fire that leveled Seneca Falls in 1890 claimed the Partridge Building that was rebuilt in 1894 with a mansard roof and a landmark central clock tower. Fire struck again in 1988 and the more restrained current appearance followed.
Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry
89 Fall Street
The Fall Street business district is largely the product of the rebuilding which followed the fires of 1859 and 1890. The Romanesque style was in vogue after the 1890 conflagration so the influence of arches and decorative brickwork is much in evidence. This was once a men’s clothing store and now houses a museum dedicated to the rise of industry in 19th century Seneca Falls.
Seneca Falls Savings Bank
76 Fall Street
Seneca County’s first savings bank was authorized in 1861 and organized in 1870. The first deposit was taken on August 8, 1871 - the minimum deposit being $1.00. Jacob P. Chamberlain served as the first president. The bank spent most of the 20th century in this Neoclassical vault, fronted by twin fluted Doric columns. It was purchased in 1979 as the home of the Women’s Hall of Fame.
The State Bank of Seneca Falls
54 Fall Street
If this corner building doesn’t quite look like a bank it may be because it began life as the rambling Seneca Falls Hotel in 1798, modeled after a New England inn. It would later be torn down in 1858 and rebuilt as the Stanton House. In 1920 the three-story brick Italianate guest house was given a Neoclassical facelift for The State Bank of Seneca Falls, the successor to Erastus Partridge’s bank started in his store in 1837.
SL DuVall Goldsmith
28 Fall Street
Downtown Seneca Falls was once lined with Federal and Greek Revival buildings from the 1820s and 1830s. Few survive today but this small red brick structure, lying just outside the main business district, has been here since around 1830 when it was built by David B. Lum as his hat shop. Lum wrote the first history of the town, chronicling events through 1875.
Trinity Episcopal Church
27 Fall Street
The parish was established in 1831, a year after a small group of Episcopalians began meeting in the store of Eleazer Hills and Everard Peck. In 1834 a house of worship was constructed across the canal at the corner of Bayard and Ovid streets. The cornerstone for the current church was laid on December 19, 1885. The Troy architectural firm of Brown & Dawson contributed the plans for the mixed Gothic and early English meeting house and blue limestone quarried in the town of Fayette was carted in for its construction. The building was trimmed in Onondaga limestone. The bell, altar and choir window were transported across the water from the old church. The final price tag for the new Trinity Episcopal was $40,000 and the first services were held here on Easter Sunday, April 24, 1886. Three of the stained glass windows were executed in the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany, whose art glass studio was the busiest in America.
TAKE A FEW STEPS BACK TO CAYUGA STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
First Presbyterian Church
23 Cayuga Street
The first Presbyterian church on this site, a wooden frame affair, was constructed in 1817. Ten years earlier the First Presbyterian Church of Seneca Falls had been formed. The building was sold in 1842 and hauled to State Street where it began a new life as Concert Hall. It was replaced on this site by a brick meetinghouse that served until this English Gothic church with its dual towers came along in the 1870s. The larger of towers rises 166 feet and the northern tower stands 90 feet high. The price tag for the handsome sanctuary was $60,000.
Seabury S. Gould House
28 Cayuga Street
Pump manufacturing in Seneca Falls began in 1839 when Paine and Caldwell began to build wooden pumps in a former cultivator shop on the island between Bridge and Ovid Streets. A year later, Abel Downs began to craft wooden pumps in an old cotton factoryand then Cowing and Seymour started churning out pumps from an old clock factory. Unable to keep up, the pioneer Paine & CaIdwell soon went out of business. In 1844, Abel Downs and John Wheeler joined forces and two years later they became Downs, Mynderse & Co. In 1848, a 36-year old Connecticut man named Seabury Gould bought into the firm but he wasn’t interested in wooden pumps. Gould cast the world’s first all-iron pump that quickly found favor with settlers opening the West and railroads that required water to power their steam engines. In 1869 as Seabury Gould was transitioning power to his son, the name of the company was changed from Downs & Company to Goulds Manufacturing Company. Goulds became one of the world’s largest pump manufacturersand operated independently until selling interests to ITT Industries in 1997 for $815 million in cash. Seabury S. Gould, who would die in 1886, built the town’s finest Italian villa here in 1854; the brick house has been beautifully maintained as it does duty as professional offices.
Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument
Village Park at Cayuga Street and Park Street
The granite and bronze monument to Union soldiers and sailors from the Civil War was dedicated on May 30, 1889. The memorial was made possible through a bequest form the estate of Albert Cook, a president of the First National Bank of Seneca Falls.
WALK INTO VILLAGE PARK ON THE NORTH (RIGHT) SIDE.
12 North Park Street
Wilhelmus Mynderse, the earliest resident proprietor of a large portion of the site of Seneca Falls, donated a chunk of his land for the creation of the Seneca Falls Academy in 1832. He also furnished the greater parts of the subscription of $1,665.32 to construct the first school building. This Colonial Revival structure was the third to handle the educational needs of the village.
WALK OUT TO STATE STREET AND TURN LEFT.
First United Methodist Church
2 Chapel Street at State Street
There is no better indication that Seneca Falls was bursting with wealth following the Civil War than a flurry of church building between 1870 and 1873 that saw four churches raised in the village. This one, with Italianate and Gothic influences, was constructed in 1872. Methodism had its first stirrings in Seneca Falls in 1812 and in 1829 the group incorporated as the Seneca Falls Methodist Episcopal Church and began work on a meeting house on donated land. The church was remodeled in 1857 and finally torn down in 1871 to make way for the current house of worship.
60 State Street at Park Street
In 1841, the first train arrived in Seneca Falls on the Rochester and Auburn Railroad. In 1853 the line was consolidated into the New York Central Railroad which continued to run trains into the village. The passenger station and the freight depot across the street are representative of the High Victorian Italianate style rendered in red brick and sporting single scroll-sawn wooden roof brackets. The beautifully preserved 150-year old railroad buildings have been readapted: the passenger station houses Village Hall and the freight station provides space for small businesses. The buildings served the railroad until 1958 but the track is still active - Seneca Falls is the boarding point for the Finger Lakes Railway scenic railway.
United States Post Office
34-42 State Street
The Seneca Falls Post Office, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was designed like so many others in New York State as a Depression-era project in 1932-34. It is irregular in plan, with a “U” shaped, two story main block with a one story interior section, and a one story rear wing with a mailing platform. The facades are clad in buff colored brick and limestone and executed in the Classical Revival style with Art Deco decorative detailing.
TURN RIGHT ON FALL STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE VISITOR CENTER.