No Selling Gunpowder by Candlelight: The Earliest Laws of Rochesterville

There are generally two types of laws: positive laws (those that seek to encourage the good in a society); and negative laws (those that seek to prevent the bad). Examples of the former are tax laws that encourage home ownership and donations to charity, while examples of the latter include prohibitions on drunk driving and drug use. Thus, one can tell a great deal about a society – its good and bad practices – by studying the laws it imposes.

How is this relevant to early Rochester? We forget how different early village life was from the present city we all know. Those differences are brought to mind by examining some of the activities prohibited in the earliest laws passed by the village trustees in 1817 and 1818:

  • No ball playing or games;
  • No firing of any gun, pistol, rocket or firework within 200 feet of any building;
  • No setting of any fire in the streets, alleys or backyards after sunset;
  • No horse racing;
  • No allowing of any animal to run at large (e.g., cows, horses, swine, sheep, etc.);
  • No animal may be slaughtered within 50 feet of the bridge; (i.e. the Main Street bridge)
  • No leaving dead animals or tainted meat on ground within one half mile of bridge;
  • No bathing (i.e., swimming) in the river between sunrise and 8:00 p.m.;
  • No selling of any liquor on Sundays;
  • No more than 6 pounds of gunpowder to be kept by anyone in the village;
  • No selling, dealing or weighing gunpowder by candlelight.

The rationale for some of these laws can be seen in some of the earliest positive regulations:

  • All fireplaces, ovens, chimneys and stove tops shall be kept clean and in good repair;
  • Each person to provide themselves one fire bucket;
  • Homes with more than four residents shall have two fire buckets, with their names painted upon them.

    Records of the Doings of the Trustees of the Village of Rochester  (Photo from the Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, R.M.S.C.)

    Penalties for violating these initial regulations varied from a minimum of 50 cents to a maximum of $5.00. This may not seem like much, but we must recall that the average laborer earned 50 cents a day or less; thus, the penalties ranged from a whole day’s wage to 10 days’ earnings.

    Why were the penalties so severe?

    We must remember that Rochesterville was a settlement cut out of the wilderness, much of it made out of wood. In the days before a professional fire department was established, a fire could only be fought by the affected family and their neighbors with fire buckets. Fire represented a potential loss of life, limb and savings for the individual, and it had the potential to spread–a risk the village was at pains to prevent. Hence the prohibition of any activity that might lead to fire, such as having open fires in the streets, using fireworks, and working with gunpowder near candles, etc. This is also why there laws in place to keep stoves and chimneys clean and in working order, and to encourage residents to have their own fire buckets handy.

    laws-fire buckets

    19th Century Fire Buckets
    (Printed in Rochester Herald, October 27, 1907. Photo from the Albert R. Stone Negative Collection. R.M.S.C.)

    Another consideration was the protection of the village’s water supply. Today, Rochester’s drinking water is piped in from the Finger Lakes. In those days, the only source of water was the river. Anything that contaminated the river risked contaminating the community. Rochester was already concerned with natural diseases (e.g., typhoid and malaria). It did not wish to run the risk of man-made epidemics or an onslaught of pestilence.

    Then, of course there were the laws that facilitated communal life. Some, like the ban on ball playing and the prohibition of selling liquor on Sundays, were designed to uphold communal moral standards. Others, like the ban on letting animals go free (or the ban on horse racing) were designed to prevent the human residents from being trampled upon or interfered with by the cows, sheep, pigs and other livestock kept by the residents.

    These laws seem quaint to us now. Which of our laws and regulations will seem quaint to our descendants?


    Firemen with Equipment (1861?)

    -Christopher Brennan

Published in: on December 7, 2017 at 3:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Strange Case of Dr. Tumblety and Mr. Ripper, Part Two


“A Suspicious Character,” From the Illustrated London News, October 13, 1888.

As we saw in a recent post, one of the suspects behind the Jack the Ripper killings was a former Rochester resident.

Dr. Francis Tumblety’s career as a charlatan physician and his propensity for scandal took him from Rochester to various cities across the United States and Canada in the 19th century before he found himself peddling a pimple cure in England during the time of the infamous Whitechapel murders.

On November 7, 1888, London police picked up Tumblety on a “gross indecency” (most likely homosexual activity) charge, but he was kept in custody as a potential Ripper suspect after Scotland Yard deemed him to be a dangerous character.

He was nevertheless eventually freed on bail for the initial charge, and quickly absconded to Le Havre where he boarded a New York-bound ship under a false name.


Headline from the New York World, December 2, 1888.

When word of the arrest crossed the pond, newspapers in Rochester and beyond penned sensational pieces recollecting the quack doctor’s eccentric behaviours and the laundry list of petty crimes that had been attached to Tumblety’s name over the years.

Rochester residents who knew Tumblety as a young man also put in their two cents in the pages of the local press.

Captain W.C. Streeter, who used to see Tumblety hawking controversial literature to packet boat travelers on the Erie Canal, was in no way shocked by the accusations.

“I thought then that his mind had been affected by those books he sold, and am not at all surprised to hear his name mentioned in connection with the Whitechapel murders,” Streeter informed the Democrat & Chronicle in December 1888.

The same article included the impressions of erstwhile Rochester resident, Edward Haywood, who described the young Tumblety as an “ignorant…good-for-nothing boy” before declaring, “I should not be the least surprised if he turned out to be Jack the Ripper.”

The most damning testament to Tumblety’s (nefarious) character that surfaced in the wake of the Whitechapel news, came from a Civil War veteran by the name of Colonel C.A. Dunham. Dunham claimed that years before, he had attended a dinner party at Tumblety’s home in Washington, D.C., at which the doctor proudly displayed a collection of human uteruses in mason jars.

Dunham also revealed that Tumblety had told him a story that seemingly suggested the source of the doctor’s alleged antipathy towards women. According to the Colonel, Tumblety had fallen in love with an older woman when he was a young man. The pair married, but the relationship met an abrupt end after Tumblety discovered his wife working in a brothel.

Dunham’s recollections sounded a number of alarms to those seeking to link Tumblety to the Whitechapel murders. Jack the Ripper was a misogynist by all accounts and he chose prostitutes as his prey. He also disemboweled his victims, making Tumblety’s anatomical collection all the more curious.

Also curious was the fact that the London slayings ended after Tumblety left England.

So why did Francis Tumblety get off scot-free?

The doctor may have fit the bill in terms of motives and timing, but there was no actual hard evidence connecting Tumblety to the crimes. Moreover, Jack the Ripper’s profile suggested he was not a particularly large specimen of a man, unlike the physically imposing doctor.

Tumblety’s name continued to resurface in American headlines for months after the murders, but he all but disappeared from publications overseas. This was likely due in part to the fact that Scotland Yard did not wish to suffer further embarrassment for having let one of its prime suspects escape. They also had a roster of other potential criminal candidates to consider.

Chief Inspector John Littlechild, who headed the search for Ripper, nevertheless remained convinced that Tumblety was the culprit decades after the murders had taken place. A letter he penned in 1913 stating as much has served as the primary evidence driving Tumblety’s continued association with the killings among some Ripper researchers.


Riordan’s 2009 book is one of several works that have included Francis Tumblety as a prime suspect in the Whitechapel murders.

Other scholars are doubtful that Dr. Tumblety was anything more than an eccentric character with a penchant for petty crimes and controversy.

Many of Tumblety’s contemporaries felt the same. When asked if he thought the doctor was behind the Ripper slayings, a New York City detective familiar with Tumblety exclaimed, “Why he hasn’t the nerve of a chicken. He just had nerve enough to put some molasses and water together and label it a medicine—the biggest nerve being in the label-and sell it.”

-Emily Morry

Published in: on November 30, 2017 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Eliminating a Founder: the Origin of State Street

In 1800, three men came to western New York to review sites for the settlement that would become Rochester. The three included: Nathaniel Rochester (who would give his name to the new community); William Fitzhugh (for whom Rochester named one of the original thoroughfares, Fitzhugh Street); and Charles Carroll of Belle Vue (as he signed himself, November 7, 1767-October 28, 1823), for whom another of the original roads was named, Carroll Street. Today Carroll Street and Charles Carroll are gone and almost forgotten.

This is the story of why Carroll was written out of our history (and the later attempt to rectify the omission).


Charles Carroll of Belle Vue (1767-1823)
Upstate Magazine, Democrat and Chronicle, December 27, 1981, p. 14

Charles Carroll of Belle Vue came from a large, prosperous, and respectable family. Many  members of the family were named “Charles,” which necessitated the use of modifiers to identify each. The American ancestor of the clan was Charles Carroll, “The Settler” (1660?-1 July 1720), who was Attorney General of the colony of Maryland. The Settler’s grandson, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, “The Signer” (September 19, 1737-November 14, 1832), was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and later a U.S. Senator.  Among other members of the extended clan were Daniel Carroll (July 22, 1730-May 7, 1796), a signer of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States. Daniel’s brother, John Carroll (January 8, 1735-December 3, 1815), was the first American Catholic bishop and later Archbishop of Baltimore.

Our Charles was born in Frederick County, Maryland. In 1789, he moved westward to Washington County, Maryland, where he built a large estate named Belle Vue near Hagerstown, Maryland. The 1803-1804 tax roll testifies to his wealth. The document affirms that he had 27 horses, 100 head of cattle, and 28 slaves. By the time he moved permanently to the Genesee Country in 1815, he reportedly had at least 40 slaves.

It was in Hagerstown that he made the acquaintance of both Nathaniel Rochester and William Fitzhugh. In 1807, he was elected a director of the Hagerstown Bank. Fitzhugh was another director, while Rochester was the founder of the firm and served as President. The three became close friends and shared an interest in land speculation, which led them to travel to various portions of the country seeking properties to acquire and develop.

When Nathaniel Rochester relocated to New York, he settled first in Dansville and then to the village named after him. Carroll moved to New York in 1815, settling in Groveland (Livingston County, near Geneseo). Despite the distance between them, Carroll and Rochester were in constant contact. As noted, the respect Rochester had for his partners can be seen by the fact that he named two of the original streets for them.

carroll-map 1827

Carroll Street and Fitzhugh Street can be seen in this 1827 map. NB: Buffalo Street is now West Main Street. (Elisha Johnson, directory map of the village of Rochester, 1827)

Today Carroll Street no longer exists. Why is that?

Nathaniel Rochester died on May 17, 1831. Four months later, on September 13, 1831, the Common Council voted to rename Carroll Street “State Street.” This was a result of a lawsuit the village had lost. The community had wanted a site for a public market and sought to obtain property owned by Charles Holker Carroll (Belle Vue’s son) for the purpose. A dispute arose over Holker’s continued use of the property he had sold to the town. When the matter couldn’t be resolved, Holker took the town to court. He won the case, and the Common Council, in a fit of pique, changed the name of the street, writing Holker’s father out of Rochester’s history.

One hundred and forty years later, the City Council of Rochester sought to rectify the omission. On July 10, 1973 the City Council passed another resolution that “the park facility known as Genesee Crossroads Park West be renamed ‘Charles Carroll Park’ in honor of Major Charles Carroll, one of the co-founders of the City of Rochester.”


Charles Carroll Park (1987)

-Christopher Brennan

Published in: on November 9, 2017 at 2:56 pm  Comments (2)  

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

tumblety-pow 3

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Happy Halloween!


-Emily Morry







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

Lost Settlements: Fort Schuyler and the Town of Tryon

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

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

Tryon- fort schuyler

Historical reenactment of Fort Schuyler (1999)

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

Tryon- Indian Landing marker

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

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

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

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


-Christopher Brennan









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

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

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

FF-1870 map.jpg

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

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

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

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

FF-sam patch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

FF- 1888 map

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

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


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

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

-Emily Morry




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

McCrackenville, The Town Which Isn’t There

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

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

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


Map of McCrackenville (1826)

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

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

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

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

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

mccrackenville- falls

McCrackenville (ca 1906-1910)

-Christopher Brennan

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

A Rochester Retrospective: New Exhibit in Local History!

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


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

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


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

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

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

2017-canal 1.jpg

A circa 1853 lithograph picturing the Erie Canal.


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

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

2017-Erie Canal

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

2017-sba house

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

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

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

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

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

-Emily Morry


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

The Rapids: A History of Castletown

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


The Rapids Cemetery, Congress Avenue near Genesee Street

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

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

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


The Genesee Rapids, near Brooks Avenue (1902)

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

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


The Genesee Rapids, near Brooks Avenue (2008)

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

Castletown-Melrose St

Melrose Street in the 19th Ward, ca 1994.

-Christopher Brennan


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

Fall Town: A Brief Sketch of Hanford’s Landing


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


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

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

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


Path from Lake Avenue Down to the Landing (1905)

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

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

hanford-steamboat tavern

Steamboat Hotel (later Hanford Tavern, 1809-1884)


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

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


-Christopher Brennan

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