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This story was originally published in the 2001 Spring edition

The Other Hartford House

Digging out the British roots of a very American home

by Corrin Strong
Adapted from an article by Philip Basham

Hartford House in Geneseo
Villa of Lord Hertford

Above: Hartford House in Geneseo, the ancestral home of the Wadsworth family has been a local landmark since it was built in1835. It was modelled after the Villa of Lord Hertford in Regentıs Park in London. (Right)

Pass through the impressive iron gates at the north end of Geneseo's Main Street and travel down a wooded, winding driveway and you will discover Hartford House, one of two ancestral homes of the Wadsworth clan. While the storied history of that founding family is familiar to many in the Genesee Country, the history of the house and how it came to be there is not so well known.

The large mansion sitting on park-like grounds and commanding a grand view across the Genesee River Valley from its western terrace was built in 1835 by James Samuel Wadsworth for his bride Mary Craig Wharton. Young Wadsworth, who is known to history by his later rank as Union General James S. Wadsworth, was the younger son of the original James Wadsworth who, along with his brother William were among the earliest settlers in Western New York. The brothers traveled by raft and ox cart from their home near Hartford, Connecticut arriving in the wilderness that was to become Geneseo in June of 1790.

The future General was born October 30, 1807, a few years younger than his brother William who thus inherited 'The Homestead', the family's equally stately home on the south end of Main Street. Upon his marriage on May 11, 1834 to Mary Wharton in her native Philadelphia, the young couple set sail for a European honeymoon.

While visiting England, they were entertained by Francis Seymour-Conway, the 3rd Marquis of Hertford, at his villa in Regent's Park, London, known as St. Dunstan's. They were so impressed with the house and needing a home of their own, they obtained the architect's plans from Lord Hertford and returned home to Geneseo to build a replica.

The house, given the Americanized spelling of Hartford, perhaps in deference to the family's Connecticut origins, became their family home for almost 30 years until the General's death at The Battle of the Wilderness in May of 1864. The couple raised six children there (so many that they had to add an unplanned third floor in the 1850s).

The house has since been the home of Congressmen, Senators and diplomats, and is occupied by the General's descendants to this day. Although a private residence, it is frequently opened to guests and the community for everything from family weddings to historical society house tours.

While many have enjoyed the grandeur of the home over the years, from the impressive classic columns of the port cochere entrance to the soaring 15 foot ceilings on the main floor, until now, no one in these parts can have known the full story of the Hartford House's English roots.

For piecing together the strands of that colorful history we are indebted to English writer Philip Basham. Basham became interested in the house while doing research for his recently released first novel, Two Falling Voices, which is largely set in Geneseo. (See GC Bookshelf, p. 48 )

A meticulous researcher, Basham has traced the Seymour-Conway lineage back to Jane Seymour, the third of Henry the 8th's six wives, and the only one to share his grave. She was accounted that honor no doubt for being the only wife to deliver Henry a male heir to the throne (giving birth to the future Edward VI in 1537) ­and by having the good grace to die a natural death shortly thereafter.

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