Ralph Francis: Black Activist and Abolitionist

In November, 2023, Marie Poinan did a program at the Charlotte Library on the history of the Charlotte ferries and their operators. She caught my attention when she mentioned that one of the first ferry operators was Ralph Francis, a black man about whom little has been documented. I was intrigued – a person of color operating a boat at the port of Charlotte during the turbulent decade between the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the Civil War? Could he have been involved in the Underground Railroad? Since I was preparing a program on the UGRR(Underground Railroad), I started researching Ralph Francis.

For every well-known conductor and stationmaster such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, there were dozens more men and women who remain unknown or about whom there is little information. Out of necessity, secrecy was the very essence of the UGRR. Those who helped enslaved people on the run faced serious consequences if they were caught; they could be fined thousands of dollars and/or imprisoned for many years. Therefore, very few kept written records or any kind of documentation, making it difficult for historians to verify with any certainty the people involved in the network.

Between 1850 and the beginning of the Civil War, almost 150 enslaved people passed through the Rochester area each year on their way to Canada. Two of the “Railroad” lines led to Greece, either at Kelsey’s Landing near the lower falls or the port at the mouth of the Genesee River in Charlotte; at that time both were located in the Town of Greece. Ralph Francis had a hotel at Kelsey’s Landing and then a tavern at Charlotte during that time. Coincidence? Perhaps. However, Francis had a history of activism.

Kelsey’s Landing historical marker in Maplewood Park
https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=58198
Reynolds Arcade in 1840

Born in New Jersey circa 1811, Francis was living in Rochester by 1840 and according to the 1850 census he lived on Greig Street (or Greig Ally) in the Third Ward, where the majority of free people of color resided. He was a barber and with Benjamin Cleggett operated Francis & Cleggett Barber Shop, one of several shops owned by abolitionists, both black and white, in the Reynolds Arcade. Frederick Douglass’ North Star office was across the street to the south and the Eagle Hotel, where people could get the stagecoach to Charlotte, across the street on the west.

In 1843 Francis helped Douglass organize a four-day conference on black suffrage in New York State and in 1846 he was a main speaker at a second conference. There were two letters to the editor published in the Daily Democrat in which he advocated for the right to vote for all black men. At that time free black men who owned $250 worth of property could vote in New York State; Ralph Francis easily qualified with holdings worth $2,000. In the early 1850s he worked to get Rochester’s city schools desegregated.

To my mind it makes sense that he was engaged in getting enslaved people to Canada. Canadian vessels had a major commercial presence at both Kelsey’s Landing and the Port of Charlotte. When his former business partner Cleggett died in 1917, his obituary in the Democrat & Chronicle stated that he was likely involved in the UGRR.

Port of Charlotte 1856
Notice in the Daily Democrat, June 14, 1854
Notice in the Daily Democrat, June 14, 1854

Francis disappeared from the Rochester landscape circa 1855. He was gone from Charlotte less than a year after opening his saloon there. Both of his parents and his nine-year-old nephew, all who resided with him, died in 1854. A bathhouse that he erected at the beach in July of 1854 was burned down by an arsonist in August. Marie Poinan used her genealogy expertise and found him living in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. Was that arson a warning? Was someone about to turn him into the authorities for violating the Fugitive Slave Act, causing him to flee to Canada? We may never know, but I’ll keep looking, hoping to find out more about him.

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Longtime Agricultural Farmland Transitions

Back in early Greece history much of the farmland around Long Pond Road north of Maiden Lane was owned by the Britton Family. Opposite this land down at 1048 Long Pond Road stood a stone structure, the first location of the Greece school where the Greece Methodist Church organized in 1841, and now is around the corner at 1924 Maiden Lane. The old stone structure’s frame successor is Greece School #9 and remains today as the home of the Douglas Worboys Family.

In 1895 the Brittons sold the farm fields on the west side of Long Pond Road to John and Eva Easton. In 1901 the farm was purchased by Frank and Julia Herman, a farmer who also became a Greece Town Justice.

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In 1953 the Herman Farm, with its two gable roof barns connected by a large chicken coop, was sold by Mr. Herman’s daughter, Isabel Johnson, to Clarence and Adrienne Preston of 1036 Long Pond Road. Here fresh produce was grown and sold at the Rochester Public Market until Clarence retired in 1968. Then sons Eugene and Kenneth continued growing produce for sale at a roadside stand. Most memorable were the tall sunflowers that grew close to the road and admired every summer by motorists driving by.

Sunflowers at 1036 Long Pond Road at Sunset – (Doug Worboys)

In 1965 Rochester Telephone Company constructed a brick operations center at 1041 Long Pond Road said to be exactly in the geographical center of Greece. This land was the private dwelling of Earl and Anna Davis, a Kodak employee.

Getting up in years, I am approaching 82, the Prestons agreed to sell the couple acres of farmland remaining on the west side at 1043 and 1051 Long Pond Road to The Arc of Monroe for the purpose of building two single-family homes. Nestled to the west of the property lies Preston Circle, named after my family, when that portion of the farm was sold more than 50 years ago.

On March 31, 2023, an official Groundbreaking Ceremony was held beneath a large tent, beginning with delightful entertainment by residents of the Arc. Speakers included Arc of Monroe officials including Tracy Petrichick, President and CEO, Tracy Crosby, Executive Director, Arc of Monroe Foundation, and Town of Greece 2nd Ward Councilman, Bill Murphy. Among invited friends, neighbors, and bystanders, I deeply appreciated the opportunity to speak briefly on the family history and the bittersweet feelings of seeing the rich agricultural farmland transition into residential use.

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Remembered were tales of my family working the land and caring for the crops, going way back to a period in the late 1940s when, as youngsters, we would be treated to huge slices of cold watermelon on a hot August day by the grand old, retired gentleman, Frank Herman who still lived in the farmhouse on the property at the time. I recall that years earlier when we kids were too young to pull weeds, we’d play beneath the farm wagon with our homemade wooden tractors out of the hot summer sun.

Wonderful refreshments were provided as media personnel finished up their interviews and everyone disbursed into the light rain that was falling. So, another chapter is completed in the history book of the Preston Family Farm on Long Pond Road. Below are some additional pictures from the event taken by Doug Worboys.

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Happy Birthday Monroe County

On February 23, 2021, we celebrated the Bicentennial of the founding of Monroe County. Named for President James Monroe, the county was carved out of land taken from both Ontario and Genesee Counties; it became a new county on February 23, 1821, by decree of the New York State Legislature.

After the Revolutionary War, a treaty of 1783 established the Great Lakes as the northwestern border of the United States. This treaty was referred to as “The Thirteen Council Fires” by Native Americans who were attempting to peacefully co-exist with the new Americans. Unscrupulous speculators often attempted to swindle the natives by tricking them into surrendering their land. Meanwhile, George Washington had sent General Sullivan into western New York to forcibly remove the Seneca by burning their crops and destroying their villages.

Land speculators Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham purchased over six million acres in western NY from Massachusetts in 1788. The land extended all the way from Lake Ontario at the north to the Pennsylvania state line on the south. Phelps also negotiated a treaty with the Seneca, who had originally refused to sell any land west of the Genesee River. Phelps “convinced” the native Americas to part with an area 12 miles wide by 28 miles long for the construction of a mill on the west side of the Genesee. This area became known as the “mill seat tract” and was the site of the first mill built by Ebenezer “Indian” Allan in 1789 (the mill site was just west of today’s Court Street Bridge).

When Phelps and Gorham were unable to pay their debts, their unsold lots were sold to Robert Morris of Philadelphia in 1790. Morris was a financier who quickly turned over the sale of a million acres of Genesee land the very next year to Sir William Johnstone Pulteney. Due to a NY State law that said that a foreigner could not pass title to any New York property, Charles Williamson became Pulteney’s land agent and he held the legal title to the Genesee lands. He opened a land office in Bath, Steuben County.

The settlements on the east side of the Genesee became the Town of Northfield created in 1796. This land was originally a part of Ontario County with the county seat at Canandaigua. It later was known as “Boyle.” The towns split off from Northfield were: Penfield (1810), Perinton (1812), Pittsford and Brighton (1814), Henrietta (1818), Irondequoit (1839) and Webster (1840). Mendon was taken from Bloomfield in 1812 and Rush was taken from Avon in 1818.

March 18, 1806 record
book of Northampton
mentions money payable
to Asa and Frederick Rowe.

Settlements on the west side of the Genesee River were part of the Town of Northampton created in 1797. Originally a part of Genesee County, the county seat was at Batavia. Towns split off from Northhampton were: Parma and Riga (1808), Gates (1808*), Sweden (1813), Ogden (1817), Clarkson (1819), and Greece and Chili (1822). (The reason for the asterisk after Gates 1808 is due the fact that the petition was presented to Albany in 1808, but it took four years to pass in the legislature and an additional year to take effect!) Wheatland was originally called “Inverness” when created in 1821 and Hamlin was originally called “Union” when formed in 1852 before being renamed in 1861. The county seat of Northampton was at Batavia.

In March of 1801, Abel Rowe built a cabin in Batavia and Joseph Ellicott moved his Holland Land Company office into Rowe’s cabin. Abel Rowe soon became a pioneer settler of Gates (later the Town of Greece) and marries the daughter of William Hincher of Charlotte in 1804. Their son Asa would become the famous nurseryman of Ridge Road in Greece.

In 1805, Pulteney land agent, James Wadsworth (1768-1844), offered land for sale in a letter written at Geneseo in 1805. (see at right- New Lands for Sale)

At first, there were very few permanent settlers in our area. Pioneers included Orringh Stone, Daniel Penfield, Glover Perrin, and William Hincher who built log cabin in 1792 on the bluff where the Charlotte Genesee Lighthouse now stands. The “Genesee Fever” pretty much wiped out the settlers at King’s Landing where Gideon King and Zaddock Granger had bought 6000 acres in 1796. The earliest settlers of the Town of Greece are buried at the Hanford Landing and the Charlotte Village Cemeteries.

The 1971 Monroe County Sesquicentennial booklet, Preface to Tomorrow, referred to our area as: “a God-forsaken place, inhabited by muskrats, visited only by straggling trappers, and through which neither man nor beast could gallop without fear of starvation, or fever or ague.” Nevertheless, in 1803, Charles Carroll, William Fitzhugh, and Nathaniel Rochester contracted to buy the “Genesee Fall mill tract” property (100 acres) from Sir William Pulteney, through his attorney Robert Troup.

But it was the area’s waterways that were key to the early growth of Monroe County. The arrival of the Erie Canal was a huge boon to the local economy by providing a cheap and efficient way to get bountiful crops to market. The waterfalls of the Genesee River provided power to its flour mills, mills that shipped over 200,000 barrels of flour in 1826, the very next year after the Erie Canal opened. Schooners and steamers at the busy port at Charlotte brought in lumber from Canada and exported finished wood from its sawmills and flour from its gristmills.

Early settlers planted fruit orchards and grain fields of wheat and barley. Wheat was ground into flour and the excess was turned into whiskey. An early census of western New York noted that there were more distilleries than gristmills.

The population of Rochesterville was less than 5000 people when it became an incorporated village in 1817. That number grew to over 12,000 residents when it received its charter as a city in 1834 and annexed another 4000 acres of land obtained from the surrounding towns of Gates, Greece, Brighton, and Irondequoit.

Both Genesee and Ontario Counties fought the establishment of Monroe County and it took four more trip to Albany to persuade state legislators. But the locals grew tired to long and arduous journey to either Batavia or Canandaigua to record land transactions. Monroe County was approved by the NYS Legislature on February 23, 1821.

Today, the County of Monroe has a total of 19 towns. The current Monroe County Office Building is on the same spot that the first courthouse building of 1829 occupied. After two hundred years, most of the farmland is now gone, but Monroe County can trace its roots back to the farming pioneers who came to the area after the Revolutionary War.

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Paddy Hill School

Every year or so, with shifts in population, there seems to be changes where our children go to school, but change has been going on since children have been attending school. One hundred years ago, most Greece children attended one-room schools in one of more than a dozen individual school districts. As times changed, new schools were built, old ones closed, and school districts merged. High school students even attended City high schools. It wasn’t until 1961 that Greece graduated its first high school class. All the while there has been one constant, a public elementary school has been at that intersection at Latta Road and Mt. Read Boulevard for 183 years.

Common School District #5
Common School District #5

In 1839 Bernard and Mary O’Neil, the owners of a large tract of land, at the Northwest corner of what would become Mt. Read Blvd. and Latta Road, sold one-eighth of an acre of their land to Common School District Number Five for $50.00.

A small school was soon built and used for nearly 90 years, until 1930 when a modern brick school building was built across the street. That brick building was demolished in 2021. It is said that the one-room school building was then moved down the road and became a private home of the first chief of police Milton Carter, but the school district remained the owner of the small one-eighth acre.

The remainder of the O’Neal property was purchased by Patrick and Margaret Rigney in 1850 and eventually owned by their only daughter Mary. In 1944 the land was transferred to the Diocese of Rochester, then to Holy Sepulchre Cemetery Corporation who had plans for a new cemetery. This action resulted in a three-year legal battle between the Town of Greece, and the Diocese. After several court battles, a final State Supreme court decision ruled in favor of the Town, leaving Holy Sepulchre no choice but to sell the land. You can read summary about the cases of Holy Sepulchre Cemetery v. Board of Appeals and Holy Sepulchre Cemetery v. Town of Greece at casetext.com

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery v. Board of Appeals, 271 App. Div. 33, 60 N.Y.S.2d 750 (N.Y. App. Div. 1946)

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery v. Town of Greece, 191 Misc. 241, 79 N.Y.S.2d 683 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1947)

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery v. Town of Greece, 273 App. Div. 942 (N.Y. App. Div. 1948)

In 1948, Harmon Poray purchased most of the O’Neal-Rigney land from Holy Sepulchre, and shortly after Joan and Robert Feeney purchased the original farmhouse. By the early 1950s, Greece was becoming the fastest-growing town in New York and the need for a new school was evident. In 1954 Poray sold a large portion of the land to the Union Free School District #5 and in 1955 sold the remainder of the land to Latta Real Estate Corp. Within two years Picturesque Drive was being laid out in what would soon be a sprawling sub-division and a new school, now called Paddy Hill School would open in Sept 1956 on the very corner that its predecessor, School #5, was built in 1836. In 1956, the Greece Central School District was organized with the merging of districts 2, 5, 15, and 17.

Over the years the present Paddy Hill School has expanded to meet the needs of a growing neighborhood. But we can safely say that Paddy Hill School is the oldest school in Greece and possibly Monroe County.

In 2014, as a gift to the school, the Greece Historical Society secured a grant from the William C. Pomeroy Foundation for a historical marker commemorating the history of the school. That marker sits on that original 1839 land purchase.

Learn more about the William C. Pomeroy Foundation does by going to https://www.wgpfoundation.org/

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The Victorian “Survivor” on the Ridge

More than 170 years is a long time for a structure to survive on West Ridge Road. Di­rectly across from the south end of North Avenue at 3349 West Ridge is one of those survivors, a house built of brick in the Victorian-Italianate style, a very popular style of that period, especially for upscale homes.

The Todd-Casey-Craig House Circa 2010
David Todd
David Todd

Built by David Todd, it once was part of a substantial farm. The Todd name disappeared long ago in town history. No street carries the name, let alone a public building. In the late 19th century a large volume titled ‘The History of Monroe County, N.Y. illustrated” was published. Within its pages are several par­agraphs on the Todd family and specifically David Todd, plus a double-page lithograph of the vast acreage, the farm­stead, and out-buildings as they appeared in an 1877 artist’s rendering.

David Todd was born in Peekskill, Westchester County in April 1820. With his Scotland-born parents, he moved west with them six years later to Genesee County. He married Elisa Speer in 1843, daughter of Abram Speer, an early settler in Greece, and engaged in farming for himself on a seventy-acre tract, not far from the family homestead. By the 1850s the elegant brick house was the home of David and Elisa, plus two daughters, Mary Frances, who never married, and Sarah Elizabeth, who married Thomas Pryor of Greece. He kept buying and selling adja­ cent real estate until he finally owned 340 acres of fine farmland. Mr. Todd became interested in town government. He was the town supervisor of Greece in 1874 and 1875.

Postcard of Ye Olde Farme, advertising luncheons, bridge parties, weddings, and tourist accommodations.

Eliza Todd died in 1884, leaving David a wealthy widower living with his unmarried daughter. At the age of 60, he decided to leave farming and sold the house and extensive property for $40,000 ( over $ 1,000,000 in today’s money). He and his daughter, Mary, moved to Rochester. He spent the rest of his retirement at his Fulton Avenue home, dying at age 79, on March 21, 1899. Little is known of the Ridge Road property until a Mr. James D. Casey is shown owning 206 acres in the very early 1900s.

William H. Craig enters the picture as the last of the owners of 3349 Ridge Road West to operate the farmland. William H. Craig was the son of Charles and Mary Craig, born in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. Craig and Mary hailed from Ireland. William was an entrepreneur like his father. He ran a livery stable and managed his father’s hotels in Charlotte. He helped to develop Ontario Beach Park into an amusement park. Loving horses, he had many winning racehorses. While running a successful livery business for 16 years, he was elected an alderman for the Fourth Ward for four years. Albany called and he was assistant sergeant-at-arms of the New York State Capitol from 1897 to 1900. Sheriff of Monroe County ( 1906-1908) was his next job. Then in 1908 he be­ came the superintendent of the Monroe County Penitentiary on South Avenue, Rochester. He purchased the Ridge Road farm about 1912 and sent his only son, Charles E. Craig, to Cornell Agricultural School to learn about farming. Now in charge of the farm, Charles made many improvements. There were a variety of crops, including fruit-bearing trees. He also had a herd of high­ grade milk cows.

Modern farm implements and crop techniques were put into practice by William’s son. William died about 1928 and by the 1930 census, the property no longer belonged to the Craig family.

Times were changing by the early 1930s. Greece’s population had expanded in the 1920s and many farmers were discovering it was no longer profitable to farm a small acreage, but selling land to a developer had its advantages, putting some money away, they sought factory jobs. The depression halted much of that. The Todd-Casey-Craig property of 206 acres began to shrink in size, until in 1959 it was only about 144.23 feet wide by 170.73 feet deep.

The 1940 suburban directory lists a Herbert and Bess Manly running “Ye Olde Farme” tearoom with tour­ ist overnight accommodations available. Remembered by several local folks, the restaurant lasted until the early 1950s.

In the last almost seventy years it has been “remuddled” into a number of apartments by several different owners. Ridge Road went from barely a two-lane, dirt wagon trail to four wide lanes. The house that Da­vid built overlooks The Ridge, and weathers storms, pollutions, and humans!

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Town’s First St. Patrick’s Day Celebration, in 1836

Our History… by Bill Sauers

Legend holds that the ancient Greeks were the first to wish someone good health while raising a glass and drinking. It is said that it was to prove that the drink was healthy (in other words, not poison). Somewhere along the line, a Ro­man custom of dropping a piece of burnt toast into wine while following the Greek tradition of drinking to one’s health gave way to the term that we know to this day as a toast. But it was the Irish that embellished the custom to a point that today a Google search of Irish toasts will result in 500,000 hits.

One hundred and eighty-two years ago the first St. Patrick’s day celebration in the town of Greece was held. Along with that celebration, the custom the Greeks started centuries ago was brought to the town of Greece by the Irish. It was at Mr. T Cleary’s tavern near Lake Ave and Latta Roads where the anniversary of Ireland’s patron saint was cele­brated.

The Rochester Republican, one of the many papers of the day, reported that … “As many gentlemen as the room could accommodate, sat down to an excellent dinner about seven o’clock. It might well be called the feast of rea­ son, and flow of soul. Never have we before witnessed on similar occasions such an exhilarating scene. It would in­ deed be impossible to describe the flow of patriotism and the reciprocity of liberal and generous sentiment which prevailed among persons, as they were composed of different creeds and countries.”

The report went on to quote the speeches and the toasts, no fewer than 13 regular toasts, and more than a dozen spontaneous ones from as many guests. After so many toasts I am sure the newspaper was correct is reporting that it was “impossible to describe the flow of patriotism and the reciprocity.”

Judge Nicholas Read presided over the celebration, with a speech about his native country and his allegiance to his new country. After toasts to God, St. Patrick, Ireland, the United States, and the President, they went on to toast the merchants and farmers of Greece, the enterprising citizens of modern Greece, and the sons of St. Patrick that live in Greece.

Then the toasts with an Irish flair began: From G. Moore “May the oppressors of Ireland never enjoy the pleasure of kissing the pretty girls of it.” From Henry Benton, “God’s last best gift to man. With them we have a paradise on earth, without them, man’s life is but a blank. From John Maxon, “May the abilities of our Irish friends keep pace with their hospitable intentions.” From Thomas Gleason, “May the sun never rise on the throne of a tyrant, nor set on the cottage of a slave.” And from Cpt Barnes, “May the sons of Erin who have met on this side of the Atlantic to commemo­ rate the birthday of their Patron Saint, never suffer the oppression which grinds their brethren at home.”

To some people, many of the toasts could be appropriate today: From James O’Maley, “May all religious discord cease throughout the known world.” From Patrick Beaty, “May the hand of friendship be ever extended to the exiles who seek refuge on our shores.” And from Mr. Blackwell “May the sordid and ambitions motives of any sect or party never predominate in these Unites States, nor sully our republican institutions by a union of church and state.”

The toasts and sentiments went on throughout the evening, and even though the drinks must have been flowing, goodwill prevailed.

This article is a condensed version of a story that originally appeared in the Greece Post on March 16, 2006.

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Greece memories: Farmer’s diary shows 1800’s life in the Island Cottage area

The William Connelly family lived for many years in the Island Cottage and Janes Road area. Connolly was born in Clones, County Monaghan, Ireland in March 1818. At the age of eleven, he immigrated to the United States with his parents. Early on, they set­tled in the Greece area.

Connelly kept a diary starting in the 1830s until his death at the age of 78. The following extracts are from these diaries:

Historical marker at Mt. Read and Latta, photo by Dick Halsey
Historical marker at Mt. Read and Latta, photo by Dick Halsey

December 5, 1839: I was united in marriage to Miss Nancy Beaty. The ceremony took place at the “church in the woods” (Latta and Mount Read). Two Indians in tribal costumes attracted by the Gathering at the church stopped in their journey to look in up­ on the scene. Supper was served in Mullen’s Cooper Shop.

Learn More about why Mother of Sorrows is called the church in the woods in Bicentennial Snapshot # 39.

May 29, 1841: Alice, our first child is born.

February 10, 1853: Our house is darkened. Nancy Connelly, my beloved wife, departed this life today. May the Lord have mercy on her soul.

January 3, 1856: I was married today to Ellen Burns.

April 16, 1861: President Lincoln has called for an army of 75,000 men. The shooting on Fort Sumter a week ago makes war be­ tween the North and South of our country certain. The whole land is in turmoil

April 26, 1870: Jimmy Goodwin had a “bee” to lift the log house and put a foundation under it. The boys turned out well… (This is the first mention of the log house pictured in the photo.)

December 1, 1878: Walked across Buck Pond on the ice to Lewis’ to talk about a new house. The Connelly Farm was located at what was then the end of Island Cottage Road and Janes Road.

Valentine’s Day, 1879: Drove to Charlotte and left the horse to be shod, took the train to Rochester and bought valentines for the children.

June 17, 1879: Started to dig the cellar for the new house. Bought four chairs for the new house and paid $3 for all four. (The four chairs would cost you about 69.32 in today’s money)

October 27, 1879: Mr. Allen agreed to paint the new house with two coats of paint inside and out for $25.

December 11, 1879: The boys started to tear down the old log cabin. Wife paid Allen $2 for a rocking chair and all of $8 for an extension table.

Our Mother of Sorrows Church, photo by Bill Sauers
Our Mother of Sorrows Church, photo by Bill Sauers

Other interesting entries in Connelly’s diaries noted the end of the Civil War, election of presidents, the building of Mother of Sor­rows church, the births of his children and the loss of two daughters in the 1860s.

His father dies at age 89 in 1869. He notes many marriages births and deaths of his neighbors. As a farmer, he constantly wrote about the weather in his orchards of apples and pears, his purchase of empty barrels to ship the apple and pear crop, plus fertiliz­ er for his land. The arrival of the railroad in 1875 south of his farm was given a special mention of several sentences. On July 2, 1889, at Charlotte, he sees the electric trolley, the first in the county running from Ridge Road to the lake.

Connelly continues to jot in his diary until the day of his passing, October 20, 1896. His last words to his wife were reported as, “The sun is setting Ellen. It is a beautiful sunset and the last I will ever see. Goodbye all.” The time was 5:30 p.m.

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“From tractors to tracts!” – From The Historian’s Desk

It is not quite a century since rural Greece slowly and sometimes not so slowly started to turn from an almost com­pletely agricultural community to street after street of home developments. After World War II the pace quickened so fast that the DPW couldn’t keep up with all the new street names. All the early settlers and farmstead names had been used; flowers, trees, clever contractions of several names, stones, rocks, etc. came into play……Lucky, we don’t have a Main St., Broadway, or 42nd St. One of the last larger plots of land on Latta Rd at Kirk Rd has just recently gone from an abandoned apple orchard to the beginning of small attached housing for the aging “baby-boomer” population. How fast the recent past is swept away for the latest assault by man However, we still do have farms in Greece, and the pictures below depict a history of some of these familiar farm names: DeConinck, Mitchell, Preston, and Yarker farms.

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“A stone is a stone is a Cobblestone!”

Webster’s New World Dictionary (College Edition) has the following: Cob-blestone (kabI ston’) A rounded stone of a kind formerly much used for paving. 

First Christian Church then Greece Methodist Church Latta Road GHS
First Christian Church then Greece Methodist Church Latta Road GHS
School district 9 school also Greece Methodist Church mid1800s GHS
School district 9 school also served as Greece Methodist Church in the mid 1800s GHS

Well, that is fine, but mention Cobblestone to the average Western New York resident (especially those living in the northern counties) and your answer could well be; “Oh, those buildings from the 19th century faced with round stones all in rows”. The Town of Greece is fortunate to have four surviving Cobblestone buildings. All are private homes, but there once were several schools and at least one church that are now long gone from Greece. In western New York, they are concentrated along route 104 from Wayne County westward to Niagara County. Workers who mainly learned their trade working on the first Erie Canal, which opened in 1825, built most of these beautiful stone buildings. The sandy soil near the Ridge Road and northward to Lake Ontario yielded stones (formed by the Glaciers) of rounded or oblong shapes in the recently cleared farm fields. A special mix of slow-drying cement was used to set the stones. Patterns of stones and the way the stones were set varied for the 25-year period this type of construction was in vogue. Although Western New York has the largest concentration of Cobblestones, they can be found in Ohio, Michigan, and as far west as Wisconsin, plus the Provence of Ontario, Canada. 

Distribution of cobblestone structures in NYS
Distribution of cobblestone structures in NYS

Cobblestone buildings were costly to build so only the more prosperous could afford to have them built. The rising cost of labor and the further distance it was necessary to travel to acquire the proper stones eventually caused this unique type of construction to be obsolete. Variations of the Greek revival style were common during this period. The costly, but sturdy Cobblestone style and cheaper wood frame construction prevailed during the 1830s to 1850s. 

978 North Greece Road
978 North Greece Road
543 Mill Road
543 Mill Road
Davis-Bagley-Hazen home from Town Historian
Davis-Bagley-Hazen home from Town Historian

The four Greece buildings shown are all on the Historical Survey of 101 selected sites in the Town of Greece, completed by the Landmark Society in 1995. One, the Covert-Pollok house is also listed on the National Landmark site. 

4350 Ridge Rd W.-Westfall-Mercier house
4350 Ridge Rd W.-Westfall-Mercier house

Sadly, the Westfall-Mercier house at 4350 West Ridge Rd. may not be standing much longer. It has been offered to anyone willing to move it off the property as development is planned for that site. Thus far there have been no takers. It will more than likely end as a casualty of progress. That is what tragically happened to a Cobblestone at Parma Corners on Ridge Road West at Route 18. For more information about these four buildings or the other 97 sites, go online to the Historic site survey, by the Town of Greece.*

*a note on the town’s historical site does contain errors and mistakes in the content on their site.

For more interesting details about Cobblestone buildings and their construction go to The Cobblestone Society website at www.cobblestonemuseum.org. The Cobblestone Society complex in Childs, N.Y. is closed for the season, but if you travel west on Ridge Road you can easily view that complex and 40 plus Cobblestone homes along the way to Niagara County. Going eastward out of Monroe County on old Route 104, you can easily pass just as many, if not more than the West Ridge route. Don’t forget that a Cobblestone building is just as often found on a side road as on the main roads. Enjoy our unique concentration of Cobblestone structures here in Western New York State.

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