Bicentennial Snapshot # 14 – General Stores

This week on our Bicentennial Snapshot we explore two of the most visited General Stores out of two neighborhoods the first one will be H.C. Phelps Located on the southwest corner at Latta and North Greece and the second one is Gilbert (Burt) J Wagg’s Groceries and Provisions Located where Tim Horton’s is today at Lake Ave, Ridge Road and Pullman Ave.

Disclaimer The references to tobacco products in this Bicentennial Snapshot are for historical purposes only, recounting an individual’s reminiscences of a bygone era. The Greece Historical Society does not encourage the use of any tobacco products.

Today we take it for granted how easy it is to buy food, clothing, and other products from various stores and within easy travel distance or online via Amazon, eBay, and other online retailers. But in the 19th century and even into the 20th century, Greece residents depended on General Stores for their purchasing needs.

When the American colonists mainly started expanding west word they would set up General Stores that would be where the travelers or residents of the small villages or towns would gather to buy, trade, or sell items that they needed for a day-to-day living unlike how it is now that you purchase Clothing from Store A and then go to store B to get you Garden supplies, then maybe you go to Store C for your meats, and then finally get to the Produce Market for all your fresh produce these good would last longer or shorter depending what the product was intended for like planned obsolescence.

The invention of the Ice Box did help out with some growth of General stores but some of the General stores evolved with the times where they kept up with the changes evolving into smaller corner stores which some people will call the store a bodega, especially in New York City. In other parts of the country, the Mom and Pop General stores are somewhat making comebacks in your rural communities because these are now becoming small access points for online orders and delivery hubs for pickups for places like Amazon, UPS, FedEx, DHL, LaserShip and even the post office still because the cost is still worth them to operate just to help the people that cannot get the packages delivered to the porch of the local farmer or rancher, or even the smallest campgrounds.

Question of Week:

How long do you think it would take for you to get from Hoosick Cemetary (West Greece) Manitou at West Ridge Road to G.C. Latta House at Lake Ave, and Latta Rd in Charlotte?

But for this question, we will be starting at the Hoosick Cemetary Manitou Road at West Ridge Road, proceed heading north on Manitou road until you come to Latta Road, and then make the right on Latta Road passing H.C. Phelps General store on the right at North Greece and Latta road, and continuing on Latta you will be passing Green Acres on your left, you then continue on Latta and cross over Long Pond Road, maybe stop at Apple Anne’s for some apples, after that you maybe stop to worship at Mother of Sorrow’s church and then head down the hill and cross over Dewey ave and a much smoother path on Latta road you pass on your left the Fleming Homestead now a nursing home to then you should get to your destination at Lake Ave and Latta in front of the G.C. Latta House

Here is the formula to solve for each type of mode of transportation

time = distance/speed

Your Distance is 9.5 Miles

Your Speed is based on the mode of transportation you take to get to the destination.

Traveling by car at 35 mph

Traveling by a Horse at 5-8 mph

Traveling by a pedal bike can vary depending on how fast you can pedal it can be as low as 8 mph and high as 26 mph

Traveling by public transit is not available for this example.

The answer to this will be at the end of this post with the solution to this question.

H.C. Phelps.

H.C. Phelps is located on the southwest corner at Latta Rd and North Greece Rd.

Henry C. Phelps built his store on the North Greece Road in about 1870. The area was then known as Jenkins Corner at Latta Rd. By 1900 it had the name, North Greece, as it’s known today. Henry carried a varied lot of merchandise. Just about anything that would fit in the store and would sell found a place on the floor or a shelf. He catered to the farmer and his family. It helped that the local U.S. Post Office was also in the building. The opening of the Manitou (seasonal) Trolley in the 1890s expanded the number of cottages along the lake and bays. Several times a week Phelps would send out his horse and wagon filled with fresh vegetables, fruit, and sundries. Going door to door, the “huckster” (an old term for a peddler) would often empty his wagon by the end of his route. After Mr. Phelps retired the store continued under several owners and name changes well into the 20th century. The post office moved to its own quarters and other business enterprises took over the site until we arrive at the 21st century. Except for the loss of the front porch and several horse hitching posts, the building remains much as it was built over 145 years ago. An insurance office is now the proud caretaker.

Gilbert “Burt” J Wagg

Gilbert (Burt) J Wagg’s Groceries and Provisions is Located where Tim Horton’s is today at Lake Ave, Ridge Road, and Pullman Ave.

Wagg’s Grocery and Provisions store could hardly be called a general store in the same sense as Henry Phelps’s business. Gilbert (Burt) J. Wagg started in business in the early 1900s with several small grocery stores in Rochester. Since he was a natural salesman and “go-getter” (a favorite saying of the day), he decided to open yet another store on the north-western edge of the city. Streets along Lake Avenue were developed because of the expansion of the Eastman Kodak Company, and Kodak Park Works. An ideal place for Burt’s new store was on the east side of Lake Avenue near Kodak. The business grew, with departments added almost yearly. A bakery, a meat department, groceries, and produce were sold there from the start. Furniture, china, yard goods, clothing, shoes, phonographs later called gramophones now called record players or turntables depending on your generation, and records all became integrated into Wagg’s, especially after the business was moved nearby to a building with ample floor space about 1912. The business eventually took a building on Lake Avenue as well as a number down Pullman Avenue.

Burt is at the telephone in one of the photos and his sister Grace is at the adding machine to his right.

One photo ( 1920) shows the business with a bus at the corner of Lake and Pullman. Most people referred to it as Wagg’s Corner. The mini-department store then employed 28 clerks and drivers to cover the departments and five delivery wagons. Burt is at the telephone in one of the photos and his sister Grace is at the adding machine to his right. Grace was as astute about the business as her brother. Burt passed on in 1944. Grace took over and ran it until it became clear newer and more modern stores had opened on West Ridge Road. The business closed in 1964 and the building was torn down in 1988. Parts of the other shops that were to the right of the G.J. Wagg’s store are still standing but now are apartments at 17 thru 29 Pullman Ave. Pullman ave was redesigned to come back a bit from the corner that Lake Ave and Ridge Road to prevent sharp turns onto Pullman ave from coming from the Veterans Bridge or from lake ave turn on to Ridge Road and then a sharp left onto Pullman Ave and then the raised median makes it impossible to turn on to Pullman ave after the light on at ridge and lake coming from the Veterans Bridge.

Answer to the Question

How long do you think it would take for you to get from Hoosick Cemetary (West Greece) Manitou at West Ridge Road to G.C. Latta House at Lake Ave, and Latta Rd in Charlotte?

Your Distance is 9.5 miles in one direction

Your Speed is based on the mode of transportation you take to get to the destination.

Mode of TransportationSpeedOne Way TripRound Trip Time
Car 35 mph15-17 minutes30-34 minutes
Pedal Bike †8 mph1 hour, 11 minutes, 15 seconds2 hours, 22 minutes, 30 seconds
Pedal Bike †26 mph0 hours, 21 minutes, 55 seconds0 hours, 43 minutes, 51 seconds
Horse Trot‡5 mph1 hour, 54 minutes, 0 seconds3 hours, 48 minutes, 0 seconds
Horse Trot‡8 mph1 hour, 11 minutes, 15 seconds2 hours, 22 minutes, 30 seconds
Walking §3 Hours 10 Minutes6 Hours 20 minutes
Calculation of Time

† Traveling by a pedal bike can vary depending on how fast you can pedal it can be as low as 8 mph and high as 26 mph

‡ Traveling by a Horse at a trot at 5-8 mph

Traveling by public transit is not available for this example based on the chosen route that was selected


Bicentennial Snapshot # 13: Asa Rowe, James Vick and the Beginning of the Nursery Industry

Rochester went from being the flour city to the Flower city.  But actually, the nursery industry in Monroe County started in Greece!

Topics and Facts in this Bicentennial Snapshot:

Interesting Facts

Question: Did you know Rochester went from being the flour city to the Flower city?

Answer: Actually, the nursery industry in Monroe County started in Greece. This was because of the amount of fertile land and the vast openness for the growth of Flowers, Produce, Fruits, and other plants that would grow in the region.

Question: What was Rochester known for first as the Flour or was it Flower?

The answer may surprise some of you it first was known as the flour city because of the gristmill that Ebenezer “Indian” Allen had at one point and in Aqueduct Park there is a sign that tells about the gristmill that was located at 47-59 E Main St, Rochester, NY 14614 which is the at the corner of East Main Street and Geneva St in the City of Rochester. The City then became known as the Flower City in 1859.

Asa Rowe (Brith: 25 Feb 1806, Death:23 Nov 1894 (aged 88) )

Asa Rowe
Asa Rowe, 1806-1895, A Pioneer, Tavernkeeper, and Nurseryman
Learn more from this short paper on Asa Rowe, edited by Lee Strauss

Asa Rowe was born February 25, 1806, and was the son of Abel Rowe and Ame Hincher, and grandson of two of the first families of Greece. His father, Abel Rowe, and his grandparents Daniel and Ruth Granger Rowe were settlers at King’s Landing featured in the Bicentennial Snapshot number 4. His mother was Ame Hincher, the daughter of William and Mehitable Hincher; she came to Charlotte in 1792 with her parents and they were the first European settlers to reside west of the Genesee River.

Asa Rowe established the first nursery business in Monroe County in 1826 when he opened the Monroe Garden and Nursery on the north side of Ridge Road near where today, Mitchell, Long Pond, and Ridge Roads intersect.

His Dad Able Rowe ran the Rowe Tavern, more on the Rowe tavern appeared in Bicentennials Snapshots 11 & 12 The Ridge parts 1 and 2, and 16 ADA Ridge.

Take a look at the slideshow, the first image is the cover of the Genesee Farmer, where Asa would place ads for the Monroe Horticultural Garden and Nurseries he ran. The next image in the slideshow is one of the ads Asa ran. The final image in this slideshow is the ad is the same ad but note the text that is in the odd style circle Asa mentions that he takes advantage of the Erie Canal otherwise Known as Clinton's Ditch which will be explained in two weeks in the Bicentennial Snapshot # 15 - The Erie Canal.

James Vick (1818-1882) from Vick illustrated catalog
James Vick (1818-1882) from Vick illustrated catalog

James Vick (Born November 23, 1818 - Death 16 May 1882 (aged 63))

James Vick was born November 23, 1818, in Portsmouth, Portsmouth Unitary Authority, Hampshire, England to parents James Vick and Elizabeth Vick. James brothers were George Vick, William Vick, Joseph Henry Vick, and Charles Frederick Vick. George also had a knack for the seed business as well as his brother James. But for this snapshot, we will mostly focus on James Vick.

Coming from Portsmouth, Portsmouth Unitary Authority, Hampshire, England he did make one friend before leaving England any guesses as to what famous author was born in Landport, Portsmouth, United Kingdom?

It's no other than the boyhood home of the famous author Charles Dickens the author of A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities as well as some other books. James Vick enjoyed having a life-long friendship with Charles Dickens.

James Vick emigrated to America in 1833 with his father's family. Like many of the Rochester horticulturists of the nineteenth century, Vick was closely entwined with the publishing world. He first came to Rochester from New York City in 1837 as a printer, and shortly thereafter became associated with the Genesee Farmer as a writer and editor, and finally as owner and publisher during the period 1849-1855. Also, James helps a famous Abolitionist in Rochester print his newspaper the North Star you are probably thinking of Frederick Douglas. If you were you are correct he help Frederick print his newspaper to help slaves make it to freedom and tell stories that would not be printed in the other papers at the time that the North Star was printed.

After the death of Andrew Jackson Downing, the great landscape architect, Vick purchased The Horticulturist from Downing' s estate and moved it to Rochester where he published it from 1853 to 1855 with Patrick Barry as editor. Vick later edited and published The Rural Annual and Horticultural Directory from 1856 to 1857 when he sold it to Joseph Harris who continued it until 1867. Vick also edited The Rural New Yorker from 1857 to 1862. While Vick was publishing and writing he was also experimenting with seeds in his spare time.

This sideline soon grew into a viable business venture and by 1866 Vick acquired some land on East Avenue, now Vick Park A and Vick Park B, and quickly developed this plot into one of the most famous seed gardens in the United States. Until 1870, he packed most of his seed in the attic of his home before moving to a four-story building at State and Market Streets.

The grand opening of his new headquarters was happily attended by many people, so many that hundreds had to be turned away at the door. The Union and Advertiser reported that "in the evening the crowd was fearful and the efforts of the police, who were detailed for that purpose, were tasked to their utmost to preserve order and to keep the stairs, halls, and rooms from being choked up with a struggling mass of humanity. "

Vick's Seed Warehouse at the corner of State and Market Streets
Vick's Seed Warehouse at the corner of State and Market Streets
Vick's Seed Farm in Greece at Manitou and the Erie Canal

Vick's four sons, James Jr., Charles, Frank, and Edward, attended to the various affairs of the business. Edward supervised the storage of bulbs and seeds; Charles was in charge of the bindery; James Jr. was head of financial affairs, and Frank oversaw the packing room. James Vick's two brothers, Joseph and William, were in charge of the company's fifty-acre seed farm in Greece. At Vick's seed farm on Manitou Road at the Erie Canal that the flag was created out of Aster Flowers and people would travel on the Erie canal to just come to look at the display each year when springtime would come around.

By 1872 the Vick Seed Company was sending out more than 200,000 illustrated catalogs each year and was advertising in 3,300 newspapers and in all of the American agricultural and horticultural journals. The advertising bill in December 1870 amounted to $15,000. $4650 was spent just on stamps.

His thriving vegetable and flower bulb nursery was on Dewey Avenue where the Villa of Hope (formerly St. Joseph’s Villa) is located today.

Villa of Hope (formerly St. Joseph’s Villa)
Villa of Hope (formerly St. Joseph’s Villa)
The Greenhouses in this picture came from Vicks on Dewey Ave

Also, You won't believe this but the greenhouses that were located at Vick's were purchased by The Frears Family and sit at Frears's Garden Center. We at the Greece Historical Society found that information out today with an interview with the grandson of E. Frear.

More on the Frear's Garden center coming later on in its own snapshot. But for now, here is the Farwell To Frears Article with some additional photos of that garden center.

A Farewell to Frear’s Garden Center

More on the Erie Canal in Snapshot # 15