The Highbanks section of Letchworth State Park—including the Hogsback pictured below—is one of the Genesee Valley’s natural beauties. Looking out across the river, it’s not just the breadth of landscape that amazes but what you might call the depth of time. Trying to think about our area’s past and its ecology together is the goal of OpenValley; it uses archival materials to create historical exhibits with a contemporary focus upon sustainability.
Beginning in the late 18th century, Conesus Creek and other waterways near Avon provided mechanical power for a variety of milling functions
Welcome to OpenValley
July 26, 1902 was a day like many others for the 72-year-old Sheffield Peabody: he “drawed out” a load of hay from a field that had been mowed ten days before, and his son George L. went to church in Canadice that afternoon. But his journal also records that “They have connected the telephone system with Springwater Central. We can talk with the people in the valley.” It may be hard for us to appreciate what a transformative moment this was; each time Sheffield wrote, as he often did, that he “went down to the valley,” the distance was four miles on dirt roads, with an elevation drop (or ascent) of more than 1,000 vertical feet, traveled by horse-drawn wagon or sleigh. In 1885, having served as a juror for a murder trial held in Geneseo, Sheffield stayed at the home of Nelson Willis that night, traveled to Springwater the next morning, walked home from the Erie Railroad depot, then “commenced sowing barley” before finally pruning his orchard toward nightfall (11-12 May, 1885). Telephones dramatically transformed all of these activities in a spatial but also a cultural sense. This exhibit begins from an anachronous perspective—our own society whose informational, economic, and social networks are taken for granted. Increasingly, we meet these needs without physical travel, through online or cloud technologies. What did Sheffield’s networks look like? How did he meet these needs? Our premise is that a man for whom the term “went” is among the most common in his journals—“I went over to George Higgins’ today”; “I went to the valley”—enacted these networks in physical space, as we sometimes do but to a much lesser extent in the 21st century. Through a combination of targeted questions and (word) mapping visualizations, Sheffield’s apparently simple life on a farm becomes much richer...