A little history about the building...
The large, white brick corner home at 205 S. State Street, the home of Mrs. Robert Thede, attracts many an admiring glance for its restrained elegance. A photo in the museum archives shows that in 1869 it was painted white as it is today.
One other substantial building, the original First Methodist Church, built by 1855, was standing on that block when George Richards built his fine, brick, Italianate style home.
We can best visualize Geneseo of that day if we are reminded that the colony's residential and business development was around the public square from 1837 to 1854.
When the railroad came through in 1854, Merritt Munson, a gentleman with foresight, was already laying out a business addition, to the town near the depot. There were immediate sales of lots. Buffalo Street became the busy street. Next he laid out Munson's Second Addition, from State Street to College (then called "Railroad") and from Second Street to the railroad.
Adjoining Munson's Second Addition, on the new business street, State Street, George Richards in July of 1855 bought Lot 1 on the southwest corner of State and Second Streets. Tax assessor's records tell us that this home must have been built in 1855.
Richards lived there with his wife, Ann Gora Gilmore Richards, till 1867. During this time he served as president of the village board, 1861-1862, and joined the newly formed Presbyterian Church as a charter member, 1863.
It has been determined that this home was built as two houses at two different periods, each house with separate front and rear entrances. The original home, the north house, was built by George Richards. Richards, born in Vermont, may have come to the county very early, being listed with the stockholders of the Wethersfield Colony in 1835. By 1840, he is listed with Geneseo settlers who immediately followed the first settlers in 1836 and 1837. He had bought a lot on Main Street and in 1852 was landlord of Geneseo House there.
The Richards house was sold in 1867 to Hiram and George Wilson, brothers, and both bankers, who were born New York. At this time, both were associated with the First National Bank on Main Street.
Hiram and his family moved in, and a second house in the same style was added on the south side for the George Wilson family. Both brothers were very attentive to their work. Hiram, a cashier at the Geneseo First National Bank, continued with his work at the bank even at age 89, when he was brought in a wheelchair.
His brother George and his wife on occasion interrupted a quiet life with a splendid and memorable social affair, such as the wedding reception for their daughter Emma. Food was catered from Chicago, as well as cut flowers. A Chicago band played for dancing on an outdoor deck erected for the occasion in the garden.
The home features 12-foot ceilings, ornate gold crown moldings, five of the original twelve marble fireplaces and two large winding staircases. Stained glass nursery doors and lintels over the double doors illuminate each of the home’s formal entry halls.
Magnificent chandeliers hang throughout the museum. In the south side formal parlor hangs the Chicago’s Hull House chandelier with 191 glass prisms.
The museum houses permanent museum exhibits as well as changing displays featuring thousands of local artifacts. It is a historic home and a working museum. We invite you to visit the general store, dentist office, children’s room and stroll through the lovely gardens.
GENESEO HISTORICAL MUSEUM
The Geneseo Historical Association was established in 1972, and its first museum consisted of two rooms in the caretaker's house at Richmond Hill Park. There was immediate and widespread interest in the new project-membership ranks began to multiply as did donations. Artifacts and memorabilia of regional historical significance started to arrive at a dizzying rate and (he organization quickly obtained a "not-for-profit" status.
By 1976, the museum rooms were "bursting at the seams," leaving no space for storage, repair or cataloging. Luckily, the Geneseo Public Library had by then moved into a new building and made the historic old Hammond Library, built in 1898, available to the association as a permanent museum. So it remained for the next two decades.
By early 1996, however, even these quarters were gelling cramped, and the association's board had become concerned about the future of the lease arrangement they had enjoyed with the library. So an effort was quietly launched to explore alternatives. Again fortune smiled in the form of another building that was just coming on the market, a huge Italianate structure almost directly across the street. It had much greater floor space and was, itself, of historical importance. The first of its bricks had been laid in 1855, just twenty years after the arrival of the town's first settlers. What had been, since Civil War days, two joined homes was divided into four apartments early in the 1900's.
With 27 rooms and 9,000 square feet of usable space, this handsome mansion could easily display the museum's existing collection, with room to spare for an expanded office, storage and other amenities. The structure and appointments (some of them original) were all in excellent repair, including lovely grounds for outdoor events. That it was reputed to have been a station on the "Underground Railroad" merely enhanced the building's appeal. The 1855 home was a “safe house” for runaway slaves on their way to freedom in Canada. Visitors can view the hiding hole and keeping rooms that were part of the “Underground Railroad”
An offer was made and, through the unstinting generosity of the area's citizens and charitable organizations, the museum board was able to make the purchase. (They still, however, remain partly dependent upon donations to cover day-to-day expenses.) On May 4, 1997, the board said farewell to the site which had been the association's home for twenty years.
Today's museum building boasts 12-foot ceilings with ornate crown moldings, five of the original twelve marble fireplaces, and two front entrances leading to their own winding staircases. It is an historic home and a working museum containing a general store and rooms typical of the Victorian era. It houses permanent exhibits as well as changing displays, featuring thousands of local and regional artifacts. In the formal parlor hangs a huge chandelier with 191 prisms which came from Chicago's Hull House. Application has been made to have the site added to the National Registry of Historic Places.
Shortly after the museum officially opened, the magnificent larger-than-life size bust of Abraham Lincoln, now on the northwest corner of the property, was presented to the association. It was a gift from the family of the late Dr. Gifford Zimmerman, a successful optometrist who had grown up in Geneseo and started his practice there. A plaque bearing the Gettysburg Address was added the same year, making this charming, outside alcove an attraction in itself to both residents and visitors. The Lincoln bust was created in 1928 for the French government as a presentation piece. It made its way to the Union Stockyards in Chicago, then to the Stockyards branch in Atkinson where it ultimately came into Dr. Zimmerman's possession.
Few small towns in the country can boast of a local, historical museum in such a magnificent setting and with such an extensive collection defining the settling and growth of America's heartland. The museum is also shown by appointment and special arrangements can be made to accommodate bus tours and other large groups. An access ramp and elevator have been added for the convenience of our visitors.