Once there were no public libraries in America. Until the mid-nineteenth century, subscription libraries, financially supported by members, provided library services. One of the first free public libraries in the country was the Geneseo Athenaeum in Geneseo, NY.
In 1842 local landholder James Wadsworth (1768-1844) established the Athenaeum collection for students at the Livingston County High School (later Temple Hill Academy). Wadsworth, who had been advocating for state legislation to establish tax supported public libraries, opened the Athenaeum collection free of charge to the residents of Livingston County.
By Civil War times, the collection had outgrown its space and a new library was constructed at the present location in 1867. In 1869 the New York State legislature established the Wadsworth Library as a public library in the Village of Geneseo to serve the residents and schools of Livingston County. Originally endowed by the Wadsworth family, the Library is also funded by the Village and Town of Geneseo and the Geneseo Central School District.
During the early decades of the twentieth century several attempts were made to expand the library but all were abandoned. In the 1980s another expansion program was undertaken and completed. A new addition to the Wadsworth Library was dedicated March 17, 1996. The Library is included in the Geneseo Historic District, a National Landmark Village listed by the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.