Museum exhibit focuses on Routes 5&20 – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Museum exhibit focuses on Routes 5&20

A new exhibit, “Passing Through Geneva: 200 Years of History on Routes 5&20,” will open on Friday, June 2, at the Geneva Historical Society's Prouty-Chew Museum on South Main Street.

The exhibit examines the road’s history and development in conjunction with the village, and later, city of Geneva. An opening reception, to which the public is invited, will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. that day; the exhibit will remain in place through Saturday, Oct. 28.

Geneva is a city whose existence is tied to transportation. Its location — at the conjunction of Seneca Lake and the Indian footpath that would become Routes 5&20 — made it an ideal site for a settlement. Seneca Lake rarely freezes and thus was a significant north-south transportation route in the era when water was the most reliable and comfortable method of transportation.

While turnpikes enabled westward expansion in the 18th and early 19th centuries, roadways grew in popularity for long-distance travel, as did, in time, the railroad. In Geneva, Routes 5&20 served as a regional thoroughfare connecting villages and farms.

With the increased availability of the automobile, road improvement became a national priority and Route 20 was transformed into the main roadway across New York state, a designation it held until the opening of the Thruway in the 1950s.

“Passing Through Geneva” will explore how the road changed in conjunction with Geneva’s development from a small village to an industrial city to a center for agriculture, tourism and education.

The exhibit looks at Routes 5&20 in three sections: west of Geneva, downtown, and east of Geneva. Photos, maps and objects in the exhibit will illustrate the changing nature of the road and the businesses around it.

The Geneva Historical Society is one of fourteen organizations participating in the “135 Years of History: Drive It This Summer” campaign to build awareness of the history of Routes 5&20 and of the museums along the road. New York Route 5 and U.S. Route 20 run together from Avon in the west to Auburn in the east.

Participating institutions range from Batavia in the west to Skaneateles in the east. Visitors to the museums can pick up the “Passport to 135 Miles of History,” which, when stamped at least seven of the locations, can be entered into a drawing for a Routes 5&20 memorabilia package valued at more than $500.

For details about the exhibit or the Routes 5&20 campaign, call the Geneva Historical Society office at (315) 789-5151 or visit the project Web site at

The Geneva Historical Society Museum is located in the Prouty-Chew House at 543 S. Main St.; summer hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday; admission is free.