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Liberty Pole, 1990


Rochester’s Liberty Pole is much more than a weird Christmas tree and bus stop. As we celebrate the nation’s independence, it’s worth looking back on this symbol of freedom.

Old Liberty Pole, 1880s

The first Liberty Pole was put up in 1846 to celebrate July Fourth. The pine pole was 118 feet high with a ball on top. It was taken down in 1859 after a windstorm, its wood chopped up and given to a local school.

In 1860, a new pole went up. This one was 102 feet high with a wooden ball and weather vane on top. It became the site of bustling farmers markets and buildings went up all around. It crashed in an 1889 windstorm.

1914, Liberty Pole Triangle, site of current Liberty Pole

It wasn’t until 1965 that the city built a new Liberty Pole. Blake McKelvey wrote in the Rochester History journal:

“Perhaps no structure on the Avenue, however, stirred more controversy than the new Liberty Pole. Erected on the old Liberty Pole Triangle as part of an urban renewal project, it was designed by James H. Johnson…The stainless steel pole, 198 feet high and supported by a graceful meshwork of wires, has attracted a flood of criticism as well as praise as befits a symbol that marks the close of one era and the opening of another.”

I have a feeling a new chapter in the Liberty Pole’s history will be written. I’ve always thought the Liberty Pole is a beautiful structure and a work of art. But I’ve been frustrated at the city’s treatment of the site, which includes putting up portable toilets and allowing teenagers to skateboard on the stone.

The square could be improved and reconfigured when Winn Development takes over the Sibley Building. I hope so. The Liberty Pole deserves better.

Liberty Pole, 1989


Links of the Day:

– They just graduated from Charlotte High School and enlisted. The 18-year-olds also got married.

– A Syracuse girl sings the national anthem at her graduation ceremony. She almost didn’t make it that far.

– When I ‘m not at work, the best way for friends to get in touch with me is text messaging. If they send me a Facebook message, I don’t read it. I hate checking voicemail. I may be a bit delayed reading email. The Wall Street Journal has a great story of how to get your personal communications on the same page.

2 Responses to Symbol of Liberty

  1. Er, you better check that out with James Johnson, the archetect who won the design competition for the original Liberty Pole.

    The last time the Pole was up for a redesign as part of the Downtown Transit Mall project he got a little bent out of shape because he wasn’t consulted.

    That redesign eliminated the perpetual flame honoring J.F.K. and a small decorative water fountain, both of which were abandoned early in their lives as too difficult or expensive to maintain in good working order.

    Also eliminated was the debris collecting sunken garden with its wire mounted concrete railing which was used as an elevated bench by folks waiting for the bus and just hanging out.

    The elimination of the pit that house the flame and water fountain and replaceemnt with a grantite tiered circular set of steps was supposed to provide a passive urban rest spot for sitting while eating lunch, catching rays or waiting for the bus.

    Eliminiating the pit also required the faux guy cables to be amended with a re-anchoring with protection from pedestrians who might use them as climbing ropes (the pole is a self-support structure.)

    The Liberty Pole has the distinction of being built on the nation’s smallest urban renewal project ( <1 acre, I think). There was this really cool triangle building on the site, sort of like a mini of the landmark one down in NYC.

    One contest design submission tried to return the trangle to more of what it was in the past – a lawned mini-park with a shorter May Pole type structure.

    I always thought the stainless steel Pole was out of scale and context with its surroundings, especially when viewed from East Ave. up against the Sibley facade as a backdrop. But then, what do I know.

  2. July 5, 2012 at 1:33 pm Kevin Yost responds:

    In the 60’s and 70’s, there used to be an “eternal flame” there powered by natural gas. However, I’m sure this would be too risky now, especially with the teenagers waiting for the bus there who might be pyromaniacs and hurt themselves or others.

    Any changes to this space should work in tandem with any improvements to Manhattan Square, Washington Square, Cornerstone, St. Joseph’s and Schiller parks and making them all a “spine” of downtown parks, and also including any new green space directly across the Main Street from the Libery Pole part of this as well.

    Also, just as our modern Libery Pole is on the site of an old 19th-century one, Buffalo is thinking of doing the same thing there.

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