24 Center Street

Wadsworth Library


In 1842, the Geneseo Athenaeum was established and underwritten by James Wadsworth.  Available for use by all residents of Livingston County, this was the first legally organized and established free library in New York State.  An Athenaeum building was constructed at 26 Center Street (and still stands as the east wing of the parish house of the Community Christian Church).

The current library was erected in 1867, designed by C.N. Otis of Buffalo, with funds provided in the will of General James Wadsworth. The contract for construction, awarded to B.C. Dean of Buffalo, required that … “it be finished in 90 days.  The cost of the building and of furnishing it for the reception of books will be about $11,000.” 

c. 1913
Courtesy of Livingston County Historian

This handsome Italianate style building is of superior quality Buffalo pressed brick with base, corners, sills and caps of Lockport cut stone.  The floor of the main room is of alternate strips of black walnut and white ash, with the door and window casings finished in black walnut.  In 1869, a cast-iron fence was placed around the library, much like the one still present around the grounds of Hartford House.  This fence was removed in 1899 when the ground was graded for a cement sidewalk.

In 1883 the building underwent some interior improvements: bookcases were moved and the room over the vestibule, which was originally used for storage, was remodeled into a gallery.  A new steel ceiling was added in 1914, and in 1930 the cellar was deepened and a modern oil-burning furnace installed.  A more recent addition, completed in the 1990s, was designed to match the architecture of the original structure.

Wadsworth Library still has the holdings of the original Athenaeum collection and a number of important artistic and historical pieces.  The most significant of these is large bronze, “Theseus Slaying the Centaur,” created by Antoime Barye and donated by Martin Brimmer, one of the original trustees of the library.  (The other two examples of this casting are located in the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)