It’s a much a part of Rochester as – as cameras! It’s a landmark! A public service that must be preserved.
– George Eastman
The Kodak founder was talking about St. Joseph’s Church. He would drive by every morning and check his watch against the clock tower. Disgusted by the grime that had built up, he said he’d pay to clean it if necessary.
Built in 1843 and home to German Catholics, only the facade was left standing after a devastating fire in 1974. The Eastman anecdote was in the application to put the remains on the National Register of Historic Places. A city historian wrote a fascinating essay about the church in 2001.
What remains of St. Joe’s is hauntingly beautiful. But the little park is inaccessible to the public, despite a sign outside saying otherwise. It’s gated shut with signs warning to keep out. The courtyard is scattered with litter.
I visited the park after I toured SUNY Brockport’s Rochester Educational Opportunity Center right next door. The college is moving out soon. An official explained St. Joe’s is generally open only by appointment because it became a place for the homeless and drug users to hang out. It’s been gated for some time.
That makes me sad. That section of downtown has clearly seen better days. There are a lot vacant lots. Sibley and Midtown are undergoing revitalization, but for now, they remain challenges. The St. Joseph’s Garage is offering monthly parking for only $35.
It would be nice to see, after all these years, something done to spruce up the Franklin St. area. Use St. Joe’s as a centerpiece. I could see an elementary or high school moving into the Brockport building. Perhaps it could become housing.
St. Joe’s deserves to be more than a curiosity. It should be enjoyed.