Geneseo Genealogy: Homestead grants hospitality to historical figures, legacy

If you were to wander through the Wadsworth Homestead, a three-story colonial home complete with a dozen bedrooms and six bathrooms, smoking room, parlor, engraved fireplaces, stables and a small library, you would find yourself encountering two centuries of American and world history. Your findings may include chainmail armor, antique rifles, a samurai sword, correspondence letters from former President Theodore Roosevelt, hundreds of books and letters and perhaps a secret passageway or two.

You would also come across portraits of every generation of the family, beginning with James and William Wadsworth.  In 1790, when the brothers arrived at Geneseo to assess the farming potential of the land, they completely changed the trajectory of the town.

The house they built in 1804 still functions today and has remained in the hands of the family for the past seven generations. The personalities who resided within it altered local and national history through their philanthropy and service.

On a local level, the family either built or donated land for dozens of buildings that are still in use today. Most prominently for us students, James W. Wadsworth, Sr. donated the land for the Normal School, which later became Geneseo.

Other contributions include the land for St. Mary’s Church, the Wadsworth Library, Hartford House, the War Plane Museum and the statue in the center of Main Street.

Wadsworth men have also held local office in town, from William Wadsworth, the first town supervisor of Geneseo, to William Starkey Wadsworth, the current town supervisor.

“We have a long history of working with the community to make the town a better place,” William Starkey Wadsworth said.

The family also has a legacy of military service and has served either in or during almost every American war. John Noyes Wadsworth was a militiaman in the Revolutionary War, and his descendants have served in the War of 1812, Civil War, Philippine-American War, World War II and the War in Afghanistan, where William Starkey Wadsworth’s sister Martha is a major in the Air National Guard. One Wadsworth by the name of Craig even served as a rough rider along with Roosevelt.

The house has served a number of functions over the past two centuries: first as a home by the family, but also as a meeting place, wedding venue, showpiece and retreat.

The most interesting time for the house, according to William Starkey Wadsworth, was the Gilded Age. The house hosted a variety of guests, including Roosevelt and Frederick Law Olmstead.

Today, William Starkey Wadsworth and his wife Louise act as town supervisor and Livingston County downtown coordinator, respectively, and dedicate their lives to the betterment of Geneseo and other small towns.

“It’s so great to work for the people of the community that have cared for us for so long,” William Starkey Wadsworth said.

The truly incredible part of the Wadsworth Homestead and its expansive history is how unnoticeable it is from the outside. Modestly located at the end of Geneseo’s Main Street, few would guess that this house hosted presidents and war generals, that it contains artifacts from ancient Egypt or documents from names such as James Madison, Martin Van Buren, James Monroe and Ronald Reagan.

“Something what’s inspiring about this house to me is that there are places like this all around the country,” William Starkey Wadsworth said. These “repositories of history” are hidden in small towns everywhere, and Geneseo is fortunate enough to have one of our own.

From Martha Blow Wadsworth, who challenged Roosevelt to an endurance race on horseback, to James S. Wadsworth, who was present at the Battle of Gettysburg, to John Blow – Martha Blow Wadsworth’s father – who represented Dred Scott in the court, members of the family are scattered throughout American history but grounded in Geneseo.

“The energy is here,” William Starkey Wadsworth said. “You can feel the essence of the people who have been through this house.”