Our mission is to further the development of our Wadsworth Square Neighborhood with great places to live/work/play.
Visitors of the Wadsworth square Neighborhood will find a quaint and tranquil reminder of Rochester’s 19th century origins tucked away in a self-contained corner of the city at the very edge of downtown.
Insulated both from downtown and other neighborhoods by the inner loop, Union Street, and Monroe Avenue, the Wadsworth Square area seems at first to have been transported from an earlier time. While a closer inspection revels an eclectic mix of housing styles, periods and sizes, the impression of historical unity is supported by the high concentration of older homes built before 1900 (76%) on shaded streets around a landscaped green. Almost all structures in the neighborhood have been rated historically significant and 65% of all those surveyed by the Landmark Society were judged to be “Superior” or “above average” in importance. Many have already been and continue to be charmingly restored and improved.
HISTORY OF THE WADSWORTH SQUARE NEIGHBORHOOD
In 1823, the village of Rochesterville held a celebration to mark the opening of the western section of Erie Canal and the completion of the aqueduct, which carried the canal across the Genesee River. The completion of the waterway marked the beginning of a new era for the village. Lake commerce declined in importance and all activities tended to concentrate along this new east-west flow of traffic.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE WADSWORTH SQUARE NEIGHBORHOOD
The Wadsworth Tract was located southeast of the village along the northern bank of the canal (currently Routs 490). Owned by General James Wadsworth of Geneseo, it consisted of 28 acres of land and was bounded by the present- day Howell Street, Monroe Avenue, Griffith Street and South Avenue.
The first streets to be built were Broadway and Wadsworth Street (now Howell Street), which were completed in 1827.
In the early 1830’s, General Wadsworth laid out a square in the center of the tract. Designed in the New England town commons tradition, the square was donated to the city for use as a park. It was General Wadsworth belief that such parks were crucial to the health of the city. These parks served to ventilate urban areas with fresh air and prevent the spread of disease. The park became known as Wadsworth Square.
The first school was erected on the northern edge of Wadsworth Square in 1841. In 1857, it was replaced by a larger school known as Wadsworth School #12 which was constructed at the western end of the square.
By 1851, Marshall, Griffith Pearl and South Union Streets had been laid out. A map of this period shows that the heaviest concentration of houses was along Howell and Marshall Street with only a few scattered buildings in the Broadway-Griffith Street area. Between 1851 and 1875, the building boom hit Wadsworth Square. Fifty-three percent of the structures that stand today were constructed before 1875. Another 23 percent were completed before the turn of the century.
NORTH OF GRIFFITH STREET
Houses on the northern part of the neighborhood were generally larger and of greater architectural detail than those built south of Griffith Street. Located in the Wadsworth tract and close to the park, the homes along Marshall & Griffith Streets were primarily the residences of prosperous business and professional people. Homes situated next to the canal at the western end of Marshall & Griffith Streets were usually more modest in character and housed canal boatmen and their families.
SOUTH OF GRIFFITH STREET
The area south of Griffith Street (Denning, Pearl, South Union and part of Broadway) was subdivided and developed by Oscar W. Brown in the mid-1800’s. A resident of the Albany area, Brown and his wife, Bridget Whalen Brown, set out for Buffalo via the Erie Canal in the late 1840’s. They progressed as far as Rochester when the canal froze and the shipping season ended for the winter.
The couple decided to remain in Rochester where the couple purchased a tract of land immediately south of Griffith Street between the Erie Canal & Pearl Street. Trees were cleared and sent to the boatyard located on the canal between Goodman & Meigs Street. At the boatyard, they were sawed into lumber used to construct boats and many of the small cottages in the area.
Upon his death, Brown’s real estate holdings passed to his three daughter, Ella Brennan, Sarah Supner Marion St. John. Marion and her husband resided in the house at 400 Broadway, which they modified and enlarged around 1907 with the addition of a full 2nd story and attic. St. John, a carpenter and cabinetmaker, was responsible for the construction of several rental properties in the neighborhood at the turn of the century.
Many of the houses south of Griffith Street were built in the 1850’s and 60’s as rental properties. About 50% of the buildings that are located there today date from that period. The remained were built in the late 19th and 20th Centuries on vacant lots or on the sites of demolished rental cottages. In a few cases, larger houses were built on the fronts of older cottages, which then became kitchen wings of the new homes.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD’S FIRST CHURCH
Established in 1886, the congregation of the First Church of Christ erected it’s house of worship at 75 Howell Street in 1889. They remained at this site until 1920 when the building was sold to the Hellenic Orthodox Church (later the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation). When a fire destroyed the church in 1937, the congregation relocated to the Third Ward in the former Chaplin Mansion.
The history of Wadsworth Square, itself, reflects the historical changes in neighborhood circumstances. Initial maintenance of the public land donated by General Wadsworth was spotty at best. By the 1860’s enough protest had been voiced over the deplorable condition of the city’s public squares to induce a frugal city government to spend $2000 per year on parks maintenance. It is speculated that when the first School #12 was constructed, the Department of Public Instruction may have “adopted” the public square and given it special attention. By the turn of the century, the square was shaded by a luxurious canopy of trees, was graced with nearly trimmed shrubbery and served by a system of curvilinear paths.
The residential character of the area began to change at the turn of the 20th Century, and the neighborhood continued in slow decline for the next 30 to 40 years. Following the abandonment of School #12 by the City school District in 1932, maintenance of the park became sporadic. The school building was later used as offices by the City Health Bureau, the Engineering Department, and during the Depression, by the W.P.A. The school was demolished in 1968 after the merger of City and County vital statistics departments.
Neglect of the square was vastly compounded by construction of the Inner Loop in the 1950’s, for which 172 buildings were cleared in the arc from South Avenue to Union Street. Besides eliminating residential properties along Howell Street, closeness to inner loop construction discouraged further investment in properties. During construction of the Clinton Avenue Bridge as part of the Inner Loop design (1969-70), Wadsworth Square became the spot of Municipal Parking Lot #21. However, the square is to be redeveloped as a landscaped open space and parking lot.
THE WADSWORTH SQUARE NEIGHBORHOOD TODAY
The 1970’s witnessed a gradual turnabout for the neighborhood. Today, rehabilitation of residential and commercial properties by private owners, together with the City’s sidewalk and landscaping improvements, are a reflection of renewed confidence in the area by both private and public sectors. Their continued commitment to residential revitalization there is once again making Wadsworth Square Neighborhood an attractive and popular place to live.
(The information above was prepared by the City of Rochester in cooperation with the Landmark Society of Western New York, Inc.)
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