Wally Coates, the president of the Town of Somerset Historical Society, expects little changes to the Babcock House Museum if the proposed $4.5 billion Verizon Data Center is built around the old cobblestone house.
However, Sidney Silsby of Gasport is concerned he could lose 130 acres of good farm land. Silsby, who farms about 3,000 acres on about 30 area farms, has leased the AES property for more than 10 years.
The 10-acre Babcock land, with a cobblestone house and big barn, is owned by AES and operated by the historical society. The towering coal-burning power plant overshadows the land at 7449 Lake Road and Verizon has tentative plans to put the data center on surrounding 160 acres of the Lake Ontario property.
“The 10 acres are for our use,” Coates said. “We (historical society) don’t anticipate any change in anything that we do.”
Silsby, who has grown corn, soybeans and wheat for over 10 years on the site, said, “Right now we don’t know how it will affect us. It’s good farm land and it’s a shame to lose it ... It’s real good, right there on the lake. Weather-wise it’s a good location.”
It’s also a cool location for computers, and there could be hundreds of them in three huge buildings if the data center is realized. That’s the 10-year plan.
The Babcock House, which faces Route 18, was built about 160 years ago by Jeptha W. Babcock. The museum is open to the public in the summer from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and by appointment.
Babcock, a Quaker of English descent, moved to Niagara County in 1833. He was a farmer and the first postmaster in the western section of Somerset, according to Town Historian Lorraine Wayner. He also served as the town supervisor and a New York state assemblyman.
The Babcock Homestead was later owned by other families. New York State Electric & Gas Corp. acquired the Babcock house in 1982 and NYSEG preserved the architecturally unique house. It is now owned by AES Somerset.
Verizon’s plans is to keep the Babcock Museum right in the middle. However, Verizon’s plans are still up in the air. The Mary Ann Rizzo family, which has property across the road, opposes the data center and the Rizzo v. Verizon case is now before Justice Matthew Murphy in Niagara County Court.
“You can’t see the lake from the (Babcock) house and can’t see the lake from the one (Rizzo) that’s complaining,” Coates said. “We need something like this (data center). The area is all industrial and I don’t expect it to affect us.”
Somerset is proud of its agricultural nature and country life is displayed at the Babcock Museum. Around the Civil War, Babcock was one of the largest wheat growers in the northeast corner of the county.
The museum includes the bread oven and a restored kitchen with wrought iron fixtures.
School groups go through the museum, but tourists are few. A Victorian Christmas is celebrated in December and Somerset is host to the Old Fashion Farm Festival.
When NYSEG built the power plant, it renovated the Babcock House. Coates thought the house would be used as a welcome center, but that never materialized.
The Babcock grounds will be reconfigured minimally if Verizon comes to town. Some property will give way to a driveway, but there will be more property on the north side.