No Place Like Home
Mudhole to Metropolis
The Roar of the Crowd
The Big Parade
Of Flour and Flowers
The old Neighborhoods
|They Were Picturesque |
Horse and Bugle Days
Giants . . . in Those Days
THE Ward, THE Avenue, THE Street
The old Neighborhoods
Down Memory Lane
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 nostalgia for the home town beside the Genesee. And when finally they came home, what great lumps came into their throats at sight of the familiar scenes-the Four Corners and the shopping crowds at Main and 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 midst of one of Western New York's fiercest blizzards. I remarked: "This kind of weather must be tough on you after what you've known," His answer was swift and heartfelt: "What in blazes do I care about weather if I can just be back here in Rochester again?"
I have known many men who have turned down more lucrative jobs, with greater opportunities, in other places-because they could not 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 is very 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 by a record snow fall, the ensuing public wrath arose not only because of the inconveniences suffered but also was inspired by the horrid thought 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 the foot of league standings.
A city of conformists? Had the club car critic never heard of Frederick Douglass or Susan B. Anthony or Emma Goldman or Algernon S. Crapsey? Each of those rebels once called Rochester home. And in 1946, a year of turmoil, the city fathers are not heard to complain that theirs is a city of conformists.
Colorless? That is a wail I've often heard from newspaper people who came here from other cities. Rochester is a "poor news town," they say. What they mean is that our people seldom go around killing one another; that our fire department is so efficient few blazes get out of control; that our officials are reasonably honest and the name of Rochester is never coupled with the headline "Graft Expose."
Certainly there are many who live in more spectacular "boom or breadline" centers who'd trade their "color" for the Rochester brand of security and comfort.
But Rochester needs no apologist. Like Massachusetts, whence came so many of her settlers, "there she stands."
More than 20 years ago Edward Hungerford stated the case for Rochester in the five-word title of a little book: "A Good Town to Live In."
What more is there to say?
But the man on the train made one crack that shall not pass unchallenged. 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 "God forsaken mudhole" to America's 23d city drama in itself?
My attempt to refute the charge that "nothing ever happened in 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 and events 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 well builded, nay, nor canals nor dockyards, make the city but men able to use their opportunity."
* * * * *
There are names written upon the city-names of people like Indian Allen and Nathaniel Rochester; Sam Patch and the Fox Sisters; Hiram Sibley and Daniel Powers; Buffalo Bill and Rattlesnake Pete; George Eastman and George Aldridge and Frogleg George; Blind Tom and Clinton Howard; General Otis and his Arch of Triumph and Joe Bauer on his white horse; Lewis Swift and Lewis Morgan; Rush Rhees and Frank Gannett; John Ganzel and Walter Hagen.
There are names of places graven on the tablets of our tradition: Dutchtown and Bull's Head; The Rapids and Swillburg; the Ruffled 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 Loula Long Combs; the Liberty Pole and the old Arcade; the Powers Art Gallery and Mercury, the Copper God.
They live in the hearts and memories of men and women no longer young: Falls Field and Culver Field; the Glen House and the Manitou Line; Corinthian Hall and Fitzhugh Hall; the Lyceum and 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 and the tragic scenes: The Lantern Works fire and the Sibley fire; the Widewaters and "Old Calamity" Bridge; the flood of '65 and the tornado of '32; the toll gates and the water carnivals; the sidepaths and the wheelmen's clubs; the Free Academy and old Charlotte,
The city has its voices, too, some of them long silenced like the whistle of the factory where Sweet Caporals were made and the bells of the cutters racing out East Avenue on frosty Sunday mornings.
There are the newer voices: The bells of St. Mary's echoing across the old Square where stands the brooding figure of Lincoln; the hoarse moan of the Kodak Park whistle calling thousands to their benches.
And through the years the deep toned City Hall bell that rang out alarms of fire in the early time, that pealed out the joyous tidings of peace in 1918 and of V-J Day in '45.
There remain eternally the murmur of the river and the roar of the falls, whose power has been harnessed and whose glory has been hidden away. And the Main Street bridge that thousands cross without thinking of the rushing Genesee below.
Rochester has had several sobriquets: The Falls, The Young Lion of the West, The Flour City, The Flower City. It might also be called The City of the Waters.
For it was a river and its tossing falls that gave it being. The slow waters of the Clinton Ditch made it great. And the big blue lake at its northern door has been a glorious playground as well as a pathway of commerce.
A city planned by Southerners, settled by Yankees and now peopled by those of many bloods-it has its special traditions, its folkways. Rochester IS different. What other big city would continue to 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 the fragrant slopes of a city park? Or has retained for nearly 60 years a Transfer of Flags ceremony for school children that was instituted by the Grand Army of the Republic?
Where else would a political party distribute carnations every New Years Day because it was the custom of a long dead leader? And the man who thought he knew cities said Rochester was commonplace!
* * * * *
For the past three summers this scribbler has been following rivers, lakes, a wave-built highway or a towpath; traveling afoot, on buses, trains, even on a canal boat, seeking out the lore of the land. 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 rich domain that embraces most of 10 counties of the Empire State.
The ties between the city and this tributary area are many and strong. For instance, when Rochester changes its clocks, the territory does likewise, even if it may not be enamored of "fast time."
Many a farm boy has leaned over hilltop pasture bars and felt the call of the city whose far lights he saw glowing in the evening sky. Sometimes such a lad-and his sisters, too-came to "The Big City." He went to college or to work in the stores or factories, or drove a bus or an ice wagon. Sometimes he became one of the leaders 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, packet boats, farm wagons that rattled over Front Street cobblestones to the old Haymarket, excursion trains in the Victorian Age.
Some came to trade; others to satisfy their cultural yearnings at our concerts, shows, lectures; many just to have fun at our ball games, fairs, circuses and wrestling matches, For some it has been a glamorously wicked city with its fleshpots and its pitfalls.
To adjacent communities Rochester is merely "The City"-as if 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 to Rochester 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 fireworks display on the night of the Fourth of July.
His name was Ebenezer Allen and they called him Indian Allen because he had a way with the redskins, especially with the squaws. He founded Rochester's first industry and it was a dismal failure.
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 barbarism to civilization in the valley of the Genesee was the grinding of the first 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 and there on an old stone wall you will find a tablet that marks the site of the grist mill that cradled the white man's civilization at the falls of the Genesee.
Much water has gone over the falls since it first turned the wheel of the Allen mill 157 years ago. Greater and better men have lived and died here and been forgotten. But the memory of "the Bad Boy of the Genesee," will never fade.
For he was the first of the Rochesterians, the first man to harness the river waters. Whatever else he may have been, he was stout of heart. He had to be.
* * * * *
It was a picturesque yet a forbidding stage on which Ebenezer Allen 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 vapors arose and the mosquito spread the deadly germ of the Genesee Fever.
Other men before Allen had known that landscape. But none had tarried long unless it were the Algonkians, who in a prehistoric time, had hunted and fished and made their bone and stone implements, but never turned the sod along the Genesee. They left traces of their culture on what is now the rolling River Campus of the University of Rochester.
The next owners, by right of conquest, were the Senecas, proud Keepers of the Western Door of the Iroquois Long House. To them the place of the three falls was only a temporary camp site, an occasional fishing and hunting ground. The waterfalls barred the passage of their canoes to the great lake. Their portage trail swung east of the present city, across Cobb's Hill and the grounds of Mercy High School to Irondequoit Bay, their great port. They built their principal villages in the hillier lands to the south,
Early French Jesuits explored the Casconchiagon, "the river of many falls," and wrote about it in their journals. When the Abbe Francois Piquet was here in 1751, he recorded the fact that the Indians 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 Nathaniel Gorham, bought from the Senecas for $5,000 and an annuity "forever" of $500, more than two million acres lying between Seneca Lake and the Genesee River. The Indians were unwilling to part with their land west of the river.
At the treaty fire at Buffalo Creek, Phelps told the chiefs of his desire to establish grist mills west of the Genesee at the falls-for the convenience of the Indians as well as the white settlers.
"How much land?" asked the chiefs. Phelps mentioned a tract twelve miles wide and some 28 miles long, extending from present Avon to Lake Ontario.
The Indians yielded. The "mill yard" Phelps obtained comprised 200,000 acres and the chiefs were amazed later to learn that an acre or two would have sufficed. To keep the covenant, Phelps and Gorham arranged for the early erection of a mill on what was probably the largest "mill yard" the world has ever known.
And to operate this project, they picked Indian Allen, with a reputation on the frontier for aggressiveness and enterprise. They deeded to him 100 acres on the west side of the Genesee falls, on condition 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, vital figure of earth, good looking, light complexioned, with ingratiating manners 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 valuable service 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 of a 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 he had sent for a bucket of water loitered on the way, Allen is said to have beaten him to death with the pail. There's another tale, pure apocrypha, that has him hiring two Indians to get rid of one of his wives, They were to take her out in a boat and in the middle of the Genesee, to upset the craft and drown her. The woman spoiled the plot, so the tale goes, by swimming to shore and rejoining the Allen harem.
A painstaking student of history, Morley B. Turpin of Charlotte, has spent years ferreting out the story of Ebenezer Allen. He long ago came to the conclusion that the pioneer miller, while no paragon, 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 that was always harsh and relentless. Without doubt he was shrewd and possibly unscrupulous in his dealings with his fellow men. . . . Progressive, energetic and keenly alive to his own interests, he was an outstanding 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 that ruthless crew that some call "the empire builders" but were labeled by 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 timbers that Allen collected 14 able-bodied, frontiersmen for the "raising" of his grist mill.
There was no mayor to cut a ribbon, no starched white shirt fronts and sober black coats facing long tables; no Dave Harvard to lead the singing. But there was singing nevertheless.
Providently, the day before a trading vessel had touched at the mouth of the river and dropped off a keg of rum. So the mill was raised to the accompaniment of the lifted flagon. There is a tradition that the two-day ceremony was climaxed by "a shooting match in the woods."
The Allen mill was powered by a 14-foot cascade where Broad Street now crosses the Genesee. This waterfall was obliterated by the building of the canal aqueduct.
In 1790 Allen moved his assortment of wives, children and other relatives, legal and otherwise, into the mill. Rochester's first white household was a motley one.
* * * * *
There were several reasons why the pioneer grain grinder was a failure.
One was lack of patronage. Only 24 families lived west of the Genesee. Allen's only neighbors were the Schaeffers to whom he had sold 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 when the river could not be forded, customers from the east had to cross in 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 miller was often away on trading forays along the Genesee and Susquehanna.
After two years he sold the property. He lived for a time at Mount Morris and around 1793, with at least two of his wives, he left the Genesee Country forever, to spend the rest of his days at Delaware, 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 river below the lower fails. The tombstone of Gideon King in the old cemetery out Lake Avenue bears eloquent testimony to the fate of that colony:
"The Genesee Fever was mortal to most heads of families in 1796 and prevented further settlement until about 1815."
Allen's mills fell into disuse and disrepair. A freshet carried off the saw mill in 1803. The grist mill burned in 1807. The place became a rendezvous for rattlesnakes.
So passed Rochester's first industry. But above the tossing falls shone the star of destiny, waiting for the coming of the Three Wise Men from the South.
* * * * *
In 1859 when Rochester was the Flour City and the Genesee Valley was the breadbox of the nation, the Allen millstones, that had been cut out of the native rock 70 years before, were rescued from 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 of the old Courthouse. After work was begun on the City Hall in '73, they formed the bases for the lampposts before its entrance. In 1898 when the present Courthouse was built, the historic stones were placed in their niche in the west wall.
Today there's a parking lot where stood the mill that first harnessed the power of the Genesee. Around it may be heard some echoes of Rochester's night life in this year of 1946.
The reminiscences of Enos Stone in Turner's "History of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase" give an illuminating picture of 18th Century night life at the same spot:
"In one of the early years I carried some grist to the Allen mill and 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 to shoot hogs that had gone wild and he furnished the whiskey. Many Indians collected. It was a high time and the chief of the entertainment was enjoying it in high glee. Tired of the carousal he retired to a 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 a conservative progressive. He had grit and determination without rashness. He was industrious, thrifty and prudent. He was solid rather than colorful. He was inclined to be austere with strangers but affable among friends. He was loyally devoted to his family, his church, his political party, his community.
Should the Colonel drop in at the next annual banquet of the Chamber of Commerce, he would be perfectly at ease. Of course, his attire would set him apart. No other diner would be wearing a long tailed gray broadcloth coat, a stiff white stock, a bell-crowned beaver hat, 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 command would get attention at any gathering-in any era. Very likely he would dominate the meeting as he had so many others in his lifetime. He had been a man of affairs, a member of the legislatures of 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 first white settler, the flamboyant, lawless backwoodsman, Ebenezer Allen.
* * * * *
Nathaniel Rochester, returning in 1946, would have a lively interest 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 not predicted, 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 decided in 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 home owners, He had sold his first lots only to those who would agree to erect a building on each plot.
His face would light up at the well kept lawns, the flowers, the gardens, the parks, the shade trees lining the residential streets, the fruit trees in the back yards. He had worked every morning before breakfast in his own garden when he was past 70. He had planted pear 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 had been a member of the village's first musical organization, a cornet band. The university and the other educational institutions would interest the man who had been the first president of the Rochester Athenaeum.
He would be horrified to learn there were gambling places in his city. In 1826 when his young son, Henry, won an election bet, the Colonel made the boy refund the money to the losers. The first senior warden of St. Luke's was a, man of uncompromising rectitude. Factional strife in his city? Well, he had seen plenty of it in his time and knew the tension would pass. He would remember how the village was divided over the establishment of the first bank and the bitterness between his Bucktail faction and the Clintonians. He would recall, too, the great Republican mass meeting over which he had presided in 1828 and which denounced Andrew Jackson and all 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 hours in a store until he became a partner in the business.
Then the stirring days of the Revolution when he cast his lot with the rebels and sat in the first constitutional convention of an independent 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 his steady 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 visit to the wild new Genesee Country in 1800; the long horseback ride over the mountains with his aristocratic Maryland friends, Charles Carroll and William Fitzhugh; the negotiations with the eloquent land 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 at the 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 building of mills and other enterprises in Dansville; the visits to the tract at the falls and the Colonel's decision to lay out a village there, because he saw future mill wheels turned by the foaming waters; saw broad streets 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 the growth of his village, too close to the border for comfort. He would speak of the building of the wooden (Main Street) bridge across the river that meant so much to Rochesterville; the bridge that was to 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 his partner, Carroll. In response to Rochester's discouraged confession that he was thinking of selling his share in the falls project, Carroll, who like Fitzhugh, never resided in Rochestef, wrote: "Hold on. It will be an estate worthy of any man." The Colonel hung on and later on he was to learn that the astute James Wadsworth had expressed the wish "that the tract of 100 acres could be bought from the Maryland gentlemen. The bridge and mill seat render it very valuable indeed."
Nathaniel Rochester would tell how he laid out the principal streets, Buffalo (Main) and Carroll (State), wide and straight in the southern pattern, without any New England common and how he reserved in the very beginning a site for a Courthouse. He would be pleased to see a fine Courthouse there today.
Maybe he would drop in at the Courthouse to chat with the Sheriff, Al Skinner, a direct descendant of Henry Skinner, to whom the Colonel sold the lot at the Four Corners, (the Powers Building site) where the first dwelling rose in 1812.
He might mention the chagrin he felt when the enterprising Elys and Josiah Bissell beat him in building the first fiouring mill; how he moved here from his Bloomfield farm in 1818 when the success of Rochesterville was assured.
How his eyes would sparkle as he told of the turning point in the mill town's life-the coming of the Erie Canal, the ditch that provided a highway over which the products of the gray mills on the banks 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 substantial frame 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 Insti tute 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 the trees beside the clear, cold brook, in 1831, full of years and honors.
His descendants still live in the mill town he founded. Those of the sixth generation are communicants of old St. Luke's just as he had been. The coat of arms that his family adopted in old England in the 16th Century is on the official city flag of the New World Rochester, Tablets have been erected to his memory.
At the time of the city centennial in 1934, there was a move- ment for erection of a statue of Colonel Rochester, to be placed in a conspicious spot, Bryant Baker, a New York sculptor, designed a model of a bronze statue, nine feet tall, to stand upon a granite base seven feet high. It depicted the Colonel as he appeared when first he came to the Genesee Country. Difficulty arose over a proper site and the plan languished and died. So there's no heroic bronze fig- ure of the founder in the city he fathered.
But the city itself is the best monument to Nathaniel Rochester,
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