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Geneva for Genealogists and Historians

Updated on June 5, 2013
Geneva NY (public domain)
Geneva NY (public domain)

Historic Firsts Bright Light to Geneva

Geneva was incorporated in 1806; three years after Ohio became a US State, making it the first official village in western New York. The following Business Sectors can be examined more closely, in-depth for genealogical records, including the usual public records, but also pay records, hotel records, and many others. Various preservation organizations and historic societies have established themselves in this historic region.

First US Memorial Day

The Memorial Day Museum in nearby Waterloo stands to honor GenevaVillage's role as the birthplace of Memorial Day. It includes articles from he first Memorial Day of May 5, 1866 and relics from many wars. .

Higher Education

Geneva was the first Western New York settlement to found a college, a public hotel, a church building, an official US Post Office and Postmaster, a Community Chest, a YMCA, a water company, a glass factory, and a free public library.

The first Western NY college, Geneva College, became Hobart & William Smith Colleges and was the first postsecondary institution in the USA to award an earned medical degree to a woman - Elizabeth Blackwell, 1849 (74 years after the American colonists declared liberty from the British). The Women’s Health Services unit in Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio is named The Blackwell Center in her honor, as are similar installations around America.

Canal Central

Geneva was the first place in Western New York to enjoy services of a fully completed manmade canal. The Erie Canal opened for business in 1825 as a commercial waterway from the Great Lakes region to the Hudson River and New YorkHarbor. The Cayuga-SenecaCanal opened soon after, drawing more commercial traffic through Geneva. Agricultural products were transported to local and regional markets form Geneva by canal barge, increasing the local economy as the canal system was improved.

First Mormon Foundations

The Hill Cumorah Visitors Center in nearby Manchester contains films and exhibits that tell a lot about Mormon history. The Center also hosts a yearly pageant about the Book of Mormon that uses at least 600 cast members and is a large production. The Joseph Smith Home is north of the Hill Cumorah, while the historic Peter Whitmer Home, where the Mormon Church began in 1830, is south of Geneva.

Downtown Geneva

A City on a Hill

The local rail system opened in the 1840s, about 20 years before the American Civil War. This brought new economic possibilities in the form of new industries to the growing commercial district of the town. Retail businesses were built along three major commercial thoroughfares: Castle Street, Exchange Street, and Seneca Street; a business locale known as the “Bottom Lands” at the foot of a hill. Upon that hill were the homes and institutions of culture, education, and faith, above the fray. Today, Historic Downtown Geneva stands on the 60-acre waterfront at Seneca Lake near Routes. 5 and Route 20. It features parks and green spaces, foot and bike trails, picnicking, boat launches.

1850 – 1900

Business growth brought new residents to Geneva and offered agricultural goods, shoe factories, stove builders, boiler factories, carriage makers, bakeries, grocery markets, weavers, printers & publishing, milliners, and others. After the Civil War, Geneva grew faster than previously and became famous for it optical equipment. Tourism entrenched itself as an industry after the Civil War, with travelers invading Geneva to use the various mineral springs and high class hotels.

1901 - 2000

From 1901 – 1950, business grew on the Seneca Lake waterfront with major boat works, malt houses, factories and agricultural processing. The local canal system made Geneva the business leader of the Finger Lakes regions of New York.

After World War Two, canals and railways fell from grace, replaced by trucking and air freight, but the economy of Geneva declined somewhat. At the same time, business was enhanced by dollars spent in the Bottom Lands by the US armed forces personnel on nearby Sampson Military Base, part of which is a city park today.

By 1955, autos and trucks ruled commerce as Geneva improved infrastructure with Route 5 and Route 20 from the lakefront, but redirected them in the 1980s to being traffic into downtown and not bypass it. By 1990, Geneva was mostly a service-oriented town, waiting on travelers and tourists. Top service industry providers are Finger Lakes Regional Health (Healthcare), Hobart & William Smith Colleges (Education), and the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (Food and agri-fuel).

Thriving Downtown Geneva

2001 – 2020: Business District and History in Downtown Geneva

Geneva continues to grow in business with a major glass plant installed in 1997 by Guardian Industries of Auburn Hills, Michigan in the modern local industrial park. This has led the way for additional business incentives to be offered by the State of New York and Geneva to draw more out-of-state companies to the Finger Lakes.

The Geneva Business Improvement District, or the BID, stimulates the growth of an attractive and prosperous Downtown Geneva for business, urban residents, students, and tourists.

Prentice Hall named Geneva one of The 100 Best Small Towns in America. Geneva is also one of only two towns in New YorkState listed in the publication The Nationwide Guide to the Best in Small Town Living.

Additional History Resources

Geneva Historical Society: The Prouty-Chew Museum is on South Main Street and aside from usual museum offerings, there is a walking tour of the South Main Street Historic District. Nearby is the fully operational Smith Opera House for the Performing Arts. Many historic residences in Geneva are attached to written records through the preservation organizations in town, which may aid in genealogist research.

Seneca Nation and the Iroquois Confederacy: The Ganondagan State Historic Site features a Seneca Indian village of the 1600s with guided tours and events, This had been a National Historic Landmark since 1964 and contains histories of the Iroquois Confederation. A search for Tribal information may begin here.

Women's Rights National Historical Park and the National Women's Hall of Fame are located in nearby Seneca Falls. The Park provides interesting exhibits on the first Women's Rights Convention (1848) and is on the site of the former home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Wineries: The whole of the Finger Lakes Region is known for over 30 wineries and likely draws this development in agricuture from the region's historic Italian immigration (ancestry is 20% Italian in Geneva). The wineries may be visited along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, Cayuga Wine Trail, or Keuka Winery Route.


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    • MamaDragonfly2677 profile image


      10 years ago from New York

      So I have heard... Nice hub Patty! (AGAIN!)

    • The Good Cook profile image

      The Good Cook 

      10 years ago

      Another interesting hub. Thanks.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Oh, haha - I missed the poetics of that one! Geneva has a lot going on :)


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