“Was a white horse buried in the circle on Portsmouth Terrace?”

What?? This seemingly bizarre question was e-mailed to us a few weeks ago. Two little girls, now in their 90s, heard about the horse when they were growing up near the corner of Portsmouth Terrace and University Avenue. They also remembered that the horse in question was supposed to have been a fire horse belonging to Engine Company No. 6, the fire house on University Avenue that is now Craft Company No. 6.

Our research turned up an image of the traffic circle from the turn of the century, but no mention of a horse’s grave.

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We also learned a lot about the horses of the Rochester Fire Department. According to Dan McBride’s history of the Rochester Fire Department, In The Finest Tradition, fire horses became part of the department during the Civil War. Before the development of steam-powered fire engines (weighing between five and eight tons), firefighters had pulled their ladders, hooks, buckets, and axes to the scene of a fire in hand-drawn carts.

Fire horses quickly became a beloved feature of the Fire Department. The firefighters were responsible for their daily care, and took pride in grooming them to perfection for parades. When the fire alarm sounded, the well-trained horses knew exactly what to do and raced to the fire with as much urgency as the men. The horses were also popular with children, who would visit them at the neighborhood firehouses.

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An unidentified firefighter and fire horse outside Firehouse No. 10 on Driving Park Avenue. This was the site of the Fire Department’s horse hospital, where sick or injured fire horses received veterinary treatment.

We even found that one specific horse—a white horse named Chubby from Engine Company No. 6—was a local celebrity. In 1927, when the city replaced its horse-drawn engines with motorized firetrucks, Chubby was retired to a petting zoo operated by the Rochester Parks Department at Edgerton Park. Could Chubby have been the horse buried on Portsmouth Terrace, right around the corner from the firehouse where he served? Not according to his obituary. That’s right, when Chubby finally died of old age in 1933, the Democrat and Chronicle ran a prominent story about his burial service in Scottsville.

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From the Democrat & Chronicle, February 23, 1933.

Chubby was the inspiration for the white horse statue installed in front of Craft Company No. 6 on University Avenue as part of the Horses on Parade project. More information about him is available on the store’s Web site.

I’m afraid this question has truly stumped us. Is there a horse buried beneath the traffic circle on Portsmouth Terrace? Was it just an urban legend that two little girls were told more than 80 years ago? Does the story have any connection to Chubby, the famous white fire horse from Engine Company No. 6? If you have heard the legend of the white horse’s grave, please let us know!

~Amie Alscheff
Library Assistant

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have heard that the horse buried there was the favorite racehorse of James Vick that used to own all that area and had the race course on Vick Park A and B. He was born in Portsmouth, England and I suspect that where the street got it’s name.

    • Thanks, John. That gives us a whole new angle to investigate. Do you mind telling us where you have heard this? Is it in a book anywhere?

      • Not in a book. I heard it from a Vick family member I met quite a while ago..

  2. Really great story, Amie; and well told! Thank you!


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