Life in Rochesterville, 1812-1827

Rochester’s first permanent settler, Hamlet Scrantom, settled here in 1812, the site being what is now the Powers Building at the Four Corners (the intersection of West Main and State Streets). On March 21, 1817 Rochesterville was incorporated as a village (losing the “ville” suffix five years later).

What was life like in the earliest years of the village? Fortunately, some early residents left memories of those days. Near the end of his life, Edwin Scrantom (9 May 1803-3 October 1880), son of Hamlet Scrantom, left recollections of the earliest days in the village:

“It was a wild and deserted place. It was more. Not merely was it a wilderness and … cheerless in daytime and doubly dark and dreary in the night, but clustering on either side of the river and running from it for a goodly distance was a thick jungle of all kinds of dogwood, elder, birch and choke-cherry … brambles and blue-beech … in to whose tops were matted ivy and wild grape vines, and under this tangled canopy wild beasts crouched and serpents innumerable crawled. That was Rochester in 1812.”

The Scrantoms had hoped to have a home waiting for them when they reached the settlement, but they were sorely disappointed. The Scrantoms found “the logs rolled up for the body of the house with an opening left for a door and another for a window, but without roof or fireplace or floor.”   The delay was caused by workmen coming down with what later settlers referred to as “Genesee fever” (likely malaria or typhoid). Following recovery that work resumed. The Scrantoms moved into their new house on July 4, 1812.

Even after construction, life was not easy. Says Scrantom:

“Mosquitos … annoyed us much and nightly we were obliged to kindle smoldering fires on the outside to prevent their eating us up alive. In the daytime, we could hear and see in the neighboring swamp the wild deer as they came to the deer lick near the corner of [West Main Street] and [North Plymouth Avenue], and at night we could hear the mournful hoot owl, the sharp barking of the fox, and occasionally the howl of the wolf.”


Artist’s rendering of earliest Rochesterville, with the Half-Constructed Main Street Bridge in the Foreground, and Hamlet Scrantom’s Cabin in the Background

Another early pioneer, Jesse Hatch, provides a description of a developing Rochester in 1823, six years after the village’s incorporation:

“No paved streets – sidewalks made of slabs liable to be removed by heavily loaded trucks, conveying logs through the streets. During the rainy season in fall and spring, vehicles of all kinds might be seen in front of the [Reynolds] Arcade, floating up to their hubs in a sea of mud – there was a tan bark pile at Front and Corinthian Streets – the streets were filled with teams and wagons, laden with lumber from Allegheny County, tan bark from eastern towns, farm produce from the surrounding country, prairie schooners bound for the West and with an occasional run-away, frightened by the fife and drum of the military company on parade.”

“There were few dwellings … The Catholic Church at Platt and Frank Streets [the former St. Patrick’s Cathedral, no longer existing] had the forest for a background. The business part was bounded on the north by The Mansion House [tavern] at State and Market; on the south by the canal; on the east by the river and the west by Fitzhugh Street. The Eagle Hotel at the Four Corners had a watering trough in front of it. On approaching the village via the Buffalo Road (West Main Street) in winter, frequently a stream of teams loaded with firewood would force the traveler to fall in line, waiting for a place to pass.”

Life in Rocville- 1814 map

Map of Rochester, 1814.

Let us all give thanks for pioneers who laid the foundations of the city we know today.

Christopher Brennan

Published in: on April 11, 2017 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. […] ancestors.) The Harris family were also pioneers of western New York State in what was then Rochesterville (follow link for insight into what the area was like in early days!), having arrived there by […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: