Sandstone Heritage: Genesee County Jail, Batavia, NY

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 April 2013 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – The Genesee County Jail, built in 1902-03, is part of a historic district in Batavia that was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Editor’s Note: Orleans Hub will be featuring buildings made of Medina sandstone that are included on the National Register of Historic Places.

BATAVIA – It looks like fortress. The Genesee County Jail is one of Batavia’s architectural gems. The building on Main Street has five turrets, a raised foundation and quoins made of rusticated sandstone.

Genesee County Historian Sue Conklin suspects there was a friendly rivalry among counties more than a century ago when they built courthouses, jails and other public buildings. Genesee wanted to out-do its neighbors with the jail, and I believe the county succeeded.

The jail is part of the Genesee County Courthouse Historic District that was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The district represents the civic core of the city and includes buildings from the 1840s to 1920s.

The architect who designed the Genesee County Jail also designed the Attica State Prison.

The collection of historic structures includes the old county courthouse, former city hall, U.S. Post Office, The Holland Land Office Museum, a county office building and a Civil War monument. The jail is the only Medina sandstone building in the disitrict. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which is close by, also is a striking sandstone structure.

I think the jail is the most impressive of all the buildings in Batavia’s historic district. The building was constructed in 1902-03. It was designed by Poughkeepsie architect William J. Beardsley in a Victorian Gothic style. Beardsley also was the architect for the Attica State Prison and many county courthouses.

The county sheriff and his family used to live in the front portion of the jail building at 14 West Main St. The jail had 10 to 15 cells. There were living quarters for the sheriff and a kitchen in the building until the early 1970s, said Gary Maha, the Genesee sheriff.

The sheriff used to live in the front portion of the jail until the 1970s.

Maha started his career in 1967 as a road patrol deputy. He remembers when the sheriff, deputies and jail were all squeezed into the building.

“It was a house and we were cramped like sardines,” he said.

The county put a brick addition on the jail in 1985. There is now capacity for 97 inmates.

For more than 100 years, the Sheriff’s Office was based out of the building. Maha worked out of the site until 2007, when the county built a new office for the Sheriff’s Department. The county’s back-up dispatch continues to use space in the historic building. The Genesee Justice program also has moved in. The jail takes up most of the space.

Maha marvels at the building, and not just the architecture.

“The woodwork inside there, you just don’t see anymore,” Maha said.

Photo courtesy of Genesee County Historian’s Department.