You hear a lot nowadays about landfills, recycling, garbage, and waste. There are advertisements on the radio for recycling, letters to the editors about landfills, and exhibits, displays, and housing projects built around recycling.

Many people don’t care for the idea of garbage — their own or others — near their home. There are concerns about smells, groundwater contamination, air pollution, and excessive traffic caused by garbage trucks. There is no doubt that our “disposable” society generates a tremendous amount of waste, and people seldom agree on how to dispose of garbage. So, historically, how did we as individuals and Geneva as a city deal with waste, recycling, and landfills?

Reading the village of Geneva trustee meeting minutes of the early 1800s is interesting because it shows the village trustees beginning to comment officially on where and what people could “dump.” As sometimes happens, different individuals have different notions of how fastidious their surroundings need to be kept. Eventually, public health dictated that people cease throwing garbage in their backyards and required a public dumping place on the outskirts of the residential area.

A city-run dump

The city of Geneva had a “dump,” as did most municipalities. In checking the Geneva Bureau of Public Works Reports for 1930, I found care of the dump listed under the Highway Department which had expended $1,388.19 on “Care of Dump.” Compared to what is spent on landfills and trash pickup today, that is probably very inexpensive, but I suspect that in 1930 part of “Care of Dump” entailed hiring a caretaker to ensure “bears,” stray dogs or youngsters didn’t overrun the place after closing.

Today, many municipalities have their landfills operated by outside contractors or by companies such as Casella Waste Systems in Ontario County or Seneca Meadows in Seneca County. Garbage is now big business.

So, where were the dumps in Geneva? I had to do quite a bit of looking to find out. Even after hours of reading Bureau of Public Works Reports and newspapers, the best I can do is point to a general area in which the dump may have been. For example, there is a mention in the 1898 BPW Report that Geneva purchased a stone-crushing machine and placed it near the Washington Street dump. Then, in the Sept. 7, 1957, edition of The Geneva Times, there is an article about the dump being overrun by rats, but it doesn’t mention the location. Apparently it didn’t need to — everyone in town knew. The Geneva Times stated that the Board of Public Works quit burning the rubbish — and the rat infestation increased. Perhaps rats dislike charred food, but the neighbors downwind from the dump disliked the smell of burning garbage, so burning ceased.

An earlier article from the Jan. 11, 1957 Geneva Times stated the landfill was located at the north end of Seneca Lake and east of Pre-Emption Street. There was much discussion about where the City Common Council could find the amount of land necessary for a sanitary landfill. The figures cited in the paper were 1 acre of land for every 10,000 people each year. The population of Geneva at that time would require 2 acres of land per year — so, for a 20-year period, 40 acres of vacant, unproductive land would be required, an amount that would be very difficult to acquire in a densely populated city. The discussion may have been more prolonged if the need to close the dump so the arterial could be built hadn’t arisen — but then, the question of where to put the new dump arose.

By April 1959, the city and town of Geneva had new locations for their dumps. The city contracted with Dominick Tantalo and Edward Kenny, two contractors from Waterloo, to operate a dump about a mile north of the Ecko Plant (a division of Geneva Forge) in the town of Geneva. Meanwhile, after a disagreement arose between the city and the town on use of the existing landfill, the town hired Sam Maio to run a landfill for them on Gambee Road, near the railroad tracks and between Genesee Street and Lyons Road. Maio received about $100 a month for care of this landfill.

By 1978 the County of Ontario Landfill was operational, and more municipalities in the county were arranging to use it since the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation passed new and stricter landfill regulations that were more expensive for small towns and villages to meet. Some towns developed “transfer stations,” places where you brought your garbage to the town station and paid a fee to leave it there. Some cities contracted for garbage pickup.

In the fall of 2003, Ontario County accepted a proposal from Casella Waste Systems to take over operation and maintenance of the county landfill. At that time, Ontario County’s annual landfill operating losses exceeded $1 million. Casella’s management of the Ontario County Landfill has been and continues to be controversial and emotional. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a solution to handling trash that generates mutual agreement. Until society finds a way to generate much less waste, garbage will continue to remain a difficult and unpleasant problem.

Osburn is the Geneva City Historian. Contact her at

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