Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Stuart Bolger 1921-2011

Stuart Bolger

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.


  1. Sincere sympathy to Mr. Bolger's family and friends. What a fine man.

  2. So many wonderful memories of Stuart at Landmark Society and at GCVM.

    For many years David Boyer and I performed in T. Bohrer's One and Only Punch and Judy Show at the July 4th and the Ag Fair (still do the Ag Fair.) Stuart would always stop by to see at least one show during the event. Since T. Bohrer and I could not see who was in the audience from inside the puppet stage, David would use a code phrase to let us know that senior staff or the director was in the audience. He'd remark about "a big puppy."

    Stuart was our favorite big puppy.

    Cindy Boyer

  3. Thank you for this "memorial". I think you all there on the hill above the Oatka know that you all were (and always will be) a very important part of my fathers "extended family" and will be thought of so by all of us as well. This goes as well for all of those that spent their time and energy, in the past, making Jack's vision to reality for us all. Many people have made this village possible and I know my father cherished all of them. He also felt that the buildings and grounds themselves to be a part of his family.

    Thank you all,

    Bruce Bolger

  4. Mr. Bolger had a unique purpose in the world. He was able to bring history to life once the buildings were put in one spot at the Museum. I never had a chance to meet him, but I wish I did. Two summers ago I enrolled our three sons in a summer program at the museum. Living a long time ago and the school of the soildere. Our children learned a lot from this hands onexpierence! He was an amazing person with vision in his life. My children are inspired by people who do things like this for others to have the ability to learn in new ways. My family and I will keep his wife and family in our prayers! God bless!

    Jamie Nicosia

  5. What a great legacy he's left! Good article. I'm grateful for all the work he did.

  6. Bruce,

    Your father was one of a kind and will never be replaced at the museum! Stuart WAS the Genesee Country Village & Museum and he will be greatly missed by many many people.

  7. Stuart Bolger was a gifted man who gave tirelessly of himself to the Museum. He and my mother worked together for many years (10 years before it ever opened!) making the Museum the treasure that it is today. He worked on the buildings and she on the furnishings, what a wonderful talented pair. His death is a great loss to the Museum and Rochester! My sympathy to all.