At the end of the eighteenth century, the Holland Land Company, made up of a consortium of Dutch bankers, purchased 3.3 million acres in Western New York as an investment. The building in Batavia that now houses the Holland Land Office Museum was once the company's main office for selling land directly to settlers. Last month NEHGS Councilor Jennifer Piña of California toured the Holland Land Office Museum. Here she shares her impressions. --Editor
The Holland Land Office Museum
in Batavia, Genesee County, New York, houses a rich and varied collection of materials in an 1815 stone building, the third on this site. The building functioned as a land sales office from 1815 until the late 1830s, and was the first National Historic Landmark in western New York.
On a recent visit, my husband and I learned the story of how the 3.5 million-acre Holland Purchase began with a 1797 treaty between representatives of Declaration of Independence signer Robert Morris and the Seneca tribe. The Holland Land Company purchased the land from Morris and began the ambitious project of having the huge tract--which covered a large portion of what is now western New York--surveyed. (This map
is helpful for visualizing the area.) Overseen by Joseph Ellicott, the survey was carried out in the thickly forested terrain using links, chains, and basic tools. Examples of these instruments, as well as an Ellicott family desk and a portrait of Joseph Ellicott, occupy a gallery recently renovated to recreate his 1815 land office.
One gallery includes displays on two local men. Charles F. Rand, a Batavia native, was the first man in the nation to answer President Lincoln's call for volunteers at the start of the Civil War. He also received a Congressional Medal of Honor. Ely S. Parker, a member of the Seneca tribe, was educated as a lawyer and civil engineer. During the Civil War he rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel, served as Ulysses Grant's adjutant, and wrote out the terms of surrender at Appomattox. The museum holds a number of other items of interest, including uniform pieces and equipment used in the War of 1812, firearms, and drums used in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The museum features a pioneer kitchen and the area's 1859 gibbet. Many local residents have donated items that were passed down through generations of their families.
Our tour of the museum was conducted by Jeffrey Fischer, who generously shared his knowledge of the Holland Purchase, the museum, and its contents. Museum director Jeffrey Donahue was also on hand to answer our questions. The museum does a fine job of introducing a number of intriguing historical figures and events. The AAA tour book for the area recommends allowing 30 minutes for the museum. I believe that 30 minutes should be considered a nice start!
For more on the Holland Land Company and the Holland Purchase, see Marian Henry's article, "The Holland Purchase: Pioneer Settlements in Western New York State," on AmericanAncestors.org. Three related articles--"Retracing a Vermont Family's Migration to the Holland Purchase," "The Records of the Holland Land Company in Western New York," and "Genesee Fever: The Lure of Land on the New York Frontier"--are available to NEHGS members in the fall 2009 issue of
New England Ancestors magazine.