No Place Like Home
The man in the club car was talking about cities.
He was an articulate business man who had traveled widely and had known many cities. As the train rumbled eastward through the curtain of smoke and maze of tracks that is East Buffalo, he turned his scalpel on Rochester-in the manner of a classroom dissector.
"Rochester-I've spent considerable time there-a clean, prosperous, solid town-city of home owners and detached houses with neat lawns and gardens-fine parks, schools-no 'boom or bust' town-sails on pretty even economic keel, come fair weather or foul-vine-clad factories with landscaped grounds that don't look like factories-scientifically and industrially important-center of manufacture of photographic and optical goods, precision instruments and clothing-culture conscious-its University, Medical School and Music School widely recognized-generous, civic minded, law abiding-"
All of which sounded like a Chamber of Commerce or Convention Bureau booster brochure. Then the dissector of cities began a sentence with "but" and you know what that means.
"BUT," said he, "Rochester seems-too conservative-unduly self complacent-somewhat insular-almost too well ordered but with a disorderly street layout-a city of conformists-rather colorless, in fact, so undramatic that one wonders if anything ever really HAPPENED in Rochester . .
Just then the trainman called out "Rochester! Rochester!" As I collected my belongings and prepared to depart, the club car critic smiled a wry apology: "You're a Rochesterian? Had I known that I would hardly have talked so freely. For I know you Rochesterians have such a pride in and affection for your city."
But am I really a Rochesterian? True this city has been my home for 23 years. But a fourth-generation native son once told me:
"Rochesterians, you know, are born and not made."
Still, I find myself in distinguished company in my "carpet bagger" status. The mayor of the city, the president of the largest industry, the publisher of the daily newspapers, the head of the largest bank, to name a few, none of these is a native son.
And if "pride in and affection for" this city is the test of a Rochesterian, I feel I can qualify. I have an idea that those who lived in other places before coming to Rochester appreciate this old town fully as much as those who have dwelt here all their lives. Our viewpoint might be more objective, too.
I have in mind a "Jenny Come Lately," who emigrated here from Syracuse only two or three years ago. To draw her out, I deliberately sang the praises of Syracuse as a "sophisticated college town with an orderly street layout and a compact downtown section."
Impatiently she interrupted: "Syracuse? Oh, it's all right. I was born there and went to school there. But Rochester - a city with a broad river running through its heart, with waterfalls and a deep green gorge and a big lake from whose shores one can almost look off into another country. A city of gorgeous flowers with a charm all its own. Who cares about sophistication and street layouts? Why, there is no comparison."
How her dark eyes shone as she spoke. She was a victim of "Rochester Fever." It is an insidious malady. The casual visitor is likely to be immune. But once its "virus" enters your blood stream, there is no cure.
Unwittingly the girl from Syracuse picked up a slogan used often, to the exasperation of bureaucrats, by civic delegations who have visited Washington to ask that this city be exempted from some national edict or other: "Rochester is different." The global war called Rochester's sons and daughters to far climes-to strange, tropical, story book isles, to Old World cities rich in the culture of centuries, They traveled farther than ever their fathers did.
But their letters home revealed an almost desperate nostalgiafor the home town beside the Genesee. And when finally they camehome, what great lumps came into their throats at sight of thefamiliar scenes-the Four Corners and the shopping crowds at Mainand Clinton, the baronial tower of the Armory on the eastern skyline, the rush-hour parade of buses, almost bumper to bumper,bearing the well remembered signs: "Dewey-Portland, Thurston-Parsells, Clifford-Plymouth, Lake to Kodak,"
One warrior, an officer, came home from the Orient in the midstof one of Western New York's fiercest blizzards. I remarked:"This kind of weather must be tough on you after what you'veknown," His answer was swift and heartfelt: "What in blazes doI care about weather if I can just be back here in Rochester again?"
I have known many men who have turned down more lucrativejobs, with greater opportunities, in other places-because they couldnot bear to leave Rochester,
I don't profess to know the secret of this allure. The germ of"Rochester Fever" has never been isolated. But this I know: It isvery real.
Are we too self complacent? Well, a full stomach and pleas-ant surroundings are likely to breed contentment.
Insular? Rochesterians know they are citizens of no mean city.Local pride runs deep and strong. When the city was paralyzed bya record snow fall, the ensuing public wrath arose not only becauseof the inconveniences suffered but also was inspired by the horridthought the "best governed city" was getting some mighty unfavorable national publicity. That pride extends into the realm of sports.Rochesterians just can't stand seeing the name of their city at thefoot of league standings.
A city of conformists? Had the club car critic never heard ofFrederick Douglass or Susan B. Anthony or Emma Goldman orAlgernon S. Crapsey? Each of those rebels once called Rochesterhome. And in 1946, a year of turmoil, the city fathers are not heardto complain that theirs is a city of conformists.
Colorless? That is a wail I've often heard from newspaperpeople who came here from other cities. Rochester is a "poor newstown," they say. What they mean is that our people seldom goaround killing one another; that our fire department is so efficientfew blazes get out of control; that our officials are reasonably honestand the name of Rochester is never coupled with the headline "GraftExpose."
Certainly there are many who live in more spectacular "boomor breadline" centers who'd trade their "color" for the Rochester brand of security and comfort.
But Rochester needs no apologist. Like Massachusetts, whencecame so many of her settlers, "there she stands."
More than 20 years ago Edward Hungerford stated the casefor Rochester in the five-word title of a little book: "A Good Townto Live In."
What more is there to say?
But the man on the train made one crack that shall not passunchallenged. He said: "One wonders if anything ever really happened in Rochester."
Exciting things, significant things have happened in Rochester.Colorful people, interesting people have lived in Rochester.
Is not Rochester's evolution in a brief 134 years from a "Godforsaken mudhole" to America's 23d city drama in itself?
My attempt to refute the charge that "nothing ever happenedin Rochester" shall be no excursion into the field of formal history.That's not my province.
This will be just a series of sketches about people, places andevents in Rochester, without much regard for chronological sequence. It will be a medley of the long ago and of "only yesterday."Mostly it will concern people.
"For not houses, finely roofed, or the stones of walls wellbuilded, nay, nor canals nor dockyards, make the city but men ableto use their opportunity."
* * * * *
There are names written upon the city-names of people likeIndian Allen and Nathaniel Rochester; Sam Patch and the FoxSisters; Hiram Sibley and Daniel Powers; Buffalo Bill and Rattlesnake Pete; George Eastman and George Aldridge and FroglegGeorge; Blind Tom and Clinton Howard; General Otis and his Archof Triumph and Joe Bauer on his white horse; Lewis Swift andLewis Morgan; Rush Rhees and Frank Gannett; John Ganzel andWalter Hagen.
There are names of places graven on the tablets of our tradition: Dutchtown and Bull's Head; The Rapids and Swillburg; theRuffled Shirt Ward and "The Avenue"; Front Street and Hill Street;The Blue Eagle Jail and Ward's Natural Science Establishment;the Driving Park and Maud S; the Expo Horse Show and LoulaLong Combs; the Liberty Pole and the old Arcade; the Powers ArtGallery and Mercury, the Copper God.
They live in the hearts and memories of men and women nolonger young: Falls Field and Culver Field; the Glen House andthe Manitou Line; Corinthian Hall and Fitzhugh Hall; the Lyceumand the Bijou Dream; the Mighty Dollar and the Whitcomb House;Higgins' Livery and Hebing's Band.
The trail of memory winds through the pleasant places andthe tragic scenes: The Lantern Works fire and the Sibley fire; theWidewaters and "Old Calamity" Bridge; the flood of '65 and thetornado of '32; the toll gates and the water carnivals; the sidepathsand the wheelmen's clubs; the Free Academy and old Charlotte,
The city has its voices, too, some of them long silenced like thewhistle of the factory where Sweet Caporals were made and the bellsof the cutters racing out East Avenue on frosty Sunday mornings.
There are the newer voices: The bells of St. Mary's echoingacross the old Square where stands the brooding figure of Lincoln;the hoarse moan of the Kodak Park whistle calling thousands totheir benches.
And through the years the deep toned City Hall bell that rangout alarms of fire in the early time, that pealed out the joyous tidingsof peace in 1918 and of V-J Day in '45.
There remain eternally the murmur of the river and the roarof the falls, whose power has been harnessed and whose glory hasbeen hidden away. And the Main Street bridge that thousands crosswithout thinking of the rushing Genesee below.
Rochester has had several sobriquets: The Falls, The YoungLion of the West, The Flour City, The Flower City. It might also becalled The City of the Waters.
For it was a river and its tossing falls that gave it being. Theslow waters of the Clinton Ditch made it great. And the big bluelake at its northern door has been a glorious playground as well asa pathway of commerce.
A city planned by Southerners, settled by Yankees and nowpeopled by those of many bloods-it has its special traditions,its folkways. Rochester IS different. What other big city would continueto call a principal intersection the Four Corners? Or has erected a tablet as a memorial to its fire horses?
Or has an annual Lilac Sunday that draws thousands to thefragrant slopes of a city park? Or has retained for nearly 60 yearsa Transfer of Flags ceremony for school children that was institutedby the Grand Army of the Republic?
Where else would a political party distribute carnations everyNew Years Day because it was the custom of a long dead leader? And the man who thought he knew cities said Rochester wascommonplace!
* * * * *
For the past three summers this scribbler has been followingrivers, lakes, a wave-built highway or a towpath; traveling afoot,on buses, trains, even on a canal boat, seeking out the lore of theland. This year his feet will know only city pavements.
Yet in spirit he will still be close to the countryside. For Rochester is the metropolis, the trading center, the cultural hub of a richdomain that embraces most of 10 counties of the Empire State.
The ties between the city and this tributary area are many andstrong. For instance, when Rochester changes its clocks, the territorydoes likewise, even if it may not be enamored of "fast time."
Many a farm boy has leaned over hilltop pasture bars and feltthe call of the city whose far lights he saw glowing in the eveningsky. Sometimes such a lad-and his sisters, too-came to "The BigCity." He went to college or to work in the stores or factories, ordrove a bus or an ice wagon. Sometimes he became one of theleaders of the city.
For generations Rochester has been a Mecca for the country-side. They have come for a day or a night-on stage coaches, packetboats, farm wagons that rattled over Front Street cobblestones tothe old Haymarket, excursion trains in the Victorian Age.
Some came to trade; others to satisfy their cultural yearningsat our concerts, shows, lectures; many just to have fun at our ballgames, fairs, circuses and wrestling matches, For some it has beena glamorously wicked city with its fleshpots and its pitfalls.
To adjacent communities Rochester is merely "The City"-asif there were no other.
Farther afield, where the shadow of Buffalo or Syracuse competition falls across the terrain, they say: "I guess I'll drive in toRochester this time."
Only so often they pronounce it "Roch'ster."
The first Rochesterian was hardly the Rochester type.
He was violent, audacious, lawless and sometimes cruel.He was a polygamist to boot. He also was as colorful as a fireworksdisplay on the night of the Fourth of July.
His name was Ebenezer Allen and they called him Indian Allenbecause he had a way with the redskins, especially with the squaws. He founded Rochester's first industry and it was a dismalfailure.
Yet long after Indian Allen was dust and his mill only memory,a scholar of the Genesee Country, the late Herman Le Roy Fairchild,was to write that:
"The critical event which marked the change from barbarismto civilization in the valley of the Genesee was the grinding of thefirst bushel of wheat between the stones of the Allen mill."
Go today to the second floor of the Monroe County Courthouse and embedded in its west wall you will find those same mill-stones.
Walk through the downtown alley called Graves Street andthere on an old stone wall you will find a tablet that marks the siteof the grist mill that cradled the white man's civilization at the fallsof the Genesee.
Much water has gone over the falls since it first turned thewheel of the Allen mill 157 years ago. Greater and better men havelived and died here and been forgotten. But the memory of "theBad Boy of the Genesee," will never fade.
For he was the first of the Rochesterians, the first man toharness the river waters. Whatever else he may have been, he wasstout of heart. He had to be.
* * * * *
It was a picturesque yet a forbidding stage on which EbenezerAllen strode in the year of 1789.
Where Rochester stands today was the primeval forest, its silence unbroken save for the ripple of the river and thunderous cadence of the falls, the howling of the wolves and the screaming of the wildcats in the thick, dark woods. Great flocks of pigeons rose like clouds in the sky. Trees, matted with wild vines, hung low over the current where the trout flashed their speckled sides. Rattlesnakes sunned themselves by the dozen on the river rocks.
From the stagnant pools and the rank grasses malarial vaporsarose and the mosquito spread the deadly germ of the GeneseeFever.
Other men before Allen had known that landscape. But nonehad tarried long unless it were the Algonkians, who in a prehistorictime, had hunted and fished and made their bone and stone implements, but never turned the sod along the Genesee. They left tracesof their culture on what is now the rolling River Campus of theUniversity of Rochester.
The next owners, by right of conquest, were the Senecas, proudKeepers of the Western Door of the Iroquois Long House. To themthe place of the three falls was only a temporary camp site, anoccasional fishing and hunting ground. The waterfalls barred thepassage of their canoes to the great lake. Their portage trail swungeast of the present city, across Cobb's Hill and the grounds of MercyHigh School to Irondequoit Bay, their great port. They built theirprincipal villages in the hillier lands to the south,
Early French Jesuits explored the Casconchiagon, "the riverof many falls," and wrote about it in their journals. When theAbbe Francois Piquet was here in 1751, he recorded the fact that theIndians of his party "killed 42 rattlesnakes."
It remained for Sullivan's punitive expedition against the Senecas in 1779 to blaze the trail for settlement of the Genesee Country.But the first pioneers shunned the marshy woods beside the falls.
* * * * *
In 1788 two ambitious Yankees, Oliver Phelps and NathanielGorham, bought from the Senecas for $5,000 and an annuity "forever" of $500, more than two million acres lying between SenecaLake and the Genesee River. The Indians were unwilling to partwith their land west of the river.
At the treaty fire at Buffalo Creek, Phelps told the chiefs of hisdesire to establish grist mills west of the Genesee at the falls-forthe convenience of the Indians as well as the white settlers.
"How much land?" asked the chiefs. Phelps mentioned a tracttwelve miles wide and some 28 miles long, extending from presentAvon to Lake Ontario.
The Indians yielded. The "mill yard" Phelps obtained comprised 200,000 acres and the chiefs were amazed later to learn thatan acre or two would have sufficed. To keep the covenant, Phelpsand Gorham arranged for the early erection of a mill on what wasprobably the largest "mill yard" the world has ever known.
And to operate this project, they picked Indian Allen, with areputation on the frontier for aggressiveness and enterprise. Theydeeded to him 100 acres on the west side of the Genesee falls, oncondition he build a saw mill and then a grist mill thereon.
That 100-acre tract was to loom large in Rochester's history.
* * * * *
The year of 1789 that saw Allen come upstream from Scottsville to clear a half acre of woodland and plow a raceway for his mill, also saw George Washington installed as first president of the republic and the first sale of land directly to settlers in the New World, at Canandaigua, capital of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase.
In 1789 Allen was 45 years old. He was a tall, straight, vitalfigure of earth, good looking, light complexioned, with ingratiatingmanners when he those to use them.
He had served during the Revolution in the Tory Ranger regiment of the infamous Col. John Butler and as a lieutenant in the British Indian Department. For that reason he was cordially detested by the settlers who had just won a war for independence.
Allen came to the Genesee Country around 1782 and stayed at the cabin of Mary Jemison, the White Woman, on the flats of Gardeau. After his dismissal by the British, he became a trader and farmer near the present village of Mount Morris. There he lived with a Seneca woman named Sally. Of this unorthodox union two daughters were born.
In 1786 he was a squatter on fertile acreage near what is now Scottsville, at the confluence of the Genesee and the stream today called Oatka but for many years known as Allen's Creek, There he built a cabin and soon had a herd of cattle cropping the long grass on the river flats. He added to his household, by formal marriage, a white girl, Lucy Chapman, who dwelt in the crowded cabin with the squaw Sally, the two half-breed children, Allen's sister and her husband, Christopher Dugan.
Somewhere along the line Allen annexed another white spouse named Milly Gregory. There is no record of ring, parson or book but she bore him six children.
* * * * *
What manner of man had been entrusted with the operation of the first industry at the falls of the Genesee? His personal life was anything but exemplary and was viewed with distaste by the Yankee settlers. He had been a Tory Ranger, two words spat out by the settlers as anathema. But after he left the British employ, he performed valuableservice in promoting peace between the settlers and the Indians, with whom he had considerable influence. He was a man of undoubted energy and initiative.
Ebenezer Allen was not treated kindly by early historians.
Henry O'Reilly in his "Sketches of Rochester" called him a"Tory bloodhound-whose character combined the lasciviousness ofa Turk with the blood thirstiness of a savage."
Jane Marsh Parker in her "Rochester, a Story Historical,"branded him a "brutal Bluebeard."
Fantastic tales sprang up about Indian Allen. When a boy hehad sent for a bucket of water loitered on the way, Allen is said tohave beaten him to death with the pail. There's another tale, pureapocrypha, that has him hiring two Indians to get rid of one of hiswives, They were to take her out in a boat and in the middle of theGenesee, to upset the craft and drown her. The woman spoiled theplot, so the tale goes, by swimming to shore and rejoining the Allenharem.
A painstaking student of history, Morley B. Turpin of Charlotte, has spent years ferreting out the story of Ebenezer Allen. Helong ago came to the conclusion that the pioneer miller, while noparagon, was a maligned man, that many of the stories of his brutality were fabricated by his enemies and embellished by repetition.
Turpin sees Allen as "a product of his environment and thatwas always harsh and relentless. Without doubt he was shrewd andpossibly unscrupulous in his dealings with his fellow men. . . . Progressive, energetic and keenly alive to his own interests, he was anoutstanding personage in the history of Western New York."
He was a spiritual cousin to Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett.Had he lived some 80 years later he might have been one of thatruthless crew that some call "the empire builders" but were labeledby Author Matthew Josephson "the robber barons." By any name,they were doers.
Rochester's first industry was launched with ceremony. Rochester has always liked ceremony.
It was in November, 1789, after his saw mill had cut the timbersthat Allen collected 14 able-bodied, frontiersmen for the "raising"of his grist mill.
There was no mayor to cut a ribbon, no starched white shirtfronts and sober black coats facing long tables; no Dave Harvardto lead the singing. But there was singing nevertheless.
Providently, the day before a trading vessel had touched at themouth of the river and dropped off a keg of rum. So the mill wasraised to the accompaniment of the lifted flagon. There is a traditionthat the two-day ceremony was climaxed by "a shooting match in thewoods."
The Allen mill was powered by a 14-foot cascade where BroadStreet now crosses the Genesee. This waterfall was obliterated bythe building of the canal aqueduct.
In 1790 Allen moved his assortment of wives, children andother relatives, legal and otherwise, into the mill. Rochester's firstwhite household was a motley one.
* * * * *
There were several reasons why the pioneer grain grinder was afailure.
One was lack of patronage. Only 24 families lived west of theGenesee. Allen's only neighbors were the Schaeffers to whom he hadsold his farm at Scottsville; the Stones at Pittsford, the Lusks at Indian Landing, and, possibly, the ex-Ranger squatter, Walker, at Summerville.
The mill was not easy of access. There were no roads and whenthe river could not be forded, customers from the east had to crossin canoes and then tote their grist some distance through the woods.
The Allen mill had a capacity of only 10 bushels a day. But there was little trade and the stones generally stood idle. The millerwas often away on trading forays along the Genesee and Susquehanna.
After two years he sold the property. He lived for a time atMount Morris and around 1793, with at least two of his wives, heleft the Genesee Country forever, to spend the rest of his days atDelaware, Canada, near London, where he was a respected citizen.He died in 1813. Morley Turpin is still trying to locate his grave-as well as establish his birthplace.
The mill passed through several hands but it never flourished.And settlers still shunned the falls.
The Kings of Connecticut settled on the west bank of the riverbelow the lower fails. The tombstone of Gideon King in the oldcemetery out Lake Avenue bears eloquent testimony to the fate ofthat colony:
"The Genesee Fever was mortal to most heads of families in1796 and prevented further settlement until about 1815."
Allen's mills fell into disuse and disrepair. A freshet carried offthe saw mill in 1803. The grist mill burned in 1807. The placebecame a rendezvous for rattlesnakes.
So passed Rochester's first industry. But above the tossing fallsshone the star of destiny, waiting for the coming of the Three WiseMen from the South.
* * * * *
In 1859 when Rochester was the Flour City and the GeneseeValley was the breadbox of the nation, the Allen millstones, thathad been cut out of the native rock 70 years before, were rescuedfrom oblivion. For a time they had served millers along the Irondequoit Creek. They were found serving as a horse block in Brighton.
The stones were, brought into the city and placed in the rear ofthe old Courthouse. After work was begun on the City Hall in '73, they formed the bases for the lampposts before its entrance. In 1898when the present Courthouse was built, the historic stones wereplaced in their niche in the west wall.
Today there's a parking lot where stood the mill that firstharnessed the power of the Genesee. Around it may be heard someechoes of Rochester's night life in this year of 1946.
The reminiscences of Enos Stone in Turner's "History of thePhelps and Gorham Purchase" give an illuminating picture of 18thCentury night life at the same spot:
"In one of the early years I carried some grist to the Allen milland had to remain overnight. Allen was there in a spree or carousal. To make a feast he had sent some Indians out into the woods toshoot hogs that had gone wild and he furnished the whiskey. ManyIndians collected. It was a high time and the chief of the entertainment was enjoying it in high glee. Tired of the carousal he retired toa couch where a squaw and white wife awaited his coming."
If Nathaniel Rochester came back for a visit today, I think he'd quite approve of the city he founded.
For in many ways it mirrors his own personality. He was aconservative progressive. He had grit and determination withoutrashness. He was industrious, thrifty and prudent. He was solidrather than colorful. He was inclined to be austere with strangersbut affable among friends. He was loyally devoted to his family, hischurch, his political party, his community.
Should the Colonel drop in at the next annual banquet of theChamber of Commerce, he would be perfectly at ease. Of course, hisattire would set him apart. No other diner would be wearing a longtailed gray broadcloth coat, a stiff white stock, a bell-crowned beaverhat, a buff vest and blue breeches.
The lean, stooped six footer with the heavy cane, the firm step,the long silver locks and the air of one accustomed to commandwould get attention at any gathering-in any era. Very likely hewould dominate the meeting as he had so many others in his lifetime. He had been a man of affairs, a member of the legislaturesof two states, before he ever saw the falls of the Genesee.
He was not the kind of man one slaps on the back and greets as"Nat." He was a Southern colonel but not the "hell for leather,pistols at dawn, mint juleps on the veranda" breed. The founder of Rochester was the antithesis of Rochester's firstwhite settler, the flamboyant, lawless backwoodsman, EbenezerAllen.
* * * * *
Nathaniel Rochester, returning in 1946, would have a livelyinterest in this town that he had laid out, partly with his own hands,amid the mud and stumps, in 1811; the mill seat that he bought for$17.50 an acre and had seen grow into America's first boom town,"The Young Lion of the West."
He would exult over the city's industrial stature, for had he notpredicted, before there was a house on the One Hundred Acre Tract,that the "Falls is capable of, great things."
He would be pleased that the city had kept the name he gave it. This city was not named "after" Nathaniel Rochester. He decidedin the beginning to give it "his family name," as he put it. The cumbersome Rochesterville was soon shortened.
The Colonel would rejoice at the high percentage of homeowners, He had sold his first lots only to those who would agree toerect a building on each plot.
His face would light up at the well kept lawns, the flowers, thegardens, the parks, the shade trees lining the residential streets, thefruit trees in the back yards. He had worked every morning beforebreakfast in his own garden when he was past 70. He had plantedpear trees at his first home here, at Exchange and Spring Streets, for"those who came after me."
He would like the city's prestige as a musical center. He hadbeen a member of the village's first musical organization, a cornetband. The university and the other educational institutions wouldinterest the man who had been the first president of the RochesterAthenaeum.
He would be horrified to learn there were gambling places inhis city. In 1826 when his young son, Henry, won an election bet,the Colonel made the boy refund the money to the losers. The firstsenior warden of St. Luke's was a, man of uncompromising rectitude. Factional strife in his city? Well, he had seen plenty of it in histime and knew the tension would pass. He would remember howthe village was divided over the establishment of the first bank andthe bitterness between his Bucktail faction and the Clintonians. Hewould recall, too, the great Republican mass meeting over which hehad presided in 1828 and which denounced Andrew Jackson andall his works.
* * * * *
Should the Colonel be persuaded to tell his memories of a long lifetime, what a dramatic tale would he unfold.
First, there would be boyhood memories of the Virginia plantation on which he was born in 1752; the death of his father and re-marriage of his mother; removal to North Carolina, hard long hoursin a store until he became a partner in the business.
Then the stirring days of the Revolution when he cast his lotwith the rebels and sat in the first constitutional convention of anindependent North Carolina; when he joined the militia and became paymaster of Minute Men and commissary general of eleven regiments of the line with the rank of colonel.
After the war came his settling in Hagerstown, Md., and hissteady rise to business and political influence as banker, manufacturer, member of the Maryland Legislature.
Etched vividly on the Colonel's memory would be his first visitto the wild new Genesee Country in 1800; the long horseback rideover the mountains with his aristocratic Maryland friends, CharlesCarroll and William Fitzhugh; the negotiations with the eloquentland promoter, Charles Williamson, that ended in the visitors' purchase of 12,000 acres from the Pulteney Estate,
Then another historic visit in 1803 when the same three Marylanders bought for $1,750 one hundred acres of wooded swamp atthe west side of the falls of the Genesee, the site of much of present downtown Rochester. They were the same 100 acres that had been given Indian Allen as a bonus for building a grist mill there.
Nathaniel Rochester would remember 1810 as a year of decision when he closed out his interests in Maryland and set out for a new home at Dansville in the Genesee Country. His face would soften as he told of the farewell to Hagerstown, how the townspeople, some of them with tear stained cheeks, lined the main street as his cavalcade set forth. What a cavalcade it was: The Colonel and his five sons and one daughter on horseback, the other women in two carriages; the ten slaves and the household goods in three great wagons.
Colonel Rochester would tell you that the profit motive was not the only force that impelled him to start afresh in a new country at the age of 58. There was his abhorrence of human slavery, coupled with his with that his family live and grow up in a new and free land. He would add that he freed his own slaves on reaching that Northern soil.
* * * * *
Then the early, busy days in the Genesee Country; the buildingof mills and other enterprises in Dansville; the visits to the tract atthe falls and the Colonel's decision to lay out a village there, becausehe saw future mill wheels turned by the foaming waters; saw broadstreets and fine buildings where all was bleak wilderness,
The old gentleman would recall surveying much of the village site with his own hands; advertising the lots for sale in the Canandaigua papers and seeing the first house, a log one, rise in 1812 where the Powers Building now stands, at the Four Corners, for years the city's crossroads of commerce as well as the cradle of its community life.
The Colonel would recall how the War of 1812 retarded thegrowth of his village, too close to the border for comfort. He wouldspeak of the building of the wooden (Main Street) bridge acrossthe river that meant so much to Rochesterville; the bridge that wasto know a great tide of westward migration and put the "mudhole"at the falls on the York State map.
The old man would chuckle as he fished out a letter from hispartner, Carroll. In response to Rochester's discouraged confessionthat he was thinking of selling his share in the falls project, Carroll,who like Fitzhugh, never resided in Rochester, wrote: "Hold on. Itwill be an estate worthy of any man." The Colonel hung on andlater on he was to learn that the astute James Wadsworth had expressed the wish "that the tract of 100 acres could be bought fromthe Maryland gentlemen. The bridge and mill seat render it veryvaluable indeed."
Nathaniel Rochester would tell how he laid out the principalstreets, Buffalo (Main) and Carroll (State), wide and straight in thesouthern pattern, without any New England common and how hereserved in the very beginning a site for a Courthouse. He wouldbe pleased to see a fine Courthouse there today.
Maybe he would drop in at the Courthouse to chat with theSheriff, Al Skinner, a direct descendant of Henry Skinner, to whomthe Colonel sold the lot at the Four Corners, (the Powers Buildingsite) where the first dwelling rose in 1812.
He might mention the chagrin he felt when the enterprisingElys and Josiah Bissell beat him in building the first fiouring mill;how he moved here from his Bloomfield farm in 1818 when thesuccess of Rochesterville was assured.
How his eyes would sparkle as he told of the turning pointin the mill town's life-the coming of the Erie Canal, the ditch thatprovided a highway over which the products of the gray mills on thebanks of the Genesee moved out into the world markets. He saw the swamps drained and the trees felled; the log cabins,clinked with mud and with stick chimneys, give way to substantialframe houses; the river banks lined with mills; the main streets with shops and stores; the burgeoning of the fastest growing town in America.
In his old age, he was the patriarch of the boom town that bore his name. He lived in a new home at Spring and Washington Streets; beside a brook in which ran cold, pure water and in which trout swam, the present site of the Bevier Building of the Rochester Institute of Technology. He saw his Maryland-born sons become influential in the community that was predominantly of the New England stock. He saw Rochester battle such pushing rivals as Carthage at the lower falls; Frankfort (the Lyell-State-Brown sector), Charlotte, the lake port; Castle Town at the river rapids. Had he lived long enough he would have seen his mill town swallow all of them.
* * * * *
Nathaniel Rochester died in his Third Ward home under thetrees beside the clear, cold brook, in 1831, full of years and honors.
His descendants still live in the mill town he founded. Thoseof the sixth generation are communicants of old St. Luke's just as hehad been. The coat of arms that his family adopted in old Englandin the 16th Century is on the official city flag of the New WorldRochester, Tablets have been erected to his memory.
At the time of the city centennial in 1934, there was a movement for erection of a statue of Colonel Rochester, to be placed ina conspicuous spot, Bryant Baker, a New York sculptor, designed a model of a bronze statue, nine feet tall, to stand upon a granite baseseven feet high. It depicted the Colonel as he appeared when firsthe came to the Genesee Country. Difficulty arose over a proper siteand the plan languished and died. So there's no heroic bronze figure of the founder in the city he fathered.
But the city itself is the best monument to Nathaniel Rochester.
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