Community rallies to save local landmark

The historic wall running along the South Street Homestead property on Route 20A has been in need of major repairs for years. This past summer, the Geneseo community organized to rebuild and preserve the wall.

Kurt Cylke, chair of the sociology department at Geneseo, and board member of the Association for the Preservation of Geneseo, spearheaded the “Save the Wall” campaign.

“It’s kind of the gateway to Geneseo,” he said at a volunteer meeting on Saturday Sept. 29. “And it will look better when we’re done – it will look quite impressive, actually.”

The Wadsworth family came to Geneseo in the late 1700s, and built the wall on their property in the early 1800s.

According to the APOG website, the wall has been a “burden on the Wadsworth family to maintain in recent times.”

The restoration project began this summer, with volunteers doing the manual labor. According to Cylke, 62 volunteers convened over 14 consecutive Saturdays to contribute a total of 580 hours of labor.

Richard Hatheway, the mayor of Geneseo, said, “[The project] has been multigenerational. We’ve had kids that are 10 and a woman in her mid-to-late 80s.”

Hatheway said he hopes to get more schools and children involved in the future, so that the project can gain momentum.

The initial volunteer work has involved clearing brush, retrieving fallen stones and trimming trees. This labor serves to prepare the site for professional stonemasons to start rebuilding the wall.

“The easy part has been visual, and that has been done with volunteers, but the really slow part now is with the stonemasons, those are skilled people, and the rest of us don’t have those skills, so that part is going to be very slow,” Hatheway said.

“The wall is over a mile long, and it has over 750,000 stones,” Cylke said. “This will be a multiyear project.”

“It’s not like it’s going to be done by Christmas,” Hatheway said.

Recently, Geneseo students became more involved in the project. During Geneseo’s annual 100 Volunteers service effort, a group of students worked for the campaign. On Saturday Oct. 6, the Geneseo ice hockey team will volunteer.

“Since the project has started, it has been cool to see the progress that has been made on the Wadsworth wall,” hockey head coach Chris Schultz said via email. “So when I saw that an organization was trying to resurrect the wall, I was immediately intrigued and knew it was something that we, as a team, could assist with … It is very important for us to be involved with the community.”

“I think it’s important for students to get a feel for the community,” Hatheway said. “Probably many of the students live in the town, so I would say it’s important for students to get involved and know more about it.”

Hatheway said the “ambiance of Geneseo” is one the major aspects alumni remember about their experience.

Cylke summed up the project, saying, “The wall is the historic gateway to Geneseo, a National Historic Landmark District, and as a community we care about our history and its preservation. [We’re restoring the wall] because we care about our past and our future.”