Last Saturday was Free Museum Day and guess where I went: Genesee Country Village & Museum! This living history village in western New York has over 45 houses, restored and supplied with period furniture and furnishings. It is well-staffed and amazingly close to reality. I love it because you can see what history was really like: yes, people really lived that way, dressed that way, and did these same day-to-day chores. It brings history to life. You can watch cooking demonstrations, visit a tinsmith’s shop, help grind corn by hand, talk with a blacksmith; anything that happens to be going on the day you’re visiting!
To get to the village, from I-90 take Exit 47 onto I-490 North; immediately take Exit 1 onto Lake Street Road (NY-19). After a half a mile, pass under I-90 and then take the next left onto N Road (County Road 40). Drive 5 miles. Turn right onto Riga Mumford Road (NY-36 S) and drive 2 miles. Make another right onto Main Street (continuing to follow NY-36 S) for 0.3 miles. Then take the second right onto George Street (County Road 265) for 0.5 miles. At this point, the road will change names to Flint Hill Road (County Road 147); continue 0.7 miles. The entrance to the parking area for the Village will be on your left.
Alternatively, you could exit I-90 at Exit 47. This is preferable if you’re coming from the east; also, if you’re coming from Rochester, you can take I-390 to this point. If you’re on I-90, take Exit 47 South onto I-390. After 2.7 miles, take Exit 11 towards NY-15/Rush (NY-251). Don’t turn onto NY-15, but continue straight 0.4 miles to Rush Scottsville Road (NY-251). Turn right and drive 3.8 miles. Make another right turn onto River Road (NY-251) and go another mile. Turn left on Main Street for half a mile, then take the second left on to Caledonia Avenue. After 0.6 miles, the road will change names to Scottsville Mumford Road (NY-383). Drive another 5.2 miles, then go straight to continue on Main Street (NY-36 S) for 0.3 miles. Turn right onto George Street; this will change names to Flint Hill Road (County Road 147) after 0.5 miles. Drive another 0.7 miles; the parking lot for the village will be on your left. Please note that there are innumerable ways to get here; you’re best off with at GPS if you have one. The address of the village is: 1410 Flint Hill Road/Mumford, NY 14511 (though our GPS said the parking area was on the right!).
Begin your tour of the village at the barn up the hill from the parking area. Note that the parking area is on two levels; the one you originally enter and another, higher one to your right while you’re still on the driveway. You’ll have to walk through this upper parking area to get into the museum. The archway in the middle of the barn is where you purchase your tickets (or hand in the ones you’ve purchased/gotten on the internet). You’ll be given a tag to tie to a visible part of you (I tied mine to my camera bag) to show you’ve paid—you can then leave and enter the village and museum as you wish all day (we went back to the parking area for lunch, just for example—coolers aren’t allowed in the museum). Then, head over to right along the paved pathway.
You might as well visit the Civil War Camp before you go into the village. A sign will point towards it, although it’s not visible from where you’re walking. As you’re climbing the hill, a green, latticed restaurant will come into view. Just before you get to it, a road will lead to the right—follow this, cross another road, and head up the trail that enters some scrubby woods. Within a few hundred feet, you’ll come out into a field where the camp is. It’s just a small cluster of tents, but it’s interesting to see what types of quarters the civil war soldiers lived in. This is also where the Intrepid—a Civil War-era gas balloon—flies. It’s $15/person to fly for 15 minutes. Balloons like this were used for part of the Civil War, until incompetent generals and intentional misrepresentations by the Confederates grounded the government’s balloons. (Surprisingly, although the Southern armies shot many holes in the balloons, none were ever shot out of the sky—and that while using highly flammable hydrogen gas.)
To get to the village, go back to where you turned next to the green-latticed restaurant and turn right. Continue to follow the paved road until you get to the Toll House, on the far side of the grassy area from where you purchased your tickets. This is where you’ll enter Genesee Country Village. After passing through the Toll House, you can go right or left. We chose to go left, toward the Pioneer Area. I won’t talk about every house in the village, since you can follow where each house is on the map you received when you paid your entrance fee. I will, however, tell you about some of my favorite houses/buildings—not everything is happening every day. Sometimes there are games on the Village Green, sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes different business are open, other days, they’re closed. There are often special events. You’ll have to refer to the information you received at the admission station to know what’s going on that day, since the Genesee Country Village & Museum website (http://www.gcv.org/) is ok, but not great at being up-to-the-minute.
If you want to know how these old houses were made, stop by the Peter Campbell House (#3 on your map). The house is not finished, but has a great exhibit on woodworking and house building more than a century ago. Nearby is the Schoolhouse (#4)—this is fun for children of all ages, especially since their grandparents probably went to one-room schoolhouses like this one. The blackboard on the wall has a number of questions to test the minds of “scholars”. Don’t forget to look at the 3-seater behind the schoolhouse! Next door, the Land Office (#5) is fascinating. Interpreters will explain how land was measured and sold during the 1700s, as well as tell you what all the funny instruments (old surveying equipment) around the room are. The man who owned this office was quite fair, but others were quite unscrupulous about selling the land of New York when it was a frontier. Not much further up the road is a Pioneer Farmstead (#6). There was a young lady there sifting ashes to make soap, and an older woman cooking in the cabin. The cook talked to us about pioneer cooking techniques, including how to dry food (there was apples and beans hanging from the ceiling). She also let us grind some corn with a dasher and an old wooden stump that had been hollowed out. It could take a pioneer 5 hours just to make cornbread using this method. I’ll stick with my Whisper Mill, thank you!
Nearby is the Blacksmith’s Shop (#7). Here a very talkative blacksmith told us about the common phrases that we use today that came from the blacksmith trade. He also explained how to make some of the ornaments he had in the shop, and the history of Conestoga wagons. He was quite interesting and very knowledgeable of this era of history. We probably listened to him for 30-60 minutes before deciding to look at the rest of the village. (The Blacksmith Shop is wheelchair-accessible.)
The Jones House (#14—or is it #12?—the map doesn’t line up quite right) is a must-do. Sometimes there are cooking demonstrations here. Other times, there’s an interpreter who talks about how cheese is made. Usually, there’s also cheese in the making here—the house smells a lot like dairy. This is one of the few houses in the village that is wheelchair accessible; most have stairs at the entrances. Another wheelchair accessible building is the Wagon maker/Wheelwright Shop (#16). Here visitors can see a wheel in progress, learn about how wheels and wagons were made, and spend time looking around the very crowded, yet very interesting, shop. There is a working lathe here; several of the wagons that are used in the village were hand made in this shop. (A map of the village, http://www.gcv.org/InteractiveMap.aspx, shows which houses and businesses are wheelchair accessible.) By the way, I forgot to mention the George Eastman boyhood Home is #13. (Eastman founded Kodak Company in Rochester, NY, which still makes cameras today…though it declared bankruptcy recently). He lived here until age 7.
The Humphrey House, #25, is the oldest house in Genesee Country Village, and is also wheelchair accessible. Built in 1779, it was ahead of its time, and for years stood out among the log cabins around it. However, more interesting (to the children, at least!) is #26, the MacKay House, located next door. In the back kitchen, wooden food, knives, etc. has been put out so that children had make and bake “food” of their own. I think this was our children’s favorite stop. They had more fun cutting and preparing bread, strawberries, watermelon, bananas, and so on! Another cool feature of this house is the oven, which looks perfectly normal in front, but you can walk behind the fireplace and see that it’s much larger than it first appeared. The garden outside the front door, which makes you walk in circles before you can enter it, is also fun.
The Altay Store (#28) is another of my favorites. There’s so much to look at, from china to cones of sugar to bolts of cloth to old farm implements. It’s a little dark, so it’s hard to see everything, but it’s still cool. The woman who was minding the store the day we went was very nice and very knowledgeable. She explained that the store had operated from 1848 to 1899, but that they were pretending it was 1952. Millard Fillmore’s picture was on the wall—after all, he was president at the time—but that he’d just signed the Fugitive Slave Act, so he was quite out of favor, even with his home state of New York (he was from Buffalo). Another great interpreter was two doors down at the Hastings Law Office (#30). Of all the costumed interpreters, the lawyer here was the best at looking the part. Older, slightly overweight, and with a huge beard he looked like a real lawyer. Again, he was very knowledgeable and was able to tell us quite a bit about being a lawyer in the 1800s.
If the children are looking for another fun place, Thomson’s Tavern and Store (#34) is a great place to go. There are two rooms here, and both of them have been outfitted with period toys. The right room has small children’s toys in it—a Noah’s ark, some rag dolls, a fun toy that lets a wooden man “fall” down a ladder, etc. In the left room are toys for older children: mind teasers, puzzles, balls on strings that you have to swing and get into little holes—so much fun! I’m sure our children could have spent more time there.
The Livingston-Backus House belonged to the village doctor. On the day we visited, there was a cooking demonstration there (I think this is a regular feature, though it moves around between houses). The cook was making a 1-2-3-4 Cake—with 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, 4 eggs, and whatever flavoring you wanted (she used vanilla). She then cooked it in a real, wood-burning fireplace oven—it’s 350 degrees F because she could stick her hand in for seven seconds and not burn it. It was really interesting to see how she cooked all the food and described the cook’s duties in a household in the 1830s. Behind the house is a very nice garden, which is worth checking out.
Across the street and also facing the Village Green is the Romulus Female Seminary (#39). This was a private girls’ high school. Each day, a “teacher” gives “lessons” to the “students” who visit—the day we went, it was a drawing lesson. Each student was asked to draw the picture that was on the piece of paper they were given. The fun thing about being here was the school desks; quite antique! The wheelchair accessible Town Hall (#40) is next door to the Seminary. The interesting thing here is upstairs (sorry, I don’t think there’s an elevator). Here, there’s an exhibit on the pottery of the area. I found this quite interesting, since there is “white pottery” and “red pottery”, each with their famous potters.
The Tinsmith Shop (#44) is another must. The interpreter will explain the origin of tin, how tin items were made, the beginnings of the tin lantern, and the demise of the tinsmith. It’s also fun to look around the shop and see all the different tin items they’ve made or gotten as antiques. The Hyde House (#45; aka The Octagon House) is another must. We’re now moving towards the turn of the century, so it’s a bit more gaudily furnished, with knickknacks everywhere. Still, it’s fun because the number of square corners and square rooms is very limited! I’ve always thought it would be fun to build a house like that—especially with the wrap-around porch! The house next door, the Hamilton House (#47) is similarly furnished, except even more grandly. I recommend it simply because it shows just how far Americans had gone between the pioneer days and the 1870s. Notice that both of these houses have pianos or organs—most well-off people knew how to play. The gardens behind the Hamilton House and the Hyde House are both worth investigating. Both were in bloom when I went, and the little gazebo was quite picturesque.
My only complaint about Genesee Country Village & Museum is the high price to enter ($9-$16; memberships are available; see below). It’s understandable that the museum needs to make a profit, but that’s way outside my price range. However, because the museum (village) was participating in National Public Lands Day/Free Museum Day, I was able to get in for free (all public lands are free on September 29 every year, as are specific museums that choose to partner with the Smithsonian—you’ll have to get advance tickets for these). If you do decide to take advantage of the free tickets next year, there are plenty of ways to give money to the museum: you can donate, or you can purchase a meal at one of the restaurants. There are also several projects/crafts/baked goods you can purchase inside the village.
Fees: Adults, $15.50; senior citizens (age 62+) and students with valid ID, $12.50; youth (age 4-16), $9.50; children (3 and under), free. For more information, see http://www.gcv.org/VisitorInformation/HoursAdmissions.aspx
Facilities: Many restrooms (the least crowded are the ones in the back of the green-latticed restaurant I mentioned in relation to the Civil War Camp), interpretive signs, gift shop, first aid facilities, restaurants, etc.
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
This Week’s Featured Product!
We’ve had a WhisperMill (now WonderMill) for several years, and really like it. If you’re looking for fresh-ground whole wheat flour, this is a great machine. It’s a little loud before you put the wheat berries in it, but it doesn’t hurt the ears while grinding. It makes nice bread flour, and can be used on a wide variety of grains.
Thu Dec 14
Cloudy skies. A few flurries or snow showers possible. High 18F. Winds WNW at 10 to 20 mph.
Fri Dec 15
Cloudy skies with afternoon snow showers. High 26F. Winds SSW at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of snow 40%.
Sat Dec 16
Cloudy skies early, followed by partial clearing. A few flurries or snow showers possible. High near 25F. Winds WNW at 10 to 20 mph.
Sun Dec 17
Partly cloudy. High 32F. Winds light and variable.
Mon Dec 18
Mainly cloudy with a mixture of rain and snow showers developing in the afternoon. High 39F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of precip 50%.