A homestead becomes a classroom for hospitality students

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A. Sue Weisler

The Wadsworth Homestead in Geneseo will be the site of a new public event center.

If the walls could talk, those in the Wadsworth Homestead in Geneseo would tell tales of foxhunts with Theodore Roosevelt and family ties as far back as the American Revolutionary War.

In 2012, a great-great-great-grandson of the family patriarch, Jeremiah, is supervising the latest re-invention of the family homestead. William Wadsworth turned to students in David Crumb’s Real Estate for the Hospitality Industry class to build on the next phase in the family legacy—turning the private home into a public event center.

“Our family reached a turning point when we agreed the homestead could no longer be sustained as a private home,” says Wadsworth. “To save this national historic landmark, the family connection and the history contained within it, we consulted with an ever-widening circle of interested parties as we define a new path. Professor Crumb’s class was a natural fit, providing the opportunity to hear input from a highly motivated, next-generation perspective.”

That next generation consisted of seven hospitality students who visited the site and met with Wadsworth several times over the winter quarter. The class was a means to bridge the past and the present.

Work was divided among the students as if they were professional consultants. They interacted with representatives of the State Historic Preservation Office, the Landmark Society and the Rochester Design Center. They were required to go through all the steps to determine zoning, financial investments and structural capacity. They also had to develop marketing plans and outline specifically how historical elements could be incorporated into the fledgling business.

“You can feel the history,” says Saabirah Lallmohamed, a second-year student from Staten Island.“With each visit to the homestead and discussions with the community professionals, we just realized how privileged we were to be a part of this.”

Wadsworth had to provide context for historical details for the students—from the land deeds dating back to the 1800s to household artifacts—before being accepted as historically significant.

“I am glad to have learned this with a group who was willing to say what it thought, discuss it and even change minds. Now, I will be ready to prepare customers for some of the things that may surprise them, things that until now I have taken for granted,” Wadsworth adds.

One of the historical details is the long-standing tradition of the Genesee Valley Hunt, a traditional foxhunt established in the 1870s that continues today. It is the second oldest in the U.S. “We wanted to keep the tradition,” says Alexandra Nehme, a second-year student from Finland.

Other recommendations included a day camp, horseback riding lessons, a holiday-of-lights tour in winter and a dinner theater featuring local actors. Historical reenactments, reunions, weddings and chamber music festivals were part of the plan, and with many original prints and artifacts from the past 200 years, a museum or art gallery may also be an option. “These are things that can enrich young people in a community,” she added.

This is the third year that Crumb’s students worked with owners of historical properties as part of his course. In 2009, the professor in the School of International Hospitality and Service Leadership toured the Asa Rowe House, in nearby Sweden, when it was for sale. The Rowes established a number of businesses, most notably Rowe Photo. While walking through the 19th-century home, Crumb thought the real- estate class would be more meaningful if students went through the exercise of restoring a historical home and developing a business as if they had purchased the home.

A similar opportunity arose last year when Crumb’s class shadowed entrepreneur Greg O’Connell, who has revitalized the Mt. Morris downtown area. It was through O’Connell that Crumb learned of the planned changes for the Wadsworth Homestead.

“This class is an out-of-the-box experience for a traditional RIT class,” he says.

And this year the homestead became the classroom.