The Novelty of a Find

August 9th, 2019

By Becky Chapin, Archivist

There are plenty of surprises to be found on a daily basis at this job, and sometimes it’s a good surprise.

A box labeled “Miscellaneous Village Documents” seems unlikely to turn up very exciting information, but as I started going through each folder, I kept finding more and more interesting things about the formation of Geneva’s streets. Petitions from Geneva’s villagers were reviewed by the Board of Trustees on as deep a level as one would review documents for building a new house.

From the appointing of a police constable to approval for the names of streets to reports on a sewer system, villagers voiced their opinions in the day to day operations of the establishment of Geneva. These petitions hold signatures from the most prominent of Genevans such as William Smith, the Doxes, Hemiups, Herendeens, Dorseys, Charles Bean, DeZengs, Schnirels and more.

hand-drawn map of the intersection of lewis and exchange streets

Diagram by Joseph Fellows, 1848

One petition caught my interest. In 1848, store owner Joseph Fellows wanted to connect with the existing Auburn & Rochester Railroad line by a lateral track which crossed Water Street (now Exchange Street) and Lewis Street. While making these changes, he discovered that this was “disagreeable” to the inhabitants of Lewis Street and he “discontinued laying down the road.” He proposed, instead, to connect with the Auburn & Rochester Railroad on the west side of Water Street by a switch, as seen in the diagram he drew. This would meet the “wishes of the inhabitants and…accommodate the lateral road to the Store House.”

Just a few more petitions into the folder, I found the results! On the same day, the Board approved of the changes as long as Joseph Fellows “fills up the space…with suitable plank so as to render the passage of teams easy and that he always hereafter keep the same in repair.” Imagine connecting that huge railroad line to your front door to make delivery of goods easier for your business!

reward notice dated June 3, 1862Found in a different folder were notices made by the Board of Trustees for various requests for information on crimes in Geneva. For a $200 reward ($4,989 today), the Trustees were looking for information in 1862 that may “lead to the conviction or arrest of the person or persons who were guilty of the burglary and desperate attempt to take the life of our citizen, Hiram L Suydam.” Suydam would become one of the founding members of the Geneva Historical Society in 1883.

reward notice for a $1,000 dated May 1, 1856

If you had information for the Board that could lead to the apprehension of the arsonist who destroyed the Eagle Hotel, damaged the Cabinet Ware manufactory of TW Smith & Co. along with other adjoining tenements, you could be awarded an expensive $1,000 ($30,036 today) reward!

At the end of the box, the information found was much more than “miscellaneous” to this archivist and is just as important to the telling of Geneva’s stories.



One response to “The Novelty of a Find”

  1. Norma Press says:

    Very interesting!

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