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James M.E. O'Grady

James M.E. O’Grady

Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle is reportedly angling to succeed Sheldon Silver as Speaker, despite publicly declaring his support for his “friend.”

It’s been more than a century since the assembly had a Speaker from Rochester. Only one Rochesterian has served in that powerful role: James M.E. O’Grady.

O’Grady was born in Rochester in 1863. He attended the Rochester Free Academy, the city’s first public high school, and the University of Rochester. He became a lawyer, serving on the school board from 1887 to 1892. A Republican, he joined the Assembly in 1893 and became Speaker in 1897.

On November 16, 1894, the New York Times reported on the jockeying for the Speaker position:

Mr. O’Grady says he is not depending on anybody’s influence or dictation to get the position, but is after it on his own responsibility and by his own efforts. He evidently is working principally on the claim of this district for recognition, as Tuesday at Buffalo, in expressing himself as hopeful of getting the solid vote of Western New-York, he said:

“Erie County has Comptroller Roberts and Judge Haight; Syracuse has the Attorney General; Utica has the State Engineer, and Albany the Secretary of State, while Rochester has been left out in the cold.”

O’Grady served as Speaker for two years. He was then elected to Congress, serving from 1899 to 1901. He didn’t get nominated for a second term because of a falling out with the local political boss, George Aldridge. O’Grady returned to Rochester to practice law.

O’Grady died in 1928 at Genesee Hospital. he is buried at Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery.


New York Times, November 4, 1928

New York Times, November 4, 1928


Sheldon Silver Fallout Roundup:


– Sheldon Silver will temporarily relinquish his duties as Speaker.

– Assembly Republicans plan to force their Democratic colleagues to vote on Silver’s ouster. That could come back to haunt Silver’s supporters at election time.

– The Assembly killed a state law barring exactly the type of bad deeds Silver is accused of.

– David Koon: “I couldn’t get a pay raise for my people or an extra phone or an extra computer or anything without” Silver’s stamp.


Links of the Day:


– Experts say New York schools are not in crisis, as the governor suggests.

– “Educators and parent advocates I’ve heard from since then can’t believe (Cuomo) is so out of touch.”

– There’s an oversupply of teacher candidates, creating a tough job market.

– The Rochester City School District boots volunteers and makes them jump through hoops.

– Here’s reason Western New York gas prices are higher. (It kills me people are complaining cheap gas is not cheap enough.)

– Buffalo area state lawmakers want to kill Wilmot’s planned casino.

– University of Rochester researchers say pregnant women can eat fish.

Car, go park yourself.

As Bausch + Lomb prepares to move its headquarters to New Jersey, let’s remember days gone by.


Bausch + Lomb, which started in the Reynolds Arcade Building, built this factory in 1874 at St. Paul and Vincent. It was torn down in 1977.


The St. Paul factory had many additions by 1899. when this photo was taken. About 1,000 people worked there at the time.


Glass plant on Genesee River in 1915. It produced optical glass needed for World War I.


St. Paul St., ca. 1930-1955


Postcard featuring St. Paul plant.




Aerial view of St. Paul plant


Edison Tech High School located in B + L building, 1935


Edward Bausch, son of company founder,donated his East Ave. mansion and grounds to what would be the Rochester Museum and Science Center.


B + L built a $50 million headquarters downtown that opened in 1995.



Links of the Day:


Since 2000, the Rochester area has lost more than 18,000 jobs. 

– Great story of what happened when Syracuse man discovered his father’s World War II uniform was put in the trash.

– Here’s the lunacy of state rules under No Child Left Behind: More than 2,000 Buffalo students request transfers from their failing schools. Somehow, the district is required to honor those requests.

– The New York State lottery still hasn’t paid the Syracuse man who had his $5 million ticket stolen by store owners.

– A Gannett newspaper plans to charge subscribers different rates, like cable companies do. Could this happen to the D&C?

Germany promises daycare to all parents.

Last year, I shared some pictures of Memorial Days past. Here are some more as we honor those who served our country. (Links of the Day appear after the photographs.)


Dedicating the Soldiers & Sailors Monument in Washington Square Park on May 30, 1892


Women stand around flower-covered grave on Memorial Day in Mt. Hope Cemetery. Photograph taken around 1905-1915

Civil War veterans march down Main Street for Memorial Day Parade in 1908.


Flowers from the Rochester Carting Company loaded up and ready to go for the 1909 Memorial Day Parade.

Boy Scouts marching in the 1911 Memorial Day Parade on Main Street.


Memorial Day ceremony at Iola Sanitorium in 1911.

Pearl Ford of Hazlewood Terrace celebrates Memorial Day in 1912.


Women and children honor unknown soldiers at Mt. Hope Cemetery in 1913 for Memorial Day.

Civil War vets hold their tattered battle flags in 1916.

World War I veterans march in 1920’s Memorial Day Parade on Main Street.


Links of the Day:

– Economists are slamming Cuomo’s tax free zone proposal.

– Field tests will be given out again in the coming days to New York students, raising concerns they’re being used for corporate profits.

– Asian carp, round gobies, spiny water flea and mussels threaten Lake Erie’s health 

– The rise of the fourth branch of governmentthe administrative state.

– New York City hospitals are bracing for a spike in births nine months after Hurricane Sandy.

– “The little things, like standing up and being able to pee.”

Happy Easter!

Easter display at Lamberton Conservatory features lilies, tulips and primroses. 1931

Easter display at Lamberton Conservatory features lilies, tulips and primroses. 1931


Caption in Rochester Herald in 1916: "His 28 cents bought few flowers but a world of Easter love".

Caption in Rochester Herald in 1916: “His 28 cents bought few flowers but a world of Easter love”.


Easter flower shop display. 1916

Easter flower shop display. 1916


Easter advertising card for Deininger Bros. Bakery, which had plants on North and Woodward streets. Ca. 1900-1911.

Easter advertising card for Deininger Bros. Bakery, which had plants on North and Woodward streets. Ca. 1900-1911.


Blessing Easter baskets at St. Stanislaus Church, 1955.

Blessing Easter baskets at St. Stanislaus Church, 1955.


Links of the Day:

– A developer is putting up townhouses on East Ave. in Pittsford and expects to sell them for at least $450,000. Wow.

Black unemployment far exceeds white unemployment in Monroe County.

The Rainbow Mall is Niagara Fall’s Midtown Plaza.

Milwaukee is transforming itself into a water technology hub.

– A Miami man is accused of pimping out a 13-year-old girl and forcing her to get his name tattooed on her eyelids.

Franklin High, 1935

Franklin High, 1935


I visited the former Franklin High School last night. It now houses several different schools. School #58 had an expedition and a teacher friend invited us to come by. I was very impressed with the student displays on hydrofracking and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

I was also struck by the beauty of the building. Franklin was built in 1930 on 23 acres at Hudson and Norton. Back in 1930, Rochester had 325,000 residents and Kodak employed 23,000 people. When it was built, Franklin was the largest school east of the Mississippi, with 500 rooms and a mile of hallways. At one point, Franklin had 4,100 students.  Check out this Life Magazine spread on the school, which includes a bizarre boys shower picture.

They just don’t build schools like this anymore. Marshall, Jefferson and Charlotte are also beautiful schools, loaded with big windows, wood and decorative features. I’m encouraged that the modernization plans already under way in some schools are preserving many of the historical features. These schools are community treasures.

The Auditorium

The Auditorium


Students lost in World War II. Memorial outside the auditorium.

Students lost in World War II. Memorial outside the auditorium.


Benjamin Franklin quote near main entrance.

Benjamin Franklin quote near main entrance.


Benjamin Franklin quote near main entrance. Unfortunately, metal detectors detract from beauty.

Benjamin Franklin quote near main entrance. Unfortunately, metal detectors detract from beauty.


Links of the Day:

– Buffalo’s bishop lives in an 11.500 square foot mansion with nine bedrooms and six bathrooms. Some are wondering if he’ll sell the million-dollar place, with Pope Francis living so simply.

– On the $350 family rebate check, a Buffalo columnist writes, “The only group it’s still acceptable to single out are the childless”

– When the power goes out, you could be issued a small credit on your bill.

– Developers of the complex that will house Costco in suburban Syracuse claim they will add tens of millions of dollars to the tax base and generate millions more in sales tax revenue. Here’s the problem with this kind of math when dealing with this kind of sprawl: The new roads and infrastructure will eventually have to be replaced – at a cost to taxpayers. Furthermore, the sales tax figures assume people wouldn’t spend that money anyway in Onondaga County. Sprawl is a Ponzi scheme.

Meanwhile, Costco is scouting sites in Albany. I wonder where it’s looking in Rochester.

A Jersey cow in Syracuse sold for $170,000.

St. Patrick's Cathedral  on what is now N. Plymouth Ave. was sold to Kodak and torn down in 1937.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral on what is now N. Plymouth Ave. was sold to Kodak and torn down in 1937. Picture taken in 1914.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Some of Rochester’s earliest settlers were Irish and they made immeasurable contributions to the Flower City.

Today people of Irish ancestry make up 16 percent of Monroe County’s population – about 119,000 people – surpassed only by Germans and Italians.

In 1957, Blake McKelvey wrote in Rochester History about Irish immigrants in Rochester:

The Dowlings, the MacDonalds, the Storeys, the Cochranes and others who reached the Genesee port in 1817 and after represented the vanguard of an epic movement.

They built log cabins on the east bank of the gorge, just north of High Falls. The settlement became known as Dublin. The Village of Rochester annexed the area in 1823. The Erie Canal construction attracted many Irish workers. Some worked in the flour and lumber mills. Another Irish community began to form in the area now known as Brown’s Square, on the west side of the gorge.

The Hibernian Benevolent Society formed in 1828. Irish immigrants founded a church – St. Patrick’s, on Platt Street. There were at least 60 Irish families and an estimated 800 Irish-born men in Rochester by the time the city incorporated in 1834.

Interior of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Picture taken in  1920.

Interior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Picture taken in 1920.

There were incidents of anti-Catholic and anti-Irish bigotry. A newspaper published an attack on “popery.” Vandals broke into St. Patrick’s in 1830. But the Irish were rapidly integrating into Rochester society and playing a greater role in civic affairs. Henry O’Reilly became postmaster in 1838, beginning a long tradition of Irish immigrants in politics in Rochester.

The local Irish community was very active in raising money to help people in the Old Country, as the potato famine struck. Many sent money home to bring relatives to Rochester. In the early 1850s, the city’s population grew by 7,500; more than half came from Ireland.

McKelvey writes:

When Jeremiah O’Donovan, an Irish poet, reached Rochester in 1855, he characterized the city in his diary as the “promised land.” … One Irishman had risen to the head of the largest store in the city. He described another as the founder of a large clothing firm, and identified several more as grocers, meat merchants, furniture dealers and a variety of other tradesmen. O’Donovan found one Irish doctor in Rochester…

Anti-Irish feelings went away during the Civil War. Rochester’s Irish made up volunteer regiments. West Point graduate, Colonel Patrick O’Rorke, who arrived in Rochester at age 9, led his regiment to victory at Gettysburg. They paid with their lives.

On this St. Patrick’s Day, let’s thank the Irish for helping to build our city.

Read Blake McKelvey’s history on Irish in Rochester.

Links of the Day:

– Are remedial courses for no credit the best way to catch up unprepared college students?

– Mark Twain’s life in Buffalo was “exuberant and sexy.”

– A young woman who waited for a new heart at Strong Memorial Hospital returned home to die.

“The days of the standalone mall are numbered.”

New York Central Railroad Station in 1855

New York Central Railroad Station on Mill Street in 1855 in what is known today as High Falls. President-elect Abraham Lincoln spoke to a crowd here in 1861.


Marking the spot in High Falls where Abraham Lincoln spoke in 1861.

Marking the spot in High Falls where Abraham Lincoln spoke in 1861.


Lincoln Plaque

This is the site of the Lincoln tablet marking his 1861 visit to High Falls. It is now along the Inner Loop.

The Soldiers and Sailors monument in Washington Square Park in 1920. Abraham Lincoln is on top. The monument, erected in 1892, honors Civil War soldiers.

The Soldiers and Sailors monument in Washington Square Park in 1920. Abraham Lincoln is on top. The monument, erected in 1892, honors Civil War soldiers.


On February 18, 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln stopped in Rochester for his inaugural tour. A crowd of about 15,000 people assembled. Lincoln had won the city with a “clear majority of 975 votes out of 7,893,” according to Blake McKelvey, He wrote in Rochester History:

Rochesterians of both parties turned out in the early morning of February 18 to cheer Lincoln on his roundabout journey to Washington, but the next day they read in their papers of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as president of the Southern Confederacy.


The attack on Fort Sumter roused a wave of indignation throughout the North, firing the blood of the young men of Rochester as of all parts of the country. When Lincoln
called for 75,000 troops, the only criticism voiced in Rochester was to the effect that a larger force of at least 200,000 men would be required to meet the emergency.

Lincoln’s funeral train in 1865 went along much the same route as his inaugural train, passing through Rochester. The train station was moved east to Central Avenue in 1883.

Links of the Day:

Will Governor Cuomo retaliate against the mayor of Syracuse?

– A tax credit proposal seeks to lure movie productions to Buffalo and Rochester.

Could half of all universities and colleges close? 

– Suspending kids for making “finger guns” is getting more common after Newtown.

On this Groundhog Day, the nation looked to Pennsylvania, where Punxsutawney Phil for guidance on when spring would arrive. (He did not see his shadow. Yay!)

Apparently, Rochester used to have its own version of Phil. Not content to only use a groundhog, the locals also enlisted bears. At times the animals didn’t want to cooperate with tradition. See the photographs below:


Photo printed in Rochester Herald in 1918. Caption read, ""Ground hog refuses to tell if spring will arrive early or late."

Photo printed in Rochester Herald in 1918. Caption read, “”Ground hog refuses to tell if spring will arrive early or late.”


Photo printed in Rochester Herald in 1923. Local history archive says, "This is the zoo at Edgerton Park. Buster the bear smiles for the camera. Caption states that he and the groundhog saw their shadows."

Photo printed in Rochester Herald in 1923. Local history archive says, “This is the zoo at Edgerton Park. Buster the bear smiles for the camera. Caption states that he and the groundhog saw their shadows.”


Photo printed in the Rochester Herald in 1925. The local history archive says, " This is the zoo at Edgerton Park. Bess the bear relaxes in the straw in her cage. She refused to leave her den when the photographer tried to get her to go outside to see her shadow for Groundhog Day."

Photo printed in the Rochester Herald in 1925. The local history archive says, ” This is the zoo at Edgerton Park. Bess the bear relaxes in the straw in her cage. She refused to leave her den when the photographer tried to get her to go outside to see her shadow for Groundhog Day.”


This photo was printed in the Democrat & Chronicle in 1936. The caption was, "Winter's over, ground hog missed his shadow."

Photo printed in the Democrat & Chronicle in 1936. The caption was, “Winter’s over, ground hog missed his shadow.”


Links of the Day:

– Buffalo’s mayor won’t say if he supports the state’s new gun law.

– Stadiums and Super Bowls don’t provide much financial benefit for cities.

Tiny libraries are popping up in Rochester.

– Stunning photographs capture the lives of ordinary Americans during segregation in the Jim Crow south.

There’s a new trend in Upstate New York: Developers wanting to tear down beautiful old churches.

In Rochester, there’s a proposal to tear down a 140-year-old former Presbyterian church and build a Dollar General. City Hall put the brakes on the plan, though it’s not completely dead.

Former Westminster Presbyterian Church (Photo Credit: Rochester Subway)

Former Westminster Presbyterian Church (Photo Credit: Rochester Subway)


In Buffalo, the city plans to issue demolition permits to the owners of a church damaged by fire, despite opposition from neighborhood and preservation groups.

Buffalo church (Credit: Buffalo Rising)

Buffalo church (Credit: Buffalo Rising)


In Watervliet, a judge cleared the way for a former Catholic church built in 1891 to be torn down so Price Chopper can build a store.

St. Patrick's Church, Watervliet

St. Patrick’s Church, Watervliet


In Albany, a proposal to reuse a 19th century Gothic-style church as a brewery and pub met neighborhood opposition. The historical society says the brewery may be the last option to save the structure.

St. Joseph’s Church, Albany


One need only Google “church demolition” and you’ll see this has been happening all over the country for some time. These buildings, with their beautiful designs and craftsmanship cannot be duplicated. Their loss changes the character of neighborhoods. It would be nice to see creative reuse, restoration and preservation take precedence over big box stores and parking lots.

Links of the Day:

– The Rochester Police Department could go from two precincts to four. The department used to have seven sections until then-Chief Bob Duffy recommended going to two. The East-West model has been extremely unpopular.

– Big pharmaceutical companies are interested in buying Bausch + Lomb. Some might want to break it up.

– Buffalo city schools look to go from eight football teams to four.

Patronage is rife in Onondaga County.

– Amid calls for more mental health screening and treatment, experts say there’s simply no tool to identify potential mass murderers.

– This city is ditching curbs, so pedestrians, bicycles and cars have to equally share the street.

– The bride (and groom) wore camouflage. Soldiers get married at the Albany airport before heading back to active duty.

Rochesterians share so many memories as a community of Christmases past, including Midtown Plaza. Here are some memories from a bygone era. I’d like to wish you all a wonderful holiday.

Postal worker struggles to carry Christmas greetings in 1910.

Postal worker struggles to carry Christmas greetings in 1910.


Kids talking to Santa outside Sibley Building in 1914

Kids talking to Santa outside Sibley Building in 1914


Christmas shoppers in downtown Rochester in 1915.

Christmas shoppers in downtown Rochester in 1915.


William Moore's grocery store in Fairport at Christmas in 1915.

William Moore’s grocery store in Fairport at Christmas in 1915.


Girl donates to Salvation Army at Christmas in 1915.

Girl donates to Salvation Army at Christmas in 1915.


Father goes Christmas shopping 1917

Father goes Christmas shopping  in 1917.


Father drops all his Christmas purchases in 1917.

Father drops all his Christmas purchases in 1917.


Girl looking at toy shop window in 1919.

Girl looking at toy shop window in 1919.


Levi Ward residence, 855 East Ave., illuminated for Christmas in 1922.

Levi Ward residence, 855 East Ave., illuminated for Christmas in 1922.


B. Forman Store, 1930

B. Forman Store, 1930


Sibley Building, 1939

Sibley Building, 1939


Links of the Day:

– The Niagara Falls air base was saved from budget cuts. Now its new mission deals with drones.

Downtown Syracuse is on the rise.

– An Erie County high school wrestler has sued several school students and an opponent after getting herpes during a match.

– It’s becoming harder for low-income students to climb the economic ladder. An important New York Times piece explores the issues.

I love the idea of paying car insurance based on mileage.

– Unlike Rochester, Buffalo doesn’t have a Liberty Pole.

Is Santa bad for kids?

Remains of Hojack Swing Bridge

Hojack Swing Bridge







The Hojack Swing Bridge is no more. It was demolished by CSX, which finally acted on an order from the U.S. Coast Guard. Despite the fact the bridge was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Place, CSX was granted demolitions permits this year by the DEC and Army Corps of Engineers without a single public hearing. A paltry notice by the DEC was published in the Democrat and Chronicle classifieds for people wanting to give input.

Port Huron Railroad Bridge

A similar story is playing out in Michigan, where there’s a public fight to save an old railroad bridge in Port Huron. The Army Corps of Engineers is seeking public input because the bridge is historic. The Times Herald reports:

More than 690 people have signed a petition on change.org asking the State Historic Preservation Office to stop the demolition permit. The Army Corps of Engineers has to consult with the State Historic Preservation Office before authorizing the demolition of the potentially historic landmark.

The train bridge was built in 1931 by the American Bridge Company of New York using a “special patented design that … was only used in eight bridges in the country,” Nathan Holth, a bridge historian and preservationist, previously told the Times Herald.

It looks like people in Port Huron is getting more of a head start and the process might be more open.

Links of the Day:

– There’s a cool plan to turn a historic Albany church into a brewery. Some neighbors object.

– Governor Cuomo is vetoing a bill that would have expanded state tax credits for historic building rehabs. Meantime, this week Sen. Schumer was in calling for expansion of federal tax credits for historic buildings.

– The Syracuse school superintendent is donating her bonus to a group supporting teachers. She notes teachers are stressed out and spending their own money on supplies.

Eastview Mall is overhauling its Von Maur wing.


Happy Thanksgiving, friends!


What appears to be a man delivering a turkey to a woman and child in 1910 in Rochester.


Poultry stalls at the Public Market at Thanksgiving time, 1911


Start of the YMCA Thanksgiving race at Gibbs and Grove Place in 1916


Turkeys for 55 cents a pound for sale on Front St. in 1919


Collecting food for needy people at a church at North and Franklin, 1920


Elmer Worden of Chili, 1933


Sibley window display, 1940


Links of the Day:

A baby was born this Thanksgiving on Route 590.

– An outspoken Rochester domestic violence activist may not have been truthful about her past.

– Using homeland security money, Buffalo police purchased a space-like contraption to watch over large crowds.

– The Cortland County district attorney’s past as a porn star made Jay Leno’s monologue – twice.



As we honor veterans for their service this Veterans Day, let’s take a look at some facts about Rochester area veterans.

The following are statistics about the Rochester area veteran population, according to the 2011 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census:

– There are 68,859 veterans in the Rochester metropolitan area.

  • Ten percent served post-September 11.
  • Ten percent served during the Gulf War I era (1990-2001).
  • Thirty-five percent served in the Vietnam era.
  • Thirteen percent served in the Korean War era.
  • Eleven percent served during World War II.

– Twenty-six percent of veterans are 75 years and older.

– Eight percent of veterans live in poverty, compared to 13 percent of the rest of the population.

– Veterans have a lower unemployment rate – 6 percent – though a higher proportion of veterans are not in the workforce.

– Twenty-two percent of veterans are classified as having a disability, compared to 15 percent of the rest of the population.

– Two out of five veterans between the ages of 18 and 34 are unemployed or not in the workforce.

Thank you, Rochester veterans!

Armistice Day, 1918, State St.


Armistice Day, 1918, Main St.


Armistice Day, 1930, Four Corners, Listening to Taps


Links of the Day:

– Fired Syracuse University basketball coach Bernie Fine is getting sympathy from columnists across the country.

– Hurricane Sandy turned a Staten Island neighborhood into a deathtrap. The New York Times has the harrowing details of residents’ ordeal.

– Too many clothes and unneeded supplies are pouring in for Hurricane Sandy victims.

– A Bills fan has filed a lawsuit against the team for sending him too many text messages.

– Polaroid was the precursor to today’s smartphones and the way we interact with pictures.

Happy Election Day!

Rochester played a huge rule in women getting the right to vote. The first lever voting machines were widely deployed and manufactured here. As we cast or ballots today, let’s remember our great history and civic duty.

(Links of the Day at end.)

Before the age of Twitter, this was how people found out election results. Huge crowds waited outside the Democrat and Chronicle in 1930 to see who won.


A suffrage parade in 1914 on West Main St.


A woman gets instruction on her first trip to a polling place. This was taken around 1918.


Lisbon St., Rochester, 1918. Women learning how to vote.


In 1919, people learned how to use new voting machines. (Is this the County Office Building?)


In 1954, East Rochester Mayor Paul Bower settles a tie vote for village trustee by picking a name out of a hat. Each candidate got 1,021 votes.

Links of the Day:

– Rochester parking enforcement officers and police write a lot of tickets in error. But were they really errors?

– Governor Andrew Cuomo blasted the state’s utilities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

– An architecture photographer explains how he got an amazing aerial picture of Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy.

– This is a fantastic (long) read about neighborhoods, segregation and poverty.

– Southwest Airlines flew an Albany woman and a butterfly to Texas for free. Wait until you find out why.

The parent company of the last surviving clothing manufacturer in Rochester has filed for bankruptcy. Hartmarx warned Hickey Freeman’s 500 workers there could be layoffs.

In 1899, Jeremiah Hickey and Jake Freeman raised $40,000 to found Hickey Freeman. They opened the Clinton Ave. plant in 1912, where it remains today.

Hickey Freeman is a reminder of Rochester’s history in the clothing and textile industry. Fueled by immigrants who settled on the northeast side, the garment trade was a large employer in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It also played a large role in the labor movement.

The following is a synopsis of the city’s history in clothing manufacturing, taken from a volume in Rochester History, written by Blake McKelvey:

Jehiel Barnard was the first tailor to arrive in Rochester in 1812. By 1834, there were 20 tailors. In the 1840s, when Rochester’s population hit 24,000, German immigrant Myer Greentree set up the first mens suit manufacturing shop. By 1848, there were at least 30 shops where suits were made and sold, most located on Main and Front streets. These were small stores and many workers finished garments at their houses. Most of the workers were Jewish immigrants.

In the 1850s, the sewing machine led to large-scale production. By the end of the 1870s, the clothing shops employed 2,700 people and were centered on Mill St. Only Rochester’s shoe industry exceeded the clothing industry in sales. The city was the sixth largest clothing hub in the country.

Unknown clothing factory in Rochester, 1918

The clothing industry spawned factories making neckties, mittens and buttons. In the 1880s, many of the manufacturers moved to big buildings on St. Paul St. The Rochester clothing industry was not producing as much as New York or Chicago, but was known for high-quality products. By 1900, there were more than 500 clothing shops employing nearly 9,000 people. They included Hickey Freeman, Stein Bloch, and L. Adler & Co.

Workers, however, struggled. They included children. Many of them were crowded into unsanitary sweatshops, mostly subcontractors of the big firms. By the 1890s, unions were starting to take hold. There were lockouts, boycotts and strikes. There were agreements and companies that broke the agreements. Labor strife never ended.

In 1911, a scathing state investigation shined harsh light on the clothiers. The report made news all over the country:

New York New World...published an article…’In the model city of Rochester, where civic pride is eclipsed only by the pursuit of the almighty dollar, girls sit in unsanitary and unventilated rooms for ten hours a day stitching garments…” A stinging restatement of the charges appeared in the Toledo Blade, which concluded sneeringly, “Possibly it may not be denied that ‘Rochester Made Means Quality.’ But in light of the factory report, ‘Rochester Made’ means disease, dirt, poor air, poor light and the exploitation of the flesh and blood of children.”

Garment workers strike in 1913 on St. Paul St.

In 1913, the workers, many of whom now included Italians, voted to go on strike to get an 8-hour work day, 10-cent raise and overtime and holiday pay. When the strikers saw a light on at dusk at a factory on Clifford St., one through a rock through the window. The owner fired into the crowd, killing 17-year-old Ida Braiman.

The 1913 garment workers strike was on. The strike lasted a couple months, cost several million dollars and resulted in a 52-hour work week with five no-work holidays, time-and-a-half overtime pay and no discrimination toward striking workers.

In the coming years, the big firms, including Hickey Freeman, appointed labor management experts.

Michael Sterns Building, erected in 1893

The Great Depression forced a number of factories to close and thousands lost their jobs. Hickey Freeman would not lay off workers and took a 16.5 percent hit in profits. By 1935, there were five factories left: Bond, Michael Sterns, Hickey Freeman, Fashion Park and Timely Clothes. World War II kept the plants busy. They employed 9,000 workers.

In 1960, when McKelvey wrote his history, he said the clothing industry was “remarkably stable” and the fifth largest in terms of output in the country. The industry employed 7,900 people making 15,000,000 suits and coats a year.

In the 1970s, most of them closed. Only Hickey Freeman remained. If it doesn’t survive, the final chapter of Rochester’s clothing industry will be written.

Links of the Day:

– Rochester area home sales are up in the third quarter.

– A New York Times columnist feels bad, sort of, about rushing to judgment of Bernie Fine.

– A Washington Post columnist says social media has infantalized the presidential election. (See: Big Bird.) I disagree. I think it’s the media outsized attention to the these memes.

– When you’re arrested for murder, it makes the news. When you’re exonerated, maybe not.

– An update on everyone’s favorite baby walrus, who needs to be taught how to be a walrus.

The fight over the proposed demolition of a church on West Main St. is about more than historic preservation. It’s also about the proliferation of dollar stores.

Marvin Maye wants to tear down the 140-year-old former Westminster Presbyterian Church and put up a Dollar General. He said the building is in truly terrible shape and got the state to agree.

As for building a dollar store on the lot, Maye points to the low-income housing going up all along the strip. “Panera isn’t coming here,” Maye said.

Meanwhile, neighbors in the Susan B. Anthony area are horrified at both the demolition and the idea of a dollar store. There are already several within a mile radius.

This fight has played out in many communities across the United States. Dollar General, Family Dollar and Dollar Tree have found a niche as the economy soured. Proponents say the dollar stores offer affordable goods in so-called “food deserts,” places with no full-scale supermarkets.

Opponents of dollar stores decry their unhealthy food options, potential to push out mom-and-pop stores, unsightliness. The opponents desire more diverse retail options. There have been dollar store fights in Philadelphia and Atlanta. New Orleans proposed restrictions for “medium box” stores:

“Family Dollar and Dollar General have got to become more sensitive to the needs of the communities they are going into,” Councilman Jon Johnson said. “They have got to become better corporate citizens.”

The two discount chains are “running everybody else off because they buy up the property,” Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said. “They’re just saying, ‘This is all you’re going to get.'”

Their increasingly ubiquitous presence “is defeating the purpose of us trying to get retail back into the East, back into the city,” Hedge-Morrell said.

The City of Rochester just got done passing strict regulations for bodegas, seen as attracting crime. The corner stores have also been accused of preying on the poor by selling diapers and cigarettes individually. But the city totally skipped over dollar stores.

Was that a mistake?

Links of the Day:

– A beautiful spiral Frank Lloyd Wright house in Arizona could be torn down by developers.

– An art student from Rochester made Play-Doh busts of Obama and Romney and won an award.

– Some California sex offenders are suing over laws that don’t let them display Halloween decorations or give out candy. Good. These laws are ludicrous and do nothing to protect people.

– Have you noticed a lot of your friends getting gel manicures? They’re hot. They’re also expensive and expose your hands to UV rays.

– NFL players think their new jerseys make them look fat. Poor babies.

Old Can of Worms


Let’s talk about the Can of Worms.

It’s a classic example of Rochester’s propensity for building big things, only to undo them later. Rochester converted a historic aqueduct to accommodate a subway it later abandoned. Midtown Plaza was torn down within 50 years of opening. The city bought a ferry to Toronto and then pulled the plug. After destroying wide swaths of downtown for its construction, the Inner Loop may be filled in.

But the Can of Worms ranks right up there in civic disasters. The highway was built in 1964 to connect Routes 490 and 590 and provide a link to the Thruway and Seabreeze. There’s a reference to the Can of Worms nickname in a 1965 paper on Rochester street names that suggests the more elegant name of “Brighton Bow Tie.”

Forever known as “The Can,” the complicated interchange featured confusing, short weaving distances. The Can was soon overwhelmed with cars. (Wikipedia and Empirestateroads.com have good explanations on The Can design.)

Rochester History Journal

The Can of Worms was rebuilt from 1987 to 1991 at a cost of more than $100 million. That’s more than $200 million in today’s dollars, a staggering amount of money to fix a boo-boo. There were other costs associated with Rochester’s fast-growing highway system of the 1960s. The neighborhood immediately surrounding The Can, is very disjointed.  East and University are all kinds of messed up where they were realigned. The expressways facilitated suburban growth from which the city still hasn’t recovered.

Now the state plans to fix the “Western Can of Worms” at 390 and 490 at a cost of $140 million. The state also plans to build an interchange and make surrounding improvements at 390 and Kendrick at a cost of $100 million. The first project is likely a necessary fix. As for the second project, I question the University of Rochester’s dire need for an exit ramp.

Let’s hope those projects don’t end up on the civic disaster list. We can ill afford to untangle another Can of Worms.


Map of Monroe County, 1829


You probably have better things to do this glorious weekend than look at old historical maps. But when you’re driving around town, you can think about the Rochester of 1892. An incredible map collection makes it possible.

Map of Rochester, 1892

It’s pretty easy to become engrossed in the David Rumsey Map Collection. The web viewing tools make the maps quite accessible and enjoyable. You can look at maps from far and wide.

It was cool finding out Flower City Park used to be Flour City Park. Perinton used to be Perrington. The Charlotte Lighthouse is plotted on the 1829 map of Monroe County.

If you’re really into local maps, the Monroe County library system has a bunch of images digitized.


Links of the Day:

– A Rochester City School District student went before the school board and told them she’s not going to graduate because of myriad personal problems. The girl said her teachers don’t understand. So many students feel hopeless and overwhelmed. But how much of her academic failures are the fault of her school? How much can schools do to combat society’s ills?

– The mother of Tyler Clementi, the gay Rutgers student who jumped to his death, blames herself and her church. There was so much blame after this young man’s tragic death, but can one ever really know why someone takes his life?

– The University of Rochester is taking a large role in the study of suicide.

– After accusing her alma mater of killing her startup business, a Syracuse University graduate is finally able to sell her Syracutie products on campus.

Courtesy, RochesterSubway.com, Mike Governale


RGRTA is building its new bus station on the site of the old RKO Palace. In probably the most shocking and horrific act of “urban renewal,” the ornate theater was torn down in the 1960s to make way for hotels that were never built. My dad kept his commemorative booklet of the theater. Read it and weep.

During the initial phase of construction, RGRTA has unearthed parts of the old theater, according to the Rochester Subway blog.

“We knew it was there. It wasn’t a surprise to find to find it,” said RGRTA’s Myriam Contiguglia. “Over the years the site has been disturbed.”

Let the nostalgia commence.









Links of the Day:

– Want to get an idea of what RGRTA’s new bus station will be like? Check out the one that is opening in Syracuse.

– A Herkimer County town “built by guns” is worried its Remington factory could split if New York continues to get tougher on firearms.

– Nineteen people were shot overnight in Chicago, which is in the midst of one of its most bloody years.

– There aren’t a lot of women firefighters, but a Buffalo firehouse found itself staffed entirely by women.

A Penfield love story.

Can we fix the Sibley clock?

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.