Genesee County NY: Batavia For the Ponies, LeRoy For the Jell-O

WHY GO: Interested in how land deals were conducted in the US the early 1800’s? Or, where Jell-O was first created? Or – do your proclivities bend more towards betting on the ponies, seeing your favorite bands in concert, or staying in a luxury hotel in a tiny village? 

You’ll find all this and more in the Western New York towns of Genesee County NYBatavia NY and LeRoy NY – located along NYS Thruway (1-90), centrally located 30 minutes between Rochester and Buffalo, and just 45 minutes from Niagara Falls.

Jell-O Barn Painting, LeRoy NY

Yes, many come to Genesee County NY for Six Flags Darien Lake, New York State’s largest Theme Park that uniquely features on-site lodging choices. But, the Getaway Mavens are all about romantic and quirky. So, our list of the things to do in Genesee County includes attractions that you might not know about. Keep reading.

And, if you’re looking for more dreamy weekends in New York State, check out this Most Romantic Getaways in NY roundup.

Things to do in Genesee County NY – Batavia NY

Holland Land Office Batavia NY

VISIT: Holland Land Office Museum

How does this deal sound? We’ll give you $100,000 and rights to 200,000 acres of land, if you give us the rights to 3.5 million acres. That’s basically what happened when, in 1791, land speculator, Robert Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence, purchased first dibs on all the land west of the Genesee River from the Seneca Nation.

In December 1792, when he became ill, Morris sold these rights to the Holland Land Company. The Dutch merchants who owned the company insisted that Morris transfer his rights to all 3.5 million acres to them, which necessitated a treaty with the indigenous Seneca Nation. That meeting was held on September 15, 1797 in a transaction called The Treaty of the Big Tree.

A piece of this historic tree is on display at the Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia NY. But there’s so much more here – and you can learn about some unseemly sides to early European Settlements after the Revolutionary War.

How Did We Get Twelve Inches To The Foot?

The Holland Land Company hired Joseph Ellicott to survey the land, which he completed in 1800 with the help of 150 men. Not only did Ellicott lay out the early village of Buffalo and measure the height of Niagara Falls, but he’s the numbers guy who established the twelve inches to a foot rule (prior to that, standard of measurement was in inches only). Which brings to mind this relevant Saturday Night Live skit.

Ellicott was the first Land Agent to work in this building, constructed in 1815 specifically for the Holland Land Company – and, living large, might have overstated value of the land he was selling off on the company’s behalf. He was fired in 1821, committed suicide in 1826, and, presumably, was buried six units of his own measurement under.

Not surprisingly, the Seneca Nation was never made whole.

The Holland Land Office closed here in 1840, after which the building became a school, then church, then, in 1894, a museum. Amazingly, this museum is 130 years old (in 2024). It is still managed by a Dutch organization.

More exhibits here include the Revolutionary War drum carried by the first drummer shot and killed here during the War of 1812. There’s also recognition of a Genesee County man, Charles Rand, who was awarded the “Order of First Volunteer” medal after attending a meeting at which Abe Lincoln called for volunteers to fight for the Union in the Civil War. Rand was the first to raise his hand.

Ely Parker, from Seneca Nation, Engineer and Lawyer

Seneca Nation Born Lawyer With Ulysses S Grant At Appomattox

My favorite exhibit, however, contains photos of and papers from Ely Parker, from the Seneca Reservation at Tonawanda. Parker studied law as a teen, but, due to his heritage, was barred from taking the Bar. Undaunted, he became an engineer, and worked on several projects with Ulysses S. Grant.

Because of his familiarity with legalese, though, Parker was asked to write up the documents of surrender at Appomattox. And, in fact, he was present when Lee surrendered to Grant. (Check out pictures from that event, and you’ll see a man, a bit darker than others, standing behind Grant).

Parker went on to become the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1869-1871, and passed away in 1895.

Batavia NY Peace Garden

PHOTO: Batavia Peace Garden

Just outside of the Land Office Museum, the small Batavia Peace Garden commemorates Batavia’s role in holding back the British during the War of 1812, after the city of Buffalo burned. Modeled on the International Peace Garden concept, it honors the friendly and durable relationship that has existed between the U.S. and Canada for over 200 years.

Bathroom at GO ART! Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council and Cultural Center, at Seymour Place Batavia NY

VISIT: GO ART! Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council and Cultural Center, at Seymour Place

Have a few minutes? Come in to the GO ART! Building (home to the Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council) right off Main Street – if only for the bathrooms. Outlandishly – some provocatively – decorated, you’ll be gobsmacked.

Another reason to visit? The Tavern! (see where to eat and drink below)

This building was home to a Fraternal Club (Batavia Club) from 1887-2001, which of course had its own bar. Now, thanks to GO ART! Executive Director, Gregory Hallock, that room has been revived as another watering hole for locals.

Due to this Arts Council, around 80 fine, performing, literary, culinary, design, and horticultural arts-related non-profits throughout Orleans and Genesee Counties receive grants each year.

But Batavia locals and guest can partake in over 150 annual “happenings” right in this building that honestly resists categorization.

In addition to gallery exhibits, rooms on two floors sport one designated for podcast production, a salon to rent for pre-wedding hair and make-up, a dance studio with Zoom hookup (e.g., to access classes from NYC Ballet), and programming like game and karaoke nights, creative arts camps during school breaks, Comedy and Open Mic Nights, culinary classes, and more.

Of course, you can come in to just look at the art in this multi-purpose building. But, whatever you do, don’t miss the bathrooms!

Puzzles and toys at Adam Miller Toy and Bicycle Shop Batavia NY

SHOP: Classic Stores in Downtown Batavia

When an independently owned shop does something right for decades, and still brings in the business, why change? That’s the thinking of the following establishments, mostly in the Jackson Square area, that have become Batavia  – and, really Genesee County NY – icons.

Adam Miller Toy and Bicycle Shop Batavia NY

Adam Miller Toy & Bicycle Shop

Adam Miller’s shop has been a fixture in Batavia since 1918. Current owner, John Roche, chose to “keep it classic to preserve history.” So, you’ll find every toy from your childhood, no matter when that was. Remember Slinkys? Pogo Sticks? Model Airplanes? Snakes and Ladders?

“People walk in and say, ‘oh my gosh, I remember this.”  Find toys for babies to seniors, plus craft supplies, hobbies, and so, so many puzzles.

The bike shop bustles, as well. You can buy, rent, and even get your bicycle repaired here.

Third generation, Stephen Valle, Valle Jewelers Batavia NY

Valle Jewelers

Since 1951, the Valle family has been creating adornments for folks in Batavia and beyond. Third generation, Stephen Valle (pictured), now presides over the shop, and creates special engagement and wedding rings – and other jewelry – in all kinds of styles.  

Charles Mens Shop interior Batavia NY

Charles Men’s Shop

The Charles Men’s Shop first opened in 1947. So, when David Howe purchased it in 1984, he decided to “keep it old school.” As soon as you walk in, salespeople with “product knowledge” really listen to what you – the customer – wants. “We take pride in our quality clothing and master tailoring,” for both modern and classic attire, employees say. Keeping it REALLY old-school, receipts are actually written by hand.

My Cut Barbershop Batavia NY

My Cut Barbershop

Hair salons may be where women go to gab, but the lively My Cut barbershop is a mid-day gathering spot for bro’s. On a Thursday afternoon, and place was lit.

Empire Hemp Co. CBD

Although not old or enduring, Empire Hemp Co. sells products made from locally grown crops. Owner Shelly Wolanske, grows, mixes, and packages each product herself. And though Empire Hemp Co. offers bath and other skin-care products, their most popular are pain relief topicals like CBD Muscle Mouse and The Balm sticks.

Oliver's Candies Batavia NY

SHOP: Oliver’s Candies

Oliver’s Candies has been making candy the old-fashioned, handcrafted, way since 1932. The Swiss-looking building is large enough to accommodate coach bus crowds – and yes, the chocolate tough to resist. Especially when wafts of cocoa scent hit you immediately when you walk through the door.  

Things to do in Genesee County NY – LeRoy NY

Ingham Womens College student portrait at LeRoy House, LeRoy NY

COOL TRIVIA: Ingham Collegiate Institute

It might come as a surprise that little LeRoy NY was home to the first chartered academic women’s educational institute in the USA. From 1835 to 1892, over 5,000 women graduated with science, math, and arts degrees from Ingham Collegiate Institute. Although the buildings no longer stand, the town takes pride in its existence here nearly 200 years ago.

Jello Museum LeRoy NY

Although Jell-O is no longer produced in LeRoy NY, vestiges of “America’s Most Famous Dessert” remains.

It just takes one tweak of an existing product, followed by marketing moxie, to create a gangbuster product: which is basically the short story of Jell-O. You’ll learn that and more at a visit to the Jell-O Gallery Museum, situated in the very town in which this ubiquitous dessert was invented and produced for decades.

The Jell-O Gallery is on the top floor of a sandstone block building – right behind the LeRoy House (more on that below). In the basement, a transportation exhibit includes a replica of the original Jell-O Wagon. (The original is in the Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum in Buffalo NY).

Wall of Jell-O molds at Jell-O Museum LeRoy NY

The Jell-O Story

In 1897, Pearle Wait, a LeRoy NY carpenter and cough-syrup maker, had the bright idea to add sweet flavoring to granulated gelatin (which, a decade earlier, had been invented by Charles Knox).

Wait’s unnamed creation didn’t get much traction – so, for a mere $450, he sold his formula to Orator Woodward, owner of Genesee Pure Food Co., which was having some success with a product called Grain-O.

Naming the new product Jell-O, the advertising basically wrote itself.  But Woodward had more ideas. Before the product launch, he sent salesmen door to door to tell housewives, “Make room on your kitchen shelves. This is the next best thing.” The anticipation was palpable.

Jell-O iron bench art downtown LeRoy NY

By 1907, sales of Jell-O reached over a million dollars annually: turning the Woodward Family’s investment into the best spent $450 in business history. (Orator had died in 1906). The company was sold to Post in 1925 for $66 Million. The trademark is now owned by Kraft-Heinz, and is now worth a billion dollars.

Although it’s gone through some highs and lows, Jell-O is still popular among many, including college students (Jell-O shots), hospitals, and retro-households.

Empty Jell-O manufacturing building, LeRoy NY

So, it’s no surprise that people from all over the world come to this little town to pay homage to a famous dessert. Before entering the gallery exhibit, a Jell-O historian sits your group down for an entertaining and educational orientation, and then you’re left to peruse the timelines, ads, photos, toys, and artifacts – a whole wall festooned with Jell-O molds! – on your own.

Jell-O was produced in LeRoy until 1964 (now made in Dover Delaware). The plant building is currently empty, with future uncertain – but you can drive by it for a photo.

Jacob LeRoys desk and land ledger at LeRoy House NY

TOUR: Historic LeRoy House

Walk through the garden that separates the Historic LeRoy House from the Jell-O Gallery Museum to the street side front door. Three floors of the home are accessible – and decorated as they would have been throughout a succession of owners in the 1800’s.

Herman LeRoy – a shipping magnate who operated out of South Street Seaport in NYC and a contemporary of Alexander Hamilton – couldn’t resist the buying frenzy in Western NY in the early 19th Century. He purchased 86,000 acres of land, called The Triangle Tract, and, in 1823, sent his son, Jacob, to run the Land Office here.

Jacob and his wife, Charlotte, both city-kids, raised a passel of children in this home. The family left in 1837 to move back to Manhattan, possibly for financial reasons – or most likely, due to a sense of isolation here.

The home is full of artifacts from the LeRoy’s time, and then when it housed Samuel Cox, the first Ingram College chancellor.

Painted glass windows on interior doors of LeRoy House Leroy NY

Afterwards, it was a boarding house for the LeRoy Academic Institute students. You can marvel at their ingenuity, upstairs on the 2nd floor, where some of those students painted rustic scenes between the glass panes of their dorm room doors. Perhaps to keep Peeping Toms from looking in!

In 1940, the home was donated to the LeRoy Historical Society, and it became a museum. Throughout, you’ll see portraits of, and by, Ingham students.

Although you can walk unrestrained, into 11 rooms, the most interesting is the front parlor, which displays Jacob LeRoy’s Land Office desk and original land-sales ledger. If your ancestors purchased land in the area, their names might very well be inscribed in it.  Check website for days and times open, and admission fees.

LeRoy NY Town Historian, Lynne Belluscio With mini Barn Quilt

DRIVE: Barn Quilt Trail of LeRoy

Quilts and country go hand in hand, right? So, as a way to entice people to cruise out amidst the farms of LeRoy on side and back-road jaunts, creative locals painted quilt patterns in all kinds of shapes and colors on both their private property and community buildings.

For the town’s bicentennial, over 100 families either painted – or enlisted others to paint – quilt patterns on their barns, sheds, and garages. And as a result, the community got to know others outside of downtown LeRoy, thus bringing attention and tourists to the least traveled areas.

Town Historian, Lynne Belluscio, a quilt geek, spearheaded the Barn Quilt Trail of LeRoy. She drove me around and pointed out the most and least obvious ones.

Barn Quilts downtown LeRoy NY

Four of them grace the old D.W. Airport building. Now no longer in operation, the airport, built by Donald Woodward (son of Jell-O owner, Orator Francis Woodward), opened in 1928. On January 24, 1929, LeRoy NY made aviation history: 60,000 fans flocked here to see Amelia Earhart, who flew in on her tri-motor Fokker, The Friendship.

While it’s quite the excursion to see every barn quilt – you can follow this Barn Quilt Trail of Leroy map.

Where to Eat in Batavia, LeRoy, and Greater Genesee County NY

The Coffee Press Batavia NY

COFFEE: The Coffee Press, Batavia

Interior décor at The Coffee Press is a riff on Marshall’s Newsstand (which sold magazines and newspapers) that used to be nearby. A floor to ceiling bookshelf displays an array of manual typewriters (one, a rare Braille version). Here, sandwiches, wraps, and salads are named for famous newspapers: (Globe, Herald, Journal, Post etc). Owner, Derek Geib also owns Bourbon and Burger next door.

Eli Fish Brewing bar food Batavia NY

EAT/DRINK: Eli Fish Brewing, Batavia

Eli Fish was a real guy and a real beer brewer with, I would say, bad luck when it came to fires. He established his first malt house on Batavia’s main street in 1827, and then again and again, after fires ravaged the place, in 1835, 1865, and 1872.

Re-established in 2018, the first commercial brewery in Genesee County in nearly 100 years, (located in the former JJ Newberry 5 & Dime), Eli Fish Brewing has become quite the Batavia hangout. You can order pub food along with 24 handcrafted beers on draft and more. The vibe is boisterous, even on a Wednesday night – when a trivia competition was in full swing. If you’re traveling solo and don’t want to be alone – this is the place to be.

Go Art! interior front door, Batavia NY

DRINK: Tavern 2.o.1. Inside GO ART!, Batavia

Cap off the night with a drink in an unexpected place: inside an art gallery. Called Tavern 2.o.1, GO ART! (see above) maintains an old-world tavern inside a wildly decorated space. Yes, this is probably the only Arts Cultural Center and office for the County Arts Council with its own public bar selling beer, cider, wine, mead, and cocktails made from them. Open Wed-Sat 4-9.

D&R Depot Restaurant waitress with Pot Pie LeRoy NY

EAT: D&R Depot Restaurant, LeRoy

This original B&O train depot, repurposed as home to the D&R Depot Restaurant, is a precious lunch spot known for its pot pies. A “Cheers-like” local eatery, you’ll find all manner of comfort food – and a French Onion Soup that arrives to the table with scissors – to cut the strings of hot mozzarella, don’t you know.

Tracy B's micro brewery LeRoy NY

MICRO BREWERY: Tracy B’s Market and Farm Brewery, LeRoy

Tracy B’s Market and Farm Brewery is a bit out of town, but that doesn’t stop masses from coming to her shack-like brewery for live music and excellent fresh-brewed beer.

EAT/BATAVIA: Locals Recommend

Bourbon & Burger for its “impressive” selection of burgers, Alex’s Place near Batavia Downs for steak and Italian, O’Lacy’s Irish Pub for conviviality and traditional Irish dishes, and Roman’s for traditional Italian.

Where to Stay in Genesee County NY (Batavia and LeRoy)

Farmers Creekside Inn and Tavern exterior LeRoy NY

STAY/EAT: Farmers Creekside Tavern & Inn, LeRoy

Five luxury boutique rooms above – an excellent restaurant below. What more could you want from a small-town inn?

Who stays at the Farmers Creekside Tavern and Inn? Locals for a romantic staycation – or those traveling from NYC to Niagara Falls: a pit stop turned dreamy overnight.

Honeymoon suite at Farmers Creekside Tavern and Inn LeRoy  NY

I stayed in the Honeymoon Suite, which enveloped me in the lap of luxury. Dressed in earth toned Euro-Country finery, with a chic four-poster canopy bed, wingback chair, gas fireplace, and original brick and stone walls – it’s luxe in the most elegantly rustic way.

Insta-worthy bathroom at Farmers Creekside Inn, LeRoy NY

The bathroom is splendid – with a double sink, double-sized rain shower, deep soaking tub, and sexy dark floor made of octagonal matt-black tiles. Definitely a romantic space.

Although there’s no served breakfast (dining downstairs in the tavern is lunch and dinner only), a continental selection is dropped off at your door in the morning – made up of yogurt with granola, delish muffins, and cut fruit.

In addition, there’s a selection of Kerug coffees and teas, complimentary snacks (such as bags of potato chips) and cold drinks, including bottles of water, two steps from the rooms.

View from Farmers Creekside Inn Room LeRoy NY

Views overlook a manmade waterfall on the creek just outside. And yet this charming place is right in town, just before you cross the bridge.

Although the inn’s check-in desk is also the restaurant’s hostess stand, someone will accompany you to your room to make sure all is well.  The lodging is perfect for couples who want some solitude, and the option for a great meal within a few steps. Jell-O casual, it is not.

Farmers Creekside Tavern interior LeRoy NY

Dining at Farmers Creekside Tavern

Farmer’s Creekside Tavern offers an “elevated experience.” Dine on excellent dishes from burgers to sea bass in a low-lit stone room. The 150 wine list is long and well rounded – Wine Spectator awarded. In summer, patios on several levels hum with patrons, enjoying their drinks while gazing at the creek. In winter, firepits and igloos take the chill off. Of course, there’s always cuddling together.

Batavia Downs NY

STAY: Batavia Downs Gaming and Hotel, Batavia

If you have a penchant for the ponies and slots and want to stay as close as you can to the action, book a room at the Batavia Downs Gaming and Hotel, literally adjacent to Batavia Downs Harness Racetrack.

The lodging portion of the Gaming and Hotel is well-suited to its location. Ask for a track-side room and you can watch the races (or concert) from your own window – or through floor to ceiling windows on each floor that also offer seating.

Batavia Downs Hotel room NY

Concerts include lots of tribute bands, along with big names. (2024 sees Smash Mouth and the Bacon Brothers).

Casino at Batavia Downs Gaming NY

Of course there’s a slew of slots, but you don’t even have to enter that area if you’re not gambling (or have kids in tow). The entrance to the hotel is up a short elevator.

Rooms are a step above cookie-cutter corporate, with luxuriously upscale bedding. And your stay includes a complementary warm buffet breakfast.

Romantic things to do in Genesee County NY

Author

  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine, Shape.com, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.

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