Sunday, November 25, 2012


Continued from October 20, 2012

Construction on Rochester's Reynolds Arcade, that indoor mall, post office and business incubator designed by William Jones that we visited in 1828 was completed this next year. Most of Rochester's business community could be found gathered here in the main central corridor, four stories beneath the building's skylight, once the daily mail arrived. According to Rochesterian John Rothwell Slater, "You could buy a suit, pawn a watch, see a doctor, meet a friend, escape a bore, borrow money, sell a bond, send a telegram, read a paper, get a shine, eat a meal, play a game of chess and buy flowers for the lady; or you could hire a desk and wait for customers to come pouring in." Many did the latter. Tenants were clamoring for space in its 86 rooms and postmaster/landlord Abelard Reynolds stood to recoup his $30,000 construction cost quite quickly. The Reynolds Arcade you will see there in the 21st century, by the way, will be a replacement built in the early 1930s.

Even if you weren't pawning a watch or buying flowers for your lady, or doing both, in the arcade you might be wising up in other ways. The city's founder, Colonel Nathaniel Rochester, and other local promoters of education, founded the Athenaeum there as the building opened, to acquaint the citizens of this Erie Canal town with literature, science and the arts. From such a humble acorn would one day grow an oak tree known as the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Neither was the soul being neglected. On the first day of 1829 Unitarian minister James D. Green arrived by invitation in Rochester and launched a three-month series of sermons, eventually drawing as many as 500 worshippers to each meeting; launching the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Rochester. Green then moved on and a series of laymen, including canal commissioner Myron Holley, struggled forward to establish a Unitarian foothold.

Holley's work on bringing the canal to Rochester brought far more immediate results. Back in 1824, the year before the canal's completion, eight or nine boats a week would tie up along the canal running through the village. Now, in 1829, five times that number would pass through in a single day. There would often be a waiting line at each end of the aqueduct over the Genesee River. Seth C. Jones, one of the local boatbuilders launched a packet boat he called The Superior. The vessel lived up to its name, providing luxury service along the waterway that might have made our old friend James Stuart change his mind about canal travel. Described as weighing between 15 and 20 tons, the vessel featured washrooms, a bar, and a cabin that was seven feet in height. But it was the boat's decor that held the passenger's eye the moment he entered the palatial cabin, with original scenic oil paintings on each of the walls.

Two noted people left the Rochester scene this year. Nathaniel B. Rochester, son of the village's founder Nathaniel Rochester (no B.) moved westward to Buffalo to become manager of the newly-established Bank of the United States there. We'll head that direction next time. We'll pass on the journey of the young man named Patch who climbed to the top of a tower overlooking the Genesee Falls and entered into the beyond - and folklore. Got a boat named for him, too.

©  2005  David Minor / Eagles Byte

1 comment:

Patrick Eagan said...

I have seen in a number of accounts that Rochester's Midtown Plaza was "the nation's first urban enclosed shopping mall when it opened." (This from I think the first, as this account describes, was Reynolds Arcade.