Visits to Museums
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NSG Visit March 29, 2003
Two Historic Gems
Lima, New York
More than twenty-five members of the New Society of the Genesee arrived in Lima, New York, on Saturday, March 29th, to enjoy another meeting investigating the Genesee Region's historic past. The first stop was at the American Hotel at 7304, West Main Street, in Lima. It was once operated by John Keville Reynolds who in 1920 purchased the hotel. John immigrated from Cordoff, Ireland, learning the restaurant business in New York City at a place on 42nd Street and Broadway called Shanleys.
After John's passing, family members have continued operation of the hotel, advertising its location "At the Fork of the Trail." The "trail" relates to the main thoroughfare (Routes 5 & 20) between Boston and Chicago. Situated on the trail, the hotel has continued as a stopping place for travelers as it had been ever since a tavern was erected there in the early 1800's.
Rose Reynolds, who grew up living on the hotel's third floor, related tales of her life as one of seven children. She also pointed out relics from the past, one a large panel containing a series of early advertising frames that once greeted local patrons. The ad she liked the best was for the rental of a "LIVERY RIG." In smaller letters, the ad stated, "Gentle horses and Careful Drivers."
She also told us how the large window in the front came to be. He father had a fancy cigar lighter and one day it exploded and blew a hole in the wall. Her dad decided to fill the gap with a large window.
According to an informative brochure provided by Rose, the cast iron pillars that now support the hotel's facade were acquired from an old Methodist church. They came through a third party since churches wouldn't sell to a saloon. Rose also explained that the hotel's bar was converted into an ice cream parlor during Prohibition, but that a back room served as a speakeasy. All of our group trooped into the men's room next to the bar to view the massive, bathtub-sized urinal.
Today Rose and her brother Patrick continue running the popular village establishment. Rooms, with a decided 1920's look, are rented for forty to fifty dollars per day. Available to the public is an interesting menu of unusual soups including Dutch meatball, cock-a-leeky, orange carrot and curried crab bisque plus a variety of hearty sandwiches. Society members availed themselves of the luncheon cuisine following Rose's talk and guided tour of the historic hotel. Perhaps the most unusual artifacts in the vintage hotel were the murals an itinerant artist had painted on the walls of the dining room in return for his liquid refreshment. The eye-level, medium-sized scenes, spaced around the room, remain untouched today.
Paul Worboys, who'd arranged for our American Hotel tour and luncheon, then directed us to our next historic experience, a tour of the Elim Bible Institute situated on College Street high above the village of Lima. This was the site of the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary established by the Genesee Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The school's origins date back to the biblical orations of Charles Grandison Finney, the Presbyterian revivalist, whose preaching in the Genesee Country led to the opening of the "Edifice of Genesee Wesleyan Seminary" to 341 students on May 1, 1832.
On the same campus, Genesee College was founded in 1849. The combined schools continued until 1870 when Genesee College broke off to eventually become Syracuse University. The seminary remained and in 1932 celebrated its centennial as "the oldest co-educational institution in the country." Then in 1941, after 109 years, the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary closed. Genesee Junior College opened on the same campus in 1947. In 1951, it became Elim Bible Institute. Currently the Institute offers one-, two- or three-year programs in missionary work, church leadership, practical ministry and a "twelve-month course in basic building and business management skills."
We were welcomed on the veranda of the Institute's Administrative Building by Jessica, a gracious seminarian. She showed us the entrance parlors and the former dining hall, now a large classroom. Next we looked into the boy's dormitory where the room of the Senior Class president was open for us to see that it was neat with a properly made bed. It did have an impressive high-tech sound amplifier and other acoustical paraphernalia. We were told that the dean makes regular inspections of all dorm rooms. Wonder if he likes the music?
Jessica told us that travelers on routes 5 & 20 once marveled at the imposing Greek Revival College Hall, constructed in 1851 of red brick with four massive white columns supporting the portico on the front. The main floor has high-ceilinged classrooms and offices on either side of a wide hall running the length of the building. From the central hallway long and very steep stairs lead up to opposite sides of a large assembly hall on the second floor that was built as the college chapel. This room has tall windows on three sides and on the fourth side, a large stage that once had a huge pipe organ. Mounted on the wall to the left of the stage is a commemorative plaque honoring Frances Willard, founder of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Miss Willard served as preceptress at the college in 1857.
Facing the stage are several tiers of comfortable wooden seats running all the way around the room. These, built to the floor pews, are curved at the corners of the room. The tall windows fill the room with light, and the spaciousness and handsome woodwork produce an elegant impression. Traci Williams, Director of Admissions for Elim Bible Institute, told us that for fire drill all of the students were required to crawl out through a window and down a steep metal stairway on the outside wall of the building. She said it wasn't easy when you were wearing a dress for church services.
We also saw the original gymnasium, built in 1910. Long and narrow in shape, the structure was just large enough to squeeze in a basketball court. At one time it had a firehouse-like brass pole which agile students used to reach their basement locker room. We found a stairway. Our group also visited the college bookstore and the library. Jessica and Traci were very friendly and informative. When asked, they told us that "Elim" refers to an oasis of twelve palm trees surrounding a Holy Land watering hole.
We all felt indebted to Paul Worboys for the rare opportunity to visit two of Lima's historic gems.
© 2003, Donovan A. Shilling