Browse Exhibits (11 total)

Caledonia 1892


This exhibit is based upon an 1892 bird's eye panorama created by Burleigh Litho of Troy, NY. From an overhead viewpoint of perhaps 1,500 feet—a location that wasn’t accessible in this era before airplanes—we look down upon a somewhat simplified and idealized portrait of Caledonia. Below the illustrated map, its legend provides us with a snapshot of the village recovering from a major fire in 1891. Forty-eight numbered points included railroad stations, churches, the public school, and even Seth Green’s fish hatchery in nearby Mumford. The majority of named locations, however, were commercial enterprises serving as a likely base of customers to purchase copies of the completed map: if you subscribed, your business became a location. This exhibit includes a section about the 1891 fire and its consequences; one upon panoramic maps, and the Burleigh Litho company in particular; a tour of the bird's eye map; a section offering more detailed information about most of the individual businesses; and a gallery of similar maps from western New York. Together, they show Caledonia rebuilding itself at the century’s turn using the swiftly evolving medium of advertising and its imagined worlds, an appropriate counterpart to this idealized village as seen from the clouds above.

Letchworth Viewpoints


Letchworth State Park, the “Grand Canyon of the East,” is known for its vistas of natural beauty seen by more than 650,000 visitors every year. Uncountable photographs have been created at overlooks along the gorge’s rim—Mt. Morris Highbanks, Hogsback, Gardeau, Big Bend, Inspiration Point—and at its three major waterfalls near Portageville. Sightseers also have paused to document viewpoints from other perspectives: from the gorge’s bottom, the park’s numerous trails, and even looking back into a past implied by the Seneca Council House and Mary Jemison monument. It seems appropriate, then, that in 1967 the Eastman Kodak Company (located forty miles downriver in Rochester) created a tourist map entitled “Picture-taking In Letchworth State Park.”

This exhibit adopts Kodak’s twenty so-called “Picture Spots” as a framework to explore how our conceptions of nature and the picturesque have changed over time at a single location. Individual sections, each focusing upon a representational medium, are arranged in roughly chronological order beginning with William Pryor Letchworth’s purchase of the Glen Iris tract in 1859. Taken together, the goal is to elicit new appreciation for the park as a dynamic place; its beauty was in part created by the actions of committed individuals and a growing environmental awareness.

Peabody Networks

Crowds walking to the Hemlock Fair, ca. 1900

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 and socially complex.  The exploratory essays are organized under three broad headings: The Social Network, which maps Sheffield’s relations with various groups of people outside of his family; Circuits, which explores his farm as an economic node in relation to a circulation of mutual commerce & interdependency; and The Safety Net, focusing upon his later years and the need for medical, financial, and emotional support.

Peabody Winter Activities

Sleigh Race.jpg

For 19th-century farmers, the end of a growing season meant a change in daily activities.  They still had to feed (and slaughter) livestock, thresh grains, deliver stored vegetables to market, harvest timber, and repair farm equipment--in other words, a lot of work!  A terse diary entry like "We tinkered around some.  We killed a calf today" (11 Nov. 1851) still testifies to ongoing, year-round labor.  Even so, farmers had more time to pursue interests not otherwise possible during the summer months.  This exhibit upon Sheffield Peabody's early years of keeping a diary explores some of his winter activities and, by extension, those of his surrounding community. 

Looking back upon his life from the 21st century, it is important to remember how much of our time during winter is spent in climate-controlled conditions.  We find Sheffield and his community acclimated to outdoor activities that sometimes leave us gazing out of the window at them.  Often, he will record a sub-zero temperature--and then go on to describe some outdoor enterprise--but more commonly such information never is mentioned.  It reminds us that the experience of cold is culturally and historically relative, and that a tremendous range of life took place during the winter season.

Seth Green: Home Waters

Daly--Trout Fishing.jpg

This exhibit profiles one of the Genesee Valley’s most famous residents, Seth Green, against a backdrop of modern food systems and their sustainable alternatives. Born in 1817, Green grew up in Rochester and at an early age showed a talent for fishing—so much so that beginning in his twenties he was able to earn a livelihood on the lower Genesee River and eventually open a lucrative fish market on Front Street.  The scale of this latter enterprise, which removed anywhere from a thousand pounds to three tons of fish from nearby lakes and streams on a daily basis, may have imparted an urgency to the experimental spawning techniques for which he became renowned at his fish hatchery along Caledonia Creek.

The emphasis here is to “re-localize” Green, particularly his vision of a sustainably managed network of creeks and rivers that would give people access to healthy local foods—a far cry from today’s globalized fish farms with genetically modified species. He was particularly interested in the role of local farmers, whose “homes are among the lakes and streams, and the lands which they cultivate border on them...[T]hese bodies of water are natural fish farms, capable of producing more food, acre for acre, than the land, besides not requiring the attention and labor necessary to prepare the soil for a future crop.” The essays contained here revisit Green’s unusual synthesis of sport angling, regional food systems, and conservation; they offer a series of related explorations on his life to better understand the prospects for contemporary pisciculture.

Under the Bronze Bear: A Geneseo Water Map

Walters--Bronze Bear.jpg

At the corner of Main and Center Streets, in the village of Geneseo NY, stands one of its iconic landmarks: the Emmeline Austin Wadsworth Fountain. Better known as the “Bronze Bear,” it was installed in 1888 and over the years has been the subject of innumerable photographs, late-night dips, apocryphal stories, and acts of vandalism. The rise of automotive culture was not kind to the fountain; it fell into disrepair and was surrounded by traffic signs that created drive-by glances at village history. Beginning in 2008, a group of residents called the Association for the Preservation of Geneseo undertook a restoration of the fountain and its idiosyncratic sculpture to their original state.

This exhibit begins at the Bronze Bear fountain and traces another, literally underground history of its water supply—where did it come from, anyway? Using historic maps and documents, along with modern geographical information services (GIS), it traces fountain water to its source in two different ways: spatially, to the various locations Geneseo has extracted (and disposed of) its water supply; and historically, back to a series of ecological problems created by the village’s growing population. It is presented as a series of interactive webmaps, which are viewed in their best resolution by clicking here.

Underground Atlas of the Genesee

American Rock Salt--small.jpg

This collection of twelve maps upon the Genesee Valley begins with a photograph: a small portion of the operations at American Rock Salt’s mine in Mount Morris, NY. Every day at the nation’s largest salt mine, anywhere between 10,000 and 18,000 tons of crushed minerals emerge from underground and travel via rail throughout the northeast for the task of melting ice upon roads and sidewalks. To think about this local landmark not simply as a commercial enterprise but also as a place—is it at, in,or under Mount Morris?—recalled to us what Rebecca Solnit has written about the complexity of that premise: “What we call places are stable locations with unstable converging forces that cannot be delineated by fences on the ground or borders in the imagination—or by the perimeter of the map. Something is always coming from elsewhere, whether it’s wind, water, immigrants, trade goods, or ideas.” Inspired by Solnit’s observation, primarily horizontal in its orientation, we wondered about the relation between aboveground places in the Genesee Valley and any number of elsewheres located underground.

Some of the GIS maps in this atlas grapple with that relation in a geographic, even geological manner; others depict more figurative underworlds, terrains that are mythical, psychological, social, or historical. Regardless of the subject matter, however, belowground places and their aboveground cultural meanings are reckoned to be realms that form a single, connected ecology. In addition to a Story Map collecting the Underground Atlas, the exhibit here on OpenValley contains sections for each of its dozen maps--featuring in-depth background and galleries of documents not shown in the atlas. For the best screen resolution, it's recommended that you view the story map by clicking on this link.

Wadsworth Family Papers: Farm to Table

Lobster 2.jpg

A lot of things happen to foods on their way from farm to table: they are harvested, packed, shipped, processed, distributed, purchased, cooked, and consumed—which is why Wendell Berry writes that “eating is an agricultural act.” Many eaters either don’t know, or don’t want to know, about that provenance.  By contrast, the growing popularity of farm-to-table restaurants and farm markets arises from a belief that local, seasonal, organic foods are healthier and more environmentally sustainable. Yet for those eaters who value a recovered connection to what is on their plate, the imaginary dimensions of farm-to-table remain mostly unconscious—for example, a type of organic food narrative that Michael Pollan has called “supermarket pastoral.”

This exhibit, while recognizing the agricultural issues involved, focuses upon a cultural imagination of food that has filled the void as Americans gradually lost touch with the everyday experience of farming during the 19th and 20th centuries. Harvey Levenstein writes that by 1900 food processing accounted for a quarter of the nation’s manufacturing, and the Genesee Valley—a predominantly agricultural region throughout the 1800s—was transformed by the industrial logic of raw foods becoming consumer brands for the global market. The essays begin with a consideration of how (and why) non-native foods gained a foothold at the Wadsworth family table, then utilizes archival material to show the changing relation between farmers and eaters.

Wadsworth Family Papers: Food Miles


During the 1990s, advocates for sustainable agriculture began using the term food miles to visualize a meal’s environmental impact. The meat and produce in our grocery stores has traveled hundreds, often thousands of miles for many reasons. We desire foods not indigenous to our area, or at a time when they are not in season. We expect to purchase foods at the cheapest possible price, incentivizing imports from locations where labor costs are low and environmental regulations lax. We eat food from around the world because sophisticated transportation networks and a “cold chain” of refrigerated storage allows us to. All of this travel, perhaps invisible to us, comes at an environmental cost.

The calculation of food miles has become more complex in the years since then—is it better to transport tomatoes via railroads from the South instead of growing them in fossil-fueled New York greenhouses?—and so environmentalists sometimes prefer the term “lifecycle analysis” for a deeper accounting.  Still, there remains something very intuitive and powerful about eating within one’s own foodshed.  A recent study by Andrew Zumkehr and J. Elliott Campbell calculated that 90% of Americans still could be fed entirely by food grown within a 100-mile radius (and even smaller than that by changing to a vegetarian diet).  In other words, local food needn’t be an occasional luxury. This exhibit looks back upon a region whose “Genesee Wheat” traveled around the world thanks to the Erie Canal, both to explore the consequences of food miles but also the potential relocalization of its farming infrastructure.

Wadsworth Family Papers: Mills of Conesus Creek

Plate IV_edited-1.jpg

This spatially defined exhibit has at its one end the town of Lakeville, located near the outlet of Consesus Lake, and a point less than ten miles distant where Consesus Creek flows into the Genesee River just downstream from the Glen Avon Mills site. Its historical significance derives largely from the meandering creek’s 250-foot drop in elevation over that distance, hinted at via a series of names: Triphammer Road, Papermill Road, Mill Road.  In this regard, many other communities in the Genesee Valley bear similar linguistic clues as to their early water-milling history—until the later 19th century, a primary source of mechanical work.  The Wadsworths owned and managed more than 30,000 acres of farmland, but its productivity depended greatly upon the ability to add value to food (like turning wheat into flour) and then shipping it to markets beyond the Genesee Valley.  As such, the location of mills, canals, and railroads was important; Wadsworth investments in all three types of infrastructure testify to their importance.  We begin by focusing upon that mill at the Glen Avon site and then expanding its significance through a series of linked exhibits.