Conservationist, poet, and essayist Wendell Berry wrote, “If you know where you are, you know who you are.” His words make a strong case for the preservation of historic natural places. When we understand the story behind a place, we can begin to imagine ourselves a part of it. It belongs to us, and we to it. A visit to Caledonia’s Big Springs Museum is an invitation to such a place.
Countless centuries ago, no fewer than a dozen springs erupted from the earth to form a small, pristine lake which came to be called the Big Springs. Teeming with native brook trout, it flowed toward a small stream later known as Spring Creek. The Iroquois knew the site well, calling it “Gan-e-o-di-ya,” and the ancient Council Elm, which graced its shores, was their landmark. In time, Scottish immigrants, fleeing the oppression of their homeland and in search of religious and political freedom, would call Caledonia their home. At the end of the Civil War, former slave, the Reverend Clayton Coles and African-Americans fleeing the failures of Reconstruction, established the Mumford Second Baptist Church on the banks of Spring Creek. Water. Lots of it. The defining natural feature which would make the coming changes possible. Water-power for the sawmills, needed to turn the timber into homes, and for the gristmills to turn the wheat into flour. Water, timing and opportunity; conditions for igniting entrepreneurial spirits. John MacKay, a colorful Scot and businessman built his saw and grist mills on the springs. His impressive home now graces nearby Genesee Country Village for all to see. MacKay’s land is now the MacKay Wildlife Preserve. Rochester’s own Seth Green discovered that conditions in Spring Creek were ideal for his groundbreaking experiments in artificial fish propagation. In 1864, Green started the first fish hatchery in the western hemisphere in Caledonia. He pioneered early conservation efforts, and his advances in the science of fish culture were felt around the world. Today, the Caledonia hatchery continues Green’s work, with a capacity for raising and releasing over 800,000 trout into New York lakes and streams each year.”