The North Star. Smugtown. Rochesterville. Bygone names – and some names that have stuck – conjure a rich heritage of Rochester that is not always apparent at first glance of our city. While our daily lives keep us moving forward, who walked this same ground before us, and what happened here? Answers and artifacts of Rochester’s past await exploration in the tiniest of places: the museums dedicated to the many facets of our local history.
Spot the little “Museum Open” sign on Humboldt Street and you will have found Rochester Medical Museum and Archives (333 Humboldt St., 922-1847, rochestergeneral.org/archives), a collection chronicling the history of health care in Rochester — particularly at Rochester General (once Rochester City Hospital) and Genesee hospitals. Photographs, uniforms, and documents reveal the hospitals’ significance and their early influential strides in the field of nursing. In fact, the American Journal of Nursing originated here in Rochester. Rotating exhibits offer both big-picture perspective and detailed insight to this aspect of local history.
The gorgeous Fairport Historical Museum (18 Perrin St., 223-3989, perintonhistoricalsociety.org) resides in the village’s former library, complete with card catalogs and the quiet reverence libraries once exemplified. View the striking 1938 Carl Peters mural, or plunge through genealogy resources, rare maps, scrapbooks, and lot-transfer records to trace Perinton property and family lineage. Period ephemera provide a glimpse of bygone daily life while showcasing Fairport’s canal days of innovation and industry, including George Cobb’s perfection of the solderless can to preserve food.
While Fairport was literally leading the United States in sanitary canning, Webster supplied the crops. See vintage brands of “evaporated” fruits in Mrs. Witmer’s Store display at the Webster Museum (18 Lapham Park, 265-3308, webstermuseum.org). Volunteer Carol Saylor emphasizes the role of agriculture during the time of Webster’s 1840 incorporation: “Webster’s greatest industry for the rest of the 19th century — and into the 20th — was apples.” Apples bore other fruits of industry as well, including the Webster Basket Company, whose fly wheel sits outside. Currently, the museum is compiling oral histories from those who remember the area’s rural roots. Other exhibits include a charming replica of a 22-seat 19th-century school room (complete with dunce cap) and vintage devices from another Webster industry: Xerox.
Brushed gunmetal-cased electronics are right at home at the Antique Wireless Association Museum in East Bloomfield (2 South Ave, 657-6260, antiquewirelessmuseum.com). Hear the sounds of old-time radio pump through period speakers, and look back at the birth and evolution of radio communications and entertainment. Valuable originals are on view alongside interactive pieces, from the classic NBC chime to the sci-fi Jacob’s ladder and Tesla coil. The current displays only feature 15 percent of the museum’s collection, so plans are set for a new world-class facility and media research center to open in 2013, complete with an Art Deco cobalt blue Spartan radio facade where visitors will enter through the dial.
A perfect companion to the AWA Museum is the Sunshine Radio Museum in Sodus (8 E Main St, 315-483-8451, sunshineradiomuseum.org), which takes particular interest in the human component of radio. Director Ray Seppeler has a glint in his eye when he shares his knowledge and experience of radio’s golden age. See the storefront showroom’s free display of vintage radios typically found in the American home starting from the mid-1920’s, or arrange a custom tour of the detailed upstairs museum at a special rate — ideally for groups, to encourage shared stories.
Nostalgia for bygone days is a certain draw for visitors, especially at the Jell-O Gallery in Le Roy (23 E Main St., 768-7433, jellomuseum.com). See how the “dainty dessert” formed and cooled in 1897, with unexpected sociological implications. “Jell-O democratized an elitist food,” says Lynne Belluscio, director of the gallery and nearby Historic Le Roy House. Of course, most just come for the fun: see fascinating ad campaigns (including original oil still-lifes of Jell-O molds), memorabilia (check out Jell-O Fun Barbie and Jell-O casual wear for Ken), and classic “Jell-O-mercials.” Cast a vote for your favorite flavor, and find out which flavors didn’t set properly (celery, anyone?).
It’s fanciful to imagine Jell-O boxes on the shelves of William Phelps General Store & Home, one of four museums that make up Historic Palmyra (132 Market St., 315-597-6981, historicpalmyrany.com). In fact, Palmyra’s role in history is a revelation to any visitor; just walk through the interactive Palmyra Print Shop to see how Palmyra influenced the world’s print industry. The nearby Palmyra Historical Museum, a 19th-century hotel and tavern, shows Palmyra’s significant connections to American history – even to Winston Churchill. Notice the coverlet in the bedroom – that’s right, the woven bedspread – reminding you that a block away stands the Alling Coverlet Museum. This is the largest collection of hand woven coverlets in the United States, where you’ll find looms, spinning wheels, jacquards (and their surprising link to computers), a quilt room, and an unusual gift shop.
The gift shop is a highlight of any museum. Browse the tiny gift shop at the Charlotte Genesee Lighthouse Museum (70 Lighthouse St., 621-6179, geneseelighthouse.org) to find lighthouse-themed anything. In the museum, see a 19th-century nautical map of Lake Ontario and a timeline of Charlotte’s history, which includes the once-bustling Ontario Beach Park and the Ontario II — yes, the passenger ferry to Canada that operated a century ago. Climb the 42 steps of the Medina sandstone tower, and find out why it’s so far from the lake. Get your special passport stamped and continue your lighthouse adventure at the Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum (7606 N. Ontario St., 315-483-4936, soduspointlighthouse.org).
From Charlotte, the Genesee Riverway Trail takes you to High Falls, in the center of downtown. Visit the aptly named Center at High Falls (60 Browns Race, 325-2030, centerathighfalls.org) in one of Rochester’s most significant historic districts. Open year-round, the CHF is what director Sally Wood Winslow describes as “a gateway attraction, highlighting Rochester’s history, geography, commerce, and culture.” See the10,000-year glacial formation of the Genesee river elapse in seconds; hear brief biographies of dozens of Rochester notables; and ride a virtual taxi to Rochester attractions. Then, return at night for gallery openings exhibiting contemporary art of local interest. While downtown, make the essential Rochester stops: the Susan B. Anthony House (17 Madison St., 235-6124, susanbanthony.org) and nearby Frederick Douglass Resource Center (36 King St, 325-9190, frederickdouglassrc.com).
Much of Rochester’s history is told through its evolution of transit at the New York Museum of Transportation in Rush (6393 East River Road, 533-1113, nymtmuseum.org). Examine and explore authentic rail cars, and most any other form of land transportation — each with its own story to tell. Enjoy the interactive HO-gauge layout in the model train room, right next to a miniaturized running replica of the old Rochester subway line. Outside, the only trolley line in New York State will take you on a scenic ride to the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum (6393 East River Road, 533-1431, rgvrrm.org).
Don’t forget those engines that run in the air. See them up close at the 1941 Historic Aircraft Group Museum in Geneseo (3489 Big Tree Lane, 243-2100, 1941hag.org). The museum hangar is packed with an impressive fleet, including the famous Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” featured in the movie “Memphis Belle.” Ever climb into a warplane? Be prepared for a kind of shock and awe as you step over the bomb-bay doors and into the turret — it’s not the sort of perspective you get every day. The museum also hosts a huge historic air show every July.
There would be no Geneseo Air Show if the Holland Land Purchase never took place in the 1790’s. The sweeping 3.3 million acres west of the Genesee became what we now call Western New York. How was it acquired, and why in Batavia? Find out at the Holland Land Office Museum (131 W Main St. Batavia, 343-4727, hollandlandoffice.com), where director Jeff Donahue is alight with stories beyond the exhibits — and behind the people who shaped history. Be sure to ask him about railroad watches.
Someone who could appreciate a good timepiece was Augustus L. Hoffman, a Newark watchmaker who opened the Hoffman Clock Museum in 1954 (121 High St. Newark, 315-331-4370, hoffmanclockmuseum.org). The museum is a permanent wing of the Newark library, featuring horological artifacts from mostly the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many styles of luxurious carved wood-cased clocks fill the rooms, as do curious tools and machinery. Once inside, a person can both lose and gain a sense of time.
The Rochester area is full of small niche museums, and this is only a small sampling of our offbeat and sometimes undetected treasures.
Every municipality in Monroe County has its own historian, and many towns and villages have collections on view at the local library, often maintained by the community’s historical society. Check websites for special speakers and programs. Smaller-scale museums often keep very limited hours and seasons, so be sure to check before visiting.
Plenty of hidden gems await our discovery – certainly more than what’s listed here. Please share your favorites at rochestercitynewspaper.com/etc.
Arcadia Historical Museum
In an area once known as Miller’s Basin, the village of Newark houses a museum for the town of Arcadia.
120 High St, Newark
Bergen Museum of Local History
An 1843 schoolhouse filled with local artifacts.
7547 South Lake Rd, Bergen
Big Springs Museum
Explore the history of the Caledonia-Mumford area, including the oldest fish hatchery in the northern hemisphere.
3095 Main St, Caledonia
Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site Museum
Witness the bookbinding process of 1830 – and the story behind its most famous book.
217 East Main St, Palmyra
Cobblestone Society Museum
A collection of historic buildings, including the “oldest cobblestone church in North America.”
Routes 98 and 104, Childs
Edgerton Model Railroad Room
A Lionel-ized passage through four seasons and 1950’s Rochester.
41 Backus St, Rochester
Explore the site of a Seneca village, where thousands lived three centuries ago.
1488 NY Route 444, Victor
Granger Homestead & Carriage Museum
Federal style home to longest-serving US Postmaster General, and western NY’s largest collection of antique carriages, sleighs, and farm equipment.
295 North Main St, Canandaigua
Greece Historical Society and Museum
Check out the Wheel of Change, showing how a foot trail became today’s Ridge Road.
595 Long Pond Rd, Greece
Heritage Square Museum
An entire complex of buildings and history, including the house of Mr. Alanson Warner and his inventions.
7147 Ontario Center Road, Ontario
Honeoye Falls-Mendon Historical Society Museum
Home to local and indigenous history and artifacts – and host to fascinating lectures.
1 Allen Park Dr, Honeoye Falls
This c. 1840 Greek Revival mansion in Corn Hill is Landmark Society headquarters, and houses the Wenrich Memorial Library of landmark importance.
133 South Fitzhugh St, Rochester
Little House Office & Museum
This 1819 law office is now home to Historic Pittsford.
18 Monroe Ave, Pittsford
Medina Historical Society & Museum
Get a glimpse of life along the Erie Canal at the end of the 19th century.
406 West Ave, Medina
Medina Railroad Museum
Travel “back in time and through history” on the longest HO-scale layout – in the longest freight depot museum in the U.S.
530 West Ave, Medina
Military History Society of Rochester Collection
Artifacts, displays, and extensive research materials represent all eras of American military history.
250 North Goodman St, Rochester
The home of Dayton Morgan, manufacturer of mechanized reapers in the early 1800’s, now houses the Western Monroe Historical Society.
151 Main St, Brockport
Ontario County Historical Museum
Remember how you had to walk 40 miles from Rochesterville to the county seat in Canandaigua? They do.
55 North Main St, Canandaigua
Parma Meetinghouse Museum
The “meetinghouse museum of memories” is housed temporarily at Parma Town Hall.
1300 Hilton Parma Corners Road
Peacock Oriental Antique Museum
Visit the Far East in these themed rooms filled with centuries of fascinating art and artifacts.
61 North Main St, Honeoye Falls
Rochester Historical Society
“Rochester’s story keeper” resides in Rundel central library with tales of a certain canal and Underground Railroad – and over 200,000 historic objects and documents.
115 South Ave, Rochester
Sage Marlowe House
Headquarters of the Wheatland Historical Association.and Skivington local history collection.
69 Main St. Scottsville
Spencerport Depot and Museum
Local history museum and visitors’ center, right on the Erie Canal.
16 East Ave, Spencerport
Stone Tolan House
This 1790 farmstead and tavern is “the oldest place in the county.”
2370 East Ave, Rochester
(585) 546-7029 x15
Tennie Burton Museum
Explore the history of Lima, a town known as the “Crossroads of Western NY.”
1850 Rochester Rd., Lima
1830 cobblestone home to the Tinker family for six generations.
1585 Calkins Rd, Henrietta
Valentown Museum & Icabod Town Homestead
Just around the corner from Eastview, this 19th-century “mall” is filled with curiosities (*gulp* – and ghosts, Scoob?)
7370 Valentown Square, Victor
Victorian Doll Museum & Chili Doll Hospital
Reminisce or reconcile with a favorite or forgotten childhood doll.
4332 Buffalo Rd, North Chili (585) 247-0130
Vintage Tracks Museum
Over 200 vintage rare crawler tractors and memorabilia dating from the early 1900’s.
3170 Wheeler Station Rd, Bloomfield