MonroeCounty is about as diverse a community as you can find: a mid-size city, rural areas with orchards and farm markets, suburbs with 20th-century tract houses and shopping malls, and quaint, Victorian villages. The GeneseeRiver and the Erie Canal bisect the county, more or less vertically and diagonally, so geology and history are a constant presence, shaping everything from traffic patterns to architecture and public festivals.
The county is literally a community of dozens of communities: 19 towns, nine villages, a combo town-village, and the City of Rochester (which has its own, numerous, defined neighborhoods). Given the number, there might be a good bit of similarity among all these, but each has its own distinct identity. Some draw it from their heritage, others from their location and their surroundings (parks, universities, manufacturing plants, farmland). And to many of the residents, the individuality of their particular hometown or neighborhood is a source of fierce pride.
You can get a taste of the diversity by sampling four of the local communities, from historic, urban Corn Hill to charming canal town Spencerport. For additional community profiles, check the Annual Manual page on rochestercitynewspaper.com.
Few Rochester neighborhoods can rival Corn Hill in architectural and historical significance. Still home to detailed Greek Revival houses and ornate Italianate villas with cupolas, Corn Hill recalls Victorian-era Rochester at its finest. The Campbell-Whittlesey House at 123 Fitzhugh Street and the Hervey Ely House at 138 Troup Street are just two of many of the area's remaining architectural gems.
Settled in the early to mid-1800's, Corn Hill was the original fashionable side of town, sometimes referred to as the "ruffled shirt and silk stocking" district. Rochester was still a small, rapidly growing city at that time, and Corn Hill was within walking distance to everything: it sprouted up on the west bank of the GeneseeRiver, and was just down the street from what became the downtown business district. Even though the neighborhood attracted the wealthy -- many of the area's mansions have since been demolished -- Corn Hill was "everyone's neighborhood," says Cynthia Howk, architectural researcher for the Landmark Society of Western New York.
It was a time, says Howk, when the wealthy often lived next door to their factories and businesses. And frequently their workers lived in nearby housing, also built by the factory owners. "Corn Hill had people from every economic level living cheek to jowl," says Howk. And the area's eclectic quality has survived, she says. Large houses still stand, but so do smaller, Victorian cottages.
By the late 1950's, much of Corn Hill's housing had become dilapidated. Instead of housing the rich and fashionable, many of the large Victorian homes were cut up into apartments. Some were little more than rooming houses, where a bedroom and a shared bathroom could be rented by the week.
But the 1970's ushered in a renewed interest in the area's history and distinctive housing. Urban pioneers began buying the houses and painstakingly restoring them. As a result, older brick homes that once sold for a few thousand dollars generally sell for more than $250,000 in today's real estate market.
In more recent years, Corn Hill has been the center of new development along the west side of the GeneseeRiver in the form of town homes and Corn Hill Landing, a mixed-use retail and housing development at the foot of downtown.
But no discussion of Corn Hill would be complete without acknowledging the neighborhood's cultural heritage. At one time, it was a nationally known jazz center, with top musicians playing in clubs along Clarissa Street. Each summer the Clarissa Street Reunion, a jazz and community festival, pays tribute to that past. And every July, hundreds of artists and more than 200,000 people descend on the area during the Corn Hill Arts Festival. What started as a small gathering of students and artists selling their work on the sidewalks has grown into one of the region's most important summer attractions and a showcase for the neighborhood's enduring beauty. -- BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO
MarketviewHeights is a relatively small neighborhood in the northeast section of the city that stretches from the Inner Loop to Clifford Avenue, and from North Street to North Goodman Street. The neighborhood is blessed with one of the area's richest assets -- the Rochester Public Market -- but it has also faced significant challenges.
The neighborhood's earliest residents were primarily Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine of the mid-1800's. They were followed by German and Italian immigrants. A working-class neighborhood, Marketview rode the wave of the industrial boom from the late 1800's to World War I.
"These were early settlers seeking employment in the trades," says Cynthia Howk, architectural research coordinator for the Landmark Society of Western New York. "This was when Rochester was in transition, changing from the FlowerCity to an industrial city."
Much of the early housing stock consisted of modest, wood-frame homes. Most were rented by people who worked for the area's primary employers -- textile and shoe factories. "The homes were really like cottages and not suitable for large families," Howk says.
Catholic and Protestant churches flourished. And neighborhood specialty stores, such as bakeries, fabric, and shoe shops were common, too.
But by the late 1950's, the Irish and Italian families that first settled the area began leaving. At least some of the out-migration was a result of "block busting." In a 1984 publication, Dan Karin, who is now Rochester's City Clerk, described the tactic as a neighborhood tragedy: as more African-Americans migrated north in search of work, unscrupulous real-estate agents were "all too willing to terrify stable residents with tales of fear and pander to bigotry," Karin wrote.
Today, the neighborhood's centerpiece, the Public Market is one of the city's most popular attractions, drawing thousands of customers every week. (It's open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, with occasional Sunday hours, depending on the season). Founded in 1827, is one of the oldest continuously operating produce markets in the country, although it has had several earlier homes prior to relocating to its current location.
During the market's earlier years, farmers relied on it mainly to sell their livestock. If you wanted cows for milk or chickens for eggs, the Public Market was your destination. It's still possible to see chickens for sale, but today's Public Market is a place where cultural diversity meets urban chic. Vendors from all over Central and Western New York offer everything from handmade soap to organic sausage, and permanent buildings house coffeehouses, exotic meat shops, and more.
While the Public Market has grown in popularity, requiring more parking to meet customer demand, the surrounding neighborhood has struggled. According to census data, the MarketviewHeights neighborhood has about 11,000 residents, mostly African-Americans and Hispanics, with about 40 percent living below the poverty level.
Some recent changes offer hope for Marketview. The neighborhood has been the target of the city's aggressive demolition plan, ridding the area of some of its boarded-up and abandoned houses. And the area is rich in what Howk calls institutional architecture, with interesting older churches, schools, and commercial buildings. An important new development is Station 55 on Railroad Street near the Public Market, an older restored building restored now being used as apartments and lofts. -- BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO
Penfield is not a community that can be easily pigeonholed.
As MonroeCounty's first eastside town, Penfield has a unique place in local history. And this year, it's marking a unique milestone: its bicentennial. Daniel Penfield began buying up land in the area in 1795 and built mills along Irondequoit Creek in hopes of attracting settlers. But it was on March 30, 1810, that the town was officially incorporated. Part of the town would later break off to form Webster.
In 2008, the Census Bureau estimated the town's population at 36,000. The figure has grown steadily over the past two decades -- about 30,000 people lived in Penfield at the time of the 1990 Census. The town is home to the Paychex headquarters and a Thermo Fisher Scientific plastics factory. (The company is perhaps best known as the manufacturer of Nalgene water bottles.)
While the town is well developed, with residential neighborhoods and housing tracts, as well as the ball fields and strip malls that usually accompany them, it's no cookie-cutter suburb. It has pockets of intense beauty, thanks to the town's natural features, and its fortunate location along IrondequoitBay. And the town has preserved 1,600 acres of open space, says Supervisor Tony LaFountain.
The town's been working with the other Bay communities, Irondequoit and Webster, to better protect the sensitive water ecosystem. They've worked together to develop a plan to protect the Bay, which includes initiatives focused on study of the ecosystem, public education, better planning, and stiffer laws governing boat docking.
Penfield officials have been trying to promote the Bay area as something of an attraction, particularly the area known as LaSalle's Landing. They'd like to see more public access to the Bay, as well as appropriate development in the area.
ChanningPhilbrickPark, named after a former town supervisor, is located along Irondequoit Creek. The creek winds through the town and also passes through the county's EllisonPark, which is partly in Penfield.
Volunteers maintain the NatureConservancy-ownedThousandAcreSwamp preserve on Jackson Road, which is more than 450 acres in size. More than 30 different guided hikes and field trips are offered each year, says the Nature Conservancy's website.
Georgena Terry, a founding member of the Penfield Green Initiative community group, says the east side of the town has a nice open character that makes it a unique part of the town. A cycling enthusiast and the founder of Terry Precision Bicycles, she enjoys biking through that part of the town.
There are over 3,200 acres of active farmland in the town representing 14 percent of land in the town, LaFountain says. Much of that, he says, is located east of Route 250. There are several farmers who work large tracts of land, but the town also has a number of what he calls "gentleman farmers" who have smaller operations or don't make their sole living through the operations.
"I think we have a really strong agricultural base in Penfield,"Terry says, "and that's something we really want to preserve." -- BY JEREMY MOULE
As the story goes, Spencerport was farmland before the Erie Canal came to town.
But after the canal was brought through the village, it became a bustling business district, with hotels, grocery stores, factories, blacksmiths, and grain and bean warehouses.
Like other canal villages, Spencerport has reinvented itself over the years. It's mainly a residential community and, with approximately 3,700 residents, it's one of the smaller MonroeCounty villages.
"It has a lot of the characteristics of the old New England villages," says Helen Moore, a life-long Spencerport resident. That's the influence of the original settlers, who came from New England, she says.
Some of the older buildings now serve as storefronts and offices. An old Masonic temple on Union Street still serves as a lodge, but it also houses a florist and a hair salon; a bank building built in the early 1900's serves as the offices of an engineering and surveying firm; an insurance company's offices are in a former firehouse; and a complex of apartments and shops on Union Street and West Avenue was once the Grange Hall and then the high school.
But the community has worked to capitalize on its canal heritage. It's worked to seize on the recreational and tourism benefits the canal has to offer. The village built a park and shelter next to the Union Street lift bridge -- a structure that dates back to 1910. There's also a gazebo, which is used for concerts in the summer.
The canal path is something of a local recreation destination for residents, who use it for walking and biking, says Mayor Joyce Lobene. But the park and docks located next to Union Street help draw in boat and bike travelers, says Lobene.
"They like the small-town atmosphere," Lobene says.
The Spencerport Depot and CanalMuseum, a combination local history museum and visitor's center, is something of a village landmark. As the visitor's center, it provides canal travelers with restrooms and shower facilities. It's located along the canal in a building that once served as a stop for the Rochester Lockport Buffalo trolley line, which operated from 1908 to 1931. The building later fell into disuse and disrepair and was moved. But it was then donated to the village by Spencerport resident Maxine Davison, who wanted it moved back to its original location. Volunteers moved it back to the canal in 2005, and the building was restored through donations and volunteer labor. The museum opened its doors in 2007. -- BY JEREMY MOULE