County Bicentennial 2021
Livingston County celebrates 200 years in 2021! Check back here for county-wide events as we lead up to this milestone in our community’s history. A full schedule of monthly signature events for 2021, planned with health and safety in mind, will be announced in December 2020.
In the Works Now:
Women's Biographical Review
- August 2020: The County Historian’s Office is seeking biographical information on notable women associated with the county from all time periods. Whether large or small, local women’s diverse contributions add to the depth and breadth of local history. Please help document women’s stories by submitting a biography of a notable woman today!
Local History Out Loud - Part Two: Civil War to the Industrial Revolution
- September 2020: Video just released! Watch here to explore Livingston County's response to preserve the Union, the rise of industrialization, social reform, and the woman's rights movement in the mid- to late 19th century.
- The County Historian has created several new historical markers to be dedicated in 2021, recognizing important sites and stories. Unveiling dates TBA.
January 2021: Launch of Historical Markers Trail
February 23, 2021: Happy 200th, Livingston County!
- On February 23, 1821, Livingston County was officially formed. Mark your calendars for its 200th anniversary, commemorated with a virtual event.
September 2021: Time Capsule
- During this month, items will be collected and considered for inclusion in a time capsule.
More events to be announced!
Livingston County Bicentennial Moments
To help count down to 2021, the County Historian's Bicentennial Moments aim to share interesting stories about people, places, and events that are a significant part of our shared history. Here are the latest installments:
Bicentennial Moment #12: The Unexplained Death of Eleanor Bonney
During the 19th century, western New York experienced intense waves of spiritual and religious revival, lending the region the name of the “Burned-Over District.” Followers of Spiritualism believed in an active realm of the supernatural. In the autumn of 1873, Eleanor Bonney, a 25-year-old clairvoyant, claimed that she would soon leave her body and join with the spirit world, only to return and prove the principles of Spiritualism. She described to friends and family in detail the particular phenomena that would occur, how her body would appear, and the vigil of at least several weeks or months that must be held in order for her successful revival.
As the autumn wore on, Bonney spoke often of her impending “going out” but was healthy, noticeably cheerful, and industrious. She worked around the farm of her foster-parents, Lyman O. and Louisa Preston, in eastern Caledonia. According to accounts of the trusted friends who attended her, including a Rochester physician and clairvoyant, Dr. Jennie C. Dutton, Bonney stated on the morning of November 10, 1873, that that very evening was when she would “go out.” She predicted that by 2:00 AM that night she would be separated from her body and the sound of ghostly bells would toll to mark the moment. She stipulated that only a select few should keep vigil or be permitted entry to the house during her soul’s absence, and that her room must be kept warm, between sixty and seventy degrees, with a constant fire in the little stove. Having finished her chores, washed, and eaten a hearty supper, she climbed into bed at 10:00 PM. As she finished relaying her particular wishes, Bonney’s breathing began to slow, and her pulse ceased at 2:00 AM, exactly the time she had predicted. Her family, the Prestons, reported that “the tinkling sound of a bell was heard proceeding from some unexplored quarter of the house.”
Dr. Dutton and the Prestons watched over the body as instructed while discussions and rumors circulated near and far in the community. It was about seven weeks before the media was finally begrudgingly permitted entry to house to report on the situation. Bonney’s family and friends did not deny that Bonney had died, but stated their conviction that she would return. Media reports about the strange situation immediately rang out across the state, replete with descriptions of the scene in the little bedroom. A coroner’s inquest, physical examination, and necessary burial quickly followed. An eventual chemical analysis could find no trace of poison or other cause of death, but a jury ruled Bonney’s passing a suicide.
During the time of roiling of religious movements in the Burned-Over District, Bonney’s respected record of prior fulfilled prophecies and commitment to her beliefs persuaded those around her to believe in something greater. Her story is a reminder of the power of spiritual conviction and the search for truth during that time.
(By Holly Watson, Deputy County Historian)
 Brooklyn Daily Union. 1 Mar. 1874.
Bicentennial Moment #11: Dr. Myron H. Mills Memorial Fountain, Mount Morris
The phrase “imitation is the highest form of flattery” aptly applies to the Mills Memorial Fountain located in Patriot’s Park at the intersection of Rt. 408 and Main Street, Mt. Morris. The granite fountain donated by the family of Dr. Myron H. Mills in 1903 is nearly identical to the Emmeline Austin Wadsworth fountain on Main Street in Geneseo, installed in 1888. The Mills Memorial fountain has a storied past similar to Geneseo’s but with its own twists and turns.
Dr. Myron H. Mills (1820-1987), son of pioneer General William A. and Susannah Mills, had a long and distinguished career. He practiced medicine in St. Louis, served in the Mexican-American War, and was promoted to assistant surgeon of the U. S. Army. He later came to Mt. Morris and purchased his parents’ homestead, now known as the Mills Mansion, occupied by the Mt. Morris Historical Society. Dr. Mills was a leading citizen in the county and well-known as a historian. He was one of the founders of the Livingston County Historical Society, founder of the Livingston County Pioneer Association, served as president of the local Board of Education and established the Mills Water Works Company system.
The Mills Memorial Fountain was created by the Worden Brothers Monument Manufacturing Company in Dansville from red granite shipped from Maine and adorned with a polished ball and majestic bronzed eagle ornament on top of the pedestal. The fountain was installed in a prominent location at the intersection of Main Street and Lake Street in Mt. Morris and custody was turned over to the village trustees. The fountain was used by more than just a thirsty horse or pedestrian on a hot day – the late Fred Beuerlein, Mt. Morris town historian, recalled circus elephants being led from the train station to the fountain and the gigantic animals draining the basin dry and then standing by waiting for a refill.
In 1903, automobiles were still in their infancy and not much of a concern when the fountain was placed in the center of the main thoroughfare. As the new century progressed and automobiles became affordable to the masses, the Mt. Morris fountain, like the Geneseo fountain, became a magnet for pranksters and car crashes. The earliest report of vandalism occurred during the July 4th festivities in 1915 when someone poured gasoline in the fountain and lit it on fire, causing severe damage. The following year, a group of school boys were sent to the State Industrial School for juveniles after stealing metal off the fountain and selling it to junk dealers.
During the late 1920s and early 1930s, the 40-ton Mills Memorial Fountain was hit repeatedly and knocked off its base by both cars and trucks. After much debate, the village finally moved the fountain in 1931, out of the center of traffic to a more secure spot at the new Mt. Morris Cemetery on the western edge of the village. Here the legacy to Dr. Myron H. Mills resided peacefully for over 50 years but began to show signs of age.
The national trend to revitalize main streets that began in the 1980s, spurred the Mt. Morris Rotary Club to advocate for refurbishing and returning the Mills Memorial Fountain to a visible spot downtown – not in the center of the street, but to a pocket park for all to enjoy and to enhance community pride. The effort was squashed as the cemetery association voted unanimously to keep the fountain where it was, for people had grown fond of the fountain as a focal point in the cemetery’s serene location.
In 1992, the community was shocked to discover the bronzed eagle ornament had been stolen off the top of the fountain and sold to an antique dealer from out of town who had recently opened a shop on Main Street, Mt. Morris. When locals saw the eagle on display, the Sheriff was notified and began an investigation that led to felony indictments against the antique dealer and three local men. Meanwhile, the bronzed ornament, worth thousands of dollars, had been sold and was never recovered. Most of the felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors, probation, and restitution. The impact of the scandal rocked and saddened the residents of the small town who mourned the loss of a beloved symbol of its local history.
The Mills Memorial Fountain was reborn again in 2010 after the state completed extensive road repairs and a new Patriot’s Park was established at the intersection of Rt. 408 and Main Street (Rt. 39). With pomp and circumstance, the fountain was moved from the cemetery to the park and a replica of the ball and bronzed eagle was placed on top. Around the circumference of the eagle an inscription now reads: “The eagle returns and the spirit lives on.” The new location is a tribute to the lasting memory of the contributions of Dr. Myron H. Mills and to the fountain’s community caretakers.
Bicentennial Moment #10: Squawkie Hill
Letchworth State Park is a magnet for those seeking to enjoy the brilliant colors of autumn. It is also where a former Seneca Indian Reservation called Squawkie Hill was located overlooking the Genesee Valley. Visitors can view interpretive signage and a boulder inside the park's Mt. Morris entrance before the main gate.
The name Squawkie Hill is said to be derived from the tribal name Muskwaki, meaning “red earth”; the Muskwaki were a Michigan tribe conquered by the Seneca. Captives were re-named Squawkiha and taken to Newtown, New York, present-day Elmira, and incorporated into the Seneca Nation. Mary Kennedy, the last descendent of the Squawkiha, tells the story of how her family escaped Newtown in 1779 during the Sullivan Campaign of the Revolutionary War and fled to the Genesee Valley. The land where they lived has since been known as Squawkie Hill. Although she was considered a member of the Seneca Nation, Mary never lost her identity as a Squawkiha.
Arthur C. Parker, State Archeologist for the New York State Museum and a descendent of the Seneca, visited the home of Mary Kennedy on the Cattaraugus Reservation for an interview shortly before she died in 1905. He translated her story from the Seneca language to English. Her story was later adapted by Irene A. Beale in Genesee Valley Women, 1743-1985.
Read the full story on Oncell.com.
Bicentennial Moment #9: First Black Elected Official in Livingston County
Newspaper articles from 1978 announce the election of Dale Griffin to the Geneseo Village Board of Trustees, claiming that he was the first Black elected official in Livingston County’s history. His election was indeed a milestone, but was it a first? A challenge comes from the town of Leicester that may predate Geneseo’s claim – by 101 years.
In March of 1877, results of town elections were printed in the Dansville Advertiser. In Leicester, it appears that David Bryant, a Black resident, was elected on the Republican ticket to the position of Game Constable. This was a rather new position authorized by the County Board of Supervisors as of 1871, in accordance with a New York State provision. This officer would enforce any fish and game laws in place, such as hunting seasons and manner of harvesting, and his compensation would be the same as fees allowed to constables, plus half of the fines recovered in prosecutions of game laws. The term was one year.
A few weeks later, the Mt. Morris Union commented that Moscow, as the Village of Leicester was then known, “boasted” of electing the first Black man in Livingston County. Although nothing more can be found about David Bryant’s term as Game Constable, research has shown he was a laborer and lived just north of the Village of Leicester with his wife, Mary. Shortly after he quietly made history in Livingston County, he passed away in 1881 at about 80 years of age.
Bicentennial Moment #8: Quarantining in 1888
Strict quarantining is not new as exhibited by this notice issued in 1888 that imposed harsh restrictions on the residents of an area in Springwater. The sudden death of a woman ignited fear in the community that she had small pox, a highly infectious disease. The town and county took swift action to halt the potential spread.
According to the Center for Disease Control, thanks to a successful vaccine, the last outbreak of small pox in the U.S. was in 1949 and the disease was eradicated world-wide by 1980.
Bicentennial Moment #7: Livingston County’s first hanging
On Friday, July 9, 1858, at exactly 21 minutes past 3:00 P.M. the first execution in Livingston County took place on the side lawn between the Courthouse and the jail in Geneseo.
Isaac I. Wood of Dansville was convicted of administering arsenic to his brother David J. Wood in 1855. Isaac’s motive was to gain access to his brother’s bank account. David’s wife, Rhoda, and their two children were out of town when David died suddenly with Isaac at his side. Upon learning of her husband’s death, Rhoda returned and soon she and the two children became sick. Isaac had poisoned them as well. The children recovered but their mother died. Locals suspected foul play, but didn’t have the evidence to indict Issac.
After leaving the area, Isaac’s wife died in a similar fashion as his brother and sister-in-law. Finally, after the bodies of his victims were exhumed and a chemical analysis was done, the serial killer was arrested, tried, convicted and hung before an audience of curiosity-seekers who came to witness the gruesome historical event.
Only two other hangings occurred in Livingston County: Henry Wilson, a notorious hardened criminal, went to the gallows in 1865 and William Pierson, who poisoned his victim, faced the same fate in 1880. The salacious details of all three hangings made national news and left an indelible mark on the county’s past.
Image of Isaac I. Wood
Bicentennial Moment #6: Dr. Benjamin Swett (1771-1853): Physician and Inventor
Many Livingston County residents patented inventions in the nineteenth century. Among them was Dr. Benjamin Swett of Mt. Morris who, in 1845, invented what he called “a new and useful mode of delivering Medicated Fume-Baths.” In essence, it was a large wooden box in which a person would sit with a stove attached. A connecting pipe delivered hot “medicated vapors” without the presence of steam.
Others had patented similar baths, but Dr. Swett claimed his design to be the most superior in the world as a remedy for numerous afflictions, from rheumatism to “female complaints.” Dr. Swett sold the bath at several locations in Rochester in the early 1850s, but sales were short-lived as he passed away in 1853. It is unclear whether the machine was considered safe or a fire hazard.
Water therapy advanced in popularity in the U. S. and around the world throughout the 1800s, thanks in large part to the contributions of Dr. James C. Jackson and Dr. Harriet Austin at the Jackson Sanitarium in Dansville.
Dr. Swett (portrait in County Historian’s Collection)
Bicentennial Moment #5: Mary Jemison (1743-1833), The White Woman of the Genesee
Mary Jemison grew up on a farm near Gettysburg, PA. In 1758, a raiding party of French soldiers and Shawnee warriors captured her family; her two brothers escaped, but the rest of her family was killed and scalped. Mary was turned over to a party of Senecas who gave her the name “Deh-he-wa-mis” meaning “Two Falling Voices.” She eventually came to live in the Genesee Valley and settled at Little Beard’s Town in Cuylerville.
As a result of the Treaty of Big Tree in 1797, she was granted nearly 18,000 acres of excellent-quality land called the Gardeau Flats where Letchworth State Park is today. She lived there until 1831 when she sold the land and moved to the Buffalo Creek Reservation where she died two years later. In 1874, thanks to William Pryor Letchworth, her remains were returned to her former home and re-interred on the bluff above the Middle Falls in Letchworth Park, where a monument honors the life of the Valley’s most famous resident. Mary Jemison was interviewed by James Seaver in 1823 for a narrative of her life in captivity and her story continues to provide invaluable insight into Seneca life in the mid-18th through the early 19th century.
Bicentennial Moment #4: The Sullivan Campaign of the Revolutionary War - 1779
In 1779, General George Washington sent General John Sullivan into the heart of Seneca territory with orders to destroy all settlements. Sullivan combined forces with General James Clinton's army for a total of about 5000 men to lead the largest offensive movement of the Revolution into Central and Western New York with the objective of stopping the deadly British-Tory-Indian raids on frontier settlements across the state. When the army reached present day Livingston County they encountered the only organized resistance of the campaign, outside of the Newtown Battlefield near Elmira.
On Sunday, September 12, 1779 as the army set up camp in Conesus and Sullivan sent a scouting party out, most of whom never returned. The scouting party was ambushed on what is now Groveland Hill and more than 16 soldiers including an Oneida guide were slain. Lt. Boyd and Sgt. Michael Parker were captured and taken to Cuylerville, site of the largest Indian settlement in western New York. When the army reached Cuylerville on September 14th, the tortured and mutilated bodies of Boyd and Parker were discovered and buried with military honors. The army then destroyed the recently abandoned village on 128 homes and burned hundreds of acres of crops and gardens, deterring the Seneca from returning that season and forcing the British to care for them at Fort Niagara.
This was the western limit and the ultimate destination of the Sullivan Campaign. Having fulfilling General Washington's orders, the army left Livingston County on September 16, 1779 the same route they advanced. The bodies of the soldiers killed on Groveland Hill were discovered when the army retreated and also buried with honors.
General John Sullivan
Bicentennial Moments Archive
Miss a moment? Catch up here on interesting, impactful, or unexpected moments in Livingston County history.
- #1 - John Trumbull (1756-1843), Patriot and Artist of the American Revolution
- #2 - the Naming of Livingston County
- #3 - the Groveland Shakers
Covered bridge, Mt. Morris
- Hosted Scanning Days for the public and County departments (Jul. 2019)
- Created a new office brochure (Aug. 2019)
- Produced an Historical Map Exhibit at the Government Center (Oct.-Nov. 2019)
- Launched the Women's History Trail on OnCell (Mar. 2020)
- Released new video, Local History Out Loud, Part Two: Civil War to the Industrial Era (Sept. 2020) @(Model.BulletStyle == CivicPlus.Entities.Modules.Layout.Enums.BulletStyle.Decimal ? "ol" : "ul")>