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Bark longhouse interior September Event Hunting camp on along the trail
In its earliest years, the Rochester area was home to the Native American people known as Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Nation) comprising of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Tuscarora. A highly advanced people, they lived in villages, hunted, farmed extensive crops, traded with other tribes and eventually, with Europeans. The original five nations of the Iroquois also formed a confederacy to promote peace among themselves and present a united peaceful front to outsiders.
The Senecas of the Genesee Valley comprised the largest of these nations and were known as the "Keepers of the Western Door." Living in peace for hundreds of years, they were besieged by the French whose desire to expand fur trading resulted in periodic unsuccessful efforts in the 1600's to overthrow the natives. The Seneca’s history is chronicled at various sites in the area, including the Rochester Museum & Science Center and Ganondagan State Historic Site, the principal town or capital of the Senecas in the 17th Century.
Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor NY, just southeast of Rochester, was declared a National Landmark in 1964 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only New York State historic site dedicated to Native Americans and the only ancient Seneca town developed and interpreted in the United States. Ganondagan is a most revered landmark to Seneca people and a significant historical site to all six Iroquois nations. This unique National Historic Landmark features the only replica of an authentic 17th century Seneca bark long house in existence. Pay a small entrance fee at the Visitor Center, where you'll view a 27 minute orientation video. Maps of three hiking trails ranging in difficulty are obtained there also. A contemporary Native American Dance and Music Festival is held typically the fourth weekend of July: Boasting the finest native Art Market. in New York and an engaging fun childrens activities tent. A Historic reenactment of the 17thc. is held tentatively in September. Direct questions to Ganondagan Visitor Center 585-924-5848 or visit on line www.ganondagan.org Park opens May 1- Oct.31 Tues.- Sun.
By the late 1700's, cultivation of the land had increased and most of the area consisted of fields and pastures. Because Britain and France were focused on the lake trade, they paid little attention to the area that would become Rochester. Oliver Phelps was the first to realize the potential of the spectacular 96 ft. main falls, on the Genesee River 8 miles south of the lake.
His negotiations with the Senecas in 1788 resulted in a proposal for mills to be constructed at the falls. Ebenezer Allan, interpreter for Phelps, agreed to build and operate them. For the next few years the area’s success was hampered by a succession of settlers who operated the mills haphazardly, even while other nearby areas prospered.
In 1803 British native Colonel Nathaniel Rochester and his companions from Maryland were persuaded to deviate from their prospecting visits in other areas to make a stop at the mill site. Although the gristmill was inoperative and the sawmill was in ruins, they saw the area’s potential as a mill town and purchased 100 acres of land around the falls.
In 1817 the settlement was incorporated as Rochesterville. The land tract in and around it was christened Monroe County in 1821, after the nation’s fifth president. The area slowly attracted new residents. As the War of 1812 raged, with lake ports such as Charlotte becoming dangerous places to live, shore settlers moved inland to the upper falls. The real boost to Rochester’s growth, however, came upon construction of the Erie Canal. Completed in 1825, this east-west transportation corridor reduced shipping costs by 94%, caused the first great westward movement of American settlers, and turned Rochester into the country’s first boomtown.
Waves of Immigrants
Rochesterville became a regular stop on the westward route for immigrant trains and soon a shelter for a variety of ethnic groups. In 1860, the population consisted of 6,786 Irish, 6,451 Germans, 4,335 British and Canadians, 410 African Americans, and 1,000 from other lands. Most of the immigrants in the 1880's were from Eastern and Southern Europe, resulting in pockets of Sicilians, Poles, Ukrainians, and Eastern Jews.
Each immigrant culture brought the seeds of a new industry. By the late 1800's, although milling continued to be a major industry in the city, the men’s clothing and shoe industries were rapidly gaining in prominence. As the foreign-born became more active in civic and community activities, they established organizations that would preserve their heritage and cultures, as well as continue to assist the groups in their assimilation efforts.
By 1910, the population of new immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe was growing most rapidly. Although the meteoric rise of southern Italians (from 1,000 to 10,000 in the first decade of the 20th Century, to 41,014 in 1960) left an indelible mark on the city, British and German immigration was still quite strong ----- in the early 1900's people from those countries outnumbered those from other areas of Europe. Today the city continues to benefit from its waves of immigrants, most recently from Spanish-speaking and Asian countries.
Rochester’s citizens have long included people of African descent, who lived free among the Seneca Indians here as early as 1788. An important stop on the Underground Railroad, Rochester was instrumental in assisting uncounted numbers of runaway slaves along their way toward freedom in Canada. Maplewood Park, along the Genesee River was part of the Underground Railroad, where slaves boarded boats headed across Lake Ontario to Canada and freedom.
Rochester’s most noteworthy African-American citizen was undoubtedly Frederick Douglass, the famous orator, reformer, publisher, ambassador, and abolitionist. A resident of Rochester for 25 years, he published his North Star newspaper in downtown Rochester and assisted runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad. Douglass is buried in Rochester’s Mt. Hope Cemetery.
In 1890, women outnumbered men ten to nine, and their increased activities in church and community affairs began attracting attention. Although men were initially amused at the efforts of Susan B. Anthony, her sister, and her associates, they soon recognized the merits of such efforts.
Female citizens started numerous programs to assist working women in what was traditionally seen as a man’s world. The Women’s Educational & Industrial Union, started by Susan B. Anthony and her associates, was one of these.
The achievement of rights for women was the major cause for Anthony, who worked tirelessly throughout her lifetime to promote the cause of women’s suffrage. The area’s most famous woman, she left her mark; her efforts a re chronicled in the house where she spent the final 40 years of her life (now a museum and a National Historic Landmark). Anthony is buried in Rochester’s Mt. Hope Cemetery.
Photography and Film
Rochester’s greatest legacy is most likely the advent of popular photography -- making photography affordable and easy to use for the masses. George Eastman (1854-1932) began this craze with the introduction of his Kodak camera in 1888 and later the Brownie camera in 1900. He also shared his flexible roll film with Thomas Edison for his movie cameras, thus Eastman is credited as the inventor of motion picture film as well as the "father of popular photography." Eastman’s resulting fortune was shared with Rochester and the world. This great philanthropist gave $100 million to education, healthcare, and the arts and founded the United Way.
This story of photography and film is well told in Rochester, both at Eastman’s magnificent estate – now George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film – and at Eastman Kodak Company’s world headquarters, a prominent part of the Rochester skyline. Today the Kodak name remains one of the most recognizable brand names in the world and Kodak motion picture film is the stock used for over 90% of today’s motion pictures.
George Eastman House is the world’s oldest photography museum and features the restored Colonial Revival mansion that Eastman called home from 1905 to 1932, as well as elaborate gardens and numerous photography and camera galleries. Forbes magazine has called the Eastman House "A national treasure . . . a first-rate modern museum that no lover of photography or motion pictures will want to miss."