The history of Hartford House and the Wadsworth family associated with it has been thoroughly documented by Alden Hatch's The Wadsworth of the Genesee in 1959 and by Alice Wadsworth Strong in a delightful personal account written in 1985 to mark the 150th anniversary of the construction of the mansion. Since no series of articles on buildings in Geneseo would be complete without its inclusion, the following is an attempt to present a brief chronological history of Hartford House and its occupants.
James Samuel Wadsworth (later General Wadsworth), born in 1807, was the eldest son of the pioneer James and his wife Naomi Wolcott. In 1834, he married Mary Craig Wharton of Philadelphia. While on their wedding trip in England, they met Lord Hertford and were so charmed by his "villa" in Regents Park that they persuaded him to give them a copy of its plans. Upon returning to Geneseo, they chose a spot at the north end of the village and construction of Hartford House was begun immediately. It was a large handsome two-story house with hyphenated wings on either side and was covered with stucco. The unadorned east facade had a portico covering the main entrance. The west facade was enhanced by two-story double bays and a porch extending the width of the central block from which there was a breath-taking view of the valley.
James and Mary were the parents of six children born between 1835 and 1848. In 1851 the entire family made a grand tour of Europe. During their absence a third story was added to the center block of the mansion to afford additional room for the large family. When the Civil War broke out, James enlisted and attained the rank of Major General. After highly commended service at Gettysburg, he was killed during the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. His widow continued to reside at Hartford House and upon her death in 1874, it was left to their son, James Wolcott Wadsworth.
In 1876 James Wolcott Wadsworth married Maria Louise Travers of New York City. They added a porte-cochere to the main entrance and in 1890 replaced an old stone gateway at the entrance to the estate and added a fence of iron paling. In 1891 they extended this for about a half mile from the Court House along the Avon Road. After a long residency James (also known as “the Boss”) died in 1926. Louise died in 1931 and Hartford House passed to their only son, James Wolcott Wadsworth, Jr.
James W. Wadsworth, Jr., had been pursuing a brilliant and distinguished political career. He served for six years as New York State Assemblyman, five years as Speaker, and from 1914 to 1926 as United States Senator. In later years, he was elected to Congress. At the time of his mother's death, he and his wife, the former Alice Hay, whom he had married in 1902, were living at Hampton, their estate in Groveland. They made plans to move to Hartford House only after extensive renovations could be made, but a destructive fire destroyed Hampton in 1932 and they were forced to occupy Hartford during the renovations. The front hall was enlarged. Much of the heavy Victorian interior decoration was removed in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere which they found oppressive, and new wall paper and paint were applied. They also extended the south room fifteen feet to the west, creating a library. They paneled it in white mahogany taken from the Washington residence of Mrs. Wadsworth's father, former Secretary of State, John Hay.
Senator and Mrs. Wadsworth were the parents of three children. James Jerimiah married the former Harty Tilton and served as New York State Assemblyman, and later, as Ambassador to the United Nations. They owned a lovely estate in the eastern part of Geneseo. Evelyn married Stuart Symington and moved to Missouri where he became a United States Senator. Reverdy married the former Eleanor Roosevelt and lived at Cornerways in the village. He managed the family farm and rental properties and was active in local affairs. Senator Wadsworth, later Congressman Wadsworth, died in 1952. He left life use of Hartford House to his widow and upon her death in 1960 ownership passed to Reverdy.
Reverdy and Eleanor Wadsworth modernized the kitchen and replaced any remaining heavy dark furniture with beautiful antiques that had been in the Roosevelt family. Reverdy continued in the day-to-day management of the Wadsworth lands until his sudden death in 1970. A few years later, his widow returned to Cornerways. Their only son Harry, then living in Denver, had at that time no plans of returning to Geneseo.
A collective sign of relief was felt in the valley when it was learned in 1975 that Alice Wadsworth Strong, daughter of Ambassador J. J. Wadsworth, and her husband Trowbridge had purchased Hartford House, ensuring that it would remain with the Wadsworth family. Mr. and Mrs. Strong made further alterations to the kitchen and improvements to other areas of the house, outbuildings and stables. The Strongs have hosted numerous community functions, hunt breakfasts and hunt balls and have been generous in opening it for special occasions.