"WELCOME STRANGER." Those words have been on Avon's doormat always.
The visitor to Mount Morris catches the spirit of a busy marketplace. In Geneseo there is a flutter of heraldic banners. Avon, northernmost of the three Valley villages, breathes peace and friendliness and hospitality.
It is more than a tradition. It is bred in the very bones of Avon. This old town has always played the role of Mine Host, standing with outstretched hand of greeting athwart the great highroad that reaches across the state.
From its beginning, Avon has been the place on the main trail where at end of weary day the traveler found food and drink and good company and a cheery fireside and shelter. It is "covert from the tempest . . . as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."
Long before the white man came to "The Pleasant Valley" of the Senecas, Avon was catering to "the tourist trade," As Canawaugus, which means in the Indian tongue, "Stinking Waters," it was a favorite rendezvous for wandering tribesmen. It lay on the Great Trail that led from the Hudson through the wilds to the Niagara and the fame of its healing mineral waters had spread afar in the domain of the Iroquois. Many an ailing brave came to the riverside village to bathe in the sulphur waters so venerated by the medicine men.
Avon's first permanent white settler was a tavern keeper. When the pioneers cleared a little settlement in the woods that they called Hartford after an older town in their native Connecticut, the lights of the Berry Tavern beckoned many a tired wayfarer riding the rutty trails. There was the rope ferry by which he could cross the river. There was built the first bridge across the Genesee.
In frontier times, the great blazing fireplace of the Hosmer Stand lured Seneca, settler and illustrious visitor alike. On its register were written the names of Louis Philippe, who was to become a king of France; Joseph Bonaparte, Winfield Scott and Joseph Brant.
Down the historic turnpike across which surged the tide of travel of a young and growing America thundered the stage coaches, to pull up with blast of horn and flourish of reins and whip before the inns of Avon.
Then came the days of Avon's greatest glory, when it was another Saratoga. Huge wooden hotels rose beside the sulphur springs and in the nearby village. Rich Southern planters and their languid ladies lolled on the wide verandas and danced in the pavilions. Blooded horses raced around the half mile track of Congress Park. They were the gayest days the Valley ever knew, those days before the Civil War. The conflict robbed the Spa of the generous patronage of Dixie but for 30 years Avon lingered on as a health resort, although most of the big hotels burned down and once exclusive Congress Park became a rather boisterous amusement center. The star of Avon Springs set long ago and now it is only a ghostly pasture where cattle crop the marsh grass.
But in the village, which through all the 150 years has retained the New England flavor of its founders, the old traditions still prevail. The hand of welcome is still stretched out across the shady old public square that stands in the center of the road across the state.
* * * * *
I had visited Avon many times before but never had the village with its trim, green lawns and spreading trees looked so inviting as when on one of the hottest days of summer, I rounded the bend at Spring and Genesee Streets.
Even the glorious Valley landscape does not entirely compensate for aching feet, especially when the mercury is flirting with the nineties.
I had walked every inth of the nine miles from Geneseo.
It was the same magic carpet I had trod since I came down Squawkie Hill on to the Mount Morris flats where the river joins the Valley of its name. The rolling hills become gentler as the Genesee glides northward. Avon seems to stand on a wide plain although in the distance there are always the protecting hills.
Through a roadside corn patch walked a Negro in the warm sunshine, four pickaninnies in his wake. Was this Western New York or the Southern Bluegrass? For here was "the low green valley, the corntop was ripe and the meadow was in bloom."
Just then a flat, nasal voice, that of a white farmer adjuring his team to "Giddap, dang ye," told me unmistakeably that I was still in Western New York and that the old Kentucky home was far away.
Many of the miles I had walked had been along Wadsworth land as the "no trespass" signs attested. There are other estates along the road. They belong to later comets to the Valley. The manor houses are not so pretentious as the ones in Geneseo or so well hidden behind the trees.
But still there is Ashantee,
* * * * *
The verse is from "The Indian and His River," by Carlton Burke, formerly of the Rochester Museum staff, now of the United States Army.
I had come to a place called Ashantee.
The stream that falls down there, tumbling twelve feet over Triphammer Falls, is the Conesus outlet on its way to join the Genesee, The glen and pond form one of the most picturesque spots in the region. For years it has been a favorite picnic spot.
When the Herbert Wadsworths built a stone mansion on the hill south of the stream, they called it Ashantee. It means "a shantee," a fancy pioneer name for shanty. But what a magnificent shanty arose there behind the thick shrubbery.
The late mistress of that mansion was one of the most remarkable women of the Valley. Mrs. Wadsworth for the most part managed a 10,000-acre estate. She was instrumental in improving the Valley horseflesh by importing stallions and brood mares. She founded the Breeders' Association whose show is still held annually at old Avon Springs and which in happier times brought notable horsemen from all over the country to the Valley.
Mrs. Wadsworth was an accomplished equiestrienne. In 1910 she rode 212 miles in 19 hours and 20 minutes in an endurance test. Army officers were required to ride only 90 miles in three consecutive days in similar tests but on the same horse. Mrs. W changed mounts three times. In 1912 she rode 900 miles on horseback in 30 days from Washington to Ashantee via West Virginia. This feat is believed to have set a record for woman riders.
Mrs. Wadsworth and her husband are both dead and their niece, who married a member of the old Russian nobility, lives at Ashantee, where the count is trying his hand at farming the many acres. For a time he "angeled" a tea room by the roadside opposite the mansion and a dancing pavilion in the glen but gasoline restrictions nipped the projects.
There are a score of buildings-servants' quarters, tenant houses, stables, graneries-on the Ashantee estate. And there is the one-time armory of the Cavalry troop, abandoned in favor of the newer one at Geneseo through the influence of the Geneseo Wadsworths. Until recently the old armory was used as a riding stable.
West of Ashantee at the forks of the road are a huddle of houses and a feed mill, It is all that is left of Littleville, once an important community because of its waterpower. It got its name from Norman Little, a pioneer. There James and William Wadsworth established prior to 1797 the first permanent flouring mill in the Genesee Valley. It was burned in 1864 but rebuilt as a paper mill. Some of the walls are still standing. One of the old millstones is preserved in the modern bridge which in 1940 replaced the old three-arch bridge. There are traces of the old dam abutments and of the mill race. W. E. Light today operates a flour and feed mill on the historic site, a mill which in season still uses waterpower. That mill and its sylvan setting are worth going miles to see.
An artist was sketching the abandoned five-arch bridge and the rippling waters of Conesus outlet as I plodded down the road to take another look at the silent, ghostly glade that is Avon Springs and once was a famous watering place.
* * * * *
Avon Springs is much the same as when the medicine men of the Senecas first sought its potent waters. Rank underbrush covers the site of Congress Hall and Knickerbocker Hall and the Argyle House and the other hotels that once housed the elite and long ago were destroyed by fire or torn down. One was moved away in sections, was reassembled and still stands at McPherson's Point on Conesus Lake.
Grass is creeping over the old racetrack where the great Dexter hung up a world's record of 2:31 in 1866. The wooden shell of the old grandstand still stands, relic of the days of the County Fair and the excursion throngs that visited Congress Park, back in the motorless 90s. Those were the days when long trains filled with picnickers pulled into the old Spring Street crossing.
Unchanged by time, the stench of the blue-gray water fills the air today just as it did when the first bathhouse rose at the springs in 1821. Beside the Lower Springs, the largest of the five in the neighborhood, Richard Wadsworth a distant kinsman of James and William, erected a crude "showering box." It was the birth of a spa that endured for nearly 60 years.
People came from afar, by stagecoach and canal packet and later by rail, to take the water cure at the springs and in the village, a half mile away, where the wood and brick United States Hotel sprawled over a whole block, That structure went up in flames a February night in 1874. It was a spectacle so awesome that for ears Avon people dated all events as "before or after the big fire."
Now the only remnants of Avon's heyday as a health resort are the rambling wooden Livingston House opposite the square and so reminiscent of Saratoga, and the white-pillared, colonial Avon Inn, that was once a private mansion and later the Avon Sanitarium with a sulphur spring in its back yard.
Avon Water once was shipped in bottles all over the world. Now it runs to waste in the ghostly pasture that was once a famous spa.
In Rochester there lives an old gentleman who as a boy well knew the springs of Avon in their fading glory. His name is Samuel P. Harman and his father was manager of the Congress Park bath house, which was patronized by many notable guests.
In particular he remembers a choleric harvester magnate who carried a gold-headed cane. His name was McCormick. One day when the senior Harman dunned the millionaire for a bath bill, McCormick flew into a rage and struck the bath house manager with his cane. It was not a hard blow and Harman hardly felt it.
But his son, now a gray haired man, will never forget the vengeful joy that surged through his being when a stone, hurled with all the force of a young body, burning with anger over the affront to a well loved parent, struck a certain harvester king squarely in the back.
Avon Springs calls back memories of the five-day endurance run of 1923. Among the riders who left the Springs to conquer the hills and vales of the countryside for two days, only to have his mount falter on the third, was a slim major of the Third United States Cavalry. His brother officers called him "Skinny." That rider was Maj. Gen. Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright, defender of Manila, now a prisoner of war of the Japs.
* * * * *
Across the stage of Avon's history have stalked some picturesque and significant figures.
One was a fabulous Seneca war chief, old Can-ne-hoot, who led his braves to battle against the French under Denonville in 1687. This chief has been glorified in verse by William C. H. Hosmer, the poet of Avon, whose "Yonnondio" has some of the swing and sweep of Sir Walter Scott's "Lady of the Lake."
Canawaugus was the birthplace of the Seneca statesman, Cornplanter, and his half-brother, Handsome Lake, the Peace Prophet. Cornplanter was half white. His father was an Albany trader named O'Bale. This chief was mighty in battle and eloquent and sagacious at the council fires. He played a leading part in the treaties the whites made with the Senecas after the Revolution.
Handsome Lake was the evangelist of his people. His call to save them came to him in a vision while he was sleeping off a debauch. He took the pledge and spent his life preaching the gospel of temperance and the evils of the white man's firewater to his people.
Avon's first white settler, Gilbert R. Berry, built a trading post and tavern near Canawaugus in 1789, a year before the Wadsworth brothers came to Big Tree. His rope ferry was an ingenious contrivance. The boat was large enough to transport settlers' wagons across the river. It operated by means of a rope attached to trees on either side of the bank. The ends of the boat were connected by pulleys on the rope so that the craft could be inclined to the current of the stream and the river itself furnished the motive power.
Berry's Tavern was a bright spot in the widerness and after his death in 1797, presumably from Genesee fever, his widow carried on, even operating the rope ferry until the first bridge was built across the Genesee in 1804. She refused to sell firewater to the Indians despite all their cajolery and threats.
Another important early settler was Dr. Timothy Hosmer, physician, jurist, politician, land owner, tavern keeper. This Connecticut Yankee, a tall, corpulent, scholarly man, who wore breeches of soft deerskin and tied his powdered wig with a ribbon, gave the settlement its first name of Hartford. He was the grandfather of the poet Hosmer.
Another leading citizen of the early days was Thomas Wiard, who manufactured plows at East Avon from 1830 to 1877 and was the founder of a sizeable industry.
* * * * *
There always has been rivalry between Avon and Geneseo.
In 1805 when Hartford was a postoffice and his Geneseo was not, James Wadsworth complained bitterly to the powers that be. Within a year he had his postoffiec and mail was carried between the two villages, nine miles apart, every two weeks.
In Avon eyes, Geneseo is the schoolgirl who puts on airs because she has a gayer hair ribbon and comes from a showier house. Geneseo's reply is a studied indifference.
In peacetime the villages could battle out their differences on the baseball diamond or at volunteer firemen's tournaments. The war that has taken so many of her young men away from the Valley, has also put a damper on competitive sports.
Which brings to mind the story of The Iron Man.
The Iron Man is a cast iron figure of a fireman with hat and speaking trumpet. He has seen bitter battles fought in his name for half a century.
The Iron Man is a native of Canada and was brought to Rochester by Hamilton, Ont., delegates to a firemen's convention in the late 1880s. Somehow Rochester hung on to the figure and for some time it was a bone of contention between rival volunteer units in the city. Finally wearied of the endless contest, Rochester gave the symbol to the Avon volunteers who placed it atop their fire house, securing it with iron bars.
On the night of Oct. 27, 1891, a band of men from Honeoye Falls sneaked into Avon and tried to kidnap the Iron Man. They were intercepted and sent home, empty handed. Avon firemen did some celebrating with the result that the next night they were caught off guard.
That night ten sturdy Honeoye Falls volunteers came back with a wagon, a fleet pair of horses and some hack saws. Of the invaders, three are still alive. They are William Desmond and Charles Pierce of Honeoye Falls and Harry Pillsbury of Rochester. Pillsbury well remembers the Avon foray. He was one of three men who mounted to the roof of the engine house in the sleeping village. Each had a cord attached to his wrist, to be pulled by the sentries in case they were discovered, The men sawed through the iron bars. Avon slept on. Then at last the Iron Man crashed to the ground. Eager hands picked him up, tossed him into the waiting wagon, the horses were whipped away and Avon had lost her trophy.
In the years that followed, Avon has tried many times to recapture the iron figure. Rush, Geneseo and other villages have sent invaders, too. But in vain. For 53 years vigilant Honeoye Falls has kept the Iron Man atop her engine house.
* * * * *
Some people have detected an English aspect to Geneseo. Avon is so un-English that the very name of the village is pronounced with a short A and not like the famous English river. But Avon people will tell you their village was renamed in 1808, not after any English stream, but after a town in Connecticut.
Avon has a New England flavor. Her service clubs have a zeal for community effort. This year they labored valiantly in the harvest in that fertile countryside. The village has canneries and creameries-and its Latin Quarter, mostly along the railroad tracks and "under the hill."
In one of the buildings on Avon's typically American principal street, ending in the public square, George Root for many years has kept a meat market. In 1914 he was sheriff of Livingston County. When Arthur Train came to the Valley to prosecute Henry Siegel, the New York merchant-banker, for fraud, he struck up a friendship with the broad-shouldered, genial sheriff. And when Train later wrote his Mr. Tutt stories, with Geneseo as the prototype of his bucolic Pottsville, he made his friend, Root, the kindly Sheriff Moses Higgins of his tales.
On Avon's square stands Zion Episcopal Church. The building is modern, but the parish is the oldest in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, being founded in 1792.
* * * * *
The torrid day that I trudged into Avon, I found the village's cheery hospitality was no myth.
At the historic Livingston House, Landlord John Bohan called after me as I was leaving:
"Take it easy. Pretty hot out there."
I was a stranger. Somehow he sensed I was riding Shank's Mare. His cordial farewell was in keeping with the best traditions of the Berry Tavern and the Hosmer Stand.
In the cool, high-ceilinged serenity of the Avon Inn, I was greeted by an old friend, Tom Yorton. He contributed a bit of information about the unique nine-mile railroad that runs from Retsof to Caledonia. Its name is the Genesee and Wyoming but the natives call it the Gee Whiz. It is one of the shortest, bumpiest-and richest lines in the nation. It hauls salt, and only salt, from the big Retsof mines.
Tom told me a short cut to Elm Place on the River Road where lives Henry R. Selden, one of the most interesting personalities in the Valley.
He is the son of George B. Selden Sr., inventor of the pioneer auto gas engine and called "The Father of the Automobile." He aided his parent in the long patent litigation with Henry Ford in the 1900s. His grandfather was Henry R. Selden, Rochester lawyer, jurist and one-time lieutenant governor. In his own right, Henry Selden of Elm Place, red cheeked, blue eyed, with an infectious laugh, is a scientist, a historian and a farmer.
He spends his spare time in his basement study, digging into the history of the gas engine. His researches have carried him back in the years B. C. Which gives you an idea of the kind of chap Henry Selden is.
He lives in a setting redolent of the past. Elm Place, on the River Road, some two miles north of Avon, gets its name from the huge elm in a cornfield in the rear of the house and which in its prime was said to have shaded an entire acre.
The lovely, cool, old brick colonial home under the trees was built by the pioneer William Markham in 1802. Mrs. Selden is a descendant of that early settler. The Seldens' son, Bill, now in the uniform of his country, is the fifth generation of Markhams to live at Elm Place.
On the site was built the first flour mill in the Valley in 1789, months before Indian Allen's mill at the falls of the Genesee. It was established by Capt. John Ganson and his sons, John and James, on a brook flowing into the Horseshoe Pond. It was a crude "tub mill" but it filled a crying want on the frontier. The stones were of native rock, the spindle was made from a wagon tire, the raceway was hewed plank and the flour was sifted through hand sieves of wooden splints. Captain Ganson had been an officer with Sullivan's invading army and had fallen in love with the countryside. He left his young sons to spend the winter of 1789-90 in a log cabin they had built while he returned East.
Ganson at heart was a tavernkeeper and did not stay long in the mill business. After an unsuccessful venture at inn keeping at East Avon, he moved to LeRoy and became a pioneer of that settlement.
At Elm Place is a replica of the log cabin that William Markham built there in 1794. It is an antiquarian's heaven. Enter that cabin and you have gone back one hundred and fifty years. There are old muskets, spinning wheels, fireplace, hand-made tools, brooms of twigs and rushes, a ladder to the sleeping loft. Everything is authentic. I saw a candle holder with a wooden extension, cleverly built so that some settler could read in bed.
Selden brought me abruptly back to 1943 when he showed me the big cattle barn with a third of the stanchions empty. Wartime shortages of feed and help had taken their toll. Helping out on the farm during the summer were two talented Rochester artists, Douglas Gorsline and Whitney Hoyt. They were engaged in the unartistic pastime of hauling fertilizer at the moment.
* * * * *
Elm Place is just over the line in Monroe County.
That meant only some 18 miles of winding road along the river-and the long trek was over.
The road passes the fertile acres of the State School at Industry, institution for delinquent boys. The settlement on the Erie Railroad was first called Pixley after a station agent. Later it was named Oatka although the stream of that name is miles to the westward. When the State School was moved there from its old walled-in site at Rochester's Edgerton Park, it received its present name of Industry.
The river brushes the outskirts of drowsy Scottsville, that was a village when Rochester was a swamp, where Indian Allen settled near the junction of the Oatka and the Genesee before he built his pioneer mill at Falls Town, and which was a busy port in Genesee Valley canal days.
On the West River Road between Canawaugus and Scottsville is one of the finest examples of Colonial architecture in these parts, the double cobblestone house that Quaker Isaac Cox built for his bride in 1838. It is now the home of John Resch. Cox became a prosperous miller. Ellwanger and Barry laid out the elaborate gardens and orchards. The place was surrounded by an eight-foot cobblestone fence, part of which now stands.
Cox was one of a group of Quakers who settled around Scottsville in the early days of the century. Their cobblestone meeting house in Burrell Road is now the property of Genesee Grange of Wheatland. The old frame meeting house of the Friends still stands on Cox Road and there is a burying ground in Burrell Road, where sleep those pioneer men and women who loved peace and dressed plainly and used the quaint old pronouns, "thee" and "thou."
I am not going to write about present day Scottsville. Henry Clune has been doing that interestingly for years. Scottsville is a Clune preserve.
From the Scottsville bluff, one can see the spires and towers of Rochester, the opulent, polyglot, industrial metropolis of the Genesee.
The widening river seems to quicken its pace as if eager to join the waters of the big blue lake and reach its journey's end.
For me it was near journey's end, too.
City at the Ramble's End
ROCHESTER was rocked in the cradle of the Genesee.
Were it not for the ageless river that pierces its heart like an arrow, whose tumbling waters turned mill wheels, there would not stand here today the third largest city in the Empire State.
Why did Indian Allen build his grist mill in the dark forest in 1789?
Why did lean, keen Nathaniel Rochester and two other gentlemen of Maryland buy 100 acres of malaria-plagued swampland in 1802?
Why was Rochester only thirty years later the greatest milling center in the world?
The roar of the falls of the Genesee is your answer.
Rochester owes its existence to the river and its tossing, power-laden falls. The river not only gave the city being. It has given it wealth and distinction and beauty.
Yet thousands walk the city's unique Main Street Bridge daily, hardly realizing it is a bridge and that underneath their feet a broad river flows.
Rochester has hidden the natural beauty of her falls amid a welter of industry and a cloud of smoke.
Rochester has poured debris and waste into the river to mar the sylvan charm of its scenic gorge through which it rolls in a final burst of beauty before it joins the inland sea.
Like a sleeping giant, the river has awakened in the springtime to send the fury of its flood waters battering at the city's gates-until a well disciplined city learned to discipline its river, too.
The Genesee has conspired with the old Canal to snarl the city's downtown traffic in a maze of short, twisting streets and many bridges.
Not so long ago, the polluted water of the river was turned, by accident, into the mains that carry the city's vaunted pure upland drinking water, creating a terrific typhoid scare.
The river serves other masters than the dusty millers today. The foaming waters furnish much of the heat and light and power for the community.
That same river has been the happy playground for generations of young Rochesterians who swam and fished in its waters and explored the trails in its deep, wild gorge.
The river is enshrined in many hearts-of aging men who rowed its upper waters in the old boat club days, of those who with nostalgic longing recall the side wheelers, that once paddled up to the old Glen House in the shadow of the Lower Falls, and the moonlight excursions of long ago.
To many, Charlotte at the river's mouth, now a city park and bathing beach, will always remain the Coney Island of their youth. There are memories, too, of long vanished bicycle paths and toll gates along the river and of colorful water carnivals at South Park.
So you see, there are many entries, some utilitarian, some tragic, some sentimental, on both sides of the ledger in the long account of the City of Rochester with the River Genesee.
Totting up the figures, you find the city is heavily in the river's debt.
In its heart, Rochester knows that and thinks highly of the river which gives it a picturesqueness denied other upstate towns, Often the hand of mammon has reached out to blur its charm but there are in America few cities through which courses a river with the natural beauty of the Genesee.
Rochester is many thing to many people. The casual visitor is likely to remember it as a city of welt-kept homes, many shade trees, fine parks and schools, a sprawl jng downtown section in which post Civil War and modern architecture vie. He is likely to forget that it is primarily an industrial city, a key center today in the arsenal of democracy, in whose factories and offices and stores toil the people of every race on earth.
To me, at the end of my river ramble, it was just home, the place where you return at night and take off your shoes and light your pipe; where you mow the lawn and catch the same bus at the same corner the same hour each day.
At that it is an adopted home. For I am a carpetbagger of a mere 21 years residence in the Flower City. Because of my "Johnny Come Lately" status, I have been chided for my temerity in writing pieces for the paper about an older Rochester. I might have retorted that Gibbon did not live in Rome during all the vicissitudes of the empire.
Because Rochester is my home, I am not going to attempt to analyze it. I submit some quotations from the record, instead:
* * * * *
Let us retrace our steps 273 years and look at an old map made by Father Rene Galinee, a French priest, in 1670. He was one of the first, if not the first white man, to see the present site of Rochester, On his map the lower falls are Gaskencheakons Sault, "the place of large fish."
Charlevoix, the Jesuit, commissioned by Louis XV of France to investigate and report on his American empire, wrote in 1721: "there is a little river-they call it Cas-chon-chi-agon-it is very narrow and of but little depth." The "Black Robe" did not bother to explore it. He only looked into its swampy mouth from a lake bateau.
* * * * *
To its older neighbors of the Genesee Country, when in 1812, it was proposed to build a bridge across the river at what is now Main Street, Rochester was "a God forsaken place, visited only by straggling trappers and through which neither man or beast could gallop without fear of starvation or fever and ague."
To Lieut. Francis Hall of His Brittanic Majesty's Light Dragoons, a visitor in 1812, "Its site is grand-the immediate vicinity of the town is still of unbroken forest-the traveler halting at the verge of these aboriginal glades is inclined to pause and recpnsider the interesting scenes. They such as reason must admire for they are the result of industry, temperance and freedom."
Nathaniel Hawthorne, viewing the Falls after a trip to Niagara, wrote "he would have been impressed had he not seen Niagara first."
Daniel Webster once paid a perfervid tribute here to the "magnificent waterfall." But it has been said, and denied, that the "Godlike Daniel" had had a drop too much at the time.
Carl Carmer, in his Listen for a Lonesome Drum in 1936 found that "Rochester is a temperate city, satisfiedly walking the middle of the road, always circumspect, prudent, discreet-It is as beautiful a city as man can make with his hands and with his brains. It is dull because it has been handicapped by the failure of the spirit of man to co-operate."
I have a friend who is a geologist in South America. Every two years he comes back "to the States" and on his way to his native Iowa, he always stops off for a few days in Rochester. He likes the place, says he wants to live here when he retires. As a geologist, he is fascinated by the Genesee gorge. As a connoisseur of such things, he is taken by the murals of the Seneca tap room. The only flaws he noticed in Rochester were "the five-minute traffic lights," "the worst drivers of any city in America except St. Paul," and "too many women with knobby knees." Remember now, I am quoting my friend from South America.
An Army officer who hails from Brooklyn and is stationed here, dislikes Rochester intensely. To him it is "an overgrown village by day, an illuminated cemetery by night." But you could hardly expect an outlander from the home of the Dodgers to appreciate Rochester. He added that "I don't say much about it because the people here are so all fired proud of their city."
Right, Mr. Flatbush, So they are,
You have a variety of viewpoints from a variety of visitors.
I have known many newspaper men who came here from other cities. When they were called to other fields-or were fired-they almost without exception were loath to leave Rochester. Some of them stayed, even going into another calling, because they liked the town so well.
Is there not an old adage about the proof and the pudding? Two decades ago Edward Hungerford, author and transportation expert, wrote a little booklet called "Rochester, a Good Town to Live In."
To a third of a million people it is just that.
* * * * *
Time and the River-what scenes they have written on the long film of history in this city where films are made.
In a far off time, we see an Algonkian village where now the River Campus of the University stands, We see a primitive people, laborously cutting tools out of stone and bone, mementoes for archeologists centuries later.
Their successors, the mighty Senecas, paddle down the river from their villages in the Valley and skirting the falls, ever a barrier to navigation, their moccasioned feet follow the old portage trail from Mount Hope across Cobb's Hill to the Indian Landing at Ellison Park and their beloved fishing and hunting grounds on Irondequoit Bay.
The ring of an ax breaks the silence of the woods and Indian Allen builds a crude grist mill beside the river. A tablet in the alley called Graves Street marks the spot today.
Three Marylanders, with an eye for waterpower and mill sites, visit and later buy 100 acres of desolate swampland around the falls.
Then all the lake shore, now one of the garden spots of the North, was a wide belt of black forest from Niagara to Sodus Bay. Salmon leaped in the river and there were bass and sturgeon, too. Rattlers by the dozens sunned themselves on the rocks at the place forever since called Rattlesnake Point. It was there only this year that a trapper hermit was found shot to death, a crime as yet unsolved. In 1802 the woods were full of bears, wildcats and wolves. Great flocks of wild geese arose like clouds in the sky. There stood on the Genesee flats, only the crumbling remains of Allen's mill, 20 cleared acres dotted by ragged ugly stumps.
Settlers shunned the place because of the dread Genesee fever that struck from out of the swamps. Canandaigua, Bath, Geneva, Batavia were important centers of trade. Falls Town was indeed a "God forsaken place." The the Marylanders, Rochester, Fitzhugh and Carroll, see only the foaming waters whose power could be harnessed to turn mill wheels.
Slowly the settlers come. Hamlet Scrantom's cabin arises on the site of the Powers Building. The gay music of the fiddle is heard as lads in buckskin and girls in linsey woolsey dance at the wedding of Jehiel Barnard and Della Scrantom, first in the settlement. Silas Smith builds the first store in Rochesterville and the next year sows to wheat four acres on which today stand the Court House, St. Luke's Church and City Hall.
A bridge is built across the Genesee and it sways to the tread of a motley band of militiamen, off for the Niagara frontier to fight the British in 1812.
A British fleet of 13 sail appears on the lake off Charlotte on a May day in 1814 and 33 men march down along the river bank from Rochesterville in the rainy night while their women and children hide in the woods. At dawn the militia marches and countermarches among the trees on the shore and bluffs the Redcoats into thinking there is a strong force of defenders. The 33 are stalling for time. A swift rider has been sent to spread the alarm. Soon a force of 600 gathers at the river's mouth around an 18-pounder which has been hauled from Canandaigua by seven yoke of oxen. There is a harmless exchange of shots between this shore "battery" and a British gunboat and the cautious invaders give up the siege of Charlotte.
Time and the River-The year is 1825. The gunners on the bank of the new canal near the aqueduct built by convict labor in Rochesterville hear a booming in the West and pull their lanyards. All along the waterway from Buffalo to Albany the long row of guns speak and thus word is relayed across the state ip 81 minutes that the Seneca Chief has moved out of Lake Erie and into "The Ditch." Rochester's star begins to glow brightly in the commercial sky. The town booms mightily. It becomes the roaring "Young Lion of the West." Canandaigua, Batavia, Bath and Geneva languish, miles off the route of the Grand Canal.
The air is full of flour dust from the gray mills that squat on the river banks. Rochester is the Flour City, greatest milling center in the world. The words are still on the City Seal although there is not a flour mill left along the Genesee.
Flat bottomed schooners ply the upper river between Geneseo and the Rapids, opposite the present River Campus. Carryalls take passengers to the boat from the Four Corners.
Fortified by the flagon, an exhibitionist named Sam Patch, the Steve Brodie of 1829, stands poised on a wooden platform high above the upper falls while 7,000 spectators watch. He tosses his pet bear into the whirlpool, then leaps himself. That is the last of Sam Patch, But for years Rochester is famous because of his jump.
The green gorge echoes to the music of hammer and saw and sailing craft slide down the ways at the boatworks around Carthage Landing, to carry wheat and ashes and salt and beef from the Genesee Country to the ports on the broad, blue lake.
Carthage, a pushing rival of Rochester with which it was connected by a curious, narrow gauge horse railroad that followed the river bank, erected a great wooden bridge across the Genesee. In a few months the bridge came tumbling down and with it went the hopes of Carthage.
It is 1865, last year of the long, cruel war that took so many Boys in Blue from the city by the falls. There has been heavy snow up the Valley, followed by a week of unseasonable warmth. On St. Patrick's Day, a wall of water comes roaring down on Rochester. Buildings are wrecked; merchandise ruined; the railroad bridge is washed out; the flood waters yank a horse car off the cataract; there are rowboats on Water Street, It is Rochester's greatest flood. The Genesee is master of the city.
After two other disastrous floods in 1913 and 1916, the city deepened the river bed and built retaining walls. The sleeping giant is handcuffed. Now he can only vent his wrath on the lowlands south of the city.
* * * * *
Time and the River-Dan Powers, a country bumpkin, comes to town, amasses a fortune and builds the first fireproof office building west of the Hudson. To prove it is fireproof, he sets a blaze in its tower-Rochester sheds her dusty miller's frock and becomes the Flower City, sending seeds and shrubs and green, growing things all over the earth-Hiram Sibley and his associates mastermind the Western Union Telegraph Company into being in the old Reynolds Arcade-The Fox Sisters' "Rochester Rappings" are heard around the world and the Spiritualist Church is born-Voices cry in the wilderness along the river, voices of minorities-Frederick Douglass, born in slavery, prints his abolitionist paper and helps fugitive slaves to freedom over the Underground Railroad, At night he walks the Pinnacle Hill with old John Brown and tries to dissuade that fanatic from his mad scheme to raid Harper's Ferry-Susan B. Anthony, undaunted by jeers, unbowed by defeats, carries on her long battle for emancipation of her sex, willing even to go to jail for her cause-
Algernon S. Crapsey dares to preach his own beliefs even when they clash with the canons of his church, There is a famous ecclesiastical trial, out of which an obscure rector emerges a national figure, "The Last of the Heretics"-"Red Emma" Goldman, a girl in a North Side factory, begins her long career as high priestess of anarchy. She is to return, years later, from exile to revisit the city of her girlhood, a seemingly demure, matronly, aging woman-Lewis Swift discovers his first comet with a home-made telescope perched atop a riverside cider mill-Maud S. races to glory and a world's record at the Driving Park-New factories rise on the river-George Eastman, a young bank clerk, mixes chemicals in the kitchen of his widowed mother's home and the city's greatest industry is born. After many years, the wires flash a message and men all over the world read in shocked silence that the Kodak magnate-philanthropist's "work is done," that he is dead in his mansion-by his own hand-alone, save for his thirty servants.
* * * * *
Time and the River-Falls Field and the old Bierhaus and the pleasant park beside the thunder of the falls, which passengers on through trains of the New York Central stopped to admire before industry all but blotted out the cataract from the eye of man-The river divides the city into two camps. The lavender and old lace of the Third Ward arrayed against the purple and fine linen of East Avenue in a war for social supremacy. The Four Corners fights to stem the march of commerce eastward toward Main and Clinton. In both battles, victory perches on the East Side banners.
* * * * *
The verse is Longfellow's and addressed to the River Charles. It might well have been Thomas Thackeray Swinburne's and dedicated to the Genesee. For he gave the river many a song. When the poet of the Genesee found life no longer sweet, he sought everlasting peace in the river of his songs. Packed stands at the new home of his college "beside the Genesee" still sing the Alma Mater he wrote so many years ago.
* * * * *
Time and the River-George Aldridge, politico extraordinary and his "Best Governed City"-Rattlesnake Pete and his grisly museum, his huge dogs and his snake-crested limousine-Frogleg George and his old mule Jenny-Blind Tom and his cane tapping on the streets-Ghosts walk beside the Genesee.
* * * * *
Time and the River-and a newer Rochester-Walter Hagen rising from a caddie to king of the fairways-Frank Gannett, born on a humble farm in the Bristol Hills, comes to Rochester and in 25 years is head of the second largest group of newspapers in America-The name of Philip Barry, Rochester-born playwright, in bright lights all over the land-changing times-new isms-the old Arcade gone-the old Lyceum gone-another war and the ceaseless hum of the factories on the Genesee-Time and the river march onward together on the film of history.
* * * * *
I stood at the end of the river whose course I had followed in two states and five counties.
The car ferry steamed up river, past the 122-year-old red light-house, under the upraised arms of the lift bridge. Bathers shouted merrily on thesands of Charlotte-An ambulance screamed its way down Lake Avenue-You could almost hear the distant hum of the city to the southward where Mercury, eternally on tiptoe; the silvery Wings of Progress, the tall Kodak Tower watch the skyline.
It was a far cry from that tiny spring and rippling brook in the Pennsylvania mountains, where the Genesee-and my journey-had begun.
I thought of all the land that lay between-the mountains, the oil country, the lonely foothills, the uplands where the potatoes grow 2,500 feet above sea level, the wild beauty of the Portage falls and chasm, the broad, alluvial valley and the rolling countryside of the Northern Bluegrass-and now this fertile lakeside plain on which "lieth the city in the midst of a river."
I thought of all the people that dwell along the banks of that river-the taciturn, bronzed New Englandish farmers of the Southern Tier; the keen-eyed, restless oil men in the land of liquid gold-the landed gentry and the tenant farmers of the Middle Valley, linked in a common love of fine horse flesh-the volatile Latins singing in the fields and canneries there-and now the polyglot thousands of this industrial city at the river's end.
The Valley of the Genesee is a cross section of America.
The Valley IS America.
- THE END -
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