Stuart Bolger, 89, director emeritus and architect of the Genesee Country Village & Museum, died Monday, May 9, 2011, at Highland Hospital following a short illness.
Born July 3, 1921 in Elmira, he joined with Genesee Brewing Chairman John L. "Jack" Wehle in 1966 to "design and develop a company museum." When the Genesee Country Village open in 1976, there were 32 buildings on site with 22 open to the public.
Stuart remained with the museum for the rest of his life, assuming the title of director emeritus in later years, continuing to add to the facility's growth. Genesee Country Village & Museum opens its 36th season on May 14 with 68 historic buildings.
A man of great wit and a writer and story-teller par excellence, he never believed his job at the museum was complete. He trolled the back roads of 13 counties for 45 years, looking for the next missing piece to his village, uncovering treasures disguised as chicken coups, storage units or a granary. Many were awaiting the wrecking ball. One--the Livingston-Backus House--was in pieces, gathering dust for 20 years in various warehouses, before Stuart came to its rescue.
And they came. The elegant Hamilton House came in four parts; others were moved whole. Many were dismantled to be reassembled at the Mumford site. Every acquisition was an exciting one.
He coaxed two of his most coveted acquisitions to the historic village in the last decade.The two-story Davis Opera House finally arrived in 2001 from South Butler (Wayne County) followed in 2005 by the charming Greek Revival Tailor Shop from Garbutt, just five miles away. He cut the ceremonial ribbon for the restored Opera House in 2003. Both buildings had been on his wish list for more than 30 years.
A life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals (who had a farm team in Elmira when he was growing up), Stuart embraced the museum's 19th-century base ball program from its start in 2001. He regularly appeared at the museum in his own "Rochesters" uniform, or parts thereof.
He served in the Pacific with the Marines from 1942-1946, including the 82-day battle of Okinawa, the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific during World War II. Not long after completing his tour of duty, he broke up an armed holdup in Elmira, which resulted in an extensive write-up in the Elmira press.
Stuart was a 1952 graduate of the University of Rochester with an art history degree. He did post-graduate work in architectural history at Harvard, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Sorbonne in Paris, where he completed his studies.
He worked for the architectural firm Sargent, Webster, Crenshaw & Foley in Syracuse before becoming director of Historic Bethlehem in 1958. While there, he also wrote an award-winning column on local history for the Bethlehem Globe-Times. He remained there, supervising the restoration of 18th-century Moravian buildings, until he met Jack Wehle.
Stuart served as a trustee of the Landmark Society of Western New York, chair of the Pittsford Architectural Review, vice-president of the Rochester Historical Society and was a member of the RIT Institute of Fellows.
He is survived by his wife Nancy, four children and countless friends at Genesee Country Village & Museum.