Reinventing Rochester: Lessons in Retrofitting

I moved to the United States in 2005 to pursue a history PhD at the University of Rochester. Having been both a history and music buff for most of my life, I knew of Rochester as the site of Charles Grandison Finney’s religious revival and the erstwhile residence of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and bluesman Son House, as well as the home of the House of Guitars, whose ads I grew up watching in Canada.

Though my graduate studies at the U of R required that I narrow my academic interests to the confines of my dissertation topic, my curiosity about the history of the city that surrounded me grew. Urban explorations on my bike inspired countless questions: Who had lived in these grand old mansions? What accounted for the differences between the city’s West and East sides? How far did the subway tracks go and why was the system abandoned? Why all the horses?

Working on the Democrat and Chronicle‘s “Retrofitting Rochester” column for the past year and a half has helped me answer some of these questions, while furthering my passion for the Flower City’s history.

As readers’ responses to the weekly column suggest, many Rochesterians are equally passionate about the topic. Retrofitting followers frequently laud the industrial and innovatory achievements of the city’s past and lament the loss of former urban fixtures such as the Loew’s Theatre and the Seneca Hotel.

But focusing on what the city has lost obscures the many ways it has managed to hold on to its history. Perhaps what has struck me the most about Rochester in my time researching the city is, as the following examples attest, its capacity for reinvention.

In the mid-twentieth century, when the personal fortunes of East Avenue denizens no longer matched the architectural riches of the mansions dotting the tree-lined boulevard, many of these elegant edifices were repurposed as various club headquarters or converted into luxury apartment houses, giving current Rochester residents a taste of the opulent living conditions of the city’s turn-of-the-century elite.

Home of Henry Ellsworth, East Ave

The former home of building and railroad contractor, Henry Ellsworth, is now an East Avenue apartment house.

In 1974, a fire engulfed St. Joseph’s Church on Franklin Street, completely destroying the structure’s interior, but an urban park established within its remaining walls six years later, ensured that the soul of the 134 year-old building would live on.

St. Joseph's Church

St. Joseph’s Church, pre- and post-fire.

By 1990, the Main Street Armory proved outdated for the National Guard’s purposes, but thanks to the efforts of local developers, the beautiful Romanesque fortress reopened 16 years later as a multipurpose entertainment venue, catering to amateur sports leagues and professional music acts alike. Even former President Bill Clinton graced the Armory with his presence at a rally two years ago.

Main Street Armory

“The Fortress on Main Street”: The Armory.

Currently, the Pont de Rennes walkway, itself a recreation of the Platt Street bridge, is part of a local greening project that intends to build an arboretum on the span, thereby creating a “garden in the sky.”

Platt Street Bridge, now Pont de Rennes

The Platt Street Bridge and the Pont De Rennes.

Each of these examples demonstrates Rochester’s commitment to maintaining its architectural assets while serving as proof that preserving the city’s past plays a key part in its promising future.

~Emily Morry, Library Assistant

Published in: on July 30, 2014 at 5:08 pm  Comments (1)  

Remembering July 1964

Fifty years ago, our country was in the throes of a great struggle for racial equality. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed by President Johnson on July 2, was a landmark piece of legislation that protected voting rights and outlawed discrimination and segregation on the grounds of race, color, religion, and national origin. Yet even as the law attempted to level the playing field, widespread bigotry and violence from hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan persisted in keeping African Americans largely separate and decidedly unequal from their white counterparts.

We tend to think of the civil rights movement as playing out primarily in the South, where efforts to combat discriminatory Jim Crow policies manifested in mass interracial projects like the 1964 voter registration drive in Mississippi known as Freedom Summer. But racial injustice was pervasive and the North was not immune. Throughout the mid- to late-1960s, a spate of urban uprisings erupted throughout the country, challenging institutional inequality and belying the notion that racial strife was strictly a southern phenomenon.

As those who lived here at the time surely remember, and subsequent generations have perhaps not yet learned, a rather vivid episode in the history of racial conflict happened right here in Rochester in July 1964. Referred to historically as a riot and more recently understood as a rebellion, the unrest that took place in Rochester fifty years ago this month revealed the city’s underlying racial tensions. The incident was profound, as was its impact, with news of the three-day/two-night maelstrom traveling nationwide and even into Canada.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Rochester riots/rebellion. Rochesterians are taking the occasion to pause and reflect upon the events of the summer of 1964 and to take stock of where we stand today. The point is not to blame or point fingers, but to understand: what happened, and why; what has changed, and what work remains to be done?

RaceRebellion logoThese questions and others will be explored in a series of programs and an exhibit co-sponsored by the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County, the Friends & Foundation of the Rochester Public Library, and the Office of the City Historian. “Remembering the Race Riots/Rebellion of 1964” will run from July 15th to the 25th and will feature talks with scholars, activists, and local observers as well as film screenings and discussions about the documentary July ’64. For details, see our poster, RaceRebellion1964_Pstr_F, and our program, RaceRebellion1964_flyer_F.

In addition to the events taking place at the Central Library, the City Historian’s office is producing a four-part series of articles for the Democrat & Chronicle’s weekly “Retrofitting Rochester” column that will run throughout this month. The column appears every Monday in the RocRoots section of the newspaper and online at

For a list of other related events taking place throughout the city, please visit the City’s website,, as well as the events calendar on the D&C’s website,

Come out and join the conversation!

~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian

The High Falls Center: A Year in Review

About a year ago, in late July 2013, I learned that the Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library was going to assume operations for the High Falls Center at 74 Brown’s Race. Not only that, but I was being offered the opportunity to serve as the primary site manager for a museum and visitor’s center nestled in the heart of one of Rochester’s most historic districts. It was all very exciting! A few weeks later, City Historian Christine Ridarsky and I were given our first tour of the facilities, which had been empty since June. Then we were given keys. Then we began to work on getting the place ready to reopen and serve the public. As the Local History Division approaches the one-year anniversary of taking on High Falls, the moment seems ripe to reflect on our first year spent in the iconic museum.


City Historian Christine Ridarsky patiently awaits her set of keys for High Falls, August 2013.

My first day opening the High Falls Center and Interpretive Museum, September 5th, 2013.

Today the High Falls Center and Interpretive Museum sits in the middle of a neighborhood known for both its historical attractions (the falls themselves, the Triphammer, the Pont de Rennes pedestrian bridge, the Genesee Brewery, etc.) and a bustling commercial scene. The vibrant community— a mix of retail, residential, and office space set amid a 19th-century industrial backdrop— is practically synonymous with the city of Rochester. Many out-of-town visitors start their trips to Rochester by coming to High Falls. 

But did you know that the High Falls neighborhood once existed apart from Rochester? In fact, it was once the epicenter of a rival settlement known as Frankfort, a 200-acre tract of land acquired in 1812 by brothers Matthew and Francis Brown. For an investment of $1,300, the Browns bought the territory surrounding the Genesee River’s upper falls, land that neighbored the northern border of a fateful 100 acre tract purchase of another hopeful speculator, Nathaniel Rochester. Much like Colonel Rochester’s vision for Rochesterville, the Browns hoped to make their fortune by selling plots in Frankfort once the landscape became more developed. To further that ambition, in 1815-16 the Browns created the area’s first power canal, Brown’s Race, as a selling point to prospective entrepreneurs. Although the Brown brothers merged their holdings with Nathaniel Rochester’s in 1817, their commitment to harnessing the power of the Genesee River had already transformed the High Falls district, emblazoning it with a distinct identity. The water power produced by the raceway, capable of generating 3,670 horsepower, made High Falls the natural industrial core of the young Genesee Valley settlement. The cluster of flour mills drawing power from the race— spurred by the opening of the Erie Canal— propelled Rochester’s rise as an American boomtown and the nation’s “Flour City.”


One of the many flour mills lined up along Brown’s Race in the early 19th century.

That was then. Although High Falls remains home to many well-preserved remnants from its industrial past, in the two centuries since the original Brown’s purchase the neighborhood has evolved many times over. Indeed, it has gone through numerous permutations: from heavy manufacturing center to entertainment zone to its present iteration as a mixed-use historical community.

The High Falls Center and Interpretive Museum first opened in the early 1990s. Housed in a beautifully-refurbished Victorian waterworks plant, the charming museum captured the indelible character of the Browns Race community through exhibits that emphasized the power of water in shaping Rochester’s rise to prominence. Unfortunately, the center closed in the summer of 2013. That’s when the Local History Division stepped in.

We had our work cut out for us! The museum needed a thorough cleaning, exhibit repairs, and a lot of TLC.  Several members of the Local History team, myself included, literally rolled up our sleeves and spent the month of August 2013 undertaking the massive project. We scrubbed floors, changed light fixtures, vacuumed, dusted, polished, painted, and even climbed inside many of the exhibits to clean them and install new parts. Most of the exhibits, which are now nearly 25 years old, run on dated, finicky analogue technology; they all needed a little coaxing to spring back to life. Fortunately, they are very well built. I am pleased to report that every feature of the High Falls Center is operational!

A historian’s work is never done!

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of preparation, the Local History Division reopened High Falls to the public on September 5th 2013. Our first visitor, who logged his name in our brand new guest book, was a Mr. Fleming from Mt. Olive, Illinois.  

Thousands of people followed Mr. Fleming’s path to High Falls. One of the most worthwhile aspects about working at the museum has been interacting with the incredible cultural and geographic diversity of peoples that are drawn here. Since Mr. Fleming, 4,957 others have visited the High Falls Center and Interpretive Museum. They have come from over forty different countries, from 47 of the 50 states (we still need representatives from both Dakotas and Montana!), from across New York State, and throughout all the towns and neighborhoods of the greater Rochester area. High Falls truly is a local, regional, national, and international phenomenon. On any given day we might act as ambassadors to a family visiting from abroad, make restaurant and museum recommendations for guests visiting from out of state, and a lead a field trip of Rochester school children through the museum and neighborhood— often all before lunch!   

Lifelong Rochesterians also tend to express great delight when they find themselves entering our doors. For many, the trip to High Falls marks a nostalgic return to a museum they visited as children or perhaps when their families were younger. It helps that our permanent exhibits are attractive enough to be enjoyed repeatedly —the Taxi Cab ride is a perennial favorite! Often, however (usually no less than once per day), a local visitor will offer me a sheepish expression and the following reluctant confession: this is their first trip—ever!—to the High Falls district despite having lived in Rochester for years. I am quick to reassure such visitors that this is a common profession. Somehow, High Falls has managed to become one of the city’s greatest hidden gems. Probably because Rochester has so many enriching experiences to offer. 

A group of RIT students enjoy a famous High Falls taxi ride.

The High Falls Center and Interpretive Museum really is a wonderful resource for the community, and a great place to learn about local history. In addition to the museum’s exhibits, the Local History Division has staged three seasonal exhibits in its gallery spaces, and we recently finished a lunchtime historical lecture series. I have personally led countless indoor and outdoor walking tours of the neighborhood for groups ranging from elementary school children to senior citizens. All of this at no charge to the public.

In short, this has been a very good year at High Falls.

And now, I’d like to close by highlighting the year in review through pictures. Here we have High Falls through the seasons:

Fall picture

Fall 2013

High Falls during the 2013 Holidays

mill 6

High Falls in bloom, Spring 2014

Next up: summer! Plan a visit and take advantage of extended summer hours. During July and August, the High Falls Center and Interpretive Museum will be open every day of the week except Tuesdays. On Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, it is open from 11:00 AM until 4:00 PM. It is open from 10:00 AM until 5:00 PM on Saturday and from noon until 4:00 PM on Sunday. The Center is always free to the public.

High Falls Interpretive Center and Museum

74 Browns Race

Rochester, NY 14614

(585) 325-2030

Be on the look out for our new street sign!


Courtesy of Visit Rochester

 ~Jeff Ludwig, Historical Researcher


McKelvey, “Flour Milling at Rochester” in Rochester History, Vol. 33, No. 3 (July 1971). 

Rosenberg-Naparsteck, “Frankfort: Birthplace of Rochester’s Industry” in Rochester History, Vol. 50, No. 3 (July 1988). 


Published in: on July 8, 2014 at 10:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Pick Up the New Directory of Canal-Related Sites and Museums

Free guide available at 45 attractions, including the Rochester Public Library, 115 South Ave., and the High Falls Center & Interpretive Museum, 74 Browns Race.

There’s a lot to be said for online guides and apps, but sometimes it’s nice to have an old fashioned brochure in hand – or in your glove compartment, boat map case, or bike bag – to help you find your way to interesting places.

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor’s new directory of canal sites and museums is just the ticket to introduce you to more than 45 sites all along the Canal System. Each site showcases a different part of the canal’s legacy — from its famous locks and low bridges, to its transformation of New York State, to the prominent role it continues to play in shaping communities along its shores.

Immerse yourself in the sites and stories that make the Erie Canalway a national treasure, and meet the people who are preserving and sharing our extraordinary canal heritage for you and future generations. Pick up a copy at these locations >

– Contributed by the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

Published in: on July 8, 2014 at 9:35 am  Leave a Comment  

More genealogy news! New York prison records available online at Ancestry

New York residents can access now access select state prison records for free from anywhere at But remember that Ancestry is always free in the Local History & Genealogy Division. For more information on the newly available prison records, read this New York Times article:
Archives From Prisons in New York Are Digitized.

Published in: on July 7, 2014 at 10:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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New England Naturalizations Records, 1791-1906, Released on Findmypast

FindMyPast has just released naturalization records from six New England states. If these might be of use to you in your hunt for your ancestors, be sure to visit the Local History & Genealogy Division to use FindMyPast for free! Here is more information on the newly available records:

New England Naturalizations records 1791-1906 released on Findmypast.

Published in: on July 7, 2014 at 12:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Kinder, Gentler Fourth

1918 Fourth of July

The 1918 Fourth of July celebration in Rochester. Mayor Hiram Edgerton is on a platform with Gov. Charles S. Whitman. From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History Division.

It’s that time of year when, to quote The Simpsons, we “celebrate the independence of [our] nation by blowing up a small part of it.”

All joking aside though, fireworks and their discharge could be a very dangerous–and deadly–activity for early Rochesterians.

Mention of the earliest celebration of Independence Day appeared in the 1844 Rochester City Directory.

The first public celebration here, deserves a passing notice. The few settlers having moved from a more thickly settled portion of the country, and having been accustomed to celebrate “Independence day,” on the morning of the 4th of July, 1812, resolved themselves into a “committee of arrangements.”

The celebration, which took place near the corner of Main and St. Paul streets, featured a feast of lamb, pig, vegetables, bread, pies, and a bottle of whiskey. Twenty people attended; no incidents involving fireworks is reported.

The July 4, 1939, edition of the Democrat & Chronicle describes the 1817 celebrations as “truly a Glorious Fourth, replete with patriotic oratory, a bounteous feast at a pioneer dinner, martial music and explosives” during a holiday “that was not marred by a single accident or unpleasant thing.” Citizens had twice the reason to celebrate, as the holiday also marked the opening of Johnson’s new mill race.

Our next insight into area Fourth of July celebrations came two years later in the Rochester Telegraph, whose July 6 edition includes a small, almost passing mention of a celebration of which the paper had “not room to give a detailed account.” An oration was given by Rochesterville’s first printer, Augustine G. Dauby, and a dinner provided for the occasion at the Mansion House on Carroll Street (today’s State Street). According to the Telegraph, “Harmony and good order marked the proceedings of the day and clearly showed that the ‘era of good feelings has indeed arrived.'”

Those good feelings, however, would give way to a troubling increase in injuries and fatalities as the scale of the city’s celebrations grew in proportion to its population. An 1826 article in the Rochester Album noted that about fifty people were killed in the United States during the Fourth of July that year. The July 6, 1839, edition of the Rochester Daily Democrat described a particularly odd and gruesome incident:

RDD 7.6.1839a0000

A program from the city’s 1840 celebration makes no mention of an exhibition of fireworks–only that multiple-gun salutes would occur at sunrise and noon.

A malicious prank during the 1842 celebration resulted in one fatality and a multitude of serious injuries when, at the commencement of the fireworks exhibition on Seneca Street, someone threw a lit firecracker into a basket of fireworks, which “were discharged directly down Main street” (Rochester Republican, July 12, 1842). Joseph D. Fulton died instantly. John Easter’s injuries were so severe that the newspaper offered “little hope of recovery.” A Mrs. Snelling, by sheer providence, was only spared when a rocket that struck her in the chest was deflected by her corset board.

From that time forward, editions of the newspaper following each Fourth of July could be counted upon to feature macabre stories of fun celebrations gone wrong, usually due to alcohol. Commonly performed as a substitute for fireworks during celebrations, the practice of “firing the anvil” often resulted in serious injury. According to the July 6, 1858, edition of the Union & Advertiser (UA),

John Reed was engaged with a party at Fall’s tavern in Greece, firing an anvil, when the plug driven into the anvil flew out, and passing along the side of his face, mangled it in a shocking manner.

Even a simple evening stroll through the city could leave citizens vulnerable to wayward missiles. The July 5, 1867, UA reported that a girl “had her face badly lacerated…by being struck by a rocket stick which was fired in Main street, near the corner of Elm.”

By 1888, the UA had all but given up reporting every detail of the many Fourth of July mishaps that occurred and instead took to listing the injuries, one after another, in a long paragraph of pain and misery. Seven years later, the July 5th headline read simply, “Chapter of Accidents.” After devoting several paragraphs to City Alderman J. Miller Kelly’s injuries from “a premature explosion of a fire-cracker,” the UA went on to highlight the yearly litany of wounds (usually to the face), culminating in the severe hand injury suffered by James Stebbins when someone threw a lit firecracker into the trolley for which he served as conductor.

The City Council attempted to curb the carnage with the 1928 passing of Ordinance 757, which banned the sale and discharge of fireworks within the city limits. However, the law didn’t prohibit the possession of fireworks. That oversight, coupled with the enterprising citizens who set up roadside stands just outside the city line, would result in the steady increase in Fourth of July-related injuries and fatalities.


Clearly, it was time to get serious. In 1940, Rochester Public Safety Commissioner Tom C. Woods joined forces with State Senator Earle S. Warner to pass a statewide law banning the sale, possession, and use of explosives except at duly licensed celebrations. The new law had the desired effect, as newspapers in subsequent years touted the city’s new “quiet Fourth.” “I’ve never seen it as quiet as this before, and I’ve been on the job here 37 years,” police telephone supervisor Charles E. Mahoney remarked in the July 5, 1944, Democrat & Chronicle. To this day, consumer fireworks remain illegal in New York State. (Even sparklers are off-limits, much to my surprise.)

So if you want to see some fireworks tomorrow, head over to one of the many town-sanctioned displays around Monroe County, or brave the hordes that will be sure to line the streets downtown. Above all, have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

~Cheri Crist, Librarian


“For a Hospitable–And Not A Hospitalizing–July Fourth.” The Democrat and Chronicle Sunday Magazine (Rochester, NY), July 30, 1939.

“When the 4th Had Clamor.” The Democrat and Chronicle Sunday Magazine (Rochester, NY), June 29, 1941.

More on the War of 1812: Fort Bender

Thanks to all who came out to the High Falls Center & Interpretive Museum last Tuesday for the most recent installment in our Lunch Hour Lecture series. Jim Fischer gave a fascinating talk on the confrontation between Rochester’s small militia, now known as the “Valiant 33,” and the forces of British naval commander James Yeo, which took place at the Port of Charlotte on May 14-15th, 1814, during the War of 1812.


Jim Talk%2c 5-13-14 (2)

Local historian Jim Fischer speaking at the High Falls Lunch Hour Lecture Series on May 13.


The idea of British troops invading Rochester seems almost incredible now, but in 1814 it came very close to reality. As Mr. Fischer described in his talk, the militia managed to avert the crisis–in part by perpetrating a clever hoax that fooled the British into thinking Rochester’s defenders were much more numerous than the 33 men actually present.  Nevertheless, these few citizen soldiers were prepared to fight against overwhelming odds to protect their homes and the United States military supplies stockpiled at Rochester.

Their preparations even included constructing a fort, where the militia intended to make their last stand if the British overpowered their defenses at Charlotte and approached Rochester. Christened “Fort Bender,” presumably because resident Hastings R. Bender must have played some key role in its creation, it was located near the Lower Falls along the road that connected the village with the Lake Ontario shore (our present-day Lake Avenue).

First-hand accounts describe Fort Bender as being located on the south side of  “the Deep Hollow,” a reference that means little to modern residents of Rochester but would have been immediately recognizable in the 19th and early 20th centuries.   The Deep Hollow was a steep ravine that carried a meandering creek to meet the Genesee River, roughly in the vicinity of the present-day Tops Friendly Market and Dunkin Donuts on Lake Avenue. The road that is now Lake Avenue crossed the Deep Hollow on a narrow wooden bridge, and militia member Elisha Ely later recalled loosening the planks so that the bridge could quickly be rendered unusable.

The most vivid description of Fort Bender comes from the reminiscences of Edwin Scrantom. As a ten-year-old boy in 1814, Scrantom and two friends set out from his home in what is now downtown Rochester in search of his father, who was with the militia at Charlotte. Scrantom described:

“…a journey of seven long miles, over most of which the forests hung and walled the road in on both sides; and for variety there were patches of ‘corduroy road’ that went through swamps that had the interlaced and matted growth of a century where nature had run wild and run mad…

Coming up to (the Deep Hollow) we found an earthwork thrown up on the south bank behind which, not far apart, were two small cannon pointed through an opening, and so planted that while a company of men were crossing they could be mowed down like hail devastating a field of wheat. There were also several men stationed here to watch an enemy’s approach, so that when warned, their first work was to remove the plank from the bridge, and then stand to their guns! The road beyond descended a great deal, and was enclosed on each side by thick woods, and we all felt inclined to back out, though neither broke his fears to the rest. Inquiring of the soldiers, they discouraged us, and two of them said, ‘Go back! Go back! What good can you boys do? You may all of you get killed.'”

(“A Boyhood Adventure,” by Edwin Scrantom, written in 1874 and republished in the Rochester Historical Society Publication Fund Series, Vol. III.)

No trace of Fort Bender remains today, and the Deep Hollow itself has disappeared from the map. After defying the efforts of Rochester’s building developers for years, it was finally filled in to the level of the surrounding streets in the early 1960s. The large vacant lot that can still be seen behind the Dunkin Donuts parking lot on Lake Avenue is the only reminder of this vanished landmark that once figured in Rochester’s military defense strategy.


Deep Hollow Creek 1875

A detail from Plate 19 of the 1875 Hopkins City Atlas of Rochester. In 1814, Fort Bender was located where Deep Hollow Creek passes under Lake Avenue.


–Amie Alscheff, Local History & Genealogy Division


Hanford, Franklin. “Visits of American and British Naval Vessels to the Genesee River, 1809 to 1814,” in Rochester Historical Society Publication Fund Series, Vol. III, Rochester, NY: Rochester Historical Society, 1924.

O’Reilly, Henry. Settlement in the West: Sketches of Rochester. Rochester, NY: W. Alling, 1838.

Scrantom, Edward. “A Boyhood Adventure,” in Rochester Historical Society Publication Fund Series, Vol. III, Rochester, NY: Rochester Historical Society, 1924.


Published in: on May 20, 2014 at 2:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rochester’s Forgotten Conflict

4523-03CC_HF_Lectures_May 13_Pstr_8_5x11.indd


This month marks the 200th anniversary of an exciting episode in Rochester’s early history. In May of 1814, at the height of the War of 1812, British warships patrolling Lake Ontario threatened to attack the Port of Charlotte and invade the scattered settlements along the Genesee River.

If you’ve never heard of this before, don’t worry…you’re not alone. The War of 1812 is America’s “forgotten conflict.” According to historian Donald R. Hickey, Americans today may have learned that the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but most of us don’t know much more than that about the causes, the battles, and the consequences of this “Second War of American Independence.” (If you’re feeling challenged now to read up on the War of 1812,  check out Hickey’s books  available at the Rochester Public Library.)

The growing settlement along the Genesee known as Rochesterville also played a part in the war. With its proximity to the contested shipping lanes on Lake Ontario, the Rochester area not only saw naval battles near its harbor but was subjected to British raiding parties.

Want to learn more about Rochester’s history during the War of 1812? Well, look for more information that we will be sharing here in the coming days.

And consider attending “The True Story of the Valiant 33: 200th Anniversary,” a free public event taking place as part of the High Falls Lunch Hour Lecture Series on May 13th. In it, historian Jim Fischer captures the sense of danger and excitement faced by a tiny militia of local settlers (33 of them, in fact) who stared down the British Navy on the shores of Charlotte.  Although their skirmish marked only a minor campaign in the American war effort, the experience nonetheless registered as a major event in the lives of those involved and for the growing Genesee Valley region as a whole.

Mr. Fischer’s presentation brings the local chapter of this conflict back to life. A scholar of the War of 1812, Jim is also a seasoned sailor on the Great Lakes who has logged time as a crew member on the reconstructed War of 1812-era brig Niagara.

Mr. Fischer’s talk begins at 12:10 PM on May 13th in the High Falls Center and Interpretive Museum at 74 Browns Race, Rochester, NY 14614. For more information, please call 585-325-2030.

–Amie Alscheff & Jeff Ludwig, Local History Division

Published in: on May 8, 2014 at 11:45 am  Leave a Comment  

“Second-Chance Census”

The current issue of New York Archives (the magazine of the Archives Partnership Trust, [available in the Local History & Genealogy Division]) contains an important article for anyone interested in using local copies of census records, state or federal. It demonstrates that there are often discrepancies between the federal records available on-line and the records found at local county records repositories.

“Second-Chance Census” by Roger D. Joslyn should be on your must-read list!

However, there is one caveat. The article cites the guide to local census locations, “New York State Census Records, 179-1925″ (Bulletin 88) published by the State Education Department in 1988. The guide can be downloaded from the State Library website as a pdf document. Go to

That guide was compiled prior to the the implementation of the 1988 records management law at the county level. Most of the county copies of census records are listed as being in the custody of County Clerks. While they may still be Clerk’s records, the local copies of census records are actually located in the county records centers. In the case of Ontario County, that means that they are in a different building, several miles away from the County Clerk’s office, in a different town.

Check with your local County Clerk, County Historian, or Records Management Officer before checking out the census records in person! It will save time and reduce your parking frustrations.

In many counties, census and other records are available in digital format on-line.

In any case–as the article advocates–compare the available census versions to get the best information.

Preston E. Pierce, MLS, EdD
DHP Regional Archivist
Rochester Regional Library Council

Published in: on April 23, 2014 at 10:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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