MICHAEL JOHNSON/Livingston County NEws
Parts of the stone wall are starting to fall apart along the Wadsworth Homestead property along Route 20A
Volunteers rally to ‘Save the Wall’
At four-and-a-half feet high, two-and-a-half feet thick, and approximately one mile long, the stone wall which surrounds the Wadsworth Homestead property in Geneseo is one of the village’s prominent landmarks.
With its every linear foot visible from public highways, the wall’s presence has uniquely demarcated and defined the village’s southern setting since the mid-19th century.
Sadly, the same public presence has subjected the wall to the disparaging comments of motorists in recent times. There is no hiding the ravages which time, ground frost and neglect have had in bringing sections of the wall to their current state of deterioration.
Recently the Association for the Preservation of Geneseo and the Wadsworth family have reached an understanding whereby APOG will be assisting what is envisioned as a full reconstruction and re-assembly of the wall.
“People are getting involved and very interested in what’s happening,” Will Wadsworth said.
“The community response has been fantastic,” added APOG member Kurt Cylke.
“It’s a new opportunity for cooperation between the Wadsworth family and the village residents, and we are very excited about finally letting this happen,” Wadsworth noted. “But it’s also a project where we need to be cautious, where there are some serious things to consider before we turn people loose on it.”
Mason John White of Dansville, who is already involved with Homestead chimney and brickwork improvements, is ready to go to work on the wall, with abundant assistance from amateur volunteers who will be given basic instruction in careful wall disassembly. In addition, the “word is out” among the community of masons. Wadsworth reports professional stone workers from outside the county driving into the Homestead and asking about the project.
A June 30 instruction session has been scheduled for volunteers. Thereafter, work sessions will probably be scheduled on Saturday mornings throughout the summer. Persons interested in helping should email email@example.com.
After being taken apart in systematic fashion by the volunteers, the walls will be re-assembled and set by the professional masons. Issues of safety and practicality will probably demand replacement, rather than repair, of the concrete cap. The full mile of wall will be a very large project, perhaps requiring several summers to complete.
“It’s a great project, and something everyone can monitor as it progresses,” Cylke said.
The wine-tasting fundraiser
On June 22, from 7 to 10 p.m., following the Geneseo Art Stroll, APOG will be hosting its 16th annual ‘Wine & Micro-Brew Tasting’ at The Wadsworth Homestead, 4 South Street in Geneseo. For the first time in the 16 year history of the event, the gathering is being opened beyond the APOG membership circle, to any and all of the general public with an interest in Geneseo’s historic legacy.
The $25 per person ticket cost will support APOG Geneseo home restoration grants and the organization’s major project for 2012: The repair and reconstruction of the Wadsworth Homestead wall.
Cylke noted that, for immediate purposes, funds will be needed for acquisition of masonry tools and protective equipment — hammers, chisels, safety goggles — required to perform the work.
Former APOG board member Martin Miskell can be credited with coming up with the idea for the wine tasting fundraiser 16 years ago. The objective was to soften the organization’s one time stiff image and get a younger and more casual crowd involved. Funds from the event have assisted numerous APOG residential grants as well as the fountain and clock tower restorations, and will now assist the Wadsworth wall restoration.
“It’s a wonderful community event to kick off the summer,” Miskell said. “It happens around the solstice and gets folks out of hibernation.”
In addition to helping the restoration of the wall, your $25 ticket at this APOG event gets you souvenir glassware, food catering by Mary DiPane, live music (folksey, bluegrass, zydeco) by Stick Boom Papa, the great company of Geneseo’s preservation folks, and of course an assortment of wine and micro-brews to sample.
Tickets may be purchased at Good Spirits, B & D Art Framing, and from APOG members Kurt Cylke, Martin Miskell and Gretchen Crane.
Some wall history
The Wadsworth Homestead wall is yet to be the subject of detailed historic research, but according to Will Wadsworth, it has at least three different construction types: the masonry wall in the immediate front of the Homestead property, the outlying stacked walls (generally lacking mortar between the stones) which are covered by a concrete cap, and the cruder, loosely piled construction with no cap in the higher elevation, eastern section of the property. The stacked styles lacking mortar are, upon close inspection, actually comprised of two thin walls with rip-rap filler sandwiched between.
The exact purpose of the fence remains subject to historic debate. The likely possibilities — confinement of livestock, a collection place for otherwise unwanted stone from tilled or mowed fields and excavated basements, or ornamentation for the Homestead perimeter — may all have played a role in bringing the wall into existence, Wadsworth suspects.
One documented factor, at least in the vicinity of the house, seems to have been privacy for the Wadsworth family.
The Homestead was originally built very close to the South and Main street intersection. By the mid-19th century Geneseo’s downtown had become a rather populated and boisterous place, even and especially during the evening hours. Wadsworth cites a family letter describing Mrs. (Emily) Wadsworth’s distress over the situation.
Initial efforts in dealing with the issue did not meet with full success. South Street, which once ran in a straight line from the top of Temple Hill westward, was relocated along a more northerly path beginning at Second Street, in an effort to get the noise and activity at a greater distance from the house. Will suspects it was about this same time or shortly thereafter that the fence was built as “the place where you don’t cross the line”, thus deterring incursions onto the private Wadsworth grounds.
That neither the street relocation or wall construction provided a satisfactory solution is attested by the fact that in 1874 the entire Homestead was jacked from its foundation and moved by oxen about 300 feet into the interior of the property, to the present secluded spot.
Cylke suggests it is very appropriate for the Geneseo community to be pitching in on this project:
The Wadsworth Homestead fence is private property, albeit always in public view. Those giving of their time and energy to restore the fence to its original glory can reflect upon the tally of gifts the Wadsworth family has bestowed upon the Geneseo community.
Those gifts include the land for many public buildings, schools, churches and parks, the Main Street fountain, SUNY Geneseo land and structures, and the Wadsworth Library.