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Two Christmastime photos of old Downtown Batavia

By Howard B. Owens

This is a copy of a photo, like the one below, that I acquired last night at auction through Bontrager's.

It was shot Dec. 4, 1940.

The photographer was William Seaver. He resided for a time at 21 Ellicott Ave., Batavia. His office was at 90 Main St., Batavia.

We can assume, I think, that this picture was taken from his office window. The exquisite sharpness and detail of the photo suggests he was using a quality, large format camera (the single sheet of film was likely 8x10, much larger than 35mm film). 

The block you see is the south side of Main Street from Court Street (where the Hotel Richmond stood) to perhaps Jackson Street or just west of Jackson Street.

Seaver's office would have been approximately where Hillside Children's Center is now, on the west end of the mall.

Comparing it to the photo below, Seaver used a wider angle lens for the 1940 shot than he did for the 1927 shot. In 1927, he used some sort of telephoto lens. I don't know 8x10 format lenses all that well. It appears he used a wider angle lens in 1940 than he did in 1927 based on the crop and compression of space.

When I stopped by the County History office today, Larry Barnes, the city's historian was there. He had seen the 1927 shot before. It's in his book "Batavia Revisited." He had never seen the 1940 shot before.

I'm not sure if there are any descendants of William Seaver still in Batavia, but it would be something if his negatives still existed. These are high-quality photographs and it would be a shame if his negatives (and who knows what else he shot) were lost.

This geneology page says "William Seaver registered for the World War I draft on 12 September 1918 in Batavia, Genesee County, New York. He was age 45, born 18 May 1873. 

In 1910, he lived at 35 Center St., Batavia. In 1920, he lived at 21 Ellicott Ave., Batavia, and 1930, he was a lodger residing at 102 West Main St. In each census he was single, even at age 56, so perhaps he has no descendants.

There was also a William Seaver who lived in Batavia before the photographer. He was the first captain of the first fire department and a president of the Village of Batavia in 1838. That Seaver appears to have published a book in 1849 called "A Historical Sketch of the Village of Batavia."

The older William Seaver, judging by the genealogy site, was the uncle of the photographer William Seaver. The photographer's father was David Seaver, the son of a William Seaver born in 1789 in Peru, Mass., and died in Batavia in 1871.

To aid in seeing the pictures at a higher resolution, I've put them into a slideshow below. I recommend viewing them in full-screen mode.

Mary K. Lennon

Thanks, Howard, for sharing your "find." I enjoyed the pictures and the history. My roots go deep in Batavia. Many of my relatives walked those streets in 1927.

Dec 5, 2013, 8:33pm Permalink
Bea McManis

Wonderful reminder of what we lost to greed. My uncle's photography studio was on the third floor at 80 Main. I spent many days looking at those stores from that third floor window (from 1956 to 1960 - when I was there every day during summer vacatiom).

Dec 5, 2013, 8:45pm Permalink
charlene shultz

beautiful , cant help but think of parents grandparents aunts and uncles --may be some of their cars , my grandparents lost a son that drowned in the tondawanda creek fell thru the ice mike Caccamise , with two other nine year olds, that also drowned , my grandmother and aunt walked the streets and banks looking for him , they never found mikes body till the thaw , they were walking those very streets when they heard a paper boy yelling read all about it Caccamise boy body found ,.roots go deep for the Caccamise family in the streets of Batavia ny ,I put our family story to be read by any one in the history department .

Dec 5, 2013, 8:47pm Permalink
Ed Hartgrove

I believe there were Seaver's in Pavilion School during the 60's. I'll check my yearbook when I get a chance. They were younger than I was, but, back then, the yearbook had pictures of K-12. No idea if they were any relation.

Thanks for the pics, Howard. Nice find! It really is kind of amazing how good the photography was way back. Even the Civil War pics were good for what they had to work with.

Dec 6, 2013, 3:08am Permalink

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