The Strange Case of Dr. Tumblety and Mr. Ripper, part one.

Lurking in the depths of Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, lie the remains of one of Rochester’s most mysterious residents. Dr. Francis Tumblety is probably best known for being a suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders, but this claim to infamy represents just one source of the late “Doctor’s” notoriety.

The exact details of Tumblety’s life are somewhat murky and confusing. This is influenced in no small part by the fact that Tumblety had a flair for fantastical tales and deliberately implicated himself in controversy. He also employed a series of alternate names.


Even Tumblety’s grave employed an alternate name. Here he appears as Francis Tumuelty. Photo from

It is difficult to separate fact from fiction when dealing with such a figure, so the following account is simply an attempt.

Francis Tumblety was born in Ireland in 1830, but had settled in Rochester’s Third Ward neighborhood (present day Corn Hill) with his family by the following decade. He earned a reputation at an early age due to his proclivity to sell “blue” literature to travelers and laborers along the Erie Canal.

He acquired his alleged medical credentials as a young man. Some of his contemporaries suggest he picked up the trade from a local herb doctor by the name of R.J. Lyons. Others claim he learned from a Dr. Reynolds of Lispenard’s Hospital, where the young Tumblety worked sweeping floors. He was also known to tote papers from the Philadelphia Medical College in later years.

Whether or not Tumblety actually obtained medical training from any of these sources, he began billing himself as an “Indian Herb Doctor” in Detroit as early as 1850. Though the practice was seemingly successful—he amassed a good amount of money—Tumblety left the Motor City for Montréal in 1857.

Tumblety would relocate cities many times over the course of his life. Such moves were often inspired by run-ins with the law.

In Montréal, Tumblety was arrested for attempting to abort the pregnancy of local prostitute, Philomene Dumas. He then fled to St. John, New Brunswick, but after one of his patients died suddenly (allegedly due to Tumblety’s treatment methods) the doctor skipped town again, and returned to the United States.


The October 5, 1860 issue of the Rochester Union & Advertiser relayed news of Tumblety’s time in New Brunswick.

In cities such as Boston, Brooklyn and Baltimore, Tumblety amplified his eccentric repute by parading about town on a horse accompanied by a Newfoundland dog, a pair of Italian greyhounds and a male servant.


The mustachioed Dr. Tumblety. From the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, October 31, 1999.

The mustachioed medic also had an affinity for long fur coats and jewelry, and was known to change his outfit four or five times a day. When the Civil War broke out, his sartorial tastes turned towards the militaristic. Outfitted in full uniform, he relocated to Washington DC, where he attempted to pass himself off (unsuccessfully) as a surgeon in General McClellan’s army.

He moved on to Missouri, where he was arrested at least twice for such military charlatanism, before being detained on a much more serious charge– involvement in a conspiracy to infect the Union forces with yellow fever-infected clothing.

Tumblety was apparently going by the name of Dr. Blackburn at the time, which led to his confusion with the actual conspirator, Kentucky Governor Luke Blackburn. Though Tumblety was cleared of the charge, some of his contemporaries hypothesized that he had purposely played into the confusion in order to further fuel his notoriety.

Tumblety was then linked to another plot–the assassination of Abraham Lincoln– when it was uncovered that one of Tumblety’s former man-servants, Harold, was friends with John Wilkes Booth.

Tumblety was eventually cleared of this charge as well, but not before he spent the better part of a month confined at the Old Capitol Prisoner of War Camp in Washington, DC.

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Document dated May 10, 1865 outlining Tumblety as a “supposed conspirator” to be confined in the Old Capitol Prison. From: U.S., Union Provost Marshals’ Papers, 1861-1867 [database on-line]

The post-war years saw Tumblety continue his itinerant ways, peddling a pimple cure around the country and getting involved in a few more legal scuffles.

He occasionally took his “talents” overseas in the 1870s and 1880s, and found himself in London in 1888 during the same period that Jack the Ripper committed the series of brutal killings known as the Whitechapel murders.

Rochester resident Dr. Francis Tumblety would become one of the suspects.

To be continued…

Happy Halloween!


-Emily Morry







Published in: on October 31, 2017 at 5:30 pm  Comments (1)  

Lost Settlements: Fort Schuyler and the Town of Tryon

Three hundred years ago, Great Britain and France were locked in a struggle for control of North America, with its bountiful land and resources. That conflict did not end until the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763), which ended the French and Indian War (1754-63). The terms of the treaty ceded most of the continent to Britain and set the stage for the American Revolution to follow (1775-1783).

While relations were still tense between the two powers, in 1721 the Assembly of the colony of New York passed an act to establish a trading post in this section of the state. The site was Indian Landing, in what is today Ellison Park. The ostensible purpose of the post was for trade with the local Iroquois, but a secondary element of its charge was to provide a defense against possible French attacks from Canada. Eight men were appointed to staff the fort, one of whom was Capt. Peter Schuyler, for whom the post was named (Fort Schuyler). Difficulty in supplying Fort Schuyler from Albany led to its abandonment after only a year.

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Historical reenactment of Fort Schuyler (1999)

Two generations later, another effort was made by White settlers to inhabit the former Indian Landing/Fort Schuyler site. Unlike other early settlers, brothers Salmon and John Tryon were not just interested in a place to live for themselves and their family. They planned to make themselves rich by establishing a planned community–they called it a “city”–at the Indian Landing site, where Irondequoit Creek meets Irondequoit Bay. The site had everything they could possibly want:  water power, timber, a navigable harbor, and a strategic location on land and water.

Tryon- Indian Landing marker

Historical Marker at Indian Landing (Ellison Park).
Across Irondequoit Creek from the marker is the site of
Fort Schuyler and the Town of Tryon,
remains of which are no longer extant.

The first brother to settle was Salmon Tryon, who purchased 315 acres in 1796 and subdivided the land into half-acre lots. In 1797, he sold his holdings to his brother John. The latter opened a general store. He also developed a business complex that included mills, a warehouse, distillery, ashery and shipping docks with boats. The ashery housed the ashes from the cleared timber, which were then used in the manufacture of gunpowder. The distillery made liquor, which was cheaper to ship than the grain used in its manufacture. Initially, the store employed the barter system, with Seneca Indians exchanging furs and skins for trading goods. Before long, however, White settlers moved into the area. The surviving account books include the names of 426 customers.

Why did the town of Tryon not succeed as a community? The beginning of the end occurred with the death of John Tryon in 1807, which necessitated settling his estate between his business and his family. Much of the business involving his various enterprises was done on the basis of barter or credit and resolving the debts took time. In 1812, the first executor passed on and two others were appointed to succeed him. When they relinquished responsibility, still another executor was appointed. The disorder associated with administering the estate did nothing to inspire the confidence of Tryon residents.

Another factor was that Tryon’s children had no interest in the settlement and were unwilling to take over management of his various enterprises. Arguably the chief reason, though, was the impending arrival of the Erie Canal.  As it became clear that the canal was not going to be placed in the vicinity of Irondequoit Bay, it also became clear that the long-term viability of the settlement was in doubt. The site was abandoned by 1818.


-Christopher Brennan









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

Lost Leisure: the Story of one of Rochester’s Earliest Entertainment Destinations

You may have noticed the greenspace on St. Paul Street that lies just south of the Genesee Brewery. Today, it is the little used High Falls Terrace Park, but in the 19th century, the property was the site of one of Rochester’s earliest and most popular entertainment destinations: Falls Field.

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This 1870 City Directory map shows Falls Field west of St Paul Street near Marietta Street.

Though Falls Field is perhaps best known for the scandalous murder that occurred on the premises  in 1857, the locale experienced a host of spectacular events and housed a variety of recreational venues in its lengthy history.

Years before such venues were built at the site, Falls Field bore the reputation as “the lungs of Rochester,” where early 19th century locals sought to improve their health by taking in fresh air on leisurely strolls. The Field’s proximity to the Upper Falls also made it a favourite sightseeing spot.

One of the most outrageous sights witnessed at Falls Field occurred in 1829, when Rochesterians gathered at the scenic overlook to catch a glimpse of daredevil, Sam Patch, as he leapt from the High Falls and tragically plunged to this death.

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Advertisement promoting Sam Patch’s “Last” jump on Friday, November 13, 1829.

By mid-century, patrons of the park began taking in a host of entertainments in addition to the waterfront scenery.

N.P. Demarest, who had managed the grounds at least since 1850, installed the city’s first merry-go-round at the site that year. The novel ride was powered by a horse and driver who repeatedly followed a circular path for hours at a time in the cellar below.

Demarest also erected a saloon and beer garden on the premises, which became a favourite gathering place among the city’s German population.

To further popularize the garden, in 1858 the proprietor hired French tight rope artist, Anloise De Lave to walk across the High Falls gorge. De Lave put on two weeks worth of performances before packing it in when his last stunt—in which he attempted to carry a man across the gorge–barely avoided a tragic conclusion.

A few years after this near disaster, Frederich Fach took over management of the field and constructed an opera house at the location. The short-lived structure was less than a year old when it was destroyed by a massive fire in the summer of 1862.

The following decade, German immigrant John Meinhard sought to redevelop Falls Field, offering park patrons a picnic ground, an ornamental garden, a restaurant, a combination concert/dance/bowling hall (which also served as a skating rink in the winter), and a menagerie replete with monkeys, bears and raccoons.

These creatures were regularly joined at Falls Field by other temporary tenants from the animal kingdom whenever traveling circuses pitched their tents at the park.

In June 1871, the New York Circus descended on the Field with an assemblage of acrobats, clowns, Lilliputian ponies–billed as the “smallest and handsomest of the world”–as well as the first appearance in America of the “Cynocephalus,” an exotic beast captured in Zanzibar by Frenchman, Jean Martell.


Advertisement for the “first-class circus” from Democrat and Chronicle, May 31, 1871.

The last circus to grace Falls Field in 1879 gave rise to a newspaper hoax when it was reported that a hippopotamus had escaped from captivity and had barreled his way north before eventually being captured at Irondequoit Bay.

By the late 19th century, many of Rochester’s entertainment seekers were also migrating northward, as the development of electric trolley lines redirected residents towards the resorts and amusement parks lining the shores of Lake Ontario.

In 1886, the once popular parkland was sold to the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg Railroad.

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The former greenspace following its sale to the railroad company. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1888.

The site became further industrialized in 1905 when the theater, hotel and pool remaining on the premises were torn down to make way for the expansive plant of the W.P. Davis Machine Company. For some time, a junk yard and coal yard also occupied the expansive lot, which later devolved into a vacant field before the City repurposed it as High Falls Terrace Park in the 1990s.


The former Falls Field site is now occupied by High Falls Terrace Park. Googlemaps, 2017.

The former amusement center will undergo another metamorphosis in the coming years which will find the old railway lines replaced with a walking promenade and the greenspace enhanced with  native plantings and improved park amenities.

-Emily Morry




Published in: on September 30, 2017 at 12:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

McCrackenville, The Town Which Isn’t There

In earlier posts, we heard of communities that had a formal independent existence, but which failed to displace Rochester and were eventually absorbed by the larger community: Carthage; Castletown; Dublin; and King’s (later Hanford’s) Landing. All these communities left something behind to testify to their existence. Castletown and King’s Landing left their cemeteries. Carthage and Dublin left street names.

For the subject of this profile, McCrackenville, however, nothing remains, not even a name. Even the bridge, which is the last tangible reminder, has been renamed. No longer is it the McCracken Street Bridge; today it is the Driving Park Bridge. Not even the people who live along that portion of Lake Avenue are aware that they live in what was once McCrackenville.

In its day, McCrackenville was a thriving manufacturing center running along Lake Avenue from the Middle Falls (Ravine Avenue) to the Lower Falls (Driving Park Bridge), much of it at the level of the river. The community was named for David McCracken (28 February 1768-16 July 1842), who was a physician by trade. His large stately home was located at what is today the southwest corner of Lake Avenue and Driving Park (where the Convenience R Us store is). Dr. McCracken arrived in the area about 1815, accompanied by his brothers William McCracken (1783?-6 June 1872) and Gardner McCracken (1786?-30 April 1845).


Map of McCrackenville (1826)

William McCracken built and ran the North American Hotel, on State Street between Brown and Busch Streets, in what was then the community of Frankfort. His brother Gardner owned a flour mill along Lake Avenue, later moving his home across Lake Avenue from his brother David. These prosaic occupations (physician, tavern owner and miller) disguised an ambition as landowners and developers.

Between 1821 (when the first Monroe County deed and property book begins) and 1855, the three brothers bought 36 properties along what is now Lake Avenue south of Driving Park Avenue (at the time part of the town of Gates). This does not represent the full extent of their holdings as other property was purchased before Monroe County was founded (i.e., when the area was still part of Genesee and Ontario Counties). This can be demonstrated by the fact that within this same 34-year time period, the brothers sold 86 parcels to other people.

Of the brothers, David McCracken was the person who sold off the largest number of lots for development, 47. That was twice as much as Gardner and William, who sold 22 and 17, respectively. The purchasers of the parcels were generally businessmen who established their own factories. The two industries of longest duration at McCrackenville were paper milling and furniture manufacturing. One of the oldest businesses was P. Foley and Company (a paper manufacturer), which was succeeded by Stoddard and Freeman in 1851. The area also included a tannery for making leather.

For the brothers, it was not enough to sell off the properties; they wanted the area developed. We know this from a letter Gardner McCracken wrote to the Mayor and Common Council of Rochester in 1841 complaining of the neglect of highways on the west side of the river, advocating for a “turnpike” between the city and the harbor at the lake. The road was eventually built, but not in his lifetime, as Gardner died four years later.

The city annexed McCrackenville in 1850 and slowly developed the area for residential, rather than industrial, property. The last industrial site to go the way of the wrecking ball was the original tannery site, which was succeeded by furniture manufacturing plants. The site was razed in the mid-1960s.

mccrackenville- falls

McCrackenville (ca 1906-1910)

-Christopher Brennan

Published in: on September 21, 2017 at 5:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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.

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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.

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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  

Gypsies, Trotters and Races: the Rise and Fall of the Rochester Driving Park


RDP-driving park map new

We saw in a recent blog post that Dewey Avenue owes its jog at the corner of Driving Park Avenue to a race course that once stood at the intersection.

The Rochester Driving Park was best known for its horse races, but the venue hosted a diverse assortment of events and guests during its almost 30 year existence.

When the Driving Park held its first horse race on August 11, 1874, the facility was billed as the fastest mile track in the United States. It quickly gained fame among race enthusiasts and proved a major draw for both locals and tourists alike.



Inaugural meeting of the Rochester Driving Park, 1874.

During the park’s first week of operation, all the hotels in Rochester were filled to capacity, forcing some race fans to sleep in the open fields near the track. Twenty thousand people had packed the park by its second day to catch a glimpse of renowned trotter, Goldsmith Maid.

dewey-driving park entrance

Illustration of the Driving Park’s entrance and one-mile track.

Though for a time the park enjoyed its status as the most famous racetrack in the world, by the 1890s, Rochester’s love affair with the Driving Park had begun to fade, likely due in part to the introduction of a series of anti-betting laws in New York State.



dewey-driving park racing form

A circa 1893 Rochester Driving Park racing form.

Rumours began to circulate that the site was going to be sold and converted into a residential tract. Such gossip gained more currency after the park hosted its last Grand Circuit race in 1895.

The park continued to host non-Circuit horse races along with bicycle races, athletic contests, battle reenactments, circuses and Buffalo Bill’s annual Wild West Show.


Ad for an upcoming Wild West Show at the Rochester Driving Park. Democrat & Chronicle, July 31, 1895.

A devastating fire in 1899, which caused $20,000 worth of damage and destroyed two of the park’s three stands, did not bode well for those who sought to revive the park’s elite trotter tradition.

Some efforts were nevertheless made to salvage the site.

On Memorial Day in 1900, theDriving Park hosted automobile races-then a novelty- in the attempts to raise funds for the construction of a new grandstand. And in 1902, the park welcomed the Grand Wallace three-ring circus, which boasted “a small army of active, jolly clowns” and “the largest hippo in captivity.”

These last grasps at survival were ultimately for naught. In September 1902, George W. Archer purchased the Rochester Driving Park property at a public auction for 34,750$.

But before the site could be cut up into building lots, it served as the temporary home of a band of Gypsies (Romani) that had come to Rochester from Serbia via Chicago.

Their presence was not welcomed by many in the local community, who petitioned for their removal from the park and accused them of stealing everything from milk cans and mops to shoes and soap. One area resident claimed that one of the Serbians had nabbed his horse.

But while Rochester residents found fault with their new neighbours, they were nevertheless intrigued by their culture and folkways.

On November 9, 1902, almost 10,000 people were drawn to the park to witness the Gypsy camp firsthand. A remark by one of the young sightseers directed towards a three year old Serbian girl performing the “Hoochie-Coochie,” incited a skirmish that developed into a full-scale riot between the Romani and the Rochesterians that wasn’t quelled until a half a dozen police officers were called to the scene.

RDP-gypsy battle

The sensational headline appearing in the November 10, 1902 issue of the Democrat and Chronicle.

The Serbians had packed up and left by year’s end and the 200-acre former racetrack plot was divided into the series of streets that now make up the Rochester Driving Park tract.

RDP-tract 1910

The developing Rochester Driving Park Tract, ca 1910. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1910.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on July 18, 2017 at 10:00 am  Comments (4)  

What’s in A Name? : Street Names as Clues to Local History

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked. Well, for one thing, a name may be a convenient entry point to local history. Look up at the street signs. Many are named for people. Who were they? What did they do? Let’s explore by tracking the three individuals for whom Brooks Avenue, Culver Road and Fitzhugh Street are named.

Brooks Avenue is named for Lewis Brooks (ca. 1793-9 August 1877). Originally a manufacturer of wool, he later pursued various mercantile interests, retiring at age 44. He spent the rest of his life managing his real estate holdings and making various charitable bequests. Along with several other Quakers, he erected a rural retreat at what is today the intersection of Brooks Avenue and Genesee Park Boulevard. Brooks was a friend of Susan B. Anthony, who spent several summer vacations and holidays there. Following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, fugitive slaves  would find refuge with Brooks on their way to Canada.  He also was an officer in the Rochester City Temperance Society, and served on the first Rochester Common Council (as an alderman from the First Ward). Today his body is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery.

streets-oliver culver

Oliver Culver (1778-1867)

Culver Road and Oliver Street are both named for Oliver Culver (September 24, 1778-February 2, 1867), among the earliest settlers of Rochester, although at the time his home was located in what was then part of Brighton. Born in Connecticut, he arrived to the area from Hartford in 1805, where he built a home and tavern at what is now the corner of Culver Road and East Avenue. The home was expanded in stages until 1818 and still exists as a private residence (later moved to 70 East Boulevard). With assistance from Rochesterville and surrounding communities, Culver helped clear land and construct what is today East Avenue, as well as Culver Road (which was the route he used to access the closest harbor at Irondequoit Bay). He built canal packet boats and lake schooners (including a 47-ton schooner that was drawn to the Bay by a team of 26 oxen) and participated in maritime commerce as far east as Montreal. He was the first Brighton Town Supervisor (1814, later serving additional one-year terms). He also served as a New York State Assemblyman (1820-21), in which capacity he helped establish Monroe County. He was also one of the co-founders of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.  His remains are buried in Mount Hope Cemetery.

streets- culver house

Oliver Culver House, 70 East Boulevard

Fitzhugh Street was originally much longer, running from Allen Street south to Edinburgh Street (in Corn Hill). Today, part of it has been displaced by the Civic Center Garage. The street was named for Colonel William Fitzhugh (8 October 1761-December 29, 1839), a partner of Nathaniel Rochester and co-owner of the 100 Acre Tract that was the basis of first the village of Rochesterville, and later the city, of Rochester.


North Fitzhugb St and West Main St (ca. 1909) Building on the left is the former Duffy-Powers Department store (later downtown campus of R.I.T.)

Fitzhugh was born in Calvert County, Maryland. During the American Revolution, he served in the 3rd Continental Dragoons (1779-1783), following which he moved to Hagerstown, Maryland, where he served as a director of the Hagerstown Bank (serving alongside Colonel Rochester and Charles Carroll). Among their common interests was investment in real estate. In 1803, he, Charles Carroll and Col. Rochester reviewed the territory from the High Falls to Hansford’s Landing (near Ridge Road and Lake Avenue) and saw the area’s potential for milling. He did not settle here permanently (as Rochester did eventually), but moved to Groveland in Livingston County. Fitzhugh’s remains are buried in Williamsburg Cemetery, Groveland, New York.

-Christopher Brennan



Published in: on July 11, 2017 at 10:00 am  Comments (2)