Many of the country’s most important historical events from the birthplace of women’s rights to expansion of the Erie Canal can be traced to people and places in Seneca County. The Finger Lakes Region’s illustrious history, heritage and culture is on display at more than 20 museums and historical sites throughout the area.
Birthplace of Mormon Religion
Peter Whitmer Farm, Fayette Three Bears Complex, Ovid Cayuga-Seneca Canal It's a Wonderful Life Museum, Seneca Falls Seneca Falls Historical Society On April 6, 1830, in a small log home belonging to Peter Whitmer Sr., Joseph Smith Jr. and five others formally organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Waterloo, NY. The first and second general conferences of the Church were also held here. It was also in this home that Joseph Smith Jr. and Oliver Cowdery completed the translation of the Book of Mormon.
The Three Bears
Listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places, this trio of Greek Revival style buildings is located in the Village of Ovid and represents the oldest municipal courthouse complex in New York State. It was built between 1845 and 1859 and served as a county courthouse, county clerk’s office, Ovid Free Library, sheriff’s office, county health department and veterans’ headquarters.
Waterways & Industry
The Seneca River and the Cayuga-Seneca Canal powered the rise of local industry and fostered cultural development, helping to spread social reform movements. The canal, its construction, and the industry it spawned, led to a more affluent society which could concentrate on social issues such as the women’s movement and abolition among others.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Like most movies of its time, It’s a Wonderful Life was filmed on sets and sound stages in California. However, the location and small-town atmosphere are reminiscent of Seneca Falls. From names used in the script to real-life events that happened in town, “And then I saw it – the bridge. Was I in Bedford Falls or was I in a New York town called Seneca Falls? I felt like I was in both! In a sense, I was home.” - Karolyn Grimes, “Zuzu Bailey” reflecting on her first trip to Seneca Falls the community is believed to be the inspiration behind Frank Capra’s classic movie. Visitors and fans alike will find the largest collection of movie artifacts and more on display at the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum in Seneca Falls.
Architecture & Artifacts
Local historical societies represent the most comprehensive collection of artifacts and historical perspectives in the region. From the Seneca Falls Historical Society’s impressive Queen Anne style home (home to President Lincoln’s tea set) to one of New York State’s oldest operating libraries (the Waterloo Library and Historical Society) to the Lodi Historical Society (and their fully restored 1852 tracker organ) – these landmark institutions are must-visits for history buffs
Historical sites and monuments offer clues to the prominent role that the Finger Lakes Region once played in some of the nation’s most important military events. From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to World War II and beyond, there is much history and tradition waiting to be discovered in Seneca County.
History Happened Here
Civil War Uniform, NMD Museum Sullivan Campaign Marker, Waterloo Civil War Memorial, Waterloo During the fall of 1865, Henry C. Wells, a local Druggist, proposed that a commemoration be held to honor the sacrifice of those fallen in the Civil War. Wells would enlist the aid of General John B. Murray who immediately threw his support behind the proposal and on May 5, 1866 the first Memorial Day was held in Waterloo, NY.
The Sullivan Expedition
Planned by General George Washington and led by General John Sullivan, the expedition was a Revolutionary War campaign against the Iroquois Confederacy (who were allied with the British). Markers throughout the Finger Lakes Region identify important sites that were involved in the military confrontations.
The American Civil War
The American Civil War Memorial pays tribute to the sacrifice made by citizens of Waterloo during the Civil War and recognizes the soldiers from the North and the South who gave their lives in the conflict. The Memorial, designed by sculptor Pietro del Fabro of New Jersey, is located on Lock Island along the Cayuga-Seneca Canal.
Sampson Naval Base
Within six months of the Pearl Harbor attack, Seneca County had been selected as the site for one of three new naval training stations in America. The base was constructed in record-breaking fashion, as the entire center (498 buildings, roads, rail lines, sewer and water infrastructure, fire station and dormitories) was built in 270 days. Between October 1942 and August 1945, over 411,000 recruits were trained here.
Seneca Army Depot
Built in 1941 on more than 10,000 acres, the depot stored bombs in “igloos,” or reinforced concrete structures with arched sides and a semi-circular roof (that still stand to this day). Until it was decommissioned in 2000, the depot was a major supply base for every military conflict from World War II to the Persian Gulf War. Nuclear weaponry was rumored to be stored on site, making it and the Finger Lakes a prime target for foreign missiles.