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.

Carthage-bridge

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

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

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