A Rochester Retrospective: New Exhibit in Local History!

2017 marks the bicentennials and centennials of some of the major events that shaped  Rochester’s history. A Rochester Retrospective: Celebrating the Past 200 Years, an exhibit opening next week in the Local History division, will showcase four landmark local and national events that influenced Rochester’s social, political and economic development.


Before there was Rochester, there was Rochesterville. The city’s predecessor village was incorporated two hundred years ago, on March 21, 1817.

The pioneering individuals who populated Rochesterville helped lay the foundations for the city as we know it today. Initial settlers in the area such as Hamlet Scrantom, whose family cabin once stood at the current site of the Powers’ Building, encountered and contended with a rough landscape where both wild animals and disease were common.


A circa 1800 painting of the Upper Falls by Louis Charles d’Orleans Beaujolais.

Despite these perilous conditions, settlers were drawn to the region due to its waterfalls, which early entrepreneurs took advantage of to power the mills that helped foster Rochesterville’s economic and demographic growth.

The area’s growth was also aided by another waterway, which, like Rochesterville, is also celebrating its bicentennial this year.

2017-canal 1.jpg

A circa 1853 lithograph picturing the Erie Canal.


The digging of what became known as “Clinton’s Ditch” (after New York State governor, Dewitt Clinton) began on July 4th, 1817. Local work on the Erie Canal started four years later.

The major task facing Rochesterville was the construction of an aqueduct that would carry the canal over the Genesee River.  The span was completed in the fall of 1823 and two years later, the entire 363-mile long waterway was finished.

2017-Erie Canal

Plan of the first Erie Canal aqueduct, drawn before its completion.

The Erie Canal had an immense impact of the village’s development—it not only sparked a population boom, but it also helped fuel and diversify the area’s economy by providing an inexpensive and quick means of transporting locally produced materials to a wider market. The waterway helped make Rochester one of America’s first boom towns and sowed the seeds for its continued industrial growth in the 19th century.

A year before the last canal boat sailed through downtown Rochester, the United States entered World War I.


Soldiers on the SS Czar en route to France in 1918.

The country formally entered  the conflict one hundred years ago on April 6, 1917. Both Rochester’s residents and its industries played significant roles in the war effort.

While Rochester sent  91,000 men overseas, back home the city shifted into a total war economy. Local organizations, businesses and private citizens became vital to the war effort.

Volunteers from the Red Cross cut and wrapped bandages and surgical dressings,  in addition to soliciting donations. Rochesterians also rolled up their sleeves and pitched in at their places of employment, with approximately 75 Rochester businesses participating in war industry production.

By the time the conflict ended, more than 500 citizens had lost their lives, and Rochester had contributed more of its own dollars and time to the war effort than almost any other American city of comparable size.

Exactly seven months after the United States entered WWI, Women’s Suffrage was passed in New York State.


Parade to Susan B. Anthony’s tomb ca 1920s.

The historic victory on November 6, 1917, 70 years in the making, was influenced in no small part by the efforts of Rochester-area women.

The origin of the woman’s rights movement is traditionally traced to the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, where attendees signed a Declaration of Sentiments calling for the equal treatment of women on a host of issues, as well as the right to vote. Rochester hosted a larger, but lesser known convention two weeks later, which marked the first time a woman (Abigail Bush) led a public meeting attended by both women and men.

Susan B. Anthony joined the fight for women’s rights three years later and was responsible for relocating the headquarters of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association to Rochester.

2017-sba house

Susan B. Anthony’s home at 17 Madison Street for a time served as the New York State Woman Suffrage Association’s headquarters.

Though Anthony’s involvement in the cause was key, other local, yet less well-known suffragists were also instrumental in the New York State law’s eventual passage in 1917.

Their stories are highlighted in A Rochester Retrospective: Celebrating the Past 200 Years.

The exhibit pays tribute to these four historic events using photographs, artifacts and ephemera from the collections of the Local History & Genealogy division of the Central Library of Rochester and the Rochester Historical Society.

Patrons can visit the exhibit on the 2nd floor of the Rundel Library from September through December, 2017.

-Emily Morry


Published in: on August 31, 2017 at 3:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Rapids: A History of Castletown

As we have seen, cemeteries can be clues to the history of lost communities. What was true of King’s/Hanford’s Landing is also true of the 19th century cemetery officially called The Rapids Cemetery, but more commonly known as the Congress Avenue Cemetery (established 1810). The cemetery leads us into the history of another forgotten settlement that now comprises the 19th Ward and portions of the 3rd Ward (“Corn Hill”) of the City of Rochester.


The Rapids Cemetery, Congress Avenue near Genesee Street

The community’s existence preceded that of Rochester. In 1790, James Wadsworth purchased 2,000 acres from Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham for 80 cents an acre. A few years later, he purchased an additional 4,000 acres for 50 cents an acre. Wadsworth’s real estate holdings were said to be so vast that he could travel from Geneseo to Rochester without ever leaving his own land.

In reviewing his land holdings, Wadsworth came to the spot that later became the intersection of Brooks and South Plymouth Avenues. He believed the site was ideal for settlement, being located where the Genesee River begins to pick up speed as it rounds the bend heading for the first of several waterfalls in what is now Rochester.

In 1800, Wadsworth built a tavern and store at the site and hired Isaac Castle to manage them. Thereafter the community was officially known at Castletown, but its location by the river gave it the more common, but less grandiose nickname of “The Rapids.”


The Genesee Rapids, near Brooks Avenue (1902)

Wadsworth’s belief in the viability of his settlement was rooted in its location. With few roads in and out of the settlement, aside from a few well-trodden Indian trails, most goods to market had to travel the Genesee and then be transported by land to Lake Ontario, where they could be shipped to other early New York settlements or across the lake to Canada. Wadsworth envisioned Castletown as an ideal fording point from the river to land, bypassing the High, Middle and Lower Falls between the settlement and Lake Ontario.

In its initial decades, “The Rapids” was a transportation hub, with grain, pork, lumber, barrel staves, flour and other goods passing through the community. Shortly after the tavern and store were established, a church, a school and several houses were built, but the growth of the community would be short-lived.  In 1822, a feeder canal (located at the present site of the Brooks Avenue bridge) was built to supply Genesee River water to the new Erie Canal. Because of the feeder, boats no longer had to unload at Castletown. They turned off the river and poled up the feeder to the main canal at Rochester (where Mount Hope and South Avenues converge).


The Genesee Rapids, near Brooks Avenue (2008)

The neighborhood fell into an economic slump until 1888 when the Elmwood Avenue Bridge was built and the new Genesee Valley Park opened. The summer recreation opportunities the park afforded made The Rapids neighborhood a desirable residential area. It is in this period the present 19th Ward we know took shape. Properties were subdivided, streets were laid out and homes were built. In 1902, the settlement (which at that point was part of the town of Gates) was annexed by the City of Rochester. The neighborhood was no longer the rough settlement filled with “laborers, teamsters, and boatmen … given to gossip, intemperance and contention” (as it was described in one contemporary description), but a middle-class neighborhood of Rochester, whose residents then as now travel the old Indian trails (now widened, paved and known as Brooks Avenue, Genesee Street, Plymouth Avenue, and Scottsville Road).

Castletown-Melrose St

Melrose Street in the 19th Ward, ca 1994.

-Christopher Brennan


Published in: on August 22, 2017 at 5:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Fall Town: A Brief Sketch of Hanford’s Landing


History is all around us if we have eyes to see it. A good example is the mysterious cemetery at the corner of Lake Avenue and Maplewood Drive in northwest Rochester.  Hundreds of people drive by it every day as they exit from 104 West via Maplewood. Most don’t notice it, and those who do, often don’t know why it is there. Who are the people buried there, and what does the cemetery tell us about the early history of the Maplewood neighborhood?


The Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the Revolutionary War, ceded to the United States all British-owned land to the Mississippi River, but certain boundary questions remained. What, for example, were the rights of Americans for the use of Lake Ontario, the border between the new nation and British-owned Canada? In an effort to protect the Canadian fur trade, Lieutenant General John Simcoe (the British authority in Canada) prevented any American boats from sailing on the lake. Such boundary disputes were resolved by the Jay Treaty of 1795.

The following year, two Revolutionary War soldiers, Gideon King and Zadok Granger, came to the area from Connecticut seeking to buy land as a suitable settlement and investment. After purchasing 3000 acres each from Oliver Phelps, the two returned to Connecticut.

In 1797, King returned accompanied by Daniel Graham (his brother-in-law), Elijah Kent (another Revolutionary War soldier), Zadok Granger, Zadok’s son Eli, and King’s own sons, Thomas and Simon King, among others. The new settlers set out a village boundary, established home lots, erected log cabins, established a road down to the river below the lower falls, and built a dock for shipping between the river and the lake, as well as a 40-ton schooner (the Jemima). Trade was begun between the settlement and Oswego, with locals exchanging potash for salt.


Path from Lake Avenue Down to the Landing (1905)

However, “Genesee Fever” (likely typhoid or malaria) put an end to the nascent hopes of the community known originally as Fall Town (later known as King’s Landing, for the founding family). In 1798, Gideon King died of the ailment, along with two of his sons (Daniel Graham King and Bildad King). Also affected was brother-in-law Daniel Graham. It is said that twenty people among the initial settlers died in the 1798 infestation, which led to the creation of the cemetery. It remained in continuous use through much the 19th century. The last recorded burial is dated 1887.

Despite the deaths, other members of the family continued to reside in the settlement, as it was one of the few places for lodging in the early Genesee country at the time, and accounts exist of travelers staying there. It is clear, however, that the community was all but dead by 1809 when seven brothers (led by Frederick and Abraham Hanford) came to the former King’s Landing site from Rome, New York.

hanford-steamboat tavern

Steamboat Hotel (later Hanford Tavern, 1809-1884)


In January 1810, Frederick Hansford opened a store at the landing, at which he sold dry goods, groceries, hardware and crockery. Business noticeably declined during the War of 1812, and the brothers fled the area, only to return after peace was restored. After the war, the Hanfords established a successful trading business at the landing and erected the Steamboat Hotel. They also built warehouses to store the goods in transit at the dock. Gideon King’s younger sons, Bradford and Moses (who had fled the settlement two decades before) returned to promote the sale of their remaining land.

The economic activity generated by the Hanfords’ settlement led to the area being known not as Fall Town, or King’s Landing, but Hanford’s Landing, a community that competed for a time with Carthage (across the river) for viability. Though it declined economically after the Erie Canal opened in Rochester, the community survived into the 20th century. It was finally incorporated within the city limits of Rochester in 1919.


-Christopher Brennan

Published in: on August 15, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Carthage: Rochester’s Forgotten Rival

Residents of the City of Rochester may not know they live within the boundaries of Frankfort, Dublin and other long-lost communities that never developed as their founders hoped. We have heard of the first two settlements in earlier postings. In this first of a series of blog posts on Rochester’s long-lost communities, we will explore a settlement that once sought to displace Rochester as the principal Genesee River community.

Carthage was a settlement that once flourished on what is now St. Paul Street between East Ridge Road and Clifford Avenue.  Its earliest settler was Caleb Lyon, whose pre-1809 home was near the present site of the Rochester School for the Deaf (1545 St. Paul Street). As was true of early Rochesterville, there was no clearing at first. Dense woods, a population of wild animals (deer, bear, wolves and wildcats), and a deep gorge made transportation of any produce to the mouth of the river (for delivery to other markets) difficult.

The development of the community was a consequence of the partnership of Elisha B. Strong, Heman Norton and Elisha Beach, who saw potential in the settlement’s location. The three purchased Caleb Lyons’ land in 1816, established a public square at what is now Avenue D and a land office on Avenue E. They built 40 dwellings, mills and warehouses, on the high bank and at the bottom of the gorge. They also built an inclined railway that allowed access from the high bank to the gorge below, permitting the transfer of goods from the settlement to ships that then sailed the river to Lake Ontario and onward to other ports.

In 1817, Strong and company petitioned the New York State Legislature for a loan of $10,000 to build a toll bridge to connect the two ends of Ridge Road separated by the river gorge.  Work on the wooden Carthage bridge commenced in May 1818. When completed in 1819, the bridge was regarded as the “eighth wonder of the world.” The bridge was 120 feet long and 230 feet high; no other bridge then in existence was as tall. Unfortunately, it only lasted 15 months before collapsing of its own weight on May 22, 1820, two hours after a loaded team of wagons had passed over it.


The original wooden Carthage Bridge.
It collapsed of its own weight 15 months after construction. 

The failure of the bridge doomed all hopes for the settlement’s organizers. With no income from tolls, their financial resources were depleted and New York State insisted on repayment of the $10,000 loan. With the construction of the Erie Canal through downtown Rochester a few years later, the city to the south became the economic engine for the region. Access to the lake was no longer needed to ship goods, and so the economy of Carthage collapsed. The community was incorporated into Rochester in 1834.  Today the only reminders of the once proud settlement are the neighborhood road names that harken back to its early days: Beach Street; Carthage Street; Norton Street; and Strong Street.

Carthage fountain

Carthage Memorial Tower and Fountain
(1907-1931, St. Paul and Norton Streets)


-Christopher Brennan

Published in: on August 1, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment