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Genesee Wesleyan Seminary Collection

An inventory of the collection at the Syracuse University Archives

Sponsor: The processing of this collection was made possible through a grant from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

Finding aid created by: Erin Lee
Date: 2012

Historical Note

Genesee Wesleyan Seminary

The Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in Lima, Livingston County, New York was founded by the Genesee Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. At the first session of the Conference in July 1829, it was moved and carried to appoint a committee to obtain information and recommend measures to be taken for the establishment of a seminary under the direction of the conference. The seminary appeared to have opened its doors to its first students in May 1832 even though the building was far from completion. Incorporated in 1834, the seminary was one of the first coeducational schools in the country.

The seminary offered instruction in literary, vocational and "special departmental" subjects. The original design of the courses was to offer instruction in letters and science, combined with agriculture and the "mechanic arts." The main courses, or programs of study, were the College Preparatory, Classical, Latin Scientific, Engineering Preparatory and Commerce. There were also vocational courses: General Vocational course; a vocational course specializing in agriculture; and a vocational course for girls specializing in Household Arts. The seminary also maintained five special departments: Instrumental and Vocal Music; Arts and Crafts; Elocution and Oratory; Commerce and Shorthand; and Household Arts. A post graduate year was offered for those students who wanted to secure a broader and more liberal education than the high school furnished.

Today's high school and college prep school students likely would not recognize the life of students at Genesee Wesleyan Seminary. The school year was divided into two terms, one beginning the first Wednesday in May, the second the first Wednesday in November. October and April were vacation months. Tuition in the English Department was $6 per term with mathematics and languages $10 per term. For ornamental branches, such as painting, drawing, embroidery and needlework, an extra $7.50 was charged and for music, $10 extra. In June 1868, the trustees declared that all tuition at the seminary be free of charge. Room and board was $1.50 per week; the seminary buildings could house between 100 and 200 students. A record of scholarship was kept, and a statement was sent to parents or guardians at the end of every semester. Chapel attendance was required of all students: twice on Sundays, once at a church of their choice and once in the seminary chapel. A devotional service for the seminary community and led by the president was run every Wednesday evening. Female students were provided with a dress code which emphasized simple and inexpensive clothing.

The seminary hosted several student societies including public speaking and debating societies: Amphictyon, founded in 1832; Genesee Lyceum, in 1843; Ingelow, in 1846; and Browning, in 1870. The Young Men's Christian Association and Young Women's Christian Association, which were affiliated with the general movement in schools and colleges, were important factors in the religious and student life at the seminary.

The board of trustees was continuously seeking to improve the seminary. In September 1840, a committee was appointed to consider the expediency of making the seminary a boys' school and erecting a female seminary west of Genesee River. Additionally, in July 1841, the decision was made to add a department for the training of teachers, and a resolution was passed recommending that the Genesee Conference petition New York State to change the name of the institution to 'Genesee Wesleyan Seminary and College.' On 26th May 1842, however, the edifice of the seminary was destroyed by fire, and the trustees were forced to put all thoughts of expansion on hold while they dealt with the relocation of students and classes. The school remained open in temporary quarters furnished in the village. The seminary building was rebuilt in the same style, opened in January 1843 and served the school well for the next sixty-five years. Despite the insurance policy, the rebuilding left the seminary short of funds.

With the opening of the new building in 1843 came a sharp rise in attendance. During the ten years in the original building, 1832 to 1842, the average attendance had been 405; in the new building from 1842 to 1852 it was 622, and from 1852 to 1862, it rose again to 715.

At this point, the history of the seminary becomes inextricably linked to that of Genesee College. This was a higher education institution founded on the site of the seminary and chartered in February 1849. The college opened its doors in 1851 to 48 students. The Genesee Wesleyan Seminary board of trustees was responsible for the founding of Genesee College and the relations of the two institutions were as amicable and mutually helpful as could have been expected. For the majority of the time, the affairs of the two institutions were administered by a joint board of trustees. College students boarded in seminary dormitories and ate at the seminary table, and seminary students benefited from the shared instruction of the college professors in some studies. There were several years, during the 1850s, when there were over one thousand students on the small campus and, with the overlapping institutions' contradictory social rules, the day-to-day running was not always smooth. Each institution, however, did assist the other especially on occasion when there were advanced seminary students who could benefit from the influence of stimulating ideas and enjoy the advantages of high grade instruction, courtesy of the college, to a degree not usually known in the secondary schools of this period. The effect of the connection with the college served to elevate the ideals and standards of scholarship in the seminary.

Despite the advantages of having both institutions in the same location, the seminary supported the attempt of the college to relocate to Syracuse, New York, over eighty miles away in Onondaga County. The seminary board of trustees felt this would benefit both the seminary and the college and end the friction between the two institutions while allowing both of them to grow independently. In 1875, however, the college closed and transferred the lands, buildings, equipment and endowment to the seminary, which subsequently became a more financially sound institution.

As a result of improving financial fortunes, an extensive building improvement project was undertaken during the late 1870s and early 1880s. The seminary added new verandas to the main building and built dormitories for the students. Another fire in 1897, which burned the new large boys' dormitory to the ground, caused funding difficulties, but the local community and friends of the seminary provided sufficient funds for building a smaller one, adequate for the accommodation of all the students.

By 1909, the campus had grown to six buildings. The Main Building comprised four stories containing the girls' dormitories, one wing for boys, apartments for teachers, a dining hall, and rooms for the Elocution and Commercial Departments, Association Hall and four Literary Society Halls. The dining hall contained small tables seating ten students with one teacher; students were rotated on a weekly basis so that they could enjoy the advantages of the 'Social Training Table.' College Hall had recitation rooms, cabinets, laboratories, the chapel, the library and reading room as well as art and music room. The two-storied Gymnasium had a pool, lockers and a running track. The Service Building comprised a power laundry, carpenter and pipe-fitting shops, storehouse, steward's office and dormitories. Faling Hall was a boys' dormitory, and Blake Hall had a dining room and dormitory facilities for a boys' student club of about twenty members. By the 1920s, there was a home for Domestic Science and a new Music Studio to complement the existing buildings.

Genesee Wesleyan Seminary closed its doors in 1941 due to falling enrollment. Notable alumni include Henry Jarvis Raymond (1820-1869), journalist, politician and founder of the New York Times, and Michigan Congressman George Harman Durand (1838-1903). Frances Willard (1839-1898), who would later go on to be leader of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and a suffragist, had been a preceptress at the seminary. The site has continued to be used for educational purposes by a variety of institutions. The College Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Scope and Content Note

The Genesee Wesleyan Seminary Collection covers the years 1830 to 1940 and so spans the whole period of existence of the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary. There are materials relating to the administrative and financial aspects of the seminary including board of trustees' minutes, library records, and daily, department, general and student accounts. There are also student and faculty records and printed materials as well as lectures and materials relating to the Methodist Episcopal Church in Lima. The collection provides an insight into coeducational secondary education in upstate New York in the second half of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century. Many of the materials have genealogical research value, especially the financial and educational records of students, faculty and staff from this period. Over half of the collection is made up of individually-boxed bound volumes.

The collection is arranged into nine series:

The Administrative materials series contains board of trustees' minutes spanning 1854-1938 as well as correspondence concerning the running of the seminary and topics such as athletics, gifts to the seminary and dealings with other educational institutions. Other records include those from various departmental meetings, an inventory of furniture and equipment, endowment fund information and other items related to the day-to-day running of the seminary. There are also library records including an accessions book, book listings, shelf list and records of items borrowed.

The Alumni series contains correspondence from alumni, in one case during their military service, as well as a 1916 class list with details of the occupations of those students after graduation. There is a bound volume containing signatures and personal information of alumni revisiting Lima in the 1920s for an anniversary.

The Class lectures series contains class lectures about Shakepsearean plays and other literature.

The Faculty series includes materials that document the teachers as well as applicants for teaching positions at the seminary. There are personnel files of faculty and staff at the seminary containing correspondence, payroll figures and, on occasion, photographs. Faculty lists and faculty meeting minutes are also included in this series.

The Financial materials series includes daily, department, general and student accounts, which cover all aspects of income and expenditure of the seminary. The student accounts contain values for room and board as well as tuition. Treasurers' account books and trial balances are included together with checkbooks and cashbooks. There are auditing committee reports spanning 1924-1939 and correspondence with those providing or requiring payment from the seminary. Correspondence of the treasurers, Alexander M. Holden and Ray Allen, can be found in the Administrative Materials series.

The Graphic materials series contains several daguerreotypes of unidentified individuals as well as individual portraits. There are several photograph albums and a steel engraving of the seminary landscape together with a print from the engraving.

The Missionary Society of Genesee College and Genesee Wesleyan Seminary was the local missionary branch of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and this series contains its constitution and by-laws as well as records from meetings and of the treasurer.

The Printed materials series contains addresses made at the seminary, bulletins, catalogues, programs and yearbooks. For the years when Genesee College was in existence, the catalogues were jointly published by the seminary and college and provide lists of students in attendance. The Centennial of Genesee Wesleyan and Diamond Jubilee of the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary were both published in honor of the seminary and the former provides lists of students, treasurers, stewards and board of trustee members while the latter contains valuable historical information concerning the institution.

The Students series features a large amount of correspondence between the seminary, primarily the principal, and students or their parents concerning their time at the seminary, their room arrangements, behavior, performance and billing details. Several students corresponded with the seminary, primarily the principal, during their military service in World War I and included information on their training regimes, food and general morale. There are bound volumes of handwritten student application forms from 1868-1870 as well as attendance lists, lists of student majors and minors and other class related information. Registers of enrolled students, chapel attendance and student credentials, which would have been part of the application process, are also included. There is an autograph book dating to 1861-1862 containing images of students with their own handwritten annotations addressed to the owner of the book, John C. Gates. Records of some seminary school societies, Browning Hall, Ingelow Hall, Genesee Homiletic Club and the Ladies' Literary Society, are also included.


Access Restrictions:

Please note that the collection is housed off-site, and advance notice is required to allow time to have the materials brought to the Reading Room on campus.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

Syracuse University Archives holds the Genesee College Collection, which was an institution related to Genesee Wesleyan Seminary and housed on the seminary site in Lima, New York from 1849 to 1875.

Syracuse University Special Collections Research Center holds a Methodist Manuscript Collection with items relating to the Genesee Conference.

Selected Search Terms


Genesee College.
Genesee Wesleyan Seminary (Lima, N.Y.)
Genesee Wesleyan Seminary (Lima, N.Y.) -- Amphictyon Association.
Methodist Episcopal Church. Genesee Conference.
Syracuse University -- History.
Syracuse University.


College trustees.
College teachers.
Higher education.

Types of Material

Account books.
Daguerreotypes (photographs)

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Genesee Wesleyan Seminary Collection,
University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

When Genesee Wesleyan Seminary closed in 1942, the trustees transferred the majority of their records over to Syracuse University. In 1951, Angeline Wood donated several programs from the 1850s and early 1860s. In 1954, Mabel C. S. Pierce donated several catalogues and daguerreotypes, which she had removed from Lima, New York. The John C. Gates autograph book was donated by Kenneth A. Lohf to Columbia University in New York City in 1986 and was subsequently passed on to the Syracuse University Archives. John H. Jones donated the autograph book owned by "Maggie" to the University Archives in 2021.

Processing Information

Delicate printed materials have been placed in mylar sleeves and all materials have been placed in acid-free folders and boxes. Bound volumes have been placed in individual custom-made boxes.

Cross-references have been included in the Faculty and Student correspondence. For people who are mentioned in correspondence but do not have their own folder, there is a 'See' reference and for people who have their own folders but are also mentioned elsewhere in the collection a 'See also' reference has been included.

Images of students and faculty have been digitized along with sample letters and selected catalogues and yearbooks. Some bound volumes have also been scanned with blank pages omitted. The scanned materials have been selected due to their genealogical research value.


The items are arranged in alphabetical and chronological order within each series.

Supplemental Finding Aids

The Archives has produced an index of names of students, faculty, staff and other individuals associated with the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary and found within the collection. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and some names have uncertain connection with the seminary. The index can be found here.

Table of Contents

Administrative materials


Class lectures


Financial materials

Graphic materials

Missionary Society of Genesee College and Genesee Wesleyan Seminary

Printed materials