Return ‘Portage Falls on the Genesee’ to its rightful home


To the editor:

I appeal to the citizens of Auburn and New York State to support our efforts to return the painting, “Portage Falls on the Genesee,” to its rightful home, the William Seward House, without notice or explanation to the community; and it must, and should, be returned. This painting was a gift from Samuel Ruggles, Canal Commissioner, to Governor William Seward in 1841 in gratitude for his work on the Erie Canal. Seward wrote his love for this painting in letters to his family, indicating the great importance of the work to Seward.

It has been my privilege and my pleasure to give presentations in the Seward House on this masterpiece that has graced the parlor of the Home for one and half centuries. It is indeed the centerpiece of William Seward’s house, a spectacular painting in both composition and rendering.

The painting serves as a unique window to the rich past of Central New York. Portage Falls plays an important role in the community as a valuable supplement to school curriculum by bringing history to life for local students. Cole’s painting provides avenues to discuss the development of the canal and railroad systems throughout New York State and the founding of Letchworth State Park.

The Seward House is a local treasure, containing 15,000 original objects that belonged to the family of Governor Seward. Upon entrance to the museum, visitors are immediately awed by the majesty of this huge piece of art. After traversing various rooms filled with exceptional 19th century heirlooms, the art takes its place in its historic context and assumes a deeper meaning. Only immersed in these treasures can this painting truly narrate the area’s history. Moving the art from its historic home not only breaks with Seward’s wishes to preserve the painting for the New York State citizens, but also diminishes the painting’s impact.

This painting belongs to the people of Auburn as part of their cultural heritage. The Seward House is preserving it in safekeeping for generations of residents and visitor to view, learn from and appreciate. Would you agree that there are some things money should not be allowed to buy? Please sign our online petition.

Joan Marcoccia Coates and the Seward Legacy Preservation Supporters

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