The Glen Avon Site
The Marsh brothers of Avon, Charles H. and John R., were agricultural players. Throughout the Wadsworth commercial papers, their hastily scrawled letters—or, quite often, telegrams—offer a market price upon grain or propose a real estate transaction. They operated grain-roasting facilities called malt houses in Avon (alongside the Erie railroad) and across the Genesee River in Canawaugus (Pennsylvania railroad). The volatility of this national market is suggested by their occasional explanation for a late payment to the Wadsworths. Sometime around 1862, the Marsh Brothers purchased a flour mill located upon Conesus Creek and renamed it—rather poetically, given its distance from the Scottish highlands—Glen Avon Mills. Although they sold the property a few years later and eventually it burned down in 1878, the name stuck; a rebuilt Glen Avon Mills opened in 1879 whose structure remains upon that location today as a private residence.
Our fragmented knowledge of this mill, one of the few remaining in the Genesee Valley, will have to symbolize many others now invisible to us. By the mid-1800s, an estimated 71,000 watermills operated in the United States before a precipitous decline caused by wood- , coal-, and oil-powered engines. Dimming commercial prospects did not prevent a Canadian immigrant named Emme Light from rebuilding Glen Avon Mills. Its trademarked varieties of flour—“Peerless,” “Sweet Violet,” “Daisy,” “White Rose”—date to a time when agricultural products began traveling beyond local consumers and depended upon a brand name instead of the miller’s reputation. Ownership of the mill passed to Light’s sons John and William, then later to his granddaughter Lucy (Light) McDonald who in 1949 leased it to a Dutch miller named George A. Bass. In 1951, the town of Avon purchased the mill for its more valuable Conesus Lake water rights, then sold the property back to Bass. Glen Avon ceased operations sometime around the late 1950s.
Today, that structure is a private residence. Upstream of the dam, along Conesus Creek, are several sections of federally designated wetland; downstream is a scenic gorge largely unknown to all but local fishermen. The mill's site renders its foundation subject to erosion, and parts of the larger area (like the tail race and stone arch bridge downstream) are in unstable condition. Still, there is great potential to the Glen Avon site in terms of history, environmental conservation, and even clean energy production. Perhaps the time has come for a re-consideration of this unique local resource.
Video of the Glen Avon structure as it appears today, still distinguished by its location at falls alongside Conesus Creek but now intriguing as a natural / historical heritage site. (Thanks to the Varno family)