Chasin’ The Past-Lost Jazz Clubs of Rochester, Pt. 1

The Rochester International Jazz Festival, which began Friday, has entertained thousands of local music fans each June since 2002, but the city’s jazz roots extend back much further. This blog series will take a look at some of the bygone jazz venues that once dotted Rochester’s landscape.

COTTON CLUB (1943-1960)

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The Cotton Club at 222 Joseph Avenue circa the 1950s. From: the Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Opened in 1943 by Louis Lipsitz, the Cotton Club stood at the northeast corner of Joseph Avenue and Kelly Street in the 7th Ward, a multiethnic neighbourhood home to a vibrant African American community.

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The intersection of Joseph Avenue and Kelly Street in the 7th Ward. From: City of Rochester Plat Map, 1935.

Named after the legendary New York City venue where former Rochester resident Cab Calloway  made his mark, the Cotton Club became, according to Chuck Mangione, “the focus of ‘Little Harlem’ here in Rochester.”

Offering live entertainment seven nights a week, the venue drew big R&B acts like jump blues shouters Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Bullmoose Jackson, as well as jazz musicians like trumpeter Roy Eldridge, and sax player Roland Kirk. The club also showcased local talent such as popular blues singer, Maria Wells.

Though the venue’s location at the heart of “Little Harlem” initially proved advantageous, the site later formed the center of the Baden-Ormond clearance area. The Cotton Club was forced to shut its doors in 1960, and, like 441 other land parcels in the 7th Ward, was demolished in the name of urban renewal.

Chatham Gardens, a housing complex designed to accommodate some of the ‘renewed’ neighborhood’s displaced denizens, opened at the former club site in 1962.

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The site of the Cotton Club in 2019. From: Morry.

OTMEN’S (1906; 1948-1965)

One of the lesser known jazz haunts in Rochester’s history is Otmen’s Restaurant at 47 Front Street.

lost jazz_47 front st map-then

Otmen’s stood on the west side of Front Street, just north of Corinthian Street. From: City of Rochester Plat Map, 1935.

Originally the site of the Ottman Brothers sausage shop—which opened in 1906—Otmen’s transitioned into a restaurant and then a jazz club in the late 1940s, when two local  musicians, Sammy Proff (trumpet) and Andy Laplaca (drums), took over management of the establishment.

lost jazz_front st 1923ish

Front Street in the 1920s. 45-47 Front Street stood next to the Genesee Provision Co. From: the Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center.

A circa 1948 advertisement noting the restaurant’s rebranding announced, “A touch of Greenwich Village comes to Front Street!” The ad targeted “musicians, entertainers [and] hep-cats,” but conceded: “squares invited.”

For a time, Otmen’s served as the home base of Herbie Brock, a blind pianist, who, in his day, was known as the Art Tatum of Rochester. A skilled improviser, he informed the Democrat & Chronicle in 1954, “Most of the time I take a familiar tune and use a few lines so the customers can recognize it. Then I paint it in different moods, never the same way twice. Some nights it’s pretty good. Other nights, of course…”

Brock left Rochester for the Miami jazz scene in the 1950s. That decade, Otmen’s Front Street neighborhood, then a mix of meat markets, taverns, pawn shops and peddlers, continued along a steady decline. In 1965, the entire street was slated for demolition as part of an urban renewal initiative, and the majority of the once bustling avenue was replaced with the Genesee Crossroads Park (also known as Charles Carroll Park).

lost jazz_47 front st map-now

First Federal Plaza and Charles Carroll Park stand where Front Street once ran. From: City of Rochester Map, 2019.


The current (approximate) site of Otmen’s. From: Morry.

The next blog post will explore more of Rochester’s lost jazz relics…

-Emily Morry

Published in: on June 21, 2019 at 6:55 pm  Comments (1)  

Congressional Prisoner of the Confederacy: Alfred Ely (1815-1892)

Have you ever been so angry with a politician that you wanted them sent to prison? That happened to the second civilian from Western New York captured during the Civil War.

Alfred Ely (February 15, 1815-May 18, 1892) was the eighth of ten children born to Charles Ely (April 19, 1772- December 19, 1854) and Elizabeth Hyde (September 2, 1778-March 10, 1858) in Lyme, Connecticut. His father was a merchant in Hartford, Connecticut who later returned to farm the ancestral homestead in Lyme.


Congressional Representative Alfred Ely (1815-1892)
From: Frontispiece of Journal of Alfred Ely, 1862.

In 1835, Alfred relocated to Rochester. He took to studying law in the offices of Smith and Rochester (one of whose partners was a son of city founder Nathaniel Rochester). Alfred was admitted to the bar in 1841, and before the Civil War his practice primarily served local milling interests.

It was through his milling contacts that he met and married Caroline Lydia Field (1817?-July 14, 1912), daughter of mill owner (and future mayor) Joseph Field. With Caroline, Alfred had four children, but none of them survived him.

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Alfred Ely’s former home (since demolished) on the southeast corner of Troup Street and Plymouth Avenue South. From: Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

In 1858, Alfred became the Republican candidate for Congress. He would serve but two terms (1859-1863), the period covering the first two years of the Civil War. During his first term he served on the Committee on Claims; in his second, he served as Chair of the Committee on Invalid Pensions.  He was active in raising companies of men to fight in the war, and it was his interest in military preparedness that led him to witness the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861.

In the early stages of the battle it appeared the Federal troops might win, but a late rally by Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson led to a rout of Union soldiers and curious civilian onlookers alike. Trailing behind the fleeing soldiers, Ely was captured and brought before a Confederate colonel.

The officer asked the civilian to identify himself, to which he replied, “I am the Honorable Alfred Ely, Representative in Congress from New York.” The officer replied, “You white-livered Yankee. You’re just the cuss I have been looking for!”

The Confederates were pleased to have captured a member of the “Black Republicans” (party members favoring the abolition of slavery and the provision of civil rights for African Americans) whom they most resented. Ely was placed in a converted tobacco warehouse in Richmond, Virginia to await developments.

Ely’s incarceration would last more than five months, in part because of the uncertainty surrounding the fate of Union-held Confederate prisoners from the privateers Savannah and Jefferson Davis.  Their treatment —be it incarceration or execution—would in turn dictate the destiny of captured Union soldiers. While awaiting news of their fate, Ely remained in the custody of the Confederates.

Ely was initially detained in a converted tobacco factory, but was later moved to the notorious Libby Prison in Richmond, which he shared with Union officers and enlisted men, though his imprisonment was significantly more comfortable than theirs. Ely had quarters to himself and was fed three times a day. He was permitted to receive daily newspapers and many visitors, some of whom brought food, flowers, and other comforts.

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Libby Prison circa 1863
From: Library of Congress.


He did not luxuriate in these “comforts,” however. With the permission of General John Winder, he was allowed to visit prisoners in his facility and in nearby hospitals and did what he could to alleviate their sufferings. Through appeals to Congress, he informed them of prison conditions and arranged for the release of many of the soldiers.

He also founded what was humorously called the Richmond Prison Association, a group designed to relieve tedium for his fellow prisoners. He set up debates, card games, singalongs, and other activities to make life easier for the incarcerated.

Probably the scariest moment for Ely came on November 9th, 1861, when Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Secretary of War Judah Benjamin compelled him to draw lots to select Federal officers to be executed should Union authorities execute the officers and crew of the aforementioned Confederate privateers. Fourteen high ranking officers were selected; six were relocated to prisons in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, while the remainder were transferred to the Henrico County Jail to await word. The crisis was resolved in February 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln revoked the death sentences of the privateers’ crews.

As for Ely, on Christmas Day 1861, he was exchanged for Charles James Faulkner, the former U.S. Minister to France, who had been held at Fort Warren in Boston. Following his release, Ely returned to Rochester and resumed his legal practice, where he did extensive work for the New York Central Railroad. He also served as President of the Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Bank. He died on May 18, 1892, at age 77, after being in declining health for the previous two years. His mortal remains reside in the Ely mausoleum in Mount Hope Cemetery.


Ely Mausoleum, Mount Hope Cemetery. From:


-Christopher Brennan

For Further Information:

Elizabeth R. Varon, Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, A Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Joseph W. Barnes, “Rochester’s Congressmen, Part I, 1789-1869,” Rochester History, 41, no. 3 (July 1979), 18-20.

Journal of Alfred Ely, A Prisoner of War in Richmond, edited by Charles Lanmen (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1862).

“Hon. Alfred Ely,” Democrat and Chronicle, May 19, 1892, p. 8, col.5.

Published in: on June 18, 2019 at 4:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Not for the Price of the Confederacy: The Story of Jennie Curtis

Even those with a cursory knowledge of the Civil War are aware that soldiers were taken as prisoners of war during the conflict. But did you know that civilians were also taken prisoners? This blog post and one to follow will detail the experiences of two such western New Yorkers.

jennie POW-tower

Actor Emma Tower portrays Jennie Curtis at Mount Albion Cemetery ghost walk
(Photo by Tom Rivers, Orleans Hub
Used with permission)

The first civilian in question was Jane Curtis (June 6, 1838-October 23, 1921).  “Jennie,” as she was known, was the eldest of five children born to businessman Hiram Curtis (1805?- May 17, 1870) and his wife, Mary Dodge (February 22, 1821-February 6, 1898). Hiram operated a foundry in Albion, NY that made agricultural implements, including mowers and reapers. He was a staunch Union man, abolitionist, and supporter of the Underground Railroad.

Jennie’s involvement with the Civil War was accidental. She was married at the age of 16 (ca. 1854) to Orville D. Hopkins and with him had two children, but he died by 1860. Shortly after the Battle of Fairfax Court House (July 1, 1861), Mr. and Mrs. Curtis received a note that their son George, a soldier with the 13th New York Volunteer Infantry, was in a hospital in Washington, D.C. Jennie set out to see her brother.

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Veterans of the 13th New York Volunteer Infantry (1913). From: Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, N.Y.

When she arrived in the capital, she learned that the hospitalized Curtis was not her brother but another soldier named Henry Curtis. Continuing to search for her brother, she obtained a pass from Union General Winfield Scott and set out for Camp Union in Falls Church, VA, the headquarters of his regiment.

At Camp Union, she found her brother George alive and well, but his troop was on the move for what later became known the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861). Not being able to leave the area, she was welcomed by the family of Joseph Pierce of Arlington, Virginia. The Pierce farm was located next to Camp Union and saw many of the wounded and dying Union soldiers that had fought in Bull Run.

General Irvin McDowell had let the Confederates escape after the battle, which so incensed Jennie that she got into an argument with an officer of his staff. “Why don’t you find out where [the rebels] are?” she asked. He replied that there weren’t any nearby. She bet him she could find some.

She set out on July 27th, 1861, with an escort, Private John Eldridge of the 13th New York. They rode on until they came to a long-neglected toll gate. Eldridge decided not to venture further, but headstrong Jennie rode on. When she stopped to water her horse, she heard soldiers nearby. She returned to the saddle and galloped back and jumped over the toll gate bar, but she and Private Eldridge were surrounded and captured.

A Confederate officer informed her that he had orders to arrest her as a spy, as she had been frequently seen riding within their lines. Jennie retorted that she didn’t acknowledge that they had any lines.

The pass she had received from Winfield Scott would only incriminate her further, so she surreptitiously swallowed it before the soldiers had a chance to search her.  She and Private Eldridge were then taken to the residence of Alfred Morse, where many Confederate officers, including Fitzhugh Lee (Robert E Lee’s nephew) called on her.

Jennie POW_fitzhugh lee

Confederate General Fitzhugh Lee
From: Library of Congress.

Fitzhugh Lee traded barbs with her: “When we take Washington, I’ll take a run up to your New York home and we’ll drink champagne together.” She replied sarcastically, “Before you take Washington, you will have had all the pain you want, and no sham pain either!” She was then sent on to Richmond, VA.

Once there, she was brought before Confederate General John H. Winder, in charge of all Confederate prisons. He said they had sufficient evidence to convict her of espionage. She denied ever being a spy and commented that there was no need to endanger the lives of Union women as spies when there were plenty of Southern men who could be bribed! She was consigned to Libby Prison in Richmond and later transferred to a private home.

jennie pow-john h winder

Confederate General John H. Winder.
From: National Park Service.

For three weeks she was held, and she let everyone around her know how she felt about her imprisonment and the Confederate cause. Finally, she wrote to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. He informed her that she would be released the next day, and he would not have her incendiary tongue again in Richmond for the price of the whole Confederacy!

She was sent by train to Norfolk, VA on August 23, 1861, and then made her way home. Her fellow prisoner, Private John Eldridge, served a year in prison before he was exchanged.

jennie pow-grave

Jennie Curtis’ headstone, Mount Albion Cemetery (Albion, New York)
Careful readers will note the date of birth differs from above.
         The date in the second paragraph comes from her death certificate.

Jennie died from a cerebral hemorrhage on October 23, 1921 in Albion, New York. Today, her mortal remains are buried in Mount Albion Cemetery in her hometown.


-Christopher Brennan


For More Information:

“Death Takes Woman Who Was Nurse and Spy in Civil War,” Buffalo Commercial, October 25, 1921, p. 9, cols. 5-6.

Elizabeth R. Varon, Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

“First Woman Prisoner of War: The Story of Jennie A. Curtis, A Dashing Yankee Girl,” Buffalo Evening News, February 7, 1899, p. 3, cols. 3-5.

“Statement of Mrs. [sic] Curtis,” New York Times, August 14, 1861, p. 1, col. 3.

Village of Albion, New York, Register of Deaths, no. 70 (1921), Jennie Curtis; photocopy, courtesy of Albion Village Clerk.

“A War Incident: Rochester Woman Arrested by the Rebels as a Union Spy,” Rochester  Union and Advertiser (Rochester, New York), August 14, 1897, p. 12, cols. 1-3.

“Woman Who Won Honors in Civil War Dies in Albion,” Buffalo Evening Times, October 26, 1921, p. 11, col. 3.



Published in: on June 11, 2019 at 5:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

From Liquors to Bitters, Pt 2: the History of the Fee Brothers.


As we saw in the previous blog post in this series,  Fee Brothers had come to dominate the local liquor import market by the turn of the twentieth century.

The family-run firm endured and survived two disastrous fires at its wholesale liquor store in 1902 and 1908, but it would suffer an even more devastating setback the following decade that would forever change the nature of the business.

Prohibition, or, the “Noble Experiment,” began when the Volstead Act went into effect on January 17th, 1920. As the law banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol throughout the United States, it struck a major blow to the Fee Brothers’ livelihood. The company suffered an additional blow three months later when its founder, James Fee, passed away.


From: Democrat & Chronicle, April 21, 1920.

This dual shock proved too much to handle for James Fee’s children, James Leo and Marguerite, who had been running the business since their father took ill. The pair auctioned off much of the company’s equipment and relocated from Rochester, leaving their cousin John C. Fee II (who had been serving in the military) to pick up the pieces.

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John C. Fee II. Courtesy: Fee Brothers.

Using his military pay, John began buying back the goods his cousins had recently sold, and, like other Prohibition-era entrepreneurs steeped in Rochester’s liquor trade, adapted his business model.

Here, John Fee was at an advantage, since the company already counted a variety of non-alcoholic beverages (ginger ale, apple cider, and grape juice) among its wares.

Fee2_grape juice_Sep_24__1922_

From: Democrat & Chronicle, September 24, 1922.

Fee Brothers then added other products, such as Budweiser near-beer and ‘Bruin’ malt extract (sold with a warning to not add yeast, as it might ferment) to their Prohibition line.


Advertisement for Bruin liquid malt. Courtesy: Fee Brothers.

A boon to the business came in 1922, when the ban on sacramental spirits was lifted and Fee Brothers could resume wine production. The company  had been making sacramental wine, also known as altar wine, since the early 1880s.


Fee Brothers’ Genesee Valley Vineyard & Winery at 1180 St. Paul Street. NB: This is an artist’s rendering of the property. The expanse of the vineyards has been exaggerated. Courtesy: Fee Brothers.

As church requirements for altar wine were stringent, manufacturers often obtained endorsements from notable men of the cloth. Fee Brothers even published a booklet filled with letters testifying to their character penned by various local priests as well as the Bishop of Cebu, Philippines.

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Fee Brothers’ altar wines booklet. Courtesy: Fee Brothers.

While the Church may have been strict about who could produce sacramental wine, it was seemingly not as rigorous about who could procure the potent potable.

Fee Brothers’ sales to churches skyrocketed by 800% during Prohibition. Unless Rochester witnessed a weekly wave of  plastered parishioners in the 1920s–a phenomenon not documented in the local papers—some, if not the majority, of this wine was being consumed outside of Sunday services.

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Puritas Altar Wine label. Courtesy: Fee Brothers.

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A Fee Brothers employee (at left) with a barrel of Vin de Concorde Altar Wine. Courtesy: Fee Brothers

Those with church connections were not the only ones drinking Fee Brothers wine in the midst of  Prohibition.

A clause in the Prohibition law allowed heads of household to manufacture up to 200 gallons of wine per year for home consumption. Seeing this loophole as an opportunity, Fee Brothers began selling wine-making kits.

After receiving an order for a kit, a Fee employee would go to the client’s home with a barrel and fill it with grape juice concentrate (called “Vin-Glo”), water, sugar, and yeast, before inserting a bubbler tube into the barrel’s bunghole. Upon request, the Fee representative would return a few months later to bottle, cork, and even label the finished product.

The service proved especially popular with the city’s well-to-do. The Fee Brothers’ Vin-Glo records book reads like a veritable directory of Rochester’s elite class, counting bank presidents, company chairmen, lawyers, doctors, and even the Chief of the Rochester Fire Department among its entries.[1]

Fee2_record book

Record Book for Vin-Glo Sales, 1931-33. Courtesy: Fee Brothers.

While the wine that the Fee Brothers had a hand in producing was undoubtedly of a fine quality, the illegal kinds of liquors that surfaced during Prohibition were not quite as palatable. Rendering this swill into something satisfying opened another door to the Fee Brothers, one which would have a lasting impact on the company’s future identity.

To be continued…

-Emily Morry

A hearty thank you goes out to Erica Fee, Mary Fee Spacher, and Ellen Fee for giving me a tour of the Fee Brothers facility and providing me with a wealth of information and imagery for this blog post series.

[1] The list is truly astounding, and will potentially serve as the basis for a future blog post.

Published in: on May 29, 2019 at 11:42 am  Leave a Comment  

The Fiery Cross: The Forgotten History of the Ku Klux Klan in Western New York

When one thinks of fraternal societies, what comes to mind? The Knights of Columbus? The Masons? The Loyal Order of Moose? How about the Ku Klux Klan?

Most citizens in Western New York today denounce the Klan and all it stands for, but there was a time within the lifetimes of our grandparents and great-grandparents when the Klan was active in many communities in Monroe and surrounding counties.

The Ku Klux Klan formed after the Civil War to resist Federal efforts to remake the South, and to defy the empowerment of newly freed African American slaves. The modern Klan owes its existence to the efforts of William Joseph Simmons (May 6, 1880-May 18,1945).

In 1915, Simmons obtained a copy of the Reconstruction-era Klan Rescript, the original constitution of the post-Civil War Klan. He refounded the group with a broader vision– opposing the rising influence of Catholics, Jews and immigrants, as well as African Americans. Under Simmons, the Klan’s motto was “100% Americanism,” meaning that the nation was for white, Protestant and native-born citizens only.


“20 Questions Asked of Potential Klan Recruits”
(From: Democrat and Chronicle, December 12, 1922).
Questions included: Are you a member of the White race or Colored race?
Do you believe in White supremacy?

Through the efforts of Simmons and two professional organizers, Edward Young Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler, the Klan expanded throughout the South, the Midwest, the Southwest, and the West Coast in the 1920s.

It was during this period of rapid Klan expansion that the Klan entered Western New York. An organizational meeting was held on December 11, 1922 at the Knights of Malta Hall at 89 East Main Street in downtown Rochester. Another recruiting rally was held the following year on November 22, 1923, in the original Reynolds Arcade building. A reporter who attended the latter event heard an organizer rant about the “Catholic-Jewish menace.”

Despite recruiting rallies being held in Rochester, the group never caught on in the city. According to former City Historian Blake McKelvey, there was little resentment upon which the Klan could build. Relatively few African Americans resided in the city in the 1920s, and relations between Jews, Catholics and Protestants were copacetic.

Klan activity did exist, however, in the surrounding towns and rural districts.


Ku Klux Klan Guards at the East Rochester “Konvocation,” September 1926
(From: Democrat and Chronicle, April 11, 1965)

Villagers in Nunda witnessed the first fiery cross in Livingston County on July 8, 1923. In the fall of that year, there were Klan activities in Henrietta and Hemlock. In 1925, when Father Daniel O’Rourke arrived to take over the pastorate of the Church of the Epiphany in Sodus, he was greeted by a cross burning across the street from the rectory.

There were Klan activities in Penn Yan in 1926, and in Geneva and Corning the following year. There are also records of KKK activities in Albion, Brockport, Fairport, Henrietta, Honeoye Falls, Ovid, Penfield, Pittsford, Webster, and other nearby communities.

The largest local Klan rally was held on September 25-26, 1926 in East Rochester. Klansmen and women from ten counties flocked in full regalia to the farm of Charles Ott (September 1, 1870-June 16, 1963) at Washington and Ivy Streets. Exactly how many attended is a matter of dispute. Estimates run the gamut from 1,000 to 19,000, but no official total was ever provided.

kk_ott certificate

Klan Certificate of Charles Ott, on whose farm the 1926 East Rochester gathering was held

Although there were Klan rallies and gatherings throughout the area, they did not have the support of a majority of the populace. There was as visceral a reaction to the Klan then as there is now.

In Monroe County, local fraternal groups indicated they would expel any members who belonged to the Klan. In Watkins Glen, parade participants were pulled from the line of march and beaten by local townspeople. During a KKK march in Geneva, several members removed their masks. One person who did so was a prominent insurance man, who was recognized by his neighbors. His business was subsequently boycotted, and he was forced into bankruptcy. Klansmen who revealed their prejudices to their neighbors frequently suffered the consequences.

How strong was the Klan in Monroe County? If available evidence is any indication, not very. In 1953, an anonymous donor left a small black book as a gift for local journalist, Arch Merrill. The book was the financial record of the “Headquarters Klan 385, Realm of New York” (i.e., for the Monroe County Klan) for part of the years 1926 and 1927. The largest balance on hand at any one time was $55.00. The last item in the record (July 1, 1927) records a balance of 94 cents!

As the book recorded the activities of Klan groups in Brockport, East Rochester, Fairport, Honeoye Falls, and Pittsford during the time of the East Rochester gathering, Monroe County support for the event must have been minimal, suggesting that most of the 1926 East Rochester attendees came from outside the area.


Klan members Charles A. Holland (Ulster County, left) and John Anthony Ficcaro (Rochester, right)
(From: Upstate Magazine, Democrat and Chronicle, September 25, 1977)

From its high point in 1926, the local Klan began to decline, but there was still a presence locally as late as 1977 when a reporter for the Democrat and Chronicle interviewed two New York Klansmen and identified them by name: Charles Arthur Holland and John Anthony Ficcarro. Holland was from Ulster County and Ficcaro from Rochester. They admitted that the first duty of a Klansman was to recruit others as the organization had retained very few members.

Given the secretive nature of the Klan, no one knows for sure how many members of the group still survive in the area 40 years later.

-Christopher Brennan

For More Information:

Bill Beeney, “Supporters of Klan: They Were Here!” Democrat and Chronicle, 26 March 1964, p.12B, cols. 1-2.

“Colorful Scene Presented as 8,000 Klansmen Gather in East Rochester Field,” Democrat and Chronicle, 26 September 1926, p. 25.

“I.R. Hignett, Grand Organizer of Atlanta, Harangues Audience in Hiokatoo Hall for Over Two Hours: 50 Apply for Membership,” Times Union, 23 November 1923, p. 1.

Linda Gordon, The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2017).

Larry King, “Recruiting Klansmen: The KKK is Still Going but Not Strong,” Democrat and Chronicle, Upstate Magazine, 25 September 1977, pp. 26 and 29.

Robert F. McNamara, The Diocese of Rochester, 1868-1968 (Rochester, New York: The Diocese, 1968).

Rory McVeigh, The Rise of the Ku Klux Klan: Right-Wing Movements and National Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).

Arch Merrill, “Venomous Black Book Tells: When Men Hid Faces Behind Masks of KKK,” Democrat and Chronicle, 31 May 1953, p. 2C.

Arch Merrill, “Klan Here (in 20s) Didn’t Last,” Democrat and Chronicle, 11 April 1965, p. 18W.

Justin Murphy, “White Supremacy Has a History in Rochester,” Democrat and Chronicle, 18 August 2017, p. 6A.

Louis Providence, “Village Looks Back on 1926 KKK Parade,” East Rochester Post-Herald, 30 September 1971, p. 9.


Published in: on May 17, 2019 at 3:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

From Liquors to Bitters-The History of the Fee Brothers, Pt. 1

If you’ve ever scanned the bottles behind your favorite local bar, chances are you’ve come across the name “Fee Brothers.”


Photo: Daniel J. Deutsch

The 155-year-old Rochester-based company has earned international renown for its line of non-alcoholic products (bitters, cordials, and mixers), but its origins lie with liquor.

The original Fee Brothers were the sons of Owen and Margaret Fee, Irish immigrants who settled in Rochester in the 1830s. Owen had worked as a butcher prior to his untimely death in 1855, leaving Margaret to support the couple’s five children.

Eldest son James Fee, who had been working since he was a boy, was quick to help out his mother. For a time, he sold sandwiches to train passengers coming through Rochester’s railroad station. He also held a job with James McMannis, a local grocer and liquor dealer who ran a shop at the southwest corner of South St Paul (now South Ave) and Main Streets.


From: City of Rochester Directory, 1861.

The young man excelled in the business, and, joined by his mother and brothers Owen and John Fee (Stephen Colbert’s great-grandfather), assumed ownership of the store in 1864 when McMannis moved to a new location.

fee_1870 ad

From: City of Rochester Directory, 1870.

Fee shifted from his multi-pronged grocery business (which for a time included a saloon and cigar manufacturing) to focus solely on liquor the following decade.

fee_1875 ad

From: City of Rochester Directory, 1875

In 1874, James and his brothers, Owen, John and Joseph moved to 26-32 North Water Street, then four years later relocated to a sizeable structure directly across the street.

There, the Fee Brothers dominated the import game, stocking British gins, Jamaican rums, Irish and Scottish whiskies, and the finest wines and cognacs from Continental Europe. The Fees also became the local distilling agents for major Pennsylvania and Kentucky firms, offering colorfully-named products like Mountain Dew Rye and Blue Grass Bourbon.

Fee_1900 map

The Fee Brothers building stood on the west side of North Water Street, above Main Street. From: City of Rochester Plat map, 1900.

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The Rochester Riverside Hotel (formerly the Radisson) now stands on the former site of the Fee Building. From: City of Rochester Map, 2019.

The family business, which rebranded itself as Fee Brothers in 1883, boasted that their six-story headquarters at 21-27 North Water Street was “The Largest Wine and Liquor House in America.”

fee_1899 ad

From: City of Rochester Directory, 1899

Having such an immense facility allowed the brothers to expand their rectifying efforts. Using grapes from their Genesee Valley Vineyard and Winery, they blended and bottled wine in the basement of the building, and stored it in their sub-basement cellar.

While the Fee Brothers’ wine wares proved a boon for business, the wine cellar itself became a source of misfortune.

Shortly before 8 p.m. on June 19, 1903, a fire broke out at the Fee Building. Originating in the well-stocked wine cellar, the flames rose through the basement and the ground floor where the bulk of the company’s barreled whiskey and bottled liquors lay. The first floor then crashed into the basement, taking with it a cascade of potent potables.

Fee_Fire 1_DC_Jun_20__1903_

From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, June 20, 1903.

Dense smoke swarmed through the blocks surrounding the burning building, overcoming a number of firemen in its wake. By the time the firefighters managed to quell the conflagration, the Fee Brothers were left with over 85,000 dollars in damages and a temporarily uninhabitable storefront.

The company survived the disaster only to be hit with another massive fire five years later in February 1908. This time beginning on the building’s top floor (then occupied by a paper box company), the fire wound its way down to the ground level, destroying the entire edifice in the process.

Fee Fire 2_DC__Feb_6__1908_

From Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, February 6, 1908.

The conflagration caused a quarter of a million dollars-worth of losses, but the Fee Brothers miraculously managed to salvage much of the liquor stock housed in their two basements.

Removing and relocating the bottles and barrels to a warehouse on South Water Street nevertheless proved a tricky task requiring close supervision. One of the hired hands brazenly attempted to pocket a bottle of whiskey and was swiftly arrested and carted off to the 2nd Precinct Station. The next worker caught in the act promptly dropped the pilfered bottle to avoid penalization.

Though the Fee Brothers rebuilt their headquarters on the site of their ill-fated edifice in 1908, the wholesale liquor company would encounter a setback of a different sort the following decade.

To be continued…

-Emily Morry

Published in: on April 22, 2019 at 4:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

(Summerville) Beach Boy- The Rochester Roots of Al Jardine

The Rochester Music Hall of Fame, which will induct its ‘Class of 2019’ on April 28th, has honored a host of artists whose names are seemingly synonymous with the Flower City, as well as a number of entertainers whose connections to the area are not as readily apparent.

When the organization announced this year’s inductees in February, many locals may have been surprised to see the name Al Jardine on the list.

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Jardine’s debut solo album, 2010.

Jardine’s band, The Beach Boys, is perhaps as linked with California in the popular imagination as Hollywood and the Pacific Ocean. But before Al Jardine struck fame and fortune on the West Coast, the guitarist spent a few memorable years in Western New York.

Al Jardine was born in 1942 in Lima, Ohio to Virginia and Donald Jardine, a commercial photographer with the Lima Locomotive Works. Donald’s background helped land him a job with Eastman Kodak in 1949, leading the family to move to Rochester when Al was seven years old.

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Donald C. Jardine. From: Techmila.

Donald soon after joined the faculty of the Rochester Institute of Technology, initially teaching general education classes in industrial organization, English and cost estimating.


Headline announcing Donald Jardine et al’s appointment to R.I.T. Faculty. From: Democrat & Chronicle, September 4, 1949.

Known on campus as “Choo Choo” due to his love of locomotives, Donald Jardine went on to teach in the Photo Technology and Publishing & Printing departments, where he spearheaded the creation of a combination darkroom-cameraroom and designed the first industrial photography course ever offered at the college.


Donald “Choo Choo” Jardine at work. From: Techmila.

The Jardine family initially settled in a little pad on Sunset Street in the 24th Ward, before purchasing a home on Parkview Terrace in the idyllic Summerville Terraces tract of Irondequoit in 1950.

Developed in the 1920s on the site of the old Charles Salmon farm, Summerville Terraces  offered home buyers an enviable location at the juncture of the Genesee River and Lake Ontario.

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Map of the Summerville Terraces tract. From: Democrat & Chronicle, May 7, 1922.

An advertisement from May of 1922 boasted, “The view of the hills and the lake will appeal to your sense of the beautiful. The situation of Summerville Terraces, in the heart of the Summerville district, will convince you of the desirability of these sites as an investment… it is close in, at the edge of the most desirable part of the lake shore, and lots are rapidly being picked up. Get yours.”


Another advertisement showcasing Summerville’s merits. From: Democrat & Chronicle, May 28, 1922.

The subdivision’s unique offer of “lakeside privileges and city conveniences,” still held appeal when the Jardines purchased their Parkview Terrace home three decades after the Summerville lots first went on the market.

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The fully developed Summerville Terraces subdivision  in 1959. From: Plat Book including Towns of Irondequoit and Brighton, Monroe Co., New York, 1959.

The locale’s lifestyle certainly appealed to young Al Jardine, who frequently played on the nearby beach and beat the heat by swimming in the cool, cool water of Lake Ontario.

“I had some great summers on Lake Ontario when I was 7 or 8,” he informed the Democrat & Chronicle in 1986, “but those winters—oooh, they were nasty.”

Al likely passed some of the time during those long nasty winters plucking away at the ukulele that his parents purchased him in Rochester, amassing skills that he could later transfer to the guitar. His musical inclinations also led him to learn the clarinet–his grandfather’s instrument–and join his elementary school orchestra, but his interest in the woodwind soon waned.

Whether or not these early local forays in musicianship proved formative to Jardine’s future as a rock & roll star, he later claimed that he “spent the best part of my young life” in Rochester and that the Summerville neighborhood “was the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived.”

Although Al’s beachside boyhood home was ideal, his father’s job at R.I.T. must have left something to be desired, as he took a position with a San Francisco-based company in 1952 and the family left Summerville for the even sunnier climes of California.

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Headline from R.I.T. Reporter, June 6, 1952.

Three years later, the family moved to Hawthorne, California where a teenaged Al Jardine would meet fellow football player and aspiring musician, Brian Wilson.

And the rest, as they say…

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Al Jardine, furthest to the right, on the cover of one of the greatest albums ever recorded.


-Emily Morry



Published in: on April 4, 2019 at 5:30 pm  Comments (5)  

Out of the Loop Pt. 5: A Before and After Look at the Neighborhoods of the Inner Loop

The last section of the Inner Loop, completed in 1965, is perhaps the most intriguing to current Rochester residents, as, for the most part, it no longer exists.

The final loop arc originally ran from Scio Street to the intersection of Union Street and George Street.

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The original path of the Inner Loop’s last arc. From: Democrat & Chronicle, September 30, 1965.

Today, it concludes its course just past Main Street thanks to the Inner Loop East Transformation Project, which filled in two thirds of a mile of the sunken roadway and replaced it with an at-grade Union Street in 2017.

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City of Rochester Map, 2019.

The filled-in loop section has already begun to transform the landscape of the East End neighborhood. The area’s metamorphosis will continue as Union Street’s built environment develops.

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Construction on the Union Street section of the loop at its intersection with East Avenue. From: Democrat and Chronicle, March 20, 1964.

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The same section, filled in. From: Googlemaps, 2019.

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The intersection of Union Street and East Avenue facing north circa 1962. The diagonal street below East Avenue is the original route of Court Street. From: Democrat & Chronicle, November 21, 1962.

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Union Street at East Avenue in 2012, with the adjacent sunken loop. From: Googlemaps, 2012.


The same stretch in 2019 boasts a tree-lined median, designated bike lanes, pedestrian paths, and budding buildings. From: Morry, 2019.

Though the majority of the loop’s final section has been reincarnated, what remains of the last arc offers further reminders of all that was lost as a result of the circular thoroughfare.

Anderson Park— named for the University of Rochester’s first president, Martin Brewer Anderson—originally comprised a somewhat sizeable triangular piece of land bordered by University Avenue, East Main Street and North Union Street.

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Anderson Park, bordered by Main Street on the northwest side, Union Street on the east side, and University Avenue on the south side. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1910.

Opened in 1905, the pastoral greenspace for a time housed a skating rink, and, in 1913, hosted a colossal Christmas tree adorned with hundreds of colored incandescent lights.

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Hundreds gathered for a Christmas celebration at Anderson Park in December 1913. From: Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, N.Y.

The park was also the first home of the Schiller monument.

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The Schiller monument at the southwest corner of Anderson Park in 1938.

Donated by Rochester’s German community in 1908, the statue of the 18th century poet and philosopher later became something of a mecca to the city’s teenaged lovebirds. Scores of Cupid-struck couples in the 1950s deemed the monument’s pedestal as the place to pledge their love to one other via inscriptions of their initials, often emblazoned with red lipstick.

The monument and its lipstick traces met their match the following decade, as plans for the Inner Loop designated the southern tier of Anderson Park as the juncture where the circular roadway would make its final curve towards Union Street.

Anderson Park, much like Franklin Square (discussed in part 4 of this series), was more than halved.

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The somewhat sizeable Anderson Park in 1935. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1935.

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The truncated tuft of greenery that constitutes the current Anderson Park. City of Rochester map, 2019.

And, in something of a game of monument musical chairs, after Franklin Square’s Spanish American War eagle was relocated to the Community War Memorial, the Schiller monument was removed from Anderson Park, and placed in Franklin Square (now known as Schiller Park).

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Schiller on the move in the spring of 1964. From: Democrat & Chronicle, April 21, 1964.

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The monument at home in its eponymous park.

In addition to gutting yet another downtown park, the loop’s final segment was also responsible for swallowing a host of homes and apartment buildings, often erasing entire street sections in the process.

The mixed-use neighborhood between North Street and Union Street found itself radically altered following the Loop’s arrival.

Seen in 1935, the area between North Street and Scio Street, boasts a series of densely plotted residences and a selection of commercial structures:

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City of Rochester Plat Map, 1935.

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City of Rochester map, 2019.

The post-loop picture is much starker. The buildings lining both sides of Delevan Street, the south side of Lyndhurst Street, and the west side of Scio Street are gone as are sections of Gibbs Street and the entirety of Barber’s Lane.

The next block over also witnessed a considerable transformation:

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City of Rochester Plat Map, 1935.

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City of Rochester map, 2019.

The most striking difference between these pre- and post-loop pictures, apart from the substantial loss of buildings, is the elimination of an entire street, Joslyn Place.

Some of the street’s denizens did not face its demise without a fight.

Mrs. George R. Woods had been living in an apartment at 72 Joslyn Place with her teenage son and dog when she received the news that her building would be demolished in 1962. In January of that year, her landlord stopped collecting rent, and two months later, the building’s utilities were removed.

By this time, all of the apartments at 72 Joslyn Place had been vacated. All except the one occupied by Mrs. Woods. She and her son kept themselves warm in the frigid flat by donning their wooliest clothing. The pair lit candles in lieu of electric lights, and, when in need of water, they availed themselves of the nearest fire hydrant.

When the landlord or state agents stopped by, Woods came armed with an array of excuses, reinforcing that all her belongings were packed and that she was only waiting for a moving truck.

A sheaf of paper notes remained permanently affixed to her door. One warned: “Leave my things alone until I get moved tomorrow afternoon or I will turn my dog loose. I need my things. Can’t buy more.” Another missive, directed to her postman, informed: “Don’t believe I’ve moved away. I’m still here. Mrs. Woods.”

Woods’ standoff continued even after all the other structures on the street had been demolished and her building became the target of routine rock-throwing by neighborhood children. She eventually retreated in the middle of May 1962, when two movers struck a deal with her and transported her affairs to a new abode on Maple Street.

While Woods’ experience presents an extreme example, her frustration over losing her home was nevertheless mirrored by thousands of Rochesterians whose lives were uprooted as result of the Inner Loop.

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A home being leveled for the loop in 1962. From: Democrat & Chronicle, May 11, 1962.

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In “progress.”

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Demolished. All in fifteen minutes’ time.

The extensive damage and displacement that the Inner Loop caused was deemed by its proponents as the price of progress.

The new time-saving thoroughfare thrilled many in Rochester’s business community.

Chamber of Commerce president Byron Johnson exclaimed at the Inner Loop’s official opening on October 20, 1965, “Without businessmen willing to support it, this Inner Loop might have become a useless noose around a deserted central area.”

Seemingly sharing Johnson’s flair for the dramatic, Rochester District Engineer Bernard F. Perry proclaimed that the loop opening was, “One of the most important days in the history of Rochester and Monroe County,” adding, “We are extremely proud of this achievement, the result of long planning, intricate design and elaborate construction.”

That this long-planned, intricately designed, and elaborately constructed achievement was perhaps flawed in its inception remains a matter of debate, but convincing evidence is offered by the thriving thoroughfare that has risen above the former route of the sunken loop.

-Emily Morry




Published in: on March 27, 2019 at 5:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Out of the Loop Pt. 4: A Look at the Neighborhoods of the Inner Loop

As we saw in parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series, the construction of the first three sections of the Inner Loop required a massive amount of property demolition and resulted in the remapping of Rochester’s center city. The route’s fourth segment, completed in 1962, proved even more destructive than its forbears.

The .9 mile arc more or less ran along the original route of Cumberland Street, beginning at Front Street on the City’s west side and ending at North Street on the east.


“A” marks the fourth leg of the loop. From: Democrat & Chronicle, August 20, 1958.

As the route cut through a densely populated, mixed-use area, it necessitated a considerable amount of property razing. More than 250 residential and commercial buildings were toppled to make way for the new loop segment.

In the spring of 1957, four blocks worth of businesses near the New York Central Railroad Station met the wrecking ball.

Not everyone was sad to see the aging structures go.

A pro-loop editorial published in the Democrat & Chronicle that November referred to the razed edifices as “architectural monstrosities and crumbling flea bags.”


The Post Office is at the center of this circa 1960 aerial photograph depicting the dramatic demolition done in the name of the Inner Loop. The New York Central Railroad Station is at top right.  From: Democrat & Chronicle, July 26, 1960.

Among the bygone buildings in the train station neighborhood was the Railroad YMCA at 9 Hyde Park Street, a short road that once stood on the west side of the central Post Office (visible in the photo above).

The original Railroad YMCA branch was founded in the early 1900s to cater to transient railroad workers, offering them room, board, and entertainment. But by the time the branch moved into the Hyde Park structure in 1932, train crews had begun to bypass Rochester, and the institution’s import started to fade.

In 1955, the location ceased functioning as the headquarters for railroad men and was converted into a boarding house. Two longtime railroad worker residents refused to relocate, and remained tenants of the timeworn hostelry until its demolition in the fall of 1957.


The last location of the Railroad YMCA at 9 Hyde Park Street. From: Democrat & Chronicle, March 24, 1957.


Demolition of the YMCA as seen from the rear of the building. From: Democrat & Chronicle October 25, 1957.


The current site of the Railroad YMCA near Joseph Avenue in the vicinity of the New York Trailways station. Googlemaps, 2018.

Not far from the Railroad YMCA stood another longtime neighborhood institution, The Hotel Gilliard.

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The Hotel Gilliard, later the Saeger Hotel, stood at 218 Clinton Avenue North. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1935.

The establishment at the northeast corner of Clinton Ave North and Cumberland Street was founded in 1886 by Valentine Gilliard, a German immigrant who had previously worked in a number of local saloons. His three story hostelry boasted 20 rooms in addition to the tavern on its main floor.


Hotel Gilliard circa 1916. From: The Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, N.Y.

Valentine Gilliard ran the family business until he took ill in 1893, and, in a bout of apparent insanity brought on by his physical suffering, tragically shot himself on the roof of the hotel.

The Gilliards later sold the inn, but it retained the family name through the Prohibition era, during which the hotel endured several raids by dry agents. The hotel continued operations till the State claimed it in 1957.


The Hotel Gilliard appears on the right side of the street on the far side of the intersection pictured in this circa 1890 photograph.


The site today. Googlemaps, 2019.

Following the decimation of the railroad station neighborhood, a host of businesses and residences on St. Paul Street and Water Street met their fate.

Some did not go gently into the good night, however.

The Joseph A. Schantz Furniture Company had maintained two sizeable edifices at the intersection of St. Paul Street and Central Avenue since 1911. An eponymously named commercial building stood on the east side of St. Paul Street, while the company’s six-story furniture warehouse, stood on the west side.


The Schantz company owned two buildings that faced each other on St. Paul Street at Central Avenue. Note the original location of the Frederick Douglass monument between the Schantz structures. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1935.

The former came down fairly handily.


The Schantz Building stands on the left side of this photograph from October 1958. From the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.


The same site from a slightly different angle in 1960, sans Schantz Building. From the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

The warehouse was more stubborn.

Neither cranes nor steel balls proved able to destroy the edifice. Construction workers were eventually reduced to using torches to slash the building’s reinforcing rods, before cranes could be brought in to rip out the rubbled pieces.

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The Schantz warehouse building lies behind the Douglass monument in this circa 1941 photograph.

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The approximate site of the Schantz warehouse today lies at the corner of St. Paul and the rerouted Cumberland Street. Googlemaps, 2019

In addition to the hundreds of buildings it consumed in its wake, the loop’s fourth section was also responsible for gutting one of the city’s oldest parks.

Franklin Square (now known as Schiller Park) located between Cumberland and Andrews Streets, was opened to the public in 1826.

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Franklin Square circa 1833. NB: Cumberland Street was formerly called Bowery Street. City of Rochester Map, 1833.

In addition to providing 19th century downtown residents with a pastoral setting in which to unwind, the small park hosted amateur baseball club games in the 1850s and 1860s and later served as the site of numerous political demonstrations.

The following century, Franklin Square became home to the city’s Spanish-American War Memorial, a bronze eagle designed by noted sculptor, Carl Paul Jennewein.


The regal eagle standing atop a reflecting pool at the northern end of Franklin Square. Note the Post Office and St. Luke’s Church in the background.   From: Democrat & Chronicle, July 6, 1941.

In 1960, less than twenty years after the bronze eagle landed in Franklin Square, the northern half of the historic park was lobbed off to make way for the loop, and the Spanish-American eagle took flight.

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The site today. Googlemaps, 2018.

Franklin Square was decimated.

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The original layout of Franklin Square seen in the late 1940s. From: Democrat & Chronicle, January 4, 1948.


The stub of the square that remains post-loop, now called Schiller Park. Googlemaps, 2018.

The eagle fortunately found a new perch beside the Community War Memorial (now Blue Cross Arena).


From: Democrat & Chronicle, August 18, 1960.


The eagle in its current home beside the Blue Cross Arena. From: Morry.

After almost three years worth of demolition carried out in its name, construction on the loop’s fourth arc finally began in March 1960.

Despite the extensive destruction that the new route had wrought, many maintained that the Inner Loop offered a path to progress. As one Democrat & Chronicle writer opined in March 1961: “We look at the loop now—the finished part of it—and we use it with the realization that Rochester would be literally choking to death on traffic without it. Every day the genius of this loop concept becomes more apparent.”


The next post in this series will detail the changes brought about by the loop’s fifth and final segment.

-Emily Morry





Published in: on February 26, 2019 at 9:45 am  Leave a Comment  

“The Doctor Who Would Come”: Anthony Leopold Jordan (18 September 1896-19 December 1971)

Heading east on Route 104, between Greece and Irondequoit, off to the right at 800 Carter Street, one can see a health care facility. Now called the Joseph C. Wilson Health Center, for several years in the early 2000s it was named the Anthony L. Jordan Health Center, the second such facility before Jordan Health expanded to incorporate the multiple locations it operates in Rochester and Canandaigua. According to its website, the mission of Jordan Health is “steeped in service to underserved and uninsured residents, meeting their need for comprehensive health services.” But who was Anthony Jordan? Why was the health center named after him and what contributions did he make to the Rochester area?


Dr. Anthony L. Jordan (Democrat & Chronicle, March 26, 1967)

Anthony Leopold Jordan was born on September 18th, 1896 in Georgetown, Guyana, where he attended Queen’s College. It is said that following graduation he taught at the college for some time, but a desire to receive training as a lawyer encouraged him to emigrate. He arrived in the United States on June 27th 1919, having sailed to Miami via Havana, Cuba.

Shortly thereafter, he enrolled at Howard University, a Historically Black College in the nation’s capital. His legal training was cut short, however, when he was informed that law was not a “Black man’s career,” and that Black lawyers often had few clients. Seeking a more lucrative profession, Jordan changed his focus to medicine.

Graduating from Howard in 1926, he pursued a medical internship at Richardson Memorial Hospital in Greensboro (Guilford County), North Carolina and later established his practice at High Point in the same county. The family was not happy with the climate there (perhaps racially as well as meteorologically), and so they moved north. They first settled in Newburgh (Orange County), New York, and later relocated to Rochester in 1932.

Setting up a solo practice at the height of the Great Depression was perhaps not the wisest approach for a young and struggling physician. Establishing himself at 136 Adams Street (in Corn Hill, Rochester’s renowned Third Ward), he soon found that much of his business came from the city’s Seventh Ward, a multicultural area in northeast Rochester including  North Clinton, Joseph and Hudson Avenues. Then as now, the neighborhood was largely working class and poor, and though many doctors would not serve its population, Dr. Jordan did. He was known as “the doctor who would come,” when and where he was needed. He continued to make house calls (though many of his colleagues didn’t) until the end of his life when his failing eyesight forced him to stop practicing medicine.

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Portion of the 7th Ward, focus of Dr. Jordan’s practice.

Even before Dr. Jordan was financially stable, he offered his services free of charge to patients in need. He spent many Sunday afternoons giving free examinations to college students and to children going to summer camp. Later in life, he not only provided free medical services to his more indigent patients, but he would also dip into his own pocket for them.

After the establishment of Medicaid in the 1960s, his devotion to the underserved in Rochester was rewarded as he became one of the physicians paid by the county to treat individuals receiving government assistance. He was also honored with a Presidential Citation from the New York State Medical Society for outstanding service.

Dr. Jordan was as committed to education as he was to medicine. He was an active supporter of the United Negro College Fund, which provides funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He was also a major financial backer of the Ralph Bunche Scholarship, established by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The scholarship provided financial assistance for inner-city youth to attend college, regardless of race, color, ethnicity or gender.

Jordan supported additional uplift efforts through his involvement with the NAACP. Throughout the 1950s, he and other members of the organization worked for greater minority hiring in the city. One of his principal concerns was the lack of African American officers on the Rochester police force. He was also a big proponent of young Black professionals in various fields, serving as a mentor to help them establish a foothold in the local economy.

Dr. Jordan is said to have been a member of half a dozen different community organizations. The only thing that eventually managed to slow him down was his failing health. Two months before his death, he entered Genesee Hospital for cancer surgery. Upon release, he was transferred to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City for cobalt treatments. He was never discharged. He died from his ailment on December 19, 1971 at age 75. Today, his mortal remains are buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.

The year after Dr. Jordan’s death, the People’s Health Council, upon a motion of board member David Gantt, unanimously agreed to name the new health center on Holland Street in his honor.


Anthony L. Jordan Health Center at 82 Holland Street.

-Christopher Brennan

For More Information:

“About Us,” Jordan Health ( : accessed 6 January 2019).

“Dr. Anthony Jordan,” [obituary], Democrat and Chronicle, 20 December 1971, p. 3B.

Hamm, Mrs. James H., [Letter to the editor], Democrat and Chronicle, 2 January 1972, Section F, p. 3.

Neighborhood and Its Health Care: Annual Report of the Anthony L. Jordan Health Center (Rochester, New York : The Center, 1972).

“Today’s Bouquet,” Democrat and Chronicle, 17 February 1965, p. 8.

United States Naturalization Service, Declaration of Intent, no. 143915 (1919), Anthony Jeopold [sic] Jordan; digital image, ( : accessed 6 January 1919).


Published in: on February 7, 2019 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)