Rochester's Growing Pains

How many attempts did it take Rochester to get started as a village?  What were the contributing forces that kept bringing people back to conquer the Genesee River and it’s waterfalls.  Why did other communities move forward at growth but Rochester took a few steps back in its timely progression. In 1790; 1,075 people were accredited to the Genesee Country.  It had increased to 17,006 by 1800 and 75,160 by 1810. But Rochester was behind on growth comparison. For the most part the Gods carved out the best place on earth to inhabit, but we hadn’t figured out how to work with the terrain. 

After reading the Book: Rochester The Water- Power City by Blake F. McKelvey I get a better sense of what it might have been like to be alive back then.  And the Genesee is not the easiest to navigate.  

Rochester NY 18th century


The Genesee River was more of an obstruction than it was a trading route at first.  The potential to make money on the Genesee River was obvious to so many but who was going to tame the falls.   A simple bridge was not going to cut it for traveling moving East or West, so going over the river was left with little options.  Moving North or South on the river seemed ideal at first but the cascading falls discouraged many from even attempting it, prompting them to take alternative routes.  The Irondequoit bay at the old Indian Landing was a rival trading community called “Tryan Town” that was certainly an easier route to many.    

Also the region had people fearful of falling sick from “Genesee Fever” which hung over the region.   When the fields were cleared, swamps drained and sufficient housing built people had started migrating towards the falls more.  Fear lingered in most regions of Indian confrontation but consequently the interior settlements were not affected by Indian threats.  And some of the youth found time for participating in Indian games.  


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Nonetheless In 1796 a bustling activity characterized Kings landing at the west bank of the lower falls as having potential but this had decades of ups and downs.  But those who saw the potential tried the Genesee for the potential  water power anyways. As discussed in my last post Kings Landing, AKA: “Fall Town” it had some activity but was not moving forward fast enough to keep up with the rest of the region.  

 Finally in 1807 A Man by the name of Calvin Freeman petitioned to have a bridge and state road constructed in the lower Genesee falls as trade grew between neighboring communities   He was also involved in erecting the bridge in Avon but was not having as much luck this time around. Finally in 1810 the bridge bill passed but took a lot of effort as the southern neighbors still looked down on the region and argued it to be: “a God forsaken place!  Inhabited by muskrats. Visited only by straggling trappers, through which neither man nor beast could gallop without fear of starvation of fever and ague”

In 1808 an Englishman by the name of Charles Haford put up a mill in the West Bank overlooking the main falls for $1,000.  But unfortunately by 1810 he grew discouraged as the difficult portage from the rapids above and landing below made trade difficult and sold the 200 acre mill to Thomas Mumford and the Brown Brothers.  Around this same time another man by the name of Enos Stone was building a crude saw mill on the east bank of the Genesee River near the Upper Falls.  Also of note there was an abandoned mill at the upper falls from when Josiah Fish moved away in 1804 left in ruins.  

There were seven Hanford brothers from Rome, NY that came to “Fall Town” and had helped in the development of Hanfords Landing and gave some solid competition to Charlotte that had seemed to see economic potential as well. 

 Onterio Repository; Jan 23, 1810.  Frederick Hanford advertised “a well chosen assortment of Dry Goods, Groceries, Hardware and Crockery.  Also Iron Hallow Ware and Pot Ash Kettles; Window Glass Sole, Leather Shoes. Etc.” 

 Another settlement appeared at the west bank upper rapids where boats coming up river were forced to unload.  A tavern owned by Isaac Castle, Hence the name: Castle Town served travelers for a few years but did not live up to its hopes.  Still by the summer of 1809 the lower Genesee had the appearance of a neglected wilderness.  

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In 1810 Colonel Rochester was fifty nine years old and had eleven children, several slaves and servants who came with him when he moved to the Genesee Country.  It was in Dansville were he first landed and soon had a flour mill, sawmill, paper mill, still house, blacksmith shop and a village store. On top of all that; he also started a 450 acre farm.  He at one point considered leaving all together so it was quite fortunate for him to find time to come up to the falls as all his duties kept him very busy. But despite none of his partners from Maryland had been there and his many responsibilities he had decided to venture to the falls before any mill opportunities vanished.  Development was progressing and the advantages of investing were growing obvious to many. He and his partners acquired the 100 acre land form Ebenezer Allen for $17.50 an acre.  

Finally in 1811 Colonel Rochester with the help of Enos Stone surveyed the 100 acres in to town lots.  The Promise of Stones Mill and Hafords Mill Being reconstructed by the Brown Brothers gave the notion that there would be plenty of wood for construction that included the bridge and the ability to produce flour.  Roads were cleared out, one heading west was appropriately called Buffalo St. from the Bridge.  And one road went North South a short distance from the bridge.

Fifty dollars back then could get you a quarter acre lot except at the choice spots at Four Corners that were going for $200 acres a lot.  One large central plot was reserved for a courthouse.  South of the bridge was left undivided until plans for a race way and mills could be started. Several additional streets were laid out for $30 a lot but under the condition that construction of the house or shop 20 by 16 feet  must be completed by October 1812. And a $5 down payment was asked for as the seriousness of creating a respectable community had truly begun.