The Power of the Genesee River

On July 3, 1914 the Geneseo Mill ceased operations. An article in the Livingston Republican marked the occasion with an obituary-like tone. It was an end of an era; for more than a century, flour mills dotted the landscape of Livingston County utilizing the Genesee River as a source of power to make flour. Indeed, it was an end of era for the world in a sense. Historians theorize that watermill technology may have been used as early as the 3rd century BCE in Greece, however this technology became obsolete around the turn of the 20th century with the rise of electric power.

The above illustration is the front of a postcard showing Gilbert Mills, located off North Avon Road in Livingston County, NY.  The postcard was found in the Genesee Valley Historical Collection in Milne Library at SUNY Geneseo.

The above illustration is the front of a postcard showing Gilbert Mills, located off North Avon Road in Livingston County, NY.
 The postcard was found in the Genesee Valley Historical Collection in Milne Library at SUNY Geneseo.


The modern equivalent of the mill is the hydroelectric water turbine. The first hydroelectric power plant was created in 1882 on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin. Four years later in 1886, a total of 45 hydroelectric power plants were in operation in the United States and Canada. By 1889 almost 200 power plants generated electricity using water in some capacity. Think about it; that is a very rapid increase in hydroelectric power use in less than one decade!

A hydroelectric power plant owned by Rochester Gas and Electric on the banks of Lower Falls Gorge located in Rochester, New York

A hydroelectric power plant owned by Rochester Gas and Electric on the banks of Lower Falls Gorge located in Rochester, New York

Today 6 to 8% of all U.S. energy comes from hydropower. In Rochester specifically, between 2006 and 2010 hydropower harnessing the flow of the Genesee River generated 2.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. That was enough energy to power almost 70,000 homes during that time period.

One of the positives of using hydropower is that compared to other energy sources such as burning coal, it has (for the most part) a lower potential to negatively impact the environment. As we look to become more mindful on our impact on the environment, perhaps hydropower will become a more prominent part of our energy production.

For more information on hydropower see:

A History of Hydropower- U.S. Department of Energy