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The Society of the Genesee


Donovan A. Shilling

The original Society of the Genesee was founded in 1897 by Louis Wiley, a “moderate-sized, rotund bundle of energy” who had edited a local weekly newspaper in Rochester called The Tidings. The paper was printed for him in the Post-Express job department. With this contact he obtained a job on the paper as a reporter. Through his skill he worked his way up to become business manager of the Post-Express in 1893.

During his tenure he extravagantly claimed that his afternoon paper had the largest circulation in the entire county. This claim was immediately challenged by William F. Balkam, veteran business manager of the Union and Advertiser. Wiley lost the claim and became something of a pariah to his colleagues. The career of “little Napoleon” seemed to be in a shambles; he lost so much face that he was forced to resign.

However, with the knowledge and wisdom thus gained from these experiences, the “alert and enterprising [Wiley] showed his native aggressiveness” by moving to New York City. There, with extraordinary good luck and persistence, he landed one of the prime positions in the newspaper industry. Within four years he was chosen to be editor of the New York Times, the largest city's most prestigious newspaper.

Soon after this success he formed the Society of the Genesee and instituted its annual dinners, first held in New York City in 1899. At these dinners, given in grand style at one of New York's magnificent hotels, Louis Wiley pulled out all the stops in creating his guest list. Not only were society members from Rochester welcome, but Mr. Wiley invited some of the nation's most prominent people. These included state governors, two presidents of the United States (Taft and Teddy Roosevelt) and a commoner, who also ran for president, William Jennings Bryan, as well as distinguished scholars, diplomats and political leaders of the day. His dinners were truly bang-up affairs, so elegant that guests and members would spend the remainder of the year reliving and bragging about the evening's proceedings.

Whenever the Society of the Genesee held their annual dinners there was always some special souvenir of the meeting awarded to the members and their guests. At the dinner in 1910, a ten-inch blue-ware plate was presented to commemorate the occasion. Appropriately pictured on its surface was the upper or “high falls” of the Genesee River. The scene is a dynamic one, depicting a springtime torrent of water crashing over the falls, raising clouds of spume. Above the falls can be seen the surrounding buildings and a New York Central & Hudson River Railroad passenger train crossing the bridge paralleling Central Avenue. The old Brush electric power facility can be seen at the left of the scene while a wall of the eight-story Gorsline shoe factory building brackets the falls at the right. The reverse side of the blue-ware souvenir plate bears this inscription:


The provenance of the plate is somewhat sketchy. It was purchased some years ago from Hans Tanner, a long-time sports writer for the Democrat & Chronicle. He explained that the plate had been in his mother's collection. There is, he felt, a strong possiblity that she purchased it from the James Wadsworth estate in Geneseo, New York. The Wadsworths were active members in the Society of the Genesee.

The Society continued into the 1930s. There was a report of the 1933 dinner:

As always, a large delegation of Rochesterians and other history buffs from the Genesee region assembled at the Hotel Commodore in New York City for the society's annual dinner. Held on January 23rd, 1933, it was a dazzling affair. The mayor of the city was present as well as dozens of other notables from the worlds of politics, history and jounalism. The after-dinner speaker, Elon Huntington Hooker, President of the Society of the Genesee was introduced to an audience of close to two hundred members and guests by the Master of Ceremonies and the Society's founder, Louis Wiley, editor of the New York Times. In his introductory remarks Wiley stated, “Mr. Hooker has a rare skill for endowing historic events and facts with an atmosphere of romance and realism…history becomes a living, vital thing, and Carthage, a community almost microscopic in size, takes on the allure of the celebrated city of the same name in ancient times.”

Mr. Hooker's address, “Memories of Carthage: Traffic on Early Waterways centered on the once-thriving port of Carthage.” In much of his delivery Hooker dealt with his personal remembrances of the early hamlet at the head of navigation on the Genesee River.

This must have been one of the last meetings of the Society. Perhaps Louis Wiley was getting old.

The Society disappeared.

© 1996, Donovan A. Shilling


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