story and photo by James P. Hughes
Flat, fertile farmland dotted with picturesque homes, barns, and flowing fields of crops belie the fact that just a dozen miles (and perhaps 20 minutes) away sits downtown Rochester. No “urban sprawl” envelops the Town of Wheatland and Scottsville, its only incorporated village. Except for a few gently rolling hills, the surroundings might be mistaken for a slice of the Midwest. Scottsville’s neat homes and pleasant streets certainly typify traditional “small-town America.”
Wheat and Wheatland
Frontiersman Ebenezer “Indian” Allan (subject of many a tall tale) settled briefly in the region around 1786, passing along acreage in 1789 to Peter Sheffer and family, the first permanent residents of what is now the Town of Wheatland. Scottsville’s namesake, the Isaac Scott family, arrived in 1790 purchasing a tract along Oatka Creek near the present village center.
Land, rich and plentiful, drew more and more settlers to the area. Prosperity arrived in the first half of the 19th century – agriculture boomed. The region became America’s foremost supplier of wheat well before the heralding of the Midwest as the nation’s “breadbasket.” Multiple mills along Oatka Creek ground flour, then shipped their product afar by way of the Genesee Valley Canal with its vital connection to the Erie. Second to none, the wheat and award-winning flour found its way to Boston, New York and beyond. The “Wheatland” moniker came about not by accident.
Wheat production began to fall off prior to the Civil War when “wheat midge” infestations reduced crop yields and lowered the grade of harvested grain. Yet, productive farming remained strong, and Scottsville village continued as a bustling commercial center. Early businesses, like tinsmith George Slocum’s hardware store, often remained family owned for generations. Older residents still remember the Dunn Brothers’ General Store where “stopping for a chat” was considered part of the transaction. Owner Romeyn “Dubby” Dunn, a very popular guy, was a longtime village postmaster, once serving as Wheatland town supervisor. A damaging fire and cultural change in the 1950s slowed activity in the downtown business block.
Take a Stroll
Many beautiful homes built by village residents during that early robust era are still on full display along Rochester Street and its nearby thoroughfares in Scottsville’s nationally recognized Historic District. A brochure available at the village office will guide visitors on a pleasant stroll around “Old Scottsville,” a tour past notable homes and structures dating from the very early 1800s. Styles and detail are varied and unique: Greek Revival, cobblestone, brick Federal, and Victorian. In addition to the village’s distinctive homes, Union Presbyterian Church (1856), St. Mary of the Assumption Church (1853), and Romanesque-style Grace Episcopal (1885) join other architectural gems along the way. For a peek back in time, the Wheatland Historical Association maintains the 1830 Sage-Marlow House on Main Street, a completely restored and furnished workingman’s residence true to the era.
Village mayor Eileen Hansen proudly calls Scottsville Free Library (1892) the “Jewel of Scottsville.” Originally christened Windom Hall, the imposing structure served for many years as a theater, auditorium, and center for community activities. A lettered transom window still exists verifying that even a dentist’s office once occupied a location in the building. In 1935 the village deeded Windom Hall to the library. There it has remained in its wood-lined historical space to the present, relatively unchanged and with a proud heritage. On the rear wall, above the original stage, a war memorial exists for those who served in their country’s conflicts. The display is honored each year as part of the village’s Memorial Day observance.
Before finishing your outing, take time to follow the Canal Street Boardwalk through scenic woods along Oatka Creek and perhaps leave time for a break at the nearby Artisan Coffee House, a popular local spot extolled by reviewers for its “great coffee, unique menu, and delicious homemade muffins.”
Past Blends with Present
Small town life changes even as it remains the same. Youngsters still seek out the same Oatka Creek swimming holes where others have splashed about for generations. For more than a century the freshest produce has been brought from farm to market throughout the growing season. That tradition continues at the Scottsville Farmers Market every Wednesday from June until September with a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers, locally made products, and often a dose of toe-tapping music thrown in.
Those with a keen eye for architectural detail may spot a “Lazy W” molding above paneled windows on a number of local barns. The gambrel-roofed structure’s exterior may appear rather typical, but its interior is quite the opposite. In 1889, area resident John Talcott Wells patented a truss support system for barn building, a design that eliminated the interference of traditional center post and cross beam construction.
The resulting interior, open and cavernous, facilitated the loading and unloading of huge hay wagons and simplified other farm procedures. Massive laminated (and gradually curving) beams meeting at the barn’s apex are engineering marvels. A stunning example of a restored Wells Truss Barn, (alongside a classic cobblestone homestead) sits just south of Scottsville on River Road. As the present-day Cobblestone Wedding Barn, it provides an unmatched rustic venue for weddings and large gatherings in a pristine country setting.
Stokoe Farms on South Road has been a working farm and area landmark for 206 years. Now approaching its 7th generation of family ownership, the farm has expanded to some 4,000 acres of crops and related facilities since English-born Thomas Stokoe purchased his first 100 acres near Scottsville in 1812. In addition to the ongoing farm operation, Stokoe Farms has become a focus of tradition and fun!
The annual Pumpkin Patch and Harvest Fest provides more than an opportunity to pick “just the right pumpkin.” There are dozens of family-friendly activities from zip lines and giant slides to a corn maze and hay rides – all topped off with cider and fresh donuts. In December, it’s time for a crisp outing and a chance to cut the perfect Christmas tree, enjoy a warm bonfire, and sample complimentary cookies and hot chocolate. A gift shop and ongoing special events keep Stokoe Farms a lively place year-round.
Stately tree-lined neighborhood streets have always been a Scottsville characteristic. That tradition continues with membership in “Tree City USA,” a nationwide framework designed to manage and expand public trees within a community. Each year on Arbor Day, enthusiastic villagers and local organizations spend a day “beautifying Scottsville” and planting new memorial trees to honor deceased neighbors who have in some capacity served their hometown.
What started out years ago as a few firetrucks winding through village streets draped with strings of decorative bulbs has evolved into the annual Parade of Lights, scheduled for December 1st this year. The full-blown holiday celebration features a parade, music, historic house tour, a visit from Santa, and of course food…lots of food. Transitions from past to present smoothly continue.
Some Interesting Folks
When acclaimed artist Wendell Castle passed away in January of 2018, one writer recalled “a visionary woodworker, furniture-maker, and sculptor,” an artist who combined the fine arts with furniture design that “bemused, surprised, and baffled.” Castle was a longtime Scottsville resident. His wife Nancy Jurs, an accomplished sculptor in her own right, still maintains a home and studio in the village.
Noted writers Carl Schmidt and Henry W. Clune found Scottsville a favorable place to live and work. Schmidt wrote numerous books on historical architecture including a well-known volume, Cobblestone Architecture, describing in detail a building style and its unique heritage in upstate New York. Clune (1890 – 1995), an admired journalist with the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle for 55 years, turned out some 7,500 “Seen and Heard” columns, 14 books, and was honored for literary achievement. His perceptive writings often referenced his personal home life. In one book, retelling appealing tales of his native area, Clune had Rochester and certainly Scottsville in mind with its heartfelt title: I Always Liked it Here.