County History


According to the Buffalo Museum of Science the first man in Genesee County arrived 11,000 years ago. Chipped-stone spear points have been unearthed at an archaeological excavation along with mastodon bones at the former Charles Hiscock farm, in Byron. [1] The earliest man, Paleo-Indian, was nomadic and followed herds of animals through the ancient forest to the Ice-Age tundra on the edge of Lake Tonawanda.  Prehistoric Earthworks discovered in Oakfield along with the Divers Lake flint quarry, just north of Indian Falls, have added to the evidence that Genesee County attracted very early inhabitants.

 Image1jpg[1]  = Image: Members of the Buffalo Museum of Science on the Hiscock Farm, Byron during the annual summer dig – 1984

The Seneca, who were members of the Iroquois Confederacy, controlled Western New York until the close of the 18th Century.  One of their meeting locations was at the bend in the Tonawanda Creek, near the heart of today’s Batavia.  Before this vast territory could be opened for pioneer settlement, it was necessary to obtain the land from the Native Americans.  The Sullivan-Clinton Expedition, followed by the Big Tree Treaty of 1797 forced the Seneca to live on reservations. 
[2] Today the Tonawanda Indian Reservation, located within a section of the township of Alabama, is home for many area Seneca.

image2 jpg

[2] = Image: Reservations Established from the Big Tree Treaty

Western New York was divided into several land tracts by investors eager to sell property to the pioneers. [3] The Holland Land Company, composed of bankers from Amsterdam Holland, was the largest investor.  The name Batavia was chosen to honor these Dutch land owners and was taken from the Republic of Batavia which was an area of the Netherlands before 1806.  From 1798 until 1800 a survey of their 3.5 million acres was conducted and the first sale of land was in 1801. [4] With growing population and governmental needs Genesee County was created in 1802 and was named from the Seneca word meaning “Beautiful Valley.”

 image3 jpg


[3] = Image: Western New York Land Companies (From “A History of the Political Development of Genesee County” Prepared by Alvin R. Stripp, 1976)


[4] = Image: Original Genesee County and its four original towns established in 1802

The original Genesee County included all of Western New York and as populations grew within this region the neighboring counties were established. (Allegany in 1806; Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Niagara in 1808; the western portions of Livingston and Monroe in 1821; Orleans in 1824 and Wyoming in 1841).  [5] County government began in 1803 with the completion of the first courthouse west of the Genesee River [6] and the election of county officers. The present day Genesee County encompasses 501 square miles and has a population of 60,079 (2010 Federal Census).  The County is divided into thirteen towns, beginning with Batavia, the County seat which was organized in 1802, Alexander, LeRoy and Pembroke in 1812, Bethany and Bergen in 1813; Byron, Elba and Stafford in 1820; Alabama in 1826; Darien in 1832; Oakfield and Pavilion in 1842. [7]




[5] = Image: Genesee County was established on March 30, 1802 and included all of the counties west of the Genesee River


[6] = Image: First Courthouse “Ellicott Hall” (1803-1918)



[7] = Image: Towns in Genesee County from 1842 to the present time
 (From “A History of the Political Development of Genesee County” Prepared by Alvin R. Stripp, 1976)

Land has always been the county’s largest asset. The diversity of soils and climate conditions attracted the early settlers who carved out homes and farms, developing Genesee into one of the richest agricultural regions within New York State. [8] Genesee County has the highest percentage of classified farmland in the state and three of the top 100 vegetable farms in the country.  The fertile muck soil in Elba has made Genesee one of the principal counties in the nation for growing beets and onions. Dairy farming is still the leading commodity in the county and over all Genesee is fourth in agriculture sales within New York. [9] The country side is dotted with farm stands and annually the Farmer’s Market provides a cornucopia of fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers. 


[8] = Image: Horses used in farming

[9] = Image: Call Farm located on Rt. 63, Town of Batavia

In addition to the land, Genesee County has been blessed with rich mineral deposits of gypsum, limestone, natural gas and salt. [10] These minerals along with early industries and businesses have enhanced the development of local communities.  Jell-O was invented and produced in LeRoy with such success that by the start of the 20th Century the Woodward family became millionaires. [11] Wiard Plow, Massey Harris and Baker Gun Company were located in Batavia leaving their mark by producing farm equipment and high grade firearms.  These companies attracted talented craftsmen and are but a few of the outstanding industries that took advantage of what Genesee County has to offer.[12] Today, area firms include a variety of businesses that utilize local energy sources, a network of transportation services and skilled labor.


[10] = Image: Pavilion Gas Well (ca.1905)



[11] = Image: The Genesee Pure Food Company, LeRoy

[12] = Image: Wiard Plow Company, Batavia
The residents of the County have always understood the merit of quality education and its value on economic and social growth.  The first school house was constructed in 1801, one year before the County was formed.  By the 1830s seminaries were established throughout the County [13] and in LeRoy, Ingham University was charted in 1857.  This institution is credited with being the first University for women in the United States.  The New York State School of the Blind was started in 1865 and is located on a beautiful campus in Batavia. [14] The foundation of the County’s educational system is a city school district and seven area central schools.  A higher education may be obtained locally at Genesee Community College which offers liberal arts and professional skills. 

[13] = Image: Cary Seminary, Oakfield (Founded 1840 and the

property was rented   to the Oakfield School district ca. 1905)



[14] = Image: State School for the Blind, Batavia


Genesee County has a variety of recreational opportunities for every age and interest.  Darien Lake Theme Park Resort, started in 1976 as a camping facility, has grown into New York’s largest combination theme park and entertainment resort featuring the highest drop roller coaster in the State. [15] Genesee County Park and Forest is the oldest county facility in the state.  Situated in the town of Bethany the park comprises more than 400 acres and offers year round enjoyment.  The 2,000 acres of the Bergen-Byron Swamp have been dedicated in 1964
as a National Natural History Landmark. [16] This swamp is of special interest to students of zoology and botany and is a haven for bird watchers.  The rich historical significance of the county may be experienced in the variety of local museums.  The two largest, the Holland Land Office Museum [17] and the Historic LeRoy House which includes the Jell-O Gallery are both treasure troves of artifacts from the past.



[15] = Image: Darien Lake Aerial View - 1995



[16] = Image: Bergen-Byron Swamp historical marker


[17] = Image: Cannons on the porch of the Holland Land Office Museum

As County Historian I welcome you and invite you to explore what Genesee County has to offer.
Michael J. Eula
Genesee County Historian