Intro Lesson Rochester History
John Curran, who leads the Southwest Rochester Riverfront Planning group, was gracious enough to lead us on another tour of the riverfront. The history of Rochester is nearly synonymous with the events surrounding the Genesee River. Shawn had to sit out this ride with an injury but he gave us the intro lesson before we rode down Genesee Street to meet John.
John is a walking encyclopedia of historical knowledge about this neighborhood. While he advocates for preserving the identity of the community, he also envisions transforming the area into Rochester’s official Historic District. Waterways, railroads, pedestrian/bicycle routes and roads have threaded through the area over the centuries, supporting settlement, industry and recreation starting from the pre-colonial Algonquin presence. John brought many historical artifacts to light, which helped us understand the role of this neighborhood as a vital link to Rochester’s future. John envisions the establishment of historic trail “greyways” to compliment the active transportation “greenways”.
Words of the Day
aqueduct (L aqua water + ductus leading). Rochester had at four canals at one point, some of which had to cross over the Genesee River using aqueducts.
synonym (Gk syn- same + onyma name). A word that means the same as another word.
After the lesson at the Club we geared up and headed south down Genesee Street to the parking lot of the Staybridge Suites at Brooks Landing to meet John. He started us off with background history: for example, if we’d been standing on the west side of the river in 1750 we’d have been in New France. The main theme was the development of the waterways for transportation of goods–the Genesee River itself was the backbone for the development of Rochester’s early industry, which lead to the complimentary development of canal “highways” to support and expand commerce: the Erie Canal, the Genesee Valley Canal and the Feeder Canal. (The Gensee Valley and the Erie intersected just north of where Nick Tahou’s stands today.) We followed the footprint of the Genesee Valley Canal along the west side of the river. When the canal was supplanted by the Genesee Valley Railroad it brought Pennsylvania crude oil to the Vacuum Oil Refinery along Exchange Street.
We rode to that site, which is along side the Civil War-era Camp Fitz-John Porter, where John Curran led the riders through a demonstration of the vacuum distillation process. Crude oil from decomposing vegetable matter mixed with impurities settled out into layers. Water mixed with gasoline (which was simply waste material washed into the river before the advent of the internal combustion engine) was the heaviest at the bottom, with lamp fuel naphtha above, and petroleum jelly on top. Remnants of the naptha were also used for motor oil (again, when engines were invented). And isopropyl alcohol was another later product of the refinery.
John also taught us about how some plants can help remove pollutants from the soil: we helped plant some sunflowers which are good at phytoremediation. We also learned how you have to dig up Japanese bamboo by the roots to prevent this invasive species from spreading. We took a sample to add to our “trophy case” of souvenirs.
We stopped at the Erie-Lackawanna train bridge by the University of Rochester campus for a break on the way back. The bridge is planned to be renovated for pedestrian traffic in the near future; a great connection between the 19th Ward and the U of R community. A little farther down the path John C. showed us the last vestige of the Feeder Canal that supplied the Erie.
Back at the club our in-house IT guru, Chris Olin, helped the kids out with posting.
You can see the images from John Curran’s presentation here. Thanks to the “Rochester Images” collection of the Monroe County Public Library System and to the “Albert Stone Collection” of the Rochester Museum and Science Center.
This trip was on June 11, 2011
Trip distance: 5.5 miles
Programming time: 3.5 hours
Participants: Imari Clark, Carey Bedell, Quinton Bedell, Keyon McClary, Robert “Nick” Heard, Momoh Kamara, Johnathan Shellman, Larry Sturgis, Malik Sturgis
Leaders: Cappy Collins, Hal Kennedy, John Kennedy, Marc Lavender, Danielle Thomas-Taylor