Geneseo Genealogy: Behond the facade of the landmark county courthouse

The Livingston County Courthouse, the majestic building atop Court Street, is the quintessential image of a small town’s courthouse. It sometimes tends to blend in, despite its prevalent location on the end of Main Street. What many don’t know is that the courthouse actually has a long and lively history.

According to Geneseo village and town historian David Parish, Livingston County was established in 1821 and back then Geneseo was declared the county seat after competition with Avon. In May 1823, the architect Homer Sherwood built the first courthouse on a site William and James Wadsworth donated to the town. At that time, only $9,000 was appropriated for the building. Until the Courthouse’s construction was completed the trials were held in what is now the County Museum.

Immediately after the courthouse was built, the jail was also added to the west. There were several hangings conducted there soon after. The first trial in the new courthouse was that of a woman charged with assault with intent to kill and she was convicted.

The original Courthouse lasted until 1898 and then it was rebuilt with an addition added on to the north. The Freemasons conducted a “fancy” dedication for the new courthouse.

The floor plans and the decoration scheme of the court room for the “new” courthouse were featured in the Architectural League of New York’s 1898 Catalogue of the Thirteenth Annual Exhibition of the Architectural League of New York. The entrance to the courthouse was featured in the Catalogue of the Fourteenth Annual Exhibition of the Architectural League of New York and in the Catalogue of the Annual Exhibition of the Saint Louis Architectural Club, both of which were published in 1899.

Even today, the courthouse continues to evolve. Most recently, the Livingston County Board of Supervisors approved $77,000 in renovations for the courthouse in 2000. A campaign also began to erect a statue of James S. Wadsworth on the courthouse grounds in 2001. The Livingston County Board of Supervisors agreed to allow the statue to be built on the front lawn of the courthouse in 2002. The fundraising campaign had an inaugural event on April 5, 2002 where Civil War historian and Pultizer Prize winner James M. McPherson gave a speech.