White Springs Manor History

White Springs Manor

White Springs Farm by beauty and charm alone would be a source of pride to the town of Geneva. Its tradition of advanced and scientific farming methods firmly established it for 150 years as one of the most important agricultural enterprises in western New York State.

In the early 1800's John Nicholas, a Virginia lawyer, retired at age 47 to take up agriculture and to become the owner of this tract of land. An ancestor of John Nicholas was "King Carter" of Corotoman, Lancaster County, Virginia, who held vast holdings in that state. In 1801, Nicholas bought 900 acres on the east side of Seneca Lake where Rose Hill would be built by his wife's sister's husband, Robert Rose. And about the same time he purchased 367 acres of the White Springs Farm.

2008-04-15The manor house, furnished around 1806, was of colonial design, large, square, with massive fluted columns on three sides. During the lifetime of John Nicholas and his wife Anne, holdings were expanded to 1,600 acres.

He was for several terms a member of the State Senate and a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Ontario County. He specialized in sheep raising and owned 1,200 or more, doing much to promote and improve the science of sheep-husbandry. A woolen mill was built on his property. John Nicholas died in 1819. His wife Anne died in 1839. The Nicholas saga includes a long list of distinguished statesmen.

The Honorable Gideon Lee, a former mayor of New York City, purchased 467 acres of the White Springs Farm in 1839, paying a little over $100 an acre. He began extensive improvements to the property, but died in 1841 before they were completed. The Lee family occupied the farm for 17 years following Mr. Lee's death. A two-story cobblestone structure built near the mansion was used as a private school as well as a tool house.

Mr. James O. Sheldon followed the Lees as owner of the White Springs Farm, purchasing it on January 30, 1857, for $37,500. Under his supervision the property continued as an exhibition farm and became widely known for the finest and most celebrated Short Horn Durham herd in the world. The mansion burned in 1876, and the farm was sold to William and Thomas Smith. It was used as a general farm, though considerable nursery stock was raised by these brothers, who became leading nurserymen of the area.

Mrs. George H. Lewis (Katherine Bell) purchased 260 acres of the White Springs Farm in 1898 for her only son, Alfred G. Lewis. The farm, which had been nearly abandoned for a quarter of a century, had a rebirth and became more beautiful than ever before in its history. The acreage of the farm increased over a 40-year period to just under 900 acres, with the purchase of many parcels of land that had been owned by John Nicholas 100 years earlier west of Pre-Emption Road, as well as several farms on what is now White Springs Road.

A white-pillared Georgian colonial mansion of red brick was erected on the original square foundation of the former home. Wide verandas gave a sweeping view of immaculate lawns, two large ponds, a gazebo, and in the distance Seneca Lake. There were living and dining rooms, a music room, a billiard room, offices, a pantry, servants' quarters, master bedrooms with fireplaces, four guest rooms and many baths, all finished in a gracious but comfortable style. Other buildings on the grounds included a manager's house, a boarding house large enough to accommodate ten men, seven magnificent barns, a coach house, and an icehouse built originally as a schoolhouse. A playhouse with stone fireplaces added charm to the garden and tennis courts.

Mr. Lewis developed the largest herd of imported Guernsey cattle in the world, renewing the reputation of the White Springs Farm for stock breeding. For 15 years, his importations from the Isle of Guernsey continued, with more than 1,100 animals in all imported and sold at auction on the grounds of the farm.

The White Springs Dairy Company was organized by Mr. Lewis in 1905, giving Genevans their first bottled milk. For many years this company was the principal supplier of milk for Geneva, New York, with a daily average delivery in excess of 5,000 quarts.

Sunday, September 1, 1912, was a day of disaster for White Springs Farm and the immediate vicinity. A cyclone wrought havoc, leveling the main group of dairy barns and uprooting most of the beautiful elms on the farm. A three-quarter ton dinner bell from one of the barns was found a half-mile away. Miraculously, there was no loss of human life, though four or five calves were killed. Clean-up operations were extensive, and tree experts were brought in to salvage what trees could be saved. Mr. Lewis sold the Guernseys, rather than replace the barns. By 1920 the cattle business was over.

Poultry was an important business between 1914 and 1935, with Mr. Leslie Peterson as manager. As many as 5,000 White Leghorn fowl produced eggs that sold for $1.09 a dozen after World War I.

Following the demolition of the Guernsey barns, and with the dairy well established, Mr. Lewis transferred his attention to the raising of fruit. The White Springs Farm became one of the foremost fruit farms in the northeast. The cherry and peach orchards were the largest in the state, and acreage and number of trees in various orchards steadily increased for more than 25 years.

The White Springs Farm cooperated closely with the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, each benefiting from the other. Station scientists shared their know-how and techniques, while the farm provided a natural laboratory setting where improved and disease-resistant varieties could be developed.

Mr. Willis C. Henderson, a Cornell University graduate, was farm manager from 1919-1931, helping to earn for the farm its well-deserved reputation. Mr. "Newt" Campbell became the manager of the White Springs Farm around 1931 and trained Mr. Alfred Lewis Jr., in that position.

At the height of the fruit era, around 1946, as many as 550 helpers were hired each season. The extent of the fruit plantings was almost beyond imagining-220 acres of cherries, with orchards bordering most of both sides of White Springs Road from Jay Street to Snell Road and on the east side from Jay Street to St. Clair Streets. Sixty tons of fruit per hour were often picked. Apple orchards covered 79 acres. In 1946, a total of 46,000 bushels of apples (McIntosh, Rome, Wealthy) were picked. The peach and pear orchards extended to the Hall Road along the west side of Pre-Emption Road. Eighty-seven acres of peaches, mostly Albertas, were picked and packed into two railway cars daily and shipped to New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and elsewhere. Fifteen acres of Keifer pears in 1946 produced 2,000 bushes. White Springs Farm, under management of Willis Henderson, was the first to dust orchards from the air, accomplished in this instance by helicopters. Two steam-driven tractors were operated in the 1920's. The first farm truck was a Pierce-Arrow, a picture of which is displayed in the lower hall of White Springs Manor. Cabbage, corn, red kidney beans, snap beans, soybeans, as well as hay and wheat were grown.

Mr. Alfred Lewis Sr., sold land in the St. Clair Street area in 1936. From 1946 to 1972 many acres were sold for residential development. Today White Springs Road is lined on both sides with attractive modern homes and visitors drive slowly by to absorb the beauty. White Springs Lane runs between White Springs Road and Pre-Emption Road and is the site of several modern homes, as is White Springs Circle, a wooden tract to the north of the Lane and with access from the Lane.

Miss Sarah Mandigo in 1948 purchased the Manor house and established the Margaret Ayre Home, a proprietary home for adults, with capacity for 36 residents.

In 1980 the Young family purchased the property and continued to operate it as a proprietary home until 1997, when it closed.

It was at that time that the Reeder family purchased the property and opened it as a sister property to Belhurst Castle, on August 1, 1998. Today, guests at White Springs Manor now enjoy the serene landscape and panoramic views of Seneca Lake valley.