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I’ve had the enormous pleasure of reading a book called, “Main Street Beat.” It was written in 1947 by a Democrat and Chronicle reporter, Henry Clune, “the man who wrote Rochester.”

It’s an extremely entertaining read. He describes a Rochester that’s both foreign and wildly familiar. A place with characters like saloon owner Rattlesnake Pete and gambling house proprietor, The Ox.

Here are excerpts of the Rochester he describes, the one we’ll recognize. Tomorrow, in time for the Academy Awards, I’ll share the parts where he discusses Kodak and George Eastman.

Removed temporarily from the city, the good Rochesterian will eulogize the town to all who will listen and to many who won’t.


Actually, Rochester has a great deal to justify the pride and loyalty of its citizenry. The slogan created, I believe, by an inspired secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, “Rochester Made Means Quality,” truthfully describes the products of a number of its leading industries. Rochester is the home of many specialized industries, which, for the most part, require skilled labor.


When someone tells me that Rochester is a dull city, I answer that he has failed to look around, to know its people, to inquire into their stories, to learn that there are notable adventurers, men of genius, poets, murderers, great lovers, scientists of international distinction, living – often obscurely – among us.


Rochester was not a particularly scarlet city, but it had its secret gambling hells, numerous roadhouses of varying degrees of disrepute, and of course, as all cities had in that era, a restricted district, commonly referred to as “the line.” The “line” in Rochester was not long.


Our summers were usually fine, the winters severe. Yet the average person living in our difficult lake climate did not appreciate the approach of the cold months with the shuddering apprehension so many Rochesterians manifest today.


(During the Depression) men who once would have been unable to gain entrance to the Genesee Valley or Country Club with a set of burglar’s tools were “tapped” for membership…


Under the corrosion of the depression the grandeur of East Avenue at first became shabby and then definitely decadent. Many of the great solid-walled houses were razed when owners were unable to meet their tax bills. Others were converted into rooming houses.


Rochester is my home, and I have no desire to leave it. I am aware of its many faults, but like the faults of an old friend, I find them easy to condone.

6 Responses to Main Street Beat, Part 1: Smugtown

  1. February 25, 2012 at 8:14 pm David Striks responds:

    Have any of you read “Smugtown USA” by Curt Gerling?? I believe he coined the word.

  2. February 25, 2012 at 8:39 pm Brian Thomson responds:

    “Rochester is my home, and I have no desire to leave it. I am aware of its many faults, but like the faults of an old friend, I find them easy to condone.”

    Are you sure you didn’t write this?

  3. February 26, 2012 at 12:23 am Carlos Mercado responds:

    A few of us old folks met or knew Heinie Clune, and he certainly did represent a bygone era of jurnalism.

  4. Pingback: Cuomo on the Bus » The Rochesterian

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