The Genesee County Courthouse is located at the junction of Main and Ellicott Street, in Batavia, NY. This Greek revival courthouse is an architectural focal point for downtown Batavia. The courthouse has played an integral part in the area’s history since its construction in 1841.
Each façade of this square building is five bays wide and was built of Onondaga limestone. The front of the building (facing east) is two and a half stories high and the back (west) is three full stories. Originally, six heavy stone pilasters framed an open porch which ran the full length of the front. In 1931, this area was renovated for additional office space and the center bay front entrance way was created.
The hip roof is constructed of slate and copper and supports a two-tiered wooden cupola. This cupola houses a brass bell. A central hall flanked by offices encompasses the main floor. The double staircase merges into a single flight which leads to the courtroom and two judges chambers on the second floor. The third floor was originally the County Clerk’s office and is today used to host the County Legislature Meetings and Bankruptcy Court proceedings.
This building is a product of the talents of local craftsmen and is constructed of local materials. The courthouse was completed in 1843 and the first court was held in February of that same year. On June 18, 1973 the courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Ellicott Hall was the first courthouse west of the Genesee River, built in 1802, at the expense of the Holland Land Company and under the supervision of Joseph Ellicott, it contained both the courthouse and the jail. It was located on the triangle facing Court Street which is the present site of County Building No. 1. The basement was originally the jail; the first floor was partitioned off into offices for county officials, while the court room was on the second floor.
The Brass Bell
The brass bell in the courthouse has been around since the earliest days of the village. The Genesee County History Department reports research unearthed this information from The Past and Present column of The Daily News for February 12, 1898. The article said: "The bell that hangs in the cupola of the Court House is older than most people think," asserted C.G. Dorman. "It originally hung in the cupola of the Ellicott Hall building, when that structure was the Court House. It was rather funny the way the bell found its way to Batavia. I have often heard my father tell the story.
"One of the earliest settlers of Batavia was David McCracken, a man of considerable means, odd in many ways and considerable of a joker. A few years previous, the Court House which the Holland Land Company presented to the county had been completed, but the company had neglected to hang a bell in the cupola before making the presentation."
At this point, Mr. McCracken thought this was a great oversight on the part of the land corporation, but never expressed his views publicly. Instead, he wrote to a foundry in New Haven and ordered the bell. He had it brought into town one night and hung it on a pole between two trees. At about 4 o’clock in the morning, he rang it very vigorously. The village of Batavia was quite small at the time and the clang of the bell aroused every sleeping inhabitant. From the youngest to the oldest they left their homes, many of them half-dressed, to ascertain what was going on for it wasn’t known that there was such a thing as a bell within a hundred miles of the town.
Joseph Ellicott was among the first to turn out and the first question he asked was whether the bell was for sale. He was promptly informed that it was and he bought it on the spot. Before sunset that night it hung in the belfry on Ellicott Hall. Ellicott Hall stood on Court Street as offices of the village and town of Batavia long after the present courthouse was built. It was destroyed by fire in 1918, but the bell survived and is now in the Courthouse at 7 Main Street, Batavia, NY.
The New York State Legislature passed an act that provided for the construction of a new courthouse in Genesee County on May 14, 1840. It was resolved by the Board of Supervisors, in November of 1840, to spend $12,000 for building a new courthouse. The treasurer received $10,000 from the State Comptroller and $21,000 from a loan. An additional $1,300 was borrowed in 1841 to finish the project. Building construction was completed in February of 1843.
The courthouse is constructed of heavy gray cut Onondaga limestone, which was quarried from Consider Warner’s farm located in the Town of LeRoy.
In 1843, the sheriff had charge of the courthouse. The Board of Supervisor originally had the building open for use for public, county, moral, political, and agricultural meetings but not for local or town meeting. By 1851, the sheriff was directed not to allow the use of the courthouse for any purpose except for county business.
The porch which at one time stretched across the entire front (facing east) was altered to provide additional office space in 1931. Four large columns, distinguishing the Greek Revival architecture were incorporated into the project as corners of rooms. The cost for this project was $58,073 which also included refurnishing and remodeling the entire building.
Repairs were made in 1975 for approximately $155,000 which included: installation of a sprinkler system, fire alarm, downspouts, lightning protection system, new roofing, replacing the 12 x 12 sash windows, cleaning the outside stone and installing new wood trim throughout. The timbers supporting the brass bell, located in the cupola, had rotted and were replaced as well as the long ropes used to toll the bell. They were replaced by an electrical system.
In 1999, air conditioning and an elevator were added to the Courthouse. The building is currently home to the Genesee County Legislature, the County Manager, Assistant County Manager and the County Attorney.
Courtesy of: Susan L. Conklin, Genesee County Historian