Genesee County Courthouse Historic District
The Genesee County Courthouse Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.[†] Adaptation copyright; © 2009 The Gombach Group.
The city of Batavia, the seat of Genesee County and the major commercial center of the county, is located mid-way between Buffalo and Rochester in the Genesee region of New York State. The main section of the city is laid out in a grid pattern on the north and east side of the Tonawanda Creek. The major city streets of Batavia do not conform to a grid pattern, having been early north-south and east-west Indian trails that intersected near the major bend in the Tonawanda Creek. The New York State Thruway, the principal highway across New York State, has an interchange at the northern limits of the city.
The Genesee County Courthouse Historic District is located just northeast of the bend in the Tonawanda Creek and northeast of the intersection of State Routes 98, 63 and 5.
It is comprised of five historic structures used for civic functions and a Civil War commemorative monument. The following buildings are included: U.S. Post Office, Batavia City Hall, Genesee County Building #1, Genesee County Sheriff's Office and Jail, Genesee County Courthouse, and Soldier's Monument.
The buildings in the Genesee County Courthouse Historic District represent a variety of nineteenth and early twentieth century architectural styles reflecting different periods of the city's and county's growth. The oldest building and the focal point of the Genesee County Courthouse Historic District is a Greek Revival style courthouse (listed on the National Register in 1973). The second oldest structure is an Italianate style building that became Batavia City Hall in the early decades of the twentieth century. The remaining buildings were constructed between 1902 and 1926. The Sheriff's Office and Jail is built of red sandstone in the Victorian Gothic style, while both the U.S. Post Office and the Genesee County Building #1 were designed in the Classical Revival style. A monument commemorating the Civil War stands within a small triangular island in front of the courthouse. Dating from 1919, the granite monument is thirty-six feet high and fourteen feet square and features a bronze statue of General Upton, a Civil War general.
The Genesee County Courthouse Historic District forms a discrete collection of buildings that is clearly distinguishable from the surrounding neighborhood. As the center of activity for the city, county and federal governments, these buildings share a similarity of function that enhances the cohesive visual quality of the district.
The area surrounding the Genesee County Courthouse Historic District contains many altered residential structures and modern commercial buildings. Those structures are of a completely different character from the large-scale, civic buildings which constitute the historic district.
The Genesee County Courthouse District is architecturally and historically significant as a cohesive group of well-preserved government buildings which have served Batavia and the county since the 1840's. The five buildings and monument, built between 1843 and 1926, are representative local examples of popular nineteenth and early twentieth century architectural styles. Together, they reflect the nineteenth-century prominence of Batavia, which, as the Genesee County seat and a transportation center, played an important role in the development of western New York. The buildings survive with few alterations and the Genesee County Courthouse Historic District retains its function as the focal point of Genesee County government.
The Genesee County Courthouse, the earliest building in the Genesee County Courthouse Historic District, reflects influences of the Greek Revival style architecture in eastern New York and New England. "In lands settled after American independence the courthouse, not the church, became the architectural focus of a 'county seat'...." No better illustration of Henry-Russell Hitchcock and William Seale's contention could be desired than Batavia's splendid courthouse.
The Genesee County Courthouse was constructed between 1841-1843 during the beginning of the transition from the Greek Revival style of architecture to those styles representing Victorian taste. Reflecting these new ideas, the typical columned portico of the Greek Revival style was omitted by the local craftsmen who built the courthouse. The building exhibits the Victorian characteristic of placing greater emphasis on the nature of the building materials. The pattern of the limestone walls trimmed with granite is typical of the Victorian building.
The present courthouse replaced an earlier building of 1802 that was designed by Joseph Ellicott and built by the Holland Land Company. Before it burned in 1918, it stood on the site of the present Genesee County Building #1. The bell from the original courthouse now hangs in the cupola of the 1843 courthouse.
The second oldest building in the Genesee County Courthouse Historic District is the former Brisbane Mansion (present City Hall) built in 1853 by George Brisbane. This property was bought from the Holland Land Company by James Brisbane, father of George, who was the first postmaster, deputy county clerk and a merchant in Batavia. George Brisbane was a director of the Batavia Gas and Electric Light Company and a farmer in Batavia.
Originally an Italianate style residence, the large brick building was acquired by the city from the Brisbane family in 1917 and sensitively adapted at that time for use as a city hall.
The Genesee County Sheriff's Office and Jail was designed by William J. Beardsley of Poughkeepsie, New York. Among his most important works were several county courthouses built in New York State as well as the New York State Prison at Attica. This eclectic building, built between 1902-1903, is unusual for its employment of turrets and its extensive use of red Medina sandstone that together produce a fortress-like effect on a small scale. The Sheriff's Office and Jail is the first such building constructed for this purpose by Genesee County and is still used for that purpose.
The two remaining buildings in the Genesee County Courthouse Historic District are the U.S. Post Office and the Genesee County Building #1. Both exhibit the characteristics of the last phase of the Classical Revival style in the United States. These government buildings, built during the first three decades of the twentieth century demonstrate the use of simplified classical forms and ornament and, as such, are good representative examples of the taste and design of the pre-World War II period.
The Post Office was built in 1919, and was designed in an irregular shape to fit the site selected by George K. Leet, an agent of the U.S. Treasury Department. The building was designed during the long tenure of James A. Wetmore (1863-1940), architectural supervisor for the U.S. Treasury Department, whose office designed numerous federal buildings in the United States. This site was originally part of the property owned by James Brisbane.
Genesee County Building #1 was designed by the architectural firm of Bohacket and Brew of Rochester, New York. Featuring classical details, it was built between 1926-1927 on the site of the original courthouse of 1802.
The last structure in the Genesee County Courthouse Historic District is Soldier's Monument, a memorial erected in 1919 by both the city and county. From its prominent location in front of the courthouse, it has long been a visual landmark and symbolic reminder of the sacrifices made by Genesee County men for the Nation in the Civil War and in foreign wars.
Henry-Russell Hitchcock and William Seale, "Notes on Architecture" in Courthouse, A Photographic Document, edited by R. Pare, New York: Horizon, 1978, p. 165.
The Batavia Daily News. Batavia, New York, 16 December 1901 — 18 June 1903; 8 December 1916; 19 December 1919; 12 January 1917; 4 April 1917; 9 May 1917; 30 June 1917; 24 November 1917; 5 February 1918; 28 September 1918; 8 February 1919; 21 March 1919; 11 April 1919; 30 April 1919; 4 August 1919.
Digest of the Proceedings of Genesee County Supervisors 1802-1948, published by the Genesee County Board of Supervisors.
Doty, Lockwood. History of the Genesee Country. Buffalo: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925.
North, Safford E. A Descriptive and Biographical Record of Genesee County. New York: Boston History Co., 1890.
Turner, O. Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase of Western New York. Buffalo: Jewett, Thomas and Company, George H. Derby and Company, 1849.
Hitchcock, Henry-Russell and William Seale. "Notes on Architecture." In Courthouse, A Photographic Document, edited by R. Pare. New York: Horizon, 1978.
† Ross, Claire L., N.Y. State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Genesee County Courthouse Historic District, nomination document, 1982, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.