The Fire of 1864

In the l860s the majority of the buildings in Geneseo's business district were far less fireproof than they are today. In addition, the fire-fighting equipment was still primitive, although the men who handled it were well organized. For these reasons the clang of the fire bell put dread into the hearts of the merchants, who were justly proud of their growing community. On a cold evening in January 1864, an overheated stovepipe in Mrs. Bristol's millinery shop started a fire that wiped out an entire block. Every building on the west side of Main Street, from Bank Street south to what today is Mann's Jewelers, was destroyed. A cruel blow, but with determination and foresight, the block was rebuilt in a remarkably short time. Known as the “Baker Block,” it was occupied by a variety of stores and offices during the next few years.

By the turn of the century what today is Allen's housed Mrs. Bingham's millinery shop, and upstairs the first long-distance transmitter of the Bell Telephone Company had been installed (now people of Geneseo could carry on a conversation with their friends as far away as Long Point). "George's” was the site of Gooding’s Confectionary Store, and next door H. Milliman ran a "Fancy Grocery." At the corner of Bank Street, Boss Clancey was the proud proprietor of The Yellow Front Pharmacy. At the other end of the block (Mann's), Tom Good had three or four tailors assisting him in his men's clothing business.

The buildings were all built of brick. Their arched windows on the second floor are similar to those in the post office (a much earlier building). The late 1860s was a period when most builders were turning to the Italianate style – a certain feeling of nostalgia must have made the architects of this block lean toward the earlier period. Today the facades of the lower floors have been modernized. Panes of glass, false fronts, etc., hide the original design.