SENECA FALLS — Bedford Falls may be a fictional place in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but it closely resembles Seneca Falls of the 1940s.
Frances Barbieri, executive director of the Seneca Falls Historical Society, says that evidence is strong, even if circumstantial, that Seneca Falls provided the basis for Bedford Falls to movie director Frank Capra.
In a Dec. 6, 2018, article on the website www.whatitmeanstobeamerican.org., Barbieri makes these connections:
• Both are set in upstate New York, near Rochester and Elmira, both of which are referenced in the movie dialogue;
• Seneca Falls had a train run to Buffalo, as did Bedford Falls;
• The main street in Bedford Falls is Genesee Street, like Fall Street today, which was part of the old Genesee Turnpike;
• Both had canals and were mill towns that attracted immigrants;
• Similarities in buildings of 1940s Seneca Falls and the Bedford Falls set on the RKO Ranch in Encino, Calif. for the movie;
• Both had a building and loan company, a department store, globe street lamps, a median down a portion of the main street, the railroad station similarities, Cayuga Street homes, particularly the Partridge home at 54 Cayuga, similar to the old Granville House where George and Mary Bailey settled;
• The bridge may be the most obvious connection. Both had steel truss bridges over the canal. The movie had the angel Clarence, Seneca Falls has Antonio Varacalli, who died in 1917 when he jumped from the bridge to save a suicidal woman;
• Similarities between Norman J. Gould, owner of Goulds Pumps, and Mr. Potter;
• Similarities between John Rumsey, a local manufacturer who loaned his employees money to build homes, and George Bailey. A section of Seneca Falls is still called Rumseyville;
• Capra visited Seneca Falls in 1945, a year before the movie was made, en route to visiting family in Auburn. Local barber Tom Bellissima recalled cutting his hair;
• Remaining movie cast members, especially Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu, have been coming for the Wonderful Life Festival every year since 2002 and believe it is the setting for Bedford Falls.