A House is not a Home: a Strange Structure in the Seventh Ward

Rochester has no shortage of interesting  historical buildings, but I recently learned about one of the stranger structures dotting the city’s landscape, thanks to a chance encounter with Jeremy Tuke of the Rochester and Genesee Valley Railroad Museum.

When Jeremy found out that I worked for the Local History division, he asked if I had ever seen the Victorian house behind the Cumberland Street Post Office.

I hadn’t.

And knowing that the neighborhood between the post office and the railroad was largely industrial, I was intrigued by the existence of such a building.

When Jeremy showed me a photo of the edifice, I became even more intrigued.


“How on earth did this house end up in the middle of a modern industrial park and what was its story?” I wondered.

I decided to find out.

The brick building in question, then numbered 32 Chatham Street, goes back at least to 1875, when it belonged to a Mr. Thomas.


carver_1875 plat map

City of Rochester Plat Map, 1875.

Soda Water peddler, Henry Klein, purchased the property in 1884 and remained there through the beginning of the twentieth century.

The residence gained a new neighbor in 1910, when the two homes on its right side were torn down and the Michael-Stern annex factory was erected in their place.

carver-1910 top map

The house, now numbered 52 Chatham Street, next to its new industrial neighbor. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1910

Perhaps the proximity to the factory displeased the home’s owner at the time, as two years later in 1912, Abraham Joffe sold the house to the B’nai Zion Society for its Hebrew Library.

B’Nai Zion then renovated the home to include an assembly hall as well as separate chambers for reading and games. The establishment, which featured publications in English, Yiddish and Hebrew, served simultaneously as a circulating library, a Jewish School and a settlement house, helping the Jewish immigrants populating the neighborhood acclimatize to their new American surroundings.

As the factory next door changed hands over the next few decades—it alternately housed the Seneca Camera, Cluett-Peabody, and People’s  Outfitting companies–so too did the ethnic and racial background of the area’s inhabitants.

By the 1930s, many of the neighborhood’s original Jewish residents had relocated to the Joseph, Park and Monroe Avenue areas and the homes they vacated were largely purchased by Italian immigrants.

As such, the Hebrew Library’s location on Ormond Street (as Chatham Street became known beginning in the 1930s), was no longer ideal. B’nai Zion left the building in 1937.

carver-1935 top map

The Hebrew Library at 52 Ormond Street and the Cumberland Street Post Office, which opened in 1934. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1935.

It found a renewed purpose via another religious organization a few years later.

In 1943, the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester purchased the edifice to serve both as a parish hall for nearby St. Simon’s Church and as a recreational outreach center. The diocese christened the building Carver House, in tribute to both the rector of Christ Church, Reverend Charles Carver, and  George Washington Carver of the Tuskegee Institute.

Though it initially also provided services to members of the armed forces, Carver House was ultimately founded to tend to the social, recreational and educational needs of the local black community (African Americans formed the majority of the neighborhood’s residents by that time).

The building’s four decade long existence as a socio-religious institution ended and its history with the adjacent factory merged –literally and figuratively– in 1951, when the Great Lakes Press Company, (which then occupied the plant) purchased the Carver House.

Great Lakes Press sought to expand its lithographic printing venture, which had found increasing success creating an assortment of products ranging from ice cream cartons to Disney jigsaw puzzles.

But curiously, rather than tear down the neighboring 19th century house and build anew, the company decided to absorb the former residence into its factory.

carver_sanborn close up

This Sanborn Fire Insurance Map depicts the original plant and residence (renumbered 192 Ormond Street by this time) in pink and indicates that a doorway was built between the two structures.  Additional concrete sections of the plant (in blue) were then built around the original factory and house between 1951 and 1960.



This current shot of the building shows how it was “attached” to the adjacent brick factory.

While the Victorian house on Ormond Street was salvaged, many other residences in the surrounding neighborhood were not as fortunate.

Most of the original homes in the area were demolished in the latter half of the twentieth century under the guise of urban renewal and the hopes of rebranding the area as an industrial district.

carver-1900 top mapp

The neighbourhood as it appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1900.

carver-alt 2017

The area in 2017. The section of Ormond Street (formerly Chatham Street) below Central Ave is now just an entrance to the industrial park lot.

Set within a landscape that has endured drastic changes over the last hundred years, the Victorian residence wedged inside an industrial complex serves as a unique relic of this 7th Ward neighborhood’s roots.


-Emily Morry

Published in: on April 29, 2017 at 1:40 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Strange how these buildings are absorbed into other buildings while retaining their original details. My great grandmother’s house on South Clinton Avenue is still visible peeking out of a liquor store built around it.

  2. Fascinating research! Thanks!!

  3. Is it 32 Chatham Street?…it looks to me like the City of Rochester Plat Map, 1875 says 37 Chatham Street.

  4. It is 32 Chatham Street. The 2 does look a little like a 7 on that image, but if you zoom in, you can see that it is in fact a 2. The odd numbered houses are all on the other side of the street.

  5. I work in the office space side of the post office and have been staring at that house for 20+ years and always wondered the history. I was told by someone years ago it was the home of the first licensed African American lawyer in Rochester at one point.

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