Jun 29, 2013

Exploring Rolling Hills Asylum and more in Genesee County, NY

The Rolling Hills Asylum is located in East Bethany, south of Batavia in Genesee County. The sprawling red brick building was built in 1827 as The Genesee County Poor Farm and in the 1950s it was a county home and infirmary. For a short time it was an antique mall. Over the years people reported strange occurrences of the paranormal kind. Paranormal investigators found that it was indeed “haunted.” In fact, it was declared the “Second Most Haunted Place in the United States” by Haunted North America and has been featured on many TV shows.
Recently Sharon Coyle, the owner, gave us a guided tour of the massive building.  It was fascinating with everything from a mortuary to a schoolroom to a museum. According to Coyle there have been over 17,000 documented deaths in the building and probably many undocumented plus the Asylum was built on a Native American burial ground.  We took the historic tour but there are a variety of offerings including “quarantine” tours that start at 7 p.m. and end a 4 a.m. Paranormal tours and experiences have become very popular.  They fall into two categories.  There are the “scare ‘em” types that are popular at Halloween time.  More recently tours have taken a more scientific approach with tours led by paranormal experts with equipment such as EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) to detect the presents of spirits.  There are such experiences at Casey’s Cottage at Mexico Point Park and one scheduled on June 29 at the new Starr Clark Tin Shop and Underground Railroad Museum.  Located on Main Street in Mexico, the Tin Shop harbored runaway slaves and was where plans were made to transport them safely to Canada.  It would be interesting if the EVP picked up the voice of a runaway slave or of Jerry McHenry, the most famous of the slaves harbored in Mexico, New York.

Next to the Rolling Hills Asylum is the Genesee County Interpretive Nature Center which is on land that was once farmed by the people from the Genesee County Poor Farm. The Nature Center has many displays including one that shows the inside of an active bee hive plus there are trails, educational programs, a butterfly garden and more. There is a guide for the Turtle Pond Trail and some of the other trails. No matter how many times John and I visit a nature center – and we have been to many – we always find something of interest and learn something new.

In Batavia we toured the Holland Land Office Museum.  Batavia is called the “Birthplace of Western New York.” The museum was once home to the Holland Land Purchase where over three million acres of Western New York were surveyed and sold. Like much of Western New York the land was in the hands of land speculators who hoped reap a profit from land sales. The museum has a variety of displays including vintage surveying equipment. There are also changing displays. One unique display is the gibbet (a gallows without a drop floor) where three condemned people were hanged.

Adjacent to the museum is the Peace Garden. The gardens are beautiful but what made it special were the volunteers who were working on the gardens. They invited us to share their lunch. It was another one of those wonderful travel moments as we ate delicious sandwiches with new-found friends.