Dublin: Rochester’s Irish Neighborhood

The earliest settlers of Rochester are commonly pictured as Yankee pioneers from New England, with a few Southerners thrown into the mix. As we have seen through the lens of Austin Steward and Daniel Furr, there were African Americans here within a few years of the initial settlement. Added to the ethnic mix of the village was a population of native Irish, concentrated in a neighborhood called “Dublin.”


The Dublin neighborhood, as depicted in a map created during Rochester’s sesquicentennial. 

Dublin was located on St. Paul Street between Lowell Street and Central Avenue. The neighborhood extended east from there as far as Clinton Avenue. Its origins date to 1817 when an Irishman from County Laois (pronounced “Leash,” and then called “Queens County”) sailed for Québec.

While in Canada, James Dowling (1795?-September 15, 1852) heard of a grist mill and saw mill by a set of large falls on the Genesee River. Seeking to improve his situation, he made his way to Rochester, arriving July 14, 1817. Soon thereafter he purchased an acre of woodland from Nathaniel Gorham on the west side of St. Paul Street (at Dowling Place, where the Genesee Brewery now stands). The cost of the land was $100. Dowling paid $10 down, with equal payments to be made thereafter. It is said that at least one of his payments was made in-kind, as he paid village clerk Elisha Ely with a big fat goose!


The Genesee Brewery, site of James Dowling’s home.

Dowling cleared the forest around him and built a log cabin in which to live. He resided in the cabin during the winter; the rest of the year he worked on the Erie Canal and engaged in other public work projects. Around the area of the cabin, Dowling and his family had to be wary of rattlesnakes, as well as wild animals abounding in the nearby forest. Being north of the settlement of what is now downtown Rochester, there were no other settlers for miles.

Despite the hard and lonely life he lived, Dowling must have been happy in his new home, as within a few years his friends from County Laois joined him. Richard Story and Patrick McDonald and their families had sailed with Dowling to Québec in April 1817, but unlike Dowling, they stayed in Québec for a while before relocating to Rochester. Upon arrival, they each bought an acre on St. Paul Street and five acres each on North Clinton Avenue, embracing Baden Street, Vienna Street, Catherine Street, Kelly Street, and Buchan Park.

By 1827, there were 35 people in the locality, but they tended to be rather insular and protective of its boundaries. This trait can be seen most clearly in the early 1830s in the case of the horse-drawn railway that ran between Carthage and the canal aqueduct in Rochester.


The town of Carthage was then located on St. Paul St. between what is now East Ridge Road and Clifford Avenue.The railway’s horse-cars traveled through Dublin on their way to the route’s terminus located between St. Paul and Water Streets. As the district’s denizens believed the railway to be an intrusion on their boundaries, it was not unusual for the cars to be stopped while a battle ensued between the gangs of Dublin and the train driver and his allies. The railway survived less than a decade, ceasing operation about 1840, but faction fights continued for some time beyond the generation that initiated them.


-Christopher Brennan


Published in: on March 14, 2017 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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