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  • Town Historian

Kelly's Grove - Historical Event Destination

Believe it or not, the hamlet of Garbutt was a major tourist destination for over twenty years at the end of the nineteenth century. After John Garbutt and his wife Mercy had died, their farm was purchased by James H. Kelly, the president of the Rochester Lamp Works. He had the whole area from the house at 888 Scottsville-Mumford Road to the corner of Union Street landscaped and beautified. He built a white picket fence all along the road from the house to the corner, and up Union Street to the cemetery.

At that time, there was a small train station in Garbutt, and large groups of folks from Rochester came out on the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburg Railroad to have picnics and celebrations at “Kelly’s Grove.” Some groups brought a band to accompany them as they marched from the station to the grove.

The May Day Celebration of 1880 is well documented. The afternoon began with speeches by local dignitaries praising the glories of spring from a platform in the center of the grove. Eighty-five-year-old Thomas Faulkner of Beulah amazed the crowd with a lively rendition of a May Day song. Then came the main event. Six maids of honor were escorted to the platform, followed by Miss Florence McVean, Queen of the May. (Florence McVean was grandmother of our previous historian, Florence Field.) A wreath of flowers was placed on Miss McVean’s head by Rochester Alderman James Kelly Jr., and her maids of honor paid her homage. Tables were set up, and a grand buffet meal was served. City and country people mingled together in joyful celebration. Then the floor was cleared for dancing. Queen Florence and her court led the opening Quadrille. At dusk, the grove was illuminated by three calcium lights, and the frivolity continued until midnight. The excursion train took the weary Rochester visitors back to the city, while the local folks enjoyed a carriage ride home in the stillness of the night.

Accounts of dozens of events at Kelly’s Grove were reported in the Caledonia Advertiser during the 1880s and 90s. Many of them were held by Rochester churches. For instance, a picnic of the St. Paul Episcopal Church brought 200 people out to Garbutt in June of 1892. The Rochester Unitarians came on July 30, 1896. Of course, the local churches also used the facility for their Sunday School picnics. Some of the excursions to Garbutt included a tour of the local fish hatcheries. In August of 1890, a Caledonia Advertiser writer complained, “Kelly’s Grove and the State Hatchery are to catch it this season. Last week 2000 people visited the grove and hatchery. Visitors leave little money and lots of litter to be cleaned up.”

The McVean family held a reunion on August 16, 1894. The newspaper reporter wrote, “There are millions of McVeans in this section, but Kelly’s Grove is large enough to hold ‘em all, no doubt.” The “No License” (temperance) group held a picnic on August 28, 1903 that featured the Scottsville Band, a men’s quartette and a speaker. For several years African-Americans of the area celebrated “Emancipation Day” with a picnic at Kelly’s Grove. One account said there were African-American people from Monroe, Livingston, and adjoining counties. A train brought people from Rochester. In 1906, 600 people attended the event. There were speeches at the grove followed by a show at Windom Hall.

James Kelly died in 1900. His grove continued to be a gathering place for only a few more years. In 1927 Jacob DeRoo of Avon opened the “White Horse Tavern” in the former Garbutt-Kelly house. Some of you may have fond memories of the “Walnut Inn,” a popular restaurant that occupied the house for many years.


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