Caught one more time up on Dewey Avenue

Have you ever wondered why Dewey Avenue looks the way it does?

Why, for instance, does the street jut out at a diagonal slant from Lyell Avenue before heading due North when it hits Emerson Street?

dewey-current lyell edgerton

Googlemaps, 2017.

And what on earth accounts for the jog or, “dog leg,” at the street’s intersection with Driving Park Avenue?

dewey-current dog leg

Googlemaps, 2017.

What exactly were the people in charge of planning the road thinking?

As it happens, the city section of what we now know as Dewey Avenue was originally three separate streets, with three distinct names. The road has only existed in its current incarnation since the early 1900s.

The tale of how this came to be involves two different, but connected stories.

Anyone familiar with the Edgerton neighborhood (or at least the maps thereof), will know that most of the area’s “North-South” streets actually run “Northwest-Southeast”, rather than due north/south, as they do in the adjacent Lyell-Otis neighborhood. The unique direction these streets take reflects the old route of the Erie Canal, which the roads ran alongside for the better part of the 19th century.

West Street, as the southernmost section of Dewey Ave was originally known, ran directly beside the waterway, beginning at Lyell Avenue and ending at the campus of the State Industrial School (formerly the Western House of Refuge and now the site of Edgerton Park).

dewey-1888 west state

West Street originally traveled alongside the Erie Canal from Lyell Avenue to the southern  border of the State Industrial School property. Emerson Street can be seen north of the school’s campus. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1888.

Over the years, various common council members made attempts to acquire a small portion of the State Industrial School’s campus in order to extend West Street northward, but the institution’s board of managers refused the request time and time again.

Eventually, the City appealed directly to the State (which owned the property) and permission was granted in 1895 to extend West Street to Emerson Street. From Emerson Street, commuters could continue up Thrush Street as far north as Driving Park Avenue.

Dewey-1900 West St

By the time this map was drawn in 1900, West Street had been extended through the State Industrial School campus and connected to the southern tip of Thrush Street via Emerson Street. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1900.

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Thrush Street connected West Street from Emerson Street up to Driving Park Ave which lies at the top of this map. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1888.

The City had convinced the authorities in question that such an extension was in the best interests of all involved.

It was certainly in the interests of the management of the Rochester Driving Park, whose location at the corner of Driving Park Avenue and The Boulevard had heretofore only been accessible from the center of the city by a number of indirect routes.

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The Rochester Driving Park, at the corner of Driving Park Ave and The Boulevard. The northern tip of Thrush Street can be seen at the bottom of the map, just west of the Boulevard below Driving Park Ave. Rochester Plat Map, 1888.


The Rochester Driving Park, which featured  horse races and bicycle races and hosted traveling circuses and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, experienced a heydey in the 1870s and 1880s, but had begun to dip in popularity and profits by the 1890s, so the opening of the new thoroughfare in 1895 was undoubtedly welcome.

Three years later, in 1898, Alderman Selye of the 10th Ward, proposed to rename the street that formed the park’s eastern boundary–known simply as The Boulevard–to Dewey Avenue. The motion, intended to honor the recent victory of Admiral George Dewey in the Spanish-American War, met with unanimous approval.

The following February, Alderman Selye proposed the consolidation of the former Boulevard with Thrush Street and West Street, all under the name of Dewey Avenue.

This motion did not move as swiftly. While Thrush Street was renamed and “connected” to Dewey Avenue in 1899, it wouldn’t be until 1906 that West Street was similarly rechristened, thanks in part to a feud between two Aldermans of neighboring wards (since part of the street lay outside the 10th ward).

By this time, the Rochester Driving Park (the subject of a future blog post) had been sold and converted into building lots. The jarring jog at the “intersection” of Dewey and Driving Park serves as a reminder of the once popular park’s southeastern boundary.


Dewey-1910 driving park tract map

By 1910, the Rochester Driving Park tract already featured several homes on its newly laid out streets. And the former Boulevard, which formed the former park’s eastern boundary, had been renamed Dewey Avenue. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1910.


-Emily Morry


Published in: on June 20, 2017 at 3:09 pm  Comments (1)  

“I Find the Board Have Granted”: Jonathan Child (January 30, 1785-October 27, 1860)

Professional historians study history, in part, because the past can tell us much about recurring issues and current events. To be sure, this often means learning as much from history’s mistakes as from its successes.

For instance, Rochester’s first mayor, Jonathan Child, might serve as a case study in how not to deal with controversial issues. We have already seen in previous blog posts how the temperance movement arose in the 1820s and the passions that centered around it. As the first mayor of the new city of Rochester, Jonathan Child had to negotiate the controversy within the young community. He chose to do so in a most unusual way.

Jonathan Child_portrait

Jonathan Child, ca 1835-1850.

Born in Lyme, New Hampshire in 1785, Child moved to Utica, New York around 1805 and five years later moved to Charlotte. During the War of 1812, he fought in the Battle of Fort Erie, attaining the rank of Major. Following the war, he resided in Bloomfield (Ontario County), where he met and married  Sophia Eliza Rochester (November 29, 1793-March 3, 1850), eldest daughter of city founder Nathaniel Rochester. With Sophia, he had nine children.

By 1820, Child had relocated to Rochester, where he opened a store at Four Corners (West Main and State Streets). After the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, he ran a line of packet and freight boats, and a decade later organized and built the Tonawanda Railroad, Rochester’s first steam line. He served as a trustee of the village of Rochester beginning in 1827, as well as a trustee of the first bank in Rochester in 1834.

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Jonathan Child House, 37 South Washington Street, built ca 1837. Today site of Tango Cafe Dance Studio

On April 28, 1834 Rochester received its charter as a city. Less than two months later on, June 9, 1834, the Rochester Common Council appointed Jonathan Child to serve as Rochester’s first mayor for a one-year term. In that term, Child strove to restrain the pro-alcohol forces in the city, opposing the granting of liquor licenses. The result of his effort brought the election of several Democrats to the Common Council who opposed his Whig party temperance agenda. When the new Council met in June 1835, Child was re-elected mayor, but the Council also authorized granting liquor licenses. Child was caught between a rock and a hard place because as mayor he had to sign the licenses. We will let Child explain the predicament and his solution:

“On my return from the city of New York … I find … that the new Board have granted a large number of tavern and grocery licenses. Some of these seem to me to have been obtained under the name of tavern licenses, in circumstances directly contravening the intention and letter of the legislative enactments upon the subject. Some of them also have been granted to persons to whom a similar privilege had been refused, on satisfactory personal grounds, by the previous Board. … I am constrained to act according to my own solemn convictions of moral duty and estimation of legal right. … When I find myself so situated in my official station as to be obligated either on the one hand to violate these high obligations, or on the other to stand in opposition to the declared wishes of the large majority of the Board, and through them of their constituents – my valued friends and fellow citizens — I dare not retain the public station which exposes me to this unhappy dilemma. … I therefore now most respectfully resign into your hands the office of mayor of the city of Rochester.”   

Child resigned from office on June 23, 1834 and, in the words of former City Historian Blake McKelvey, “Total abstinence lost out, and Rochester was never able to satisfy the desires of its temperance advocates.”


-Christopher Brennan

Published in: on June 13, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Rochesterville and the War of 1812


Careful readers of previous posts will note that Hamlet Scrantom (1773?-10 April 1850) settled in Rochester and moved into his new home on July 4, 1812. History buffs will know that the War of 1812 began only 16 days before, June 18, 1812, and the treaty ending the conflict was signed December 24, 1814. The more well-known battles of the war – such as Fort McHenry (Baltimore) and New Orleans – took place far from the area, but most encounters occurred in the frontier between the United States and Canada. Given that the war overlapped with the earliest dates of settlement on the Genesee, as well as the village’s proximity to the Canadian frontier, what impact did the war have on the new hamlet of Rochesterville?

On May 14, 1814, Sir James Yeo of the British Navy appeared offshore by the mouth of the Genesee River with a fleet of his ships. Rumor had it they were there to burn the Main Street Bridge, which could be used to deploy American troops to other theaters of conflict.

Having heard of a raid on Oswego eight days earlier by this same fleet, and believing the young settlement was the next target, 300 men and boys formed themselves into a local militia, drawing on troops from Rochesterville, Greece, Pittsford, and other nearby communities. The militia occupied an elevated spot near Lake Ontario, where they could observe the maneuvers of the British fleet.

Eventually a boat set off from Yeo’s ship with a flag of truce. Francis Brown (Rochesterville’s first mayor and Brown Street’s namesake) was chosen to lead a delegation down to the water’s edge to hear the enemy’s demands. It was later reported that Brown addressed the landing party as follows, “I say, hello mister! You don’t come on this ground ‘til I know what you are after! So just stay in the boat and say your say out!”

1812_james lucas yeo

James Lucas Yeo, early 19th century portrait.

The commander demanded the surrender of the militia’s stores (i.e., supplies, most likely flour, pork, and whisky) or risk destruction of the area. He also noted that if public property in the area was surrendered, private property would be respected. He then produced a paper signed by the citizens of Oswego that said the United States government had left a large quantity of stores and munitions in Oswego, but the residents of the town would not risk their lives to protect it.

Obviously, the British hoped the capitulation of their neighbors to the east would serve as a precedent for the Genesee region. Brown noted that he had to consult his superiors and then left. Upon his return, he noted, “I am ordered by the general to tell you we shall keep the stores until the King shall send a force sufficient to take it away. So, if you want them badly, you must get them the best way you can.” The British emissaries thereupon returned to their ship.

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Fair Jeanne, an 1812-Replica Tall Ship arriving at Port of Rochester

Like Civil War Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder 48 years later, Brown and his colleagues then put on a display that left the invaders flummoxed. The militia marched off to the left into the brush and marched around to the right. They emerged from the brush and appeared atop the hill in a different order than before, so that it appeared from a distance to be a new company of soldiers. They marched off again and another body of men appeared in front when they came to another part of the hill. These men too marched off and disappeared.

The maneuvers continued until the British thought there was a large army of combatants awaiting them. The British fired a few random shots (to no avail) and then sailed away.  Thus ended Rochesterville’s contribution to the “Second War of American Independence!”

-Christopher Brennan



Published in: on June 6, 2017 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  

Radical Routes: Emma Goldman’s Rochester

Most local history buffs know that the Flower City was the erstwhile home of noted anarchist, Emma Goldman, but what is perhaps less known are the spaces and places that informed her Rochester existence.

Many of the streets and sites that Goldman once frequented in Rochester have since been radically transformed. The near northeast neighbourhoods that she and other recent Jewish immigrants called home in the late 1800s and early 1900s became prime candidates for urban renewal initiatives during the last third of the twentieth century. But some traces of Goldman’s Rochester roots remain.

Born in 1869, in what is now Lithuania to an Orthodox Jewish family, Emma Goldman relocated to Rochester with her sister Helena in the winter of 1886. As Goldman later recalled in her autobiography, Living My Life:

“We had heard that Rochester was the “Flower City” of New York, but we arrived there on a bleak and cold January morning.”

The pair joined their sister Lena, who had already settled on Rochester’s northeast side and for a time boarded at 120 Kelly Street, near Hudson Avenue. Their parents, Abraham and Taube, arrived to town at the end of 1886, and made a home on St Joseph Street (now Joseph Avenue).

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120 Kelly Street, just west of Hudson Ave, City of Rochester Plat Map, 1888.

120 Kelly-now

The row of homes including 120 Kelly Street was later torn down and replaced with the Holland Townhouses in the late 1960s.

The Kelly Street residence was a ways away from Emma’s first place of employment, Garson, Meyer & Co., on North Saint Paul Street. The clothing company, like others in the local garment industry, employed countless Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Garson, Meyer & Co was located in the Nash Building at 39 North Saint Paul Street, seen here in this circa 1965 photo.

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The site today.

Emma instinctively drew comparisons between the Garson & Meyer factory and her cousin’s glove-making operation in Russia:

“The rooms were large, bright and airy. One had elbow space. There were none of those ill-smelling odours that used to nauseate me in our cousin’s shop,” she noted in her autobiography, “Yet the work here was harder, and the day, with only half an hour for lunch, seemed endless. The iron discipline forbade free movement…and the constant surveillance of the foreman weighed like a stone on my heart.”

The stifling environment and inequitable wages made an indelible mark on Emma’s conscience. When not toiling at the Garson & Meyer’s (and later Rubinstein’s) Factory, Goldman further fueled her political leanings by attending the weekly Sunday meetings of a German socialist group at Germania Hall at 424 North Clinton Avenue.


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Germania Hall, City of Rochester Plat Map, 1888.

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The site today: Alvin Wesley Child Development Center of the Baden Street Settlement

Per Goldman, “the gatherings were generally uninteresting, but they offered an escape from the grey dullness of my Rochester existence. There one heard, at least, something different from the everlasting talk about money and business, and one met people of spirit and ideas.”

As the recollections from her autobiography make clear, Goldman’s impressions of Rochester were less than stellar, and she left her family’s adopted hometown for New York City in 1889, just ten months after marrying a man who had also left much to be desired.

Goldman returned to Rochester on numerous occasions in the ensuing years after attaining both fame and infamy as an anarchist activist and writer.

Her skills as an orator drew packed audiences at Germania Hall as well as the Labor Lyceum on North St Paul Street.

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The Labor Lyceum as it appeared in the early twentieth century.

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580 St Paul Street today is now home to the Pentecostal Miracle Deliverance Church.

These speaking engagements had the added bonus of permitting Emma to make semi-regular visits to her parents, siblings and beloved nieces and nephews (among them sister Helena’s son, violin virtuoso, David Hochstein).

Goldman’s parents, Abraham and Taube, and the Hochsteins remained in the Joseph Avenue neighborhood for many years. Her father operated a furniture store on Joseph Ave (175 Joseph and later, 255 Joseph) in the years before his death in 1909.


Abraham Goldman’s furniture store at the corner of Joseph Avenue and Stepheny’s Place (a now defunct street in between Kelly and Baden streets).

EG- 175 joe now

Approximate site of the store is now home to Wilson Commencement Park.

Emma’s other siblings, like many former Jewish inhabitants of the 7th Ward, eventually left the area for Rochester’s southeast quadrant. Brother Herman lived on both Laburnum Crescent and Field Street in the Upper Monroe neighborhood and sister Lena found a home on Caroline Street in the Southwedge.

Goldman’s regular sojourns to Rochester came to a halt after she was deported in 1919 for obstructing the WWI draft.  She made two trips to the Flower City fifteen years later, during which she gave two lectures and stayed with Lena’s family on Caroline Street.

The first speech was presented to the Rochester City Club at the Powers Hotel on March 17, 1934.

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The Powers Hotel at the Northeast corner of W. Main Street and Fitzhugh Street.

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The Executive Building today.

She gave her final talk in Rochester at Convention Hall on April 15th, 1934.

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Convention Hall as it appeared in 1914.


The building is now home to Geva Theatre.

At her penultimate Rochester lecture, Goldman attempted to clarify her oft misconstrued mission, stating that above all she desired, “To make people thinkers. Ninety-nine percent of people don’t think. I don’t want converts to my credo—I want thinkers. I’m not an agitator—just an educator.”


-Emily Morry

Published in: on May 31, 2017 at 2:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

John Barleycorn Must Die: Alcohol and Temperance in Early Rochester

“There were three men came out of the west, their fortunes for to try
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die.”

– Opening of “John Barley Corn Must Die,” traditional English folksong

We saw in an earlier post how drunken revelers disrupted theatrical presentations in early Rochester. Many may not be aware that distilleries were  some of the first industries in this area. Although early Rochester is often seen as a wheat-growing and flour-milling area, many local farmers found growing corn and rye for sale to distilleries more profitable.


Wolcott Distillery (Clarissa Street, Rochester). Company founded in 1827. Building built in 1840 and razed in 1917.

Alcohol of various kinds had a prominent place in early Rochester. Taverns were among the first local businesses. In an era before hotels and motels, taverns served as boarding houses and restaurants for travelers passing through the area. They were also community gathering centers, where neighbors could drink, share news, tell stories and generally entertain themselves.

Liquor was considered indispensable to daily life. A jug of rum, whiskey, beer or other spirits was commonly passed around while raising a roof, harvesting a crop or working on other community projects. Troops in the Revolutionary War were frequently given a ration of 1 gill (4.16 fluid ounces) of whiskey per day or 1 ½ gill (6.25 fluid ounces) of rum per day. By comparison, most responsible contemporary drinkers of hard liquor only consume 1 or 2 fluid ounces per day. In areas where the water quality was questionable (giving rise to typhoid, malaria, and other diseases), the manufacture and consumption of alcoholic beverages (involving, as it does, boiling of water as an essential step) was considered healthier. In a time before the wide availability of prescription drugs, alcohol was even considered of medicinal value, for which many local grocers sold ardent spirits.

As we have seen, however, some people were more prodigal in their use of alcohol than others, leading to disruption of public activities and arrests for public drunkenness. By the late 1820s, public tolerance of the use of alcohol began to change. In 1827, the Rochester Presbytery (following the example of its national body, the Presbyterian Church) passed a resolution that “temperate use of ardent spirits … is to be avoided and discouraged.”  The following year the first public meeting was held at the Monroe County Court House to discuss the issue. Dr. Joseph Penney of the First Presbyterian Church urged his fellow clergy to ban social drinking altogether from church gatherings. In 1829, there were 14 grocers on the east side of the Genesee River, 12 of whom sold alcohol. The following year, only 6 did so.

The number of grocers on the west side selling alcohol was not reported, but many (including Austin Steward), voluntarily refused to sell alcohol, even though the profits from such sales were high. William Bloss dumped alcohol from his East Avenue tavern into the canal. P.G. Jones got rid of the alcohol from his bar in the National Hotel and reopened it as a temperance house. Several other temperance houses opened as well. Although they were frequented by temperance advocates, these alcohol-free establishments’ profits were lower than conventional taverns.


William Bloss (1795-1863) Temperance Advocate, Abolitionist and Women’s Suffrage Advocate

Of course, drinkers, tavern owners and other citizens did not necessarily agree with the growing temperance and abstention movements of the era. Debate over the role of alcohol in national and civic life would continue throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, culminating in the passage of the 18th amendment (which prohibited the manufacture and sale of “intoxicating liquors”) in 1919 and its repeal 14 years later with the 21st amendment.

-Christopher Brennan

Published in: on May 23, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Passing the Time in Rochesterville: Leisure Activities in the Emerging Community

Think for a moment of the pastimes available to modern Rochesterians: sporting events, concerts, theaters, parks, libraries, museums, movies, television programs, and streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. The leisure options are almost limitless.

How did residents of an emerging 19th century village like Rochester relax?

Initially, they made their own fun. One of the earliest accounts we have for leisure activities in Rochesterville is a narrative that describes the citizens jumping (presumably in long jump contests) and racing across the Main Street Bridge.


Conclusion of a Foot Race (1913) at Genesee Valley Park

They also indulged in tugs of war. Instead of using a rope, however, the rivals used a long wooden pole, with the loser being forced to cross a predetermined line.

As the village grew, and particularly after the Erie Canal opened (permitting greater access to the village), visiting theatrical companies came to town. Like travelling circuses, they often put up temporary shelters for their productions. As the community grew further, and turnout justified the expense, permanent theaters were established (initially leased, later purchased or built from scratch).

The productions often stressed melodramas (i.e., plays emphasizing sensational situations that appealed to the emotions rather than subtle character development). In these plays, characters were often stereotyped, being either totally good or totally evil.

Some melodramas had local themes (e.g., “The Vale of the Genesee, or The Big-Tree Chief”); some of them did not (e.g., “Therese, The Orphan of Geneva”). Also popular were farces, absurd or nonsensical situation comedies involving elaborate plot twists, and ethnic and physical humor (e.g., “The Irishman in London”). Where appropriate, the productions included songs, either as part of the production or during intermission.

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Empire Theatre ca. 1900 Featuring Productions of Farce, Melodrama, Vaudeville and Burlesque

Of course, not everyone was happy with these productions. A  letter to the editor of a local newspaper describing the interaction between audience and players provides a clue to another leisure activity of early Rochester. The letter, signed only “A Citizen,” complains these productions are “an evil that cannot be too highly spoken against.”

He notes “the most ridiculous and disgraceful raillery” being carried on by the audience, spouting “the most vile and wanton language.” Due to the noise of the crowd, many others in the audience had trouble hearing the play and left early.

What was the reason behind the unruly behavior? The Citizen attributes it to their being drunk. The pit in the theater was where the least expensive seats were situated, and  it also included a bar where liquor could be sold throughout the performance. To hear the Citizen tell it, many came to drink and not to hear the play. Debate about the use and abuse of alcohol would continue to be a source of contention in Rochester until the end of Prohibition.


-Christopher Brennan


Published in: on May 16, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

“Genesee Fever” and other Illnesses in Early Rochester

One of the greatest hardships to be overcome in early Rochester was illness. We have already seen how the building of Hamlet Scrantom’s first home was delayed because its construction crew fell ill. This was no doubt due to “Genesee fever,” a common umbrella term for a variety of maladies that came with accompanying fevers. Most likely the cause was either typhoid or malaria.

In April and May 1812 (the time was Scrantom was moving to his new home) typhoid was making an appearance in the Genesee Country. Later that summer, dysentery was common. The following year, typhoid recurred, affecting principally the lungs and the brain of those afflicted. As terrible as that sounds, the latter condition was commonly less fatal than typhoid, which affected the throat alone. Symptoms included chills, pain in the head, back, loins and side; and coughing up blood.

By 1820, other illnesses had made their way to the area. These included pleurisy (a form of pneumonia involving inflammation of the lining between the lungs and the chest wall), measles, whooping cough and a reappearance of dysentery.  Tuberculosis (then known as “consumption” or “the King of Terrors”) was a common visitor. So too was smallpox (despite the fact that even then a vaccine was available).

Genesee Fever-cholera

1832 Handbill for preventing Cholera

The aforementioned illnesses affected individuals, rather than the community as a whole. The first major ailment commonly seen as an epidemic occurred in 1832, when Rochester was visited by cholera. Death was a common result. In the first few months of the epidemic, 57 people died of the disease, and in July of that year, 11 deaths were reported in one day alone. The same thing happened in August. Infants and children were common victims. One thousand people (10% of the population) fled the village to avoid the disease, and those with nowhere to go locked themselves in their homes. Normal village life temporarily came to a stop. By the time the scourge had passed in September, 400 cases had been reported and 118 deaths had been attributed to the disease.

Medical practice at the time was rather primitive, and by modern standards almost barbaric. Bleeding was not uncommon. Bleeding involved opening a vein in the forearm or neck (either with a needle or leeches) and releasing enough blood until the patient fainted. Another common treatment was administering an emetic (a substance to induce vomiting) or a laxative. One did not want to have to be under a doctor’s care in early Rochester!

Before the advent of modern medicines and vaccines, the most effective method for dealing with illness was prevention. The marshy land around the village was drained (depriving mosquitos of breeding grounds). Strict ordinances governing trash and latrines were imposed. When individual cases of communicable diseases were uncovered, the person was “quarantined” in an isolated house away from the village. Concerns about the local water supply were addressed by public support for digging private wells. Despite these precautions, cholera and other diseases continued to be a frequent visitor to Rochester until the 20th century.

Christopher Brennan

Published in: on May 9, 2017 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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

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

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

I hadn’t.

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

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


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

I decided to find out.

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


carver_1875 plat map

City of Rochester Plat Map, 1875.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

carver-1935 top map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

carver_sanborn close up

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


-Emily Morry

Published in: on April 29, 2017 at 1:40 pm  Comments (5)  

Rochester’s First Settler: Hamlet Scrantom (1 December 1772-10 April 1850)

In previous blog posts, we have noted that the first settler on the Hundred Acre Tract was Hamlet Scrantom (1 December 1773-10 April 1850), whose cabin sat on the site of what is now the Powers Building in downtown Rochester. Who was he?  What do we know of his life, and what legacy did he leave behind?

Hamlet Scrantom-portrait

Original Rochester pioneer, Hamlet Scrantom (1772-1850)



Scrantom was born 1 December 1772 in Durham (Middlesex County), Connecticut, the son of Lieutenant Abraham Scrantom (1749-1836), a Revolutionary War soldier, and his wife Hannah Camp (1753-1810).  Hamlet married Hannah Dimick (22 May 1774-6 February 1862) on August 20, 1794 and with her had seven children who lived to adulthood: Delia Scrantom (later Mrs. Jehiel Barnard); Henry Scrantom; Elbert W. Scrantom; Edwin Scrantom; Hamlet D. Scrantom; Hannah Scrantom (later Mrs. Martin Briggs); and Mary Jane Scrantom. The couple also had another son, Hamlet T. Scrantom, who died at the age of five.

In 1805, Hamlet and Hannah moved to Turin, New York, where he became an important figure. He served as a Justice of the Peace and a side judge of the county court. A side judge was a non-lawyer who served as an assistant judge, often judging matters of fact (as opposed to interpreting the law). Hamlet also worked as a local land agent and town supervisor of Turin the year before he left for western New York.

Why the family left Turin in 1812 is not clear, but former City Historian Blake McKelvey believed the heavy snows in the Tug Hill plateau led the family to seek a “milder climate.” In any case, that April the family set out with their possessions in a covered wagon drawn by two oxen. They arrived in Rochesterville on May 1st, only to discover a half-constructed cabin. Construction had come to a halt on the new home due to illness (likely malaria or typhoid). Once the workmen recovered, construction continued. In the interim, the family occupied a cabin owned by Enos Stone (the land agent for Colonel Rochester), whose home was not in the Hundred Acre Tract, but on the east side of the river, about where Stone Street (named for him) and the South Avenue Garage are today. The Scrantom family moved into their new home on July 4, 1812.

His first priorities after moving in was to clear the land around his new home, kill the snakes and plant a crop for the family, but his stint with the Stone family was not wasted.  He operated Stone’s sawmill on the east side of the river, before transferring his services to Francis Brown’s mill at the main falls in 1813. Over the years, he invested locally in land, worked as a grocer, established Rochester’s first bakery with Jehiel Barnard, and operated a boarding house. He also worked as a sales agent for the construction company working on the Erie Canal.

Hamlet Scrantom-cabin

Model of Hamlet Scrantom’s cabin, the first home built by a white settler in Rochesterville

His charitable endeavors were also impressive. He was one of the original congregants of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, and in July, 1820 he pledged $7.00 (“in flour or goods”) to build the present church building. He also served as the sexton of St. Luke’s from 1826 to 1833 (caring for the church building and its surrounding property). He was also one of the organizers of the first school in Rochesterville. In 1847, he co-founded a new organization called The Pioneer Association. Membership was open to those who had lived in the area for 25 years or more (i.e. since 1822). Hamlet Scrantom served as its first President.

Hamlet Scrantom died in Rochester at the age of 78 on April 10, 1850. Those seeking his legacy need only look around them.  Scrantom recruited others to join him in Rochester and his continued and successful presence drew others in his wake.  He contributed to the development of village, including the milling industry (hence Rochester’s earliest nickname as “The Flour City”). He co-founded St. Luke’s (now St. Luke’s and St. Simon’s) Episcopal Church, Rochester’s second-oldest congregation, as well as the Pioneer Association, helping to preserve the earliest history of the community.  He also helped to establish Rochester’s first school, providing a legacy of knowledge and skills to all the settlers’ descendants.  While he accomplished none of these things alone, he was instrumental in seeing them done. We would not be where we are today without him and his efforts.

Christopher Brennan


Published in: on April 18, 2017 at 3:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Life in Rochesterville, 1812-1827

Rochester’s first permanent settler, Hamlet Scrantom, settled here in 1812, the site being what is now the Powers Building at the Four Corners (the intersection of West Main and State Streets). On March 21, 1817 Rochesterville was incorporated as a village (losing the “ville” suffix five years later).

What was life like in the earliest years of the village? Fortunately, some early residents left memories of those days. Near the end of his life, Edwin Scrantom (9 May 1803-3 October 1880), son of Hamlet Scrantom, left recollections of the earliest days in the village:

“It was a wild and deserted place. It was more. Not merely was it a wilderness and … cheerless in daytime and doubly dark and dreary in the night, but clustering on either side of the river and running from it for a goodly distance was a thick jungle of all kinds of dogwood, elder, birch and choke-cherry … brambles and blue-beech … in to whose tops were matted ivy and wild grape vines, and under this tangled canopy wild beasts crouched and serpents innumerable crawled. That was Rochester in 1812.”

The Scrantoms had hoped to have a home waiting for them when they reached the settlement, but they were sorely disappointed. The Scrantoms found “the logs rolled up for the body of the house with an opening left for a door and another for a window, but without roof or fireplace or floor.”   The delay was caused by workmen coming down with what later settlers referred to as “Genesee fever” (likely malaria or typhoid). Following recovery that work resumed. The Scrantoms moved into their new house on July 4, 1812.

Even after construction, life was not easy. Says Scrantom:

“Mosquitos … annoyed us much and nightly we were obliged to kindle smoldering fires on the outside to prevent their eating us up alive. In the daytime, we could hear and see in the neighboring swamp the wild deer as they came to the deer lick near the corner of [West Main Street] and [North Plymouth Avenue], and at night we could hear the mournful hoot owl, the sharp barking of the fox, and occasionally the howl of the wolf.”


Artist’s rendering of earliest Rochesterville, with the Half-Constructed Main Street Bridge in the Foreground, and Hamlet Scrantom’s Cabin in the Background

Another early pioneer, Jesse Hatch, provides a description of a developing Rochester in 1823, six years after the village’s incorporation:

“No paved streets – sidewalks made of slabs liable to be removed by heavily loaded trucks, conveying logs through the streets. During the rainy season in fall and spring, vehicles of all kinds might be seen in front of the [Reynolds] Arcade, floating up to their hubs in a sea of mud – there was a tan bark pile at Front and Corinthian Streets – the streets were filled with teams and wagons, laden with lumber from Allegheny County, tan bark from eastern towns, farm produce from the surrounding country, prairie schooners bound for the West and with an occasional run-away, frightened by the fife and drum of the military company on parade.”

“There were few dwellings … The Catholic Church at Platt and Frank Streets [the former St. Patrick’s Cathedral, no longer existing] had the forest for a background. The business part was bounded on the north by The Mansion House [tavern] at State and Market; on the south by the canal; on the east by the river and the west by Fitzhugh Street. The Eagle Hotel at the Four Corners had a watering trough in front of it. On approaching the village via the Buffalo Road (West Main Street) in winter, frequently a stream of teams loaded with firewood would force the traveler to fall in line, waiting for a place to pass.”

Life in Rocville- 1814 map

Map of Rochester, 1814.

Let us all give thanks for pioneers who laid the foundations of the city we know today.

Christopher Brennan

Published in: on April 11, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment