Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Holland Land Office Museum

Holland Land Office Museum, May, 2014.  Taken by the author


     The Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia, New York, houses a rich and varied collection of materials, housed in an 1815 stone building, the third in use this site.  It actually functioned as a land sales office until the late 1830’s, and was the first National Historic Landmark in Western New York.
     On a recent visit, my husband and I learned the story of how the 3 ½ million acre Holland Purchase began with a 1797 treaty, between representatives of Declaration of Independence signer Robert Morris and the Seneca tribe.  The Holland Land Company purchased the land from Morris, and began the ambitious project of having the huge tract surveyed, which covered a large portion of what is now western New York.
The survey, through thickly-forested terrain, was overseen by Joseph Ellicott, using links, chains, and the basic tools of the time.  Examples of these instruments, as well as an Ellicott family desk and a portrait of Joseph Ellicott, occupy a gallery recently renovated to recreate his actual land office of 1815.  There is also a pioneer kitchen, displaying household artifacts, and an outdoor space devoted to the original 1859 gibbet used in the area.
     Another gallery of the museum contains several unexpected displays.  One is devoted to Charles F. Rand, a Batavia native destined to go down in history as the first in the nation to answer President Lincoln’s call for volunteers at the outbreak of the Civil War.  He was also a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.  Another display is devoted to Ely S. Parker, born into the Seneca tribe, who was educated as a lawyer and civil engineer.  During the Civil War, he rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel, serving as Ulysses Grant’s adjutant.  The terms of surrender at Appomattox were written in his hand.
     The museum has acquired a number of items of interest which can be viewed at close range, including rare uniform pieces and equipment used in the War of 1812, firearms, and examples of drums used in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  Many local residents have donated items passed down through generations of their families.

Left, drum from the Revolutionary War, right, drum from Civil War.
Taken by the author, May, 2014
      Our tour of the museum was conducted by museum assistant Jeffrey Fischer, who generously shared his knowledge of the survey, the museum, and its contents.  Museum director Jeffrey Donahue was also on hand to answer our questions.  We were shown a map of the area which made up the Holland Land Purchase, which covered a number of present-day counties stretching east and south of Buffalo, NY.
     The museum does a fine job of introducing a number of intriguing historical figures and events.  An example is Joseph Ellicott, whose accomplishments make for a rousing story.  The AAA tour book for the area recommends 30 minutes be allowed for a stop here.  I believe that 30 minutes should be considered a nice start!

Holland Land Office Museum,
131 West Main Street
Batavia, NY 14020