Seeing Inside the Houses of History
Posted on Saturday, June 06, 2009
As alums gathered for the historical bus tour, chatter about how things used to be filled the air. For some, every place seemed a bit bigger; for others, few original sites remained. But everyone was excited for the first stop on the tour - the home of William Smith.
Passing by the restored row houses of South Main, the former nurseries of Castle Street and the homes of the entire Smith family, the tour began with Barbara Springstead '57, L.H.D.'90 as the guide.
The large brick home, completed in 1876, was occupied by William Smith until he died in 1912. It has since served as a family home and a church-owned retirement home. Now, it will be a bed and breakfast. David Gage '91, associate director of admissions, and his wife Theresa obtained the house in February and have been working steadily on renovations.
"We're trying to restore it back to how it was when William Smith lived here," says Gage. The home, a maze of hallways and beautifully lit rooms with large windows and doors, boasts 10 bedrooms and five chimneys. Built to last, the house is constructed of brick, oak, black walnut, pine, and a variety of other wood. "William Smith really built himself a fortress of a house," Gage explains.
Gage takes pride in the Colleges and has included HWS-themed rooms in the house, such as the Elizabeth Blackwell Room, the Miller Room, and the Statesmen Room. Outside the house, Gage's mother Joan is working to return the gardens to what they believe William Smith had planted; meanwhile, his father, Walter Gage '62, has been busy painting the 65 doors of the house.
But the tour didn't end there - next up was Rose Hill Mansion, an historical farmland site. First built in the early 1800s, the building became what it is today in the 1830s. In 1965, the house was bought by the Geneva Historical Society. It restored each of the 10 columns of the ancient Greek architecture, including one column which had more than 200 pounds of honey and a swarm of bees living inside.
After exploring the intricacies of the old house, hearing letters and gossip from the 1800s, and discovering more about the Swan family who inhabited the home for many years, the alums took a chance to praise the view from the house before heading back onto the bus.
The tour back from Rose Hill took the alums through the oldest part of the city, behind the hotel on Park Place. Surrounded by beautiful gardens, including a house built in 1796, the area is currently being restored.
The historical tour ended with a reception in the Centennial House for Leadership, where Mara O'Laughlin '66, the assistant vice president for Institutional Advancement, spoke about William Smith College's legacy of leadership as alums mingled and enjoyed cookies and lemonade.
Reflecting back on the tour, one alum says, "The entire tour was amazing! But if I could choose one house to live in, I choose William Smith's."