Benjamin Titus Roberts

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4291 Buffalo Rd
North Chili, NY
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Inscription

B. T. Roberts
Founded Chili Seminary in 1866. His life and service is honored in the name of Roberts Wesleyan College chartered in 1949

Erected

By the county of Monroe — Date unknown.

What was there

The estate on the hill where the marker stands was the former property of  B. T. Roberts and descendants.  Across Buffalo Rd was the former Chili Seminary, also known as A. M. Chesbrough Seminary, then Roberts Junior College.

In 1944, Benjamin Titus Roberts (of Buffalo) gave up his study of law and pursuit into the NY State Bar in order to pursue the Methodist Ministry.  In 1845, he attended Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in Lima, New York, and then moved on to Wesleyan College in Middletown, Connecticut. There he met Ellen Stowe, who later became his wife, and partner in ministry.

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As a graduate, Roberts grew disappointed in the way the Methodist Episcopal Church was operating in Upstate New York. By the 1850s, membership in the church was in decline, and Roberts had attributed this to poor leadership and lost focus on spirituality. He advocated for a stronger stance against slavery, disagreed with church practices of accepting payment for seating, and called for temperance among members. His call for reform led to the organization of the Free Methodist Church, and his subsequent expulsion from the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1858. The Free Methodist Church was officially organized in 1860 in Perkin, New York, and led by Roberts.

In 1864, Benjamin and Ellen moved to North Chili, outside of Rochester, and purchased a 145 acre farm (for a cost of $17,000). The large farmhouse in the middle of the estate, was known as the Rumsey Mansion, named after its former owner. A subsequent Roberts home is shown on an 1872 map to be on Union St., north of the Chili Stagecoach Inn, alongside other homes.

The Chili Seminary was founded by Roberts in 1866, with classes held at the Roberts home (as early as 1864), and the following year began operating out of the former stagecoach stop and inn, down the road in North Chili.

The First Society of the Free Methodist Church of North Chili built a church on the corner of Orchard St and Buffalo Rd in 1866. A modern church, built in 1965, exists there today.

The Free Methodist alignment with temperance pressured the Seminary to relocate from the old tavern, and Roberts established it on his farm property off of Buffalo Road, east of the church, within the old farmhouse. The New York State Board of Regents issued a charter for public learning in 1869.  From 1885, it was known as the A. M. Chesbrough seminary, after Abram Merritt Chesbrough (of Beaux Choix Farms, Niagara County), who bequeathed $30,000 to the seminary upon his death.

As a place of higher learning, the seminary grew into a Roberts Junior College in 1945,  and in order to avoid confusion with an existing Roberts College, was dubbed Roberts Wesleyan College in 1949, as it took on senior college status. It gained full accreditation in 1952.

What is there now

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Chili Seminary is now Roberts Wesleyan College, an accredited  higher learning institute, which still holds Methodist values. Enrollment exceeds 1,800 students, with over 40 undergraduate majors and several graduate programs.

The building where the marker exists, is recorded on the tax map to have been built in 1966, probably replacing the former home, which is recorded to have housed several generations of the Roberts family. The current building now serves as the Robert’s Wesleyan College President’s residence.

Free Methodist Church of North Chili now operates a Pearce Memorial Church. Some College classes are held in the east wing.

The original seminary is now a red brick building on campus, named B. T. Roberts Memorial Hall. It serves as the Northeastern Seminary School campus in part with the Pearce Memorial Church.

The Chili Stagecoach Inn still exists in its former location.

It is unconfirmed if the B. T. Roberts residence (shown on an 1872 map) on Union St. still exists.

More information

  • “Wesleyan” is a name given for Protestant Christians who follow Methodist theology founded by John Wesley  (1703 -1791).
  • “Free” moniker of the new church symbolized their opposition to slavery. Roberts was a  staunch abolitionist.
  • B. T. Roberts was born on July 25, 1823 in Gowanda, Cattaraugus County, New York and died on February 27, 1893 in North Chili, Monroe County, New York.  He is buried in North Chili Rural Cemetery, on Buffalo Rd., adjacent to the College.
  • The Roberts had six sons and one daughter. George Roberts occupied the home on Buffalo Road following his mother’s death.

Submitted by

We would like to thank the following for helping us with this entry:
Matthew Conheady



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