Oct. 13 marks a very special day for the Holland Land Office and Batavia as a whole.
On that day 126 years ago, the Land Office was the center of one of the largest, if not the largest celebration in Batavia’s history. Known as “Land Office Day,” it marked the beginning of the newest chapter in the landmark’s history, as it was designated as a historic site and museum.
The massive celebration that occurred on that rainy Saturday in October drew thousands of people from around New York State, and even drew dignitaries from the highest seats of government in the United States. Oct. 13, 1894 cemented the significance of the Holland Land Office to Western New York and Batavia, and brought it to the center of nation’s conscience, even for just one day.
The preparation for event began in earnest in July 1894. At that time the Batavia Daily News reported that arrangements for the dedication of the Land Office were well underway, with sponsorships by numerous businesses and professional leaders.
Later headlines in August 1894 stated that all dignitaries in the county were invited to Batavia for the dedication, though the guest list would soon grow beyond the county’s limits. Robert A. Maxwell, a local politician who became an assistant postmaster general under President Grover Cleveland, used his influence to make the dedication a national affair. He was even able to convince Secretary of the Treasury John G. Carlisle to be the keynote speaker, as well as five other cabinet members, and descendents of Robert Morris to attend.
As “Land Office Day” grew closer, further preparations were made including commemorative souvenirs, while a choir of 150 of the area’s best singers was arranged.
Perhaps the most ambitious undertaking of the Land Office dedication was the parade, which would travel down Main Street ending at the Land Office itself. The parade featured “all civic societies, all schoolboys over the age of ten years, an Indian band, and community and industrial floats.”
Volunteer police were added to manage the massive anticipated crowds, along with special provisions for the hitching of horses throughout Batavia. Discounted excursion rates were offered by the Erie, New York Central, and Lehigh Valley railroads for any residents of New York State wishing to attend.
On the day of the ceremony, Oct. 13, 1894, the weather was very unfavorable with torrential rains and dark skies. Yet, attendance was estimated to be between 6,000 and 8,000 people, though it was speculated that “twice that number would have attended in better weather.”
Despite the weather, the parade was described in the Daily News as “the greatest ever.” When the procession made it to the Holland Land Office, the tablet above the main door was unveiled to a crowd of over 2,000 people.
Many speeches were made that day lauding the importance of the Holland Land Office and Robert Morris to the area. Secretary of State Carlisle’s address to the crowd was as such, “In 1804 the building which you are here to dedicate today to the memory of Robert Morris was erected, and for more than a third of a century the titles to the homes of the people who now inhabit the counties of Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Niagara, except the Indian reservations, and nearly all the counties of Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming and Allegany were prepared and executed within its walls.”
John Kennedy, Superintendent of Batavia Schools and a leading voice in the preservation of the building, stated, “While stands the Land Office, the Holland Purchase shall stand. For while that structure is in sight, it carries its old boundaries with it. It stands for a domain. It preserves the unity of Western New York. The Office preserves the autonomy of the region, the real unity, the unity of common origin, common conditions, common toils and triumphs.”