Bicentennial Snapshot No. 42: Rediscovering Greece’s Historic Schoolhouses of 1872 Part 1

Today we will take a tour of the old district schools in Greece.

Common School District in this snapshot

Our Snapshot this week is based on an exhibit researched and written by the late Gloria LaTragna and edited and designed by Gina DiBella in 2001 and updated for showing at the Greece Historical Society in 2018. This photo exhibit, Rediscovering Greece’s Historic Schoolhouses, is currently on display in the new Greece Office of Student Transportation Services at 1790 Latta Road. We greatly appreciate Gina sharing it with us for this Snapshot. Some corrections and updated information were provided by Pat Worboys who was doing research at about the same time and found things that were not included in the exhibit Restore, Renew, Rediscover Your Neighborhood Schools that are currently on display and Greece Central School District’s Greece Office of Student Transportation and Student Services Facility. My research started because my mom’s grandfather Harold Tebo, purchased not only Common School District Number 9, he also purchased the larger 2-room school on the northwest corner of Elmgrove Road and Elmore Drive the Greece Ogden School Number 12 which you will see in Part 2 of Rediscovering Greece’s Historic Schoolhouses that I became interested in researching the school houses of Town of Greece and with my dad Doug Worboys, we started doing more digging in on the research which took us to the Landmark Society of Western New York and there we found some information that I had Maureen correct before we recorded Rediscovering Greece’s Historic Schoolhouses of 1872 Parts 1 and 2. One of the most unique things that happened in the summer of 2003 was when Gene Preston came over and got both me and my dad to come over to the stand, and said he has an elderly lady who had either taught at school # 9 or was a student once we got to the stand we started talking with her by the way we never got her name before she left the stand. She told us about some of the interesting things about Common School District Number 9, how the teachers would enter the school from the rear and the students entered from the front. I will fill in more of this in part 2 of Rediscovering Greece’s Historic Schoolhouses of 1872.

Credit page for exhibit courtesy of Gina DiBella
Map of Common School District in 1872
Map of Common School District in 1872

Long before the establishment of the centralized Greece School District, students in the Town of Greece were educated in schoolhouses scattered throughout the town. Students in the area previously known as the town of Northampton have had the opportunity for a formal education since 1798 when the first school commissioner was elected. In 1823, one year after the Town of Greece was established, it was divided into Common School Districts. By the end of the 19th century, Greece had 17 common districts and two Joint districts that sat on the Parma Greece border just north of the North Greece Common School District # 6 area and west of the Frisbee Common School District # 7. There were some Districts that ended up being renumbered and restructured when the number of students kept increasing which occurred around 1919 and included the annexation of some of the districts into the City of Rochester School District as well.

Common School District #1

Common School District No. 1 school was located on the west side of present-day Lake Avenue, just north of Little Ridge Road [now West Ridge Road]. This one-room schoolhouse served the students in Hanford Landing. Today Kodak Park occupies the site of the schoolhouse and surrounding farmlands.

District No. 1 Hanford Landing School
District No. 1 Hanford Landing School

After moving from this location the school was located in an old frame building on Dewey Avenue north of Lewiston Avenue (Ridge Rd). The school housed 50 students. Mrs. O. H. Gordon was the principal until 1912. In the spring of 1912, the new present Kodak school 41 was completed. The school was admitted to the University of the State of New York. The name of the school switched to Kodak Union (Kodak No. 41) school in 1916. George H. William was the principal. At about that time a high school department was added with about 18 pupils. In 1917 an addition was added due to tremendous growth. In 1919 the school came into the city system. The student population at that time was 350 students in grammar and 45 students in high school. The high school became known as Kodak High School. Districts # 1, 4, and 10 were consolidated in 1916 when they were annexed by the city. Later high school students would attend John Marshall or Charlotte High School.

Common School District 1
Common School District 1

Common School District # 2

Common School District #2 Big Ridge School was located on the north side of Big Ridge Road [now Ridgeway Avenue] between Long Pond Road and Latona Road. A 1902 map, however, no longer shows a schoolhouse located on this site. There is no picture of this school located on Ridgeway Ave based on overlaying the 1872 map over a current map that puts the structure between Wehner Mower and Ventdi Septic Services on Ridgeway Ave today. The only thing we have from a Common School District No. 2 town of Greece of County of Monroe for the school year ending July 31, 1919, to Fred W. Hill who was District Superintendent at the time and you can see that Trustees Report here

District No. 2 Big Ridge School on 1872 map Rochester Public Library History and Genealogy Division

Common School District # 3

Common School District #3 – Walker School

Common School District #3 – Walker School was located on the west side of Mitchell Road near the site of the former Mitchell Road branch of the Greece Public Library. This school sat right on the Walker Property and the house still stands today. In 1912 – 1913 Elizabeth J Crawford was the teacher at Common School District #3 and Fred Hill district Supt.

Common School District # 3
Common School District # 3

Common School District #4

Common School District #4
Common School District #4

Perhaps in existence back in 1817. The first known teacher was a member of a pioneer family, Miss Adeline Holden. The school was located at Latta (Broadway) and Stutson (Holden) streets. In 1837 George Latta donated a site at the North side of Stutson St. A new one-room brick building replaced the old one. In 1837 bricks used for the building were made on-site. In the 1860s the school was overcrowded with 1 teacher handling 80 students. In 1868 a new school was built at the corner of Latta Rd and River Streets serving students grades 1 thru 8. In 1893 a two-story addition was completed at a cost of $ 6,200. In 1907 a second school was constructed on site which was Charlotte High school’s first building, and finished in 1908, sat on the site of the present Rochester Fire Department’s Engine 19 / Marine 1 / Gator 2 / Brush 1 at the Y where Lake Avenue and River Street meet right next to the Charlotte Cemetery. In 1911, the district employed 13 teachers. Both school buildings were demolished in 1937.

Common School District #4
City of Rochester Fire Department Station RFD E19 / Marine 1 / Gator 2 / Brush 1
Common School District #4 (Rear) Charlotte High School (Front) Charlotte School from Rochester Public Library History and Genealogy Division

After annexation, Rochester built school # 38 on Latta Rd in 1928 and put on an addition in 1953. School # 38 Latter closed and is now home to Lake Breeze Condominiums. And Charlotte High School moved across and down the road no more heat 30 feet to the north where it used to sit. Students in this area ended up going to District #10 Greece or what is now called the City of Rochester, District # 42 – Abelard Reynolds School more on this School in Part 2 of Common School Districts of 1872.

Charlotte High photo by John Cranch
Charlotte High photo by John Cranch

Common School District #5 – Paddy Hill

District No. 5’s frame structure originally stood on the same parcel of land that Paddy Hill Elementary School occupies today. On the southwest corner of Latta Road at Mt Read Blvd, Mother of Sorrows Church and Cemetery were and still are located across the road. This district was in existence seven years after the Town of Greece was formed. The first school was located on a 60 x 60 lot on the southwest corner of Latta Rd. It was created by early settlers. The land was donated by Judge or Squire Nicholas Read. In the middle of the room was a three-legged pot belly stove that heated the room during the winter. Double benches could seat a total of three students. were the fixtures. In 1887 the student numbered 83. By 1894 the number had grown to 92. Miss Kate McShea and Miss Mary Burns were two of the earliest teachers. The salary in those days was $395.00.

District No. 5 Mt. Read School – The north end of the Mother of Sorrows shed for horses and carriages are seen at left. Notice the fork in the road where Mt. Read approaches Latta Road. 

The schoolhouse was closed in 1929 due to a fire that damaged parts of the school it would cost 5,000 to repair the building instead of it getting torn down the structure was salvaged and purchased by Milton Carter who moved it down the hill on Latta Rd so he could use it for his residence. The old school serves as a home presently.

Chief of Greece Police – Milton Carter residence
Common School District #5
Common School District #5
Nicholas Read
Nicholas Read
District # 5 / Paddy Hill (1932-1955)

Students attended Barnard School from 1929 until 1931 when a new brick school was opened across from the old frame building at 1790 Latta Road in 1932. A much-mentioned feature of this new school was the indoor lavatories. This one had 4 classrooms, a gymnasium, an assembly hall combination, a teachers’ room, a store room, and inside lavatories all on a nine-acre plot. Only one classroom was used for many years. The school grew to 11 teachers. When this closed in at the end of the 1954-55 School year the students then went back to the southwest corner of Latta Rd and Mt. Read Blvd when Paddy Hill Elementary school opened.

In 1955, Paddy Hill Elementary School was built and students moved across the road once again.

Paddy Hill (1955- Present) Photo Take 2011 Bill Sauers
Historical marker photo by Bill Sauers

There has been a public elementary school at this intersection since 1839, either here or across the street making it the second oldest continuous location in the county. The Greece Historical Society received a grant from the William C. Pomeroy Foundation to install this historical marker.

The large brick school building No. 5 was converted to administrative offices for the Greece Central School District. It was torn down in 2021…

Greece School District # 5 photo by Bill Sauers
Greece Office of Student Transportation and Support Services, 2022, photo by Bill Sauers

to make way for the Greece Office of Student Transportation and Student Services Facility. This is where you vote for the school budget each year and it also holds the District Board Meetings instead of at Greece Odyssey Academy. In the back of this complex is a sea of buses that brings the students to and from school each day and behind that is Arcadia Middle and High School

Several artifacts from the building were saved including this sculpture of the Torch of Knowledge which is now mounted in the backyard of the Greece Historical Society and Museum. Gina DiBella, on behalf of the Society, is preparing a report documenting the history of the building for the New York State Historic Preservation Office.

Torch of Knowledge from District No. 5 building photo by Bill Sauers
Stone name plaque from District No. 5 building, photo by Bill Sauers

The name plaque above the entrance door was also preserved. According to sources both within the School District, the Town of Greece, and Members of the Historical Society, said there are plans to mount this 10-foot by four-foot slab near the flagpole of the new building with a time capsule buried with the students from Paddy Hill school participating. But as of this post that has not occurred yet when it does happen it will be added to this post and in a story as well in the January Newsletter will be a story on Paddy Hill School written by Bill Sauers, and when the museum reopens in March we will Feature this school as the featured exhibit of the year for 2023.


Common School District #6 – The Gooseneck School

The irregular direction of College Avenue as it winds from North Greece Road to Latta Road forms what appears to look like a gooseneck. Although this road does appear on the closeup map of the North Greece area in the 1872 Monroe County Plat Map by Beers, F. W. (Frederick W.). Atlas of Monroe Co., New York: From Actual Surveys by and Under the Direction of F. W. Beers. New York: F. W. Beers & Co. which you can see on the Monroe County Public Library http://photo.libraryweb.org/rochimag/mcm/mcm00/mcm00009.jpg

If you look at the overall 1872 Plat Map of Greece as seen on this link here even if you zoom in on the map you will see the outline of the gooseneck area but the above link will take you to the close up area http://photo.libraryweb.org/rochimag/mcm/mcm00/mcm00008.jpg

The name of the street is said that the name of the road came about due to the school. The first school on this site was a brick structure.

In 1927 the school had swings, slides, and teeters (teeter-totters or seesaws) outside. The pupils in the upper grades played baseball in the back of the school on the baseball field. The school had two rooms, with four grades in each room. The school was heated with a coal furnace. They had a bathroom for boys and girls. that same year they had regular electric lights.

Common School District #6 – The Gooseneck School

The children of the small hamlet of North Greece attended this school until 1949 when Common School District No. 6 joined the Hilton School District.

Common School District #6 - The Gooseneck School
Common School District #6 – The Gooseneck School
Common School District #6 – The Gooseneck School
Map of North Greece 1872
Map of North Greece 1872
Hotel DeMay, 2007, from Bill Sauers

After the school closed, the school bell was relocated to the top of the chimney of the former Hotel DeMay.

The school building still stands today as a private residence.

Common School District No. 6- Now
Common School District No. 6 – Now a Private Home photo courtesy of Gina DiBella

Thank you for joining us today. Next week we continue our tour of the old Common School District with Districts 7-17 and Joint Districts 13 and 14.

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Bicentennial Snapshot No 38: Our Town in World War II

Today we’ll tell you about the town of Greece during World War II.

Panorama of the Opening of the World War II Exhibit
Panorama of the Opening of the World War II Exhibit – Presenting the Colors
Aerial view of Long Pond Road at Latta where Wegmans supermarket is today, 1940s, from the Office of the Town Historian

Encompassing more than 50 square miles, the town of Greece in 1940 was primarily made up of farms and the population was 14,925 as of the 2010 census the town of Greece’s Population was 96,095 people that’s 3,905 people shy of 100,000 people in the town.

The town was protected by a ten-member police force led by the town’s first police chief, Milton Carter, and four volunteer fire companies.

Chief Milton Carter (Right)
Charlotte High School, Lake Ave 1940s
Aerial view of John Marshall High School Ridgeway Ave Rochester, NY

There were nine churches. However, there was no town public library, nor high schools; students attended Charlotte or John Marshall High Schools in the city.

That meant if you went to school at one of the many smaller elementary schools or 1 and 2-room schools in the town of Greece you by the time it came for 9th grade you would either end up doing trade by the 9th grade or attend High School at Charlotte High School on Lake Ave in the Villiage of Charlotte or John Marshall High School on Ridgeway Ave in the City of Rochester. More on the education system prior to the modern education system in a 2 part snapshot coming soon.

There were 39 registered organizations for men, women, and young people including a large chapter of the American Legion, eleven PTAs, political clubs, Grange Hall, Boys and Girls Scouts, and Fireman’s Associations as well as 38 church-related groups.

Grange Hall on Ridge Road, 1945, from the Office of the Town Historian

That All changed on December 7, while it was just getting to lunchtime on the East Coast the sun was just coming, on that day Stanley Hwalek one of the veterans that we interviewed for the exhibit was stationed at Pearl Harbor here is a quote from him in 2015 for the exhibit and you can read his entire veteran’s profile by picking up a copy of Our Town in World War 2 book in the museum gift shop.

Picture of Stanley Hwalek taken in 2015 for the exhibit

“Well, December 7th was just a regular Sunday morning. We were up at 6:00 because on Sundays they let us sleep a half hour longer. Usually during the rest of the week, reveille was at 5:30, but Sunday you were able to sleep until 6 o’clock and they had breakfast from 6:30 until 7:30. After breakfast, I went out on deck with one of my shipmates and I had the morning newspaper. As I’m reading the paper there about 7:30 or so I looked up, we were near this Navy air station at Ford Island, I saw a lot of smoke coming out of the hangars. I said to my shipmate, ‘Look. The Army must be having maneuvers or something because they’re making a lot of smoke out there.’ All of a sudden a plane comes over our ship and starts strafing.”

Stanley was one of the many veterans that survived the attack at Pearl Harbor that December 7th, 1941. On Monday, December 8th, 1941 in a full joint session of Congress President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the Nation and asked for Congress to approve the Declaration of War against Japan and to respond to the attacks at Pearl Harbor.

Headline from Greece Press, December 12, 1941

Grecians answered the call to join the war effort. By March 1942, 1500 men and women had volunteered for civilian defense positions.

By the end of 1944, town residents had collected 165.5 tons of scrap metal, 384 tons of waste paper, 3 tons of rubber, 4 tons of old rags, and 200 bags of milkweed. This gun, captured from Germany during World War I, was donated to the war effort for scrap metal. These stats are from Accept, Buy and Volunteer: The Homefront Experience of the Town of Greece, New York, 1941-1945 by Timothy Dobbertin.

You can read also read the following article that the Society’s President Bill Sauers wrote and published in the Greece Post titled “A German Gun Helps Win the War” about Police Chief Milton H. Carter, who acquired a 105 mm German Howitzer. https://greecehistoricalsociety.org/2008/11/13/a-german-field-gun-helps-win-the-war/

Gordon Howe, Town Supervisor, lays a wreath on Memorial Day at the Town Hall, 1941, from the Office of the Town Historian
Victory Garden Enrollment Form, Greece Post, March 20, 1942

Residents were encouraged to plant Victory Gardens with vegetables, but to also continue to grow ornamental flowers as they would be morale boosters.

Headline, Greece Post, March 20, 1942

By the spring of 1942, 300 had enrolled. By the spring of 1944, there were more than 25 acres of Victory Gardens under cultivation in the town.

The Odenbach Shipyard was the main employer in Greece during the war years, employing thousands of workers at the 4477 Dewey Avenue plant. They made cargo barges, Y-boats, and cranes for the United States Army. At the height of production, they averaged one ship every two weeks.

Kodak, Bosch & Lomb, were also employing workers from Greece and other parts of the community as well but because of the City Annexation of where Kodak’s Lake ave facilities were, they were no longer considered the main employer located in the town boundaries.

Workers at Odenbach Shipbuilding Corp., 1943, from the Office of the Town Historian
The flag of stars flew at Greece Town Hall to call attention to the number of Greece Men and Women in service during World War II. Additional stars were added as the numbers grew. From Left to Right Town Supervisor Gordon Howe, Police Chief Milton Carter, and Lucius Bagley World War I Veteran

Almost 2,000 town residents served in the military.

War Mothers Service Organization, 1943, from the Office of the Town Historian

Families waited at home hoping and praying for the safety of their husbands, sons, and brothers.

cemetery of fallen soldiers and veterans
Photo by Veronika Valdova on Pexels.com

Thirty-four Greece residents made the ultimate sacrifice for their county. They were:

Clip 45:

Back Cover of Our Town in World War II

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, there are now only about 150,000 still living. In 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of VE day, the Greece Historical Society opened Our exhibit, Our Town in World War II.

In the Video, we Hear from William Sauers the President of the Greece Historical Society & Museum. Don Riely, was our Master of the Ceremony. Color Gaurd from VFW Post 468. 2015 Greece Town Supervisor William D. Reilich Speaking about what it was like on the homefront during World War II. Jack Foy talked out his tour of duty during World War II. Senator Joe Robach read the list of 32 soldiers. Finally Maureen Whalen the exhibit chair gave a brief overview of the exhibit. can view the entire program below.

Twelve veterans of the war were interviewed for the exhibit. Today, only one of them is still living. But their recorded interviews are available at our museum.

You can explore a digital copy of the museum exhibit that is located in the past exhibits section.

We had a great turnout for the exhibit and when the museum went to the Museum Association of New York the following year we received an award for the exhibit.

You may read about these vets and Greece during the war years in the Society’s publication Our Town in World War II by Maureen Whalen and Marie Poinan.

Our Town in World War II

Thank you for joining us today. Next week our topic is Paddy Hill, What a journey we have had so far exploring the History of Greece through each snapshot that Maureen Whalen and myself Pat Worboys, and thanks to Joesph Vitello, William Sauers, and many our other contributors to these snapshots. These help you learn what life was like through different eras in the town of Greece.

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Bicentennial Snapshot No. 37: Unsolved Arson Case – The Holiday Inn Fire of 1978

Today we look back at the horrific fire at the Holiday Inn in Greece in which ten people lost their lives while staying at the Holiday Inn. Every year goes by when the generation of people who were are the scene of the horrific fire and the temperature was a balmy chilly 20°F (-6.7°C) temperature and winds out of the north around 10mph. Remember when we told you about the town of Greece didn’t join the 9-1-1 call center and operations until around 1986, before that time you would have to call the station directly or if the business had an alarm system properly wired up to the fire company’s alarm system to alert the firefighters that there was a fire at certain places of business, this also played a roll in the case of this tragic hotel fire that took the lives of ten people.

Even though the Ridge Road Fire District and North Greece Fire Department are celebrating their centennials this year there is one fire that has effect everyone at both. Every fire district in the town has battled large and small fires, auto accidents, attend training, practiced at the fire training grounds, routine fire inspections, community programs, and outreach, but never prepared them for what would become Ridge Road’s most unique fire they had to deal with in the companies first 100 years of service.

Chase-Pitkin fire, August 30, 1980, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

Ridge Road Fire Department has battled many fires,

large…

…and small.

Greece Baptist Church courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD
Holiday Inn Fire, 1978, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

But never anything like the Holiday Inn Fire on November 26, 1978.

On Sunday, November 26, 1978, there were about 200 people staying at the Holiday Inn in Greece. According to the report Fire command, Volume 46. National Fire Protection Association, 1979 in that publishing it states there were 91 guest rooms at the hotel, but the exact number of guest rooms on November 28, 1978, is unknown due to the owner of the hotel began changing some of the guest rooms were converted into conference rooms. Among the guests were visitors from an Ontario, Canada bus tour here to take advantage of Thanksgiving weekend shopping specials, members of two wedding parties, a John Marshall alumna in town for her reunion, and attendees at the hotel’s Saturday night singles party.

Holiday Inn postcard courtesy of Bill Sauers
Holiday Inn sign courtesy of Bill Sauers

Around 2:30 am that frosty Sunday morning, a fire started among the paper products and towels stored in a closet area tucked under a first-floor stairway and that metal door for the closet area was not fire-rated or UL-labeled. The blaze spread quickly up the stairs where the fire doors had been propped open, raced down corridors, ignited the ceilings, and invaded the roof. And with strong winds from out of the north-north-west, and the temperature was hovering around 24.2°F (-4.333 °C) but with a wind chill, it would make it feel like 16.1°F (-8.333°C).

Two off-duty firefighters, one from the Greece Road fire department, the other an Albion FD fire chief, each driving on Ridge Road on the way home from a different workplace, spotted the orange glow of the flames approximately eight minutes after the fire started. The Greece firefighter radioed in the fire from his car and they both entered the building to start evacuating guests. Other people were calling from nearby payphones to report the fire. 911 wasn’t instituted until 1986 in Rochester (even later in Greece) and of course cell phones hadn’t been invented yet.

Greece 1970 Interactive Historic Data Map Monroe County https://maps.monroecounty.gov/Html5Viewer2/index.html?viewer=Historic#
Fighting the inferno, 1978, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

Greece Ridge put in the call for mutual aid to help with the scene unfolding at the Holiday Inn on Ridge Road next to Corona Road. The companies that came to assist Greece Ridge were Barnard, North Greece, and the City of Rochester, who fought the blaze for two hours with more than 125 firefighters. Ten ambulances were needed at the scene. Gene Preston who was a member of Kodak Fire at the time, remembers that Kodak Fire did offer to lend assistance by connecting Greece Ridge trucks to Kodak’s water source on the ground of the Latona Road Complex, but Greece Ridge turned down Kodak Fire Department’s offer to hook up to their water source.

Rescue crews piloted 170 guests, most of them still in their night clothes and many barefoot, outside into the 16-degree cold.

As you can see on this map where (Greece Ridge) Ridge Ridge had command of the scene and the Greece Ridge chief became the incident commander, he issued the call to request mutual aid as Barnard, North Greece, and City of Rochester companies arrived at the scene, Greece Ridge fire chief began assigning the assisting companies where to deploy their firefighting equipment at the scene. The blue lines on this map are hoses that ran to the water from the fire hydrants to the trucks and from truck to truck. The green lines on this map of the scene represent the hoses that were in the firefighter’s hands. A large contingent of the firefighting efforts was coming from pumper 253 on the west side of where the origin of the fire started. The red arrows represent the direction of where the fire was traveling outward from the origin to the shaded reddish, orangish zone was where the fire able to be stopped from consuming the rest of the structure.

What is a Squrt™️ fire truck? The Squrt™️ fire truck is a brand of fire truck Trademarked by SNORKEL FIRE EQUIPMENT COMPANY CORPORATION on November 4, 1969, as you can see in the Trademark filing on the USPTO website https://tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4810:yri038.2.3 and licensed to different manufacturers that built these kinds of fire trucks like the one in service in North Greece was built by Young Fire Equipment Corporation in Buffalo, New York.

map of units on scene
Map of Units on Scene at Holiday Inn Fire courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

Here is a list of the abbreviations of each of the different trucks at the scene means after each of the different fire fighting apparatuses is the number of that engine.

  • E – Engine
    • E-10
    • E-11
  • L – Ladder
    • L-221
    • L-251
  • M – Medic
    • M-220
  • R – Rescue Engine
    • R-222
  • P – Pumper
    • P-251
    • P-252
    • P-253
    • P-254
    • P-255
    • P-273
    • P-274
    • P-453
  • T – Truck
    • T-3
    • T-8
  • Squrt™️
    • Squrt 1
After the fire, in 1978, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

By 4:30 the fire was out, but the building was a total loss. A few guests leaped from second and third-story windows to save themselves. Thirty-five people were injured. Tragically, ten people perished in the fire from smoke inhalation.

We Remember the guest that perished that early morning on November 26th, 1978

List of Canadian citizens who died in the Holiday Inn Fire

They were: Rubina “Ruth” Cushinan, age 81, and her daughter Ruby Cushinan, age 61, from York, Ontario, Canada; four people from Etobicoke, Ontario, Maguerrette Duncan, age 57, 67-year-old Edward Farley and his 62-year-old wife, Lorene, and Pamela Sagriff, age 30, and from Bramalea, Ontario, Huguette Sundude, age 30.

Names of the remaining three people who died

Joyce Plumb age 42 from Arlington Virginia who had attended her 25th high school reunion from John Marshall High School the day before; Stephen Gregory Ford, age 29, from Ypsilanti, Michigan who was in Rochester for his best friend’s wedding, and from Pompano Beach, Florida, Nancy Garrett, age 26.

white rose
Photo by Aidan Nguyen on Pexels.com

Results of the Fire Investigation

The hotel had a host of structural faults that contributed to the easy spread of the conflagration: The “primary factors that led to the fatalities in this incident were the combination of the highly combustible interior finish, [and] unprotected openings that existed in the stairway,” there was only one vertical firewall between the two wings and the firewalls in the buildings did not extend to the roof, allowing the fire to rip through the top floor of each wing.

Aerial view of the hotel courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD
Sprinkler head from fessa.com.au

The hotel was equipped with a fire alarm system that included manual-pull stations and combination rate-of-rise, fixed-temperature thermal detectors as initiating devices yet it failed to do what it was intended to do to prevent the loss of life. It lacked a sprinkler system and Emergency Lighting. The alarm system wasn’t connected to the Greece-Ridge Fire Department or any other security agency.

The alarm system consisted only of one bell in the middle of each of the two wings’ five floors. The alarm didn’t have a distinctive sound nor was it loud enough. Guests didn’t recognize it as a fire alarm; they thought it was a phone in the room or an alarm clock. Furthermore, when hotel employees realized the alarms were ringing, they rushed to get people out, but no one remembered to call the fire department.

Burned-out corridor, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD
Greece Police Headquarters Precinct 1, 1983 Office of the  Town Historian
Greece Police Headquarters Precinct 1, 1983 Office of the Town Historian

As news of the fire spread, the police department was flooded with calls. One volunteer Doug Worboys, recalls that after the fire he arrived home at 10:30 am, grabbed a little sleep, and returned to work the noon to 11 pm shift at the police dispatch office desk with fellow dispatchers Ron Timmons and Jim Leary. “We had callers from throughout the US and Canada; the farthest away, I think, was Puerto Rico. We referred most of the Holiday Inn inquiry calls to the front desk officer who was assigned to take all those types of calls. The next day they had a special line set up for further calls. You hear things like that happening in other places, but you never expect one like that in your own town. That day was a very busy day with all those calls along with calls for normal situations that occur day to day. That day was a very somber day for us dispatchers and all people involved in this fire.”

Although at first it was said that the fire was accidental, Police Chief Gerald Phelan, when speaking to reporters at the time, said that “his gut told him the fire was nonetheless suspicious due to its speed and intensity.”

Police Chief Gerald Phelan with Greece Town Supervisor Don Riley from the Office of the Town Historian

John Stickever joins the case

John Stickever, photo from his obituary New York Daily News, February 22, 2017
Butanone. (2022, November 8). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butanone

16×9 – Lost in the Flames: Legacy of historic Holiday Inn fire

Part 1 – A deadly blaze engulfs a Holiday Inn in upstate New York more than 30 years ago, claiming the lives of 7 Canadians. Investigators called it an arson but never caught the criminal responsible. Part 2 – Thirty years after the fire, a deadly arson remains unsolved.

16×9 Program on Global News From Canada

John Stickever joined the FDNY in 1959 and was assigned to Engine Co. 231 in Brooklyn. He became a fire marshal six years later. Durning Stickevers first 37 years as a fire marshall where he investigated numerous fire scenes where some were arson, and some were just accidents. In 1978, John Stickever, a New York City Fire Firefighter was just promoted to the rank of Supervising Fire Marshall in July 1978 and was an Investigator who specialized in arson and “essentially wrote the book on fire investigation training,” which is linked below. Mid-week following the fire on November 26, 1978, is when then Greece Police Chief Gerald Phelan contacted Commission Augustus Anthony Beekman of the New York City Fire Department to see if the City could send someone to help the Greece Police and Greece Ridge Fire Department to examine the Holiday Inn fire scene. It was Commissioner Augustus Anthony Beekman who called Stickever at home and the commissioner said he was the one who was selected to head to upstate New York to help with a case in Greece, NY.

When Stickever arrived he started to have firefighters clear the floor and in front of doors and other areas in the hotel, he began to notice things that the Greece Police and Greece Ridge did not see at the time of the fire which stood out to him. Stickever concluded that an accelerant of some kind had been used in starting the fire and declared it arson and the ten deaths were now ten murders. Stickever with his knowledge found burn patterns, and damage to the kickplate on the fire doors, and when the results came back from the labs, they found traces of Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK) otherwise known as Butanone was used as an accelerant which made the fire grow quickly in the stairwell, and with the winds at 2 A.M. were at about 10 miles an hour out of the North which help spread the fire quickly through the hotel, with that information both Stickever and then Assistant Monroe County District Attorney Crane, during in 1978 knew it had to be someone with the knowledge of MEK. In 1978 Stickever and then ADA Crane believe that someone would have to have knowledge of MEK and firefighting skills to know that MEK according to ilo.org a website that has information on all different types of hazmat chemicals notes under PHYSICAL & CHEMICAL INFORMATION that the Physical State and Appearance is a colorless liquid with a characteristic odor from ILO and WHO 2021. The other types of accelerants would have been easily found but because MEK was used as the accelerant it made it more difficult for the firefighters to fight the fire. If the chief of Greece Ridge had requested the airport chemical fire truck from the airport which was a carbon dioxide, dry agents, or alcohol-resistant foam-based fire suppression agent in its tank would have halved the time for the first responders that day, but no one knew what accelerant was used to start it.

According to an interview Stickerver did with Crime Beat TV’s 16×9 – Lost in the Flames: Legacy of historic Holiday Inn fire and aired April 30, 2012, on Global News a division of Shaw Media Inc., in Canada, he remembers the interview one Greece Ridge firefighter said on the news and the body language of that firefighter on video, it set off some signs that were a sign that Stickever could tell that he was the critical suspect because during that interview that firefighter said he was driving towards the My Apartment Bar when he called the fire in. Stickevers pushed for the state to give marshals “police officer” status so they can enforce just like the police officers but with the ability to issue tickets, fines, fees, and official notices on properties that violate fire codes, fire safety, or other aspects of a building that would make the fire marshals not want to give okay to open the building or had to close the place down until it was brought up to code to ensure that it was safe for the public to enter said structure with that state approved this the bill that created and gave the power to create a program on fire investigation and arson in every municipality in New York State you can read the bill along with the supporters and documentation by reading the New York State bill jackets – L-1979-CH-0225 by clicking the link here to see the full text of that bill https://nysl.ptfs.com/aw-server/rest/product/purl/NYSL/i/f6d59c1f-e1a7-405a-9359-6f4fe1deacd8

Here is a link to the article that was written by John Stickever in the Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin in 1986 that describes the way he does arson investigations https://books.google.com/books?id=d_dcT71FVsUC&lpg=PA1&ots=auNtB2w7hF&dq=john%20stickever%20new%20york%20city%20fire%20department&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=john%20stickever%20new%20york%20city%20fire%20department&f=false

Phalen’s Arson Taskforce

Phelan formed a special arson task force, operating a command center out of the Pop-Lar Motel down the road from the fire site. The team of 23 local and state investigators conducted more than 400 interviews in the days after the fire. They settled on five “persons of interest,” but didn’t have enough evidence to bring charges against anyone. The two main suspects were the Greece Ridge firefighter who had radioed in the fire and a man who “had lived in two apartments that had caught fire, then, using insurance coverage, moved temporarily to the Holiday Inn. However, he had a confrontation with a staff member shortly before the fire, and was booted out of the hotel.” Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Crane along with his boss Monroe County District Attorney Lawrence T. Kurlander was given a list of 5 persons of interest and 2 main suspects that the Police gave to them as the possible suspects but without enough evidence from the fire scene and testimonial from guest, hotel employees, and people who lived around the area, it made the District Attorney office hard to pin a person to be held accountable for a change in one count of first-degree arson and ten counts of murder from the fire as well.

Here is what the New York State’s statute says Arson in the first degree from New York Laws › Penal Law › Part 3 › Title I › Article 150 > Section 20:

N.Y. Penal Law § 150.20 Arson in the first degree.
  1. A person is guilty of arson in the first degree when he
intentionally damages a building or motor vehicle by causing an
explosion or a fire and when (a) such explosion or fire is caused by an
incendiary device propelled, thrown or placed inside or near such
building or motor vehicle; or when such explosion or fire is caused by
an explosive; or when such explosion or fire either (i) causes serious
physical injury to another person other than a participant, or (ii) the
explosion or fire was caused with the expectation or receipt of
financial advantage or pecuniary profit by the actor; and when (b)
another person who is not a participant in the crime is present in such
building or motor vehicle at the time; and (c) the defendant knows that
fact or the circumstances are such as to render the presence of such
person therein a reasonable possibility.
  2. As used in this section, "incendiary device" means a breakable
container designed to explode or produce uncontained combustion upon
impact, containing flammable liquid and having a wick or a similar
device capable of being ignited.
  Arson in the first degree is a class A-I felony.
Postcard of Pop-Lar Motel, 2976 Ridge Road West, circa 1960 from mcnygenealogy.com
Assemblyman Roger Robach (right) with Governor Hugh Carey (center), 1979, from New York State digital archive

Assemblyman Roger Robach, who represented Greece, co-sponsored a bill in 1980 requiring hotels and motels with more than 30 rooms to have smoke detectors in every room and in hallways. It passed unanimously in the Assembly and after it was passed by the Senate was signed into law by Governor Hugh Carey.

Although an open case, it had laid dormant until 2010 when the Greece Police department, first under Chief Todd Baxter and then under his successor Patrick Phelan, gave new life to the investigation. Everything was reexamined and witnesses were interviewed again. They concluded that the firefighter was the arsonist. The Greece PD submitted its report to the Monroe County District Attorney in 2015. At the same as Cheif Baxter began his investigation, the Canadian Government want more answers from the hotel fire as well because this was an international issue and yet to date, the Canadain Government and the families of the seven Canadians that lost their lives have not gotten any answers and are left in limbo they wish this case could be solved.

Press release from the Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan
After the fire, in 1978, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

The District Attorney’s office, however, was not convinced that there was enough evidence to prosecute anyone. In the years since the 1978 fire, the science of arson has evolved and she didn’t feel that it was still conclusive without a doubt that it was even arson.

So, the families and friends of ten souls lost in that fire may never see anyone brought to account. The Holiday Inn Fire of 1978 was not only the deadliest fire in the history of the Town of Greece but in all of Monroe County.

Front page of the Democrat and Chronicle, November 27, 1978, clipped from newspapers.com

Thank you for joining us today. Next week we pay tribute to “the greatest generation.”

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