The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, NY), June 30, 1920

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Days of Early Navigation on the River Recalled
Thriving Boat Traffic on the Genesee is Remembered - Port Was Easy One Then.
American steamers that burned wood and plied the lake, and excursion traffic on the river, lake and bay recalled by Captain Wilcox

There are few persons in Rochester to whom the history of the port of Rochester is not a matter of going back two or three decades, but rather a vista of reminiscences that stretch over fifty, sixty and seventy yeas of time when wood burning American steamers plied between ports on Lake Ontario and the trip down he river to the lake and then across to Irondequoit ba was an excursion of considerable moment. One of these men is Captain Wilcox, of 194 Oxford Street, for many years connected with traffic on the river and lake, and probably one of the last living authorities on the interesting history connected with this branch of inland navigation.

Captain Wilcox loves to recall the time when American steamers sailed from Charlotte harbor, in the forties, fifties and sixties, and when Rochester people flocked to boat landings near the lower falls in the river for beautiful boat trips on the river, lake and bay. Names of ships that are familiar to anyone who knows the history of the port and the mouth of the river are to Captain Wilcox landmarks in his extensive history of a romantic phase of the history of this vicinity.

Docked Far Up The River

Few people in Rochester, said Captain Wilcox, speaking on his favorite subject, remember our American-bottom boats, than which there were none better or faster on lake Ontario. The steamers "Northerner" and "New York" entered our port in the forties, docking at the upper landing, which was at the first bend in the Genesee from what was known as Buell's Landing on the west side and Brewer's Dock on the east side. At Buell's landing an inclined elevator was installed, one car up and one car down. The cars (on the Carthage Railroad) brought passengers down from the Eagle Hotel which stood where the Powers building now stands.

Later in the fifties, the Lake Ontario Steamship Company, an American line, was formed. Captain H.N. Throop of Pultneyville was president of the company. W.B. Phelps of Oswego, was general passenger agent and I was local passenger agent in Rochester. i had an office on Railroad Avenue in the Waverly Hotel, which is now the Savoy (State Street and Central Avenue). We had the steamer "Bay State," commanded by Captain J.J. Morley, of Sodus Point; the "Ontario" commanded by Captain J.B. Estes, of Charlotte, and the "Cataract,"commanded by Captain J.H. Ledyard of Pultneyville.

Three Fine Steamers

There were three fine steamers, woodburners, running from Toronto to Lewiston where we got our Niagara Falls passengers, they were from all parts of the world, then we went on to Charlotte, Oswego, Kingston, Clayton, Thousand Island Park, Alexandria Bay, Morristown, Brockville, Ogdensburg and Prescott, changing there for the river steamers to Montreal and Quebec. It must have been about 1863 for it was during the Civil War, that the steamers were sold to the government.

The "Maple Leaf" was a British boat that ran from Charlotte to Port Hope and Cobourg along in the fifties, with Captain George Scofield in command. At about this time a large dry dock was built at Charlotte a little above the present site of Stutson Street bridge. We had the same trouble getting a substantial bottom in the river bed before the dry dock that the contractors reported having in building the bridge.

Began Popular Excursions

In 1862 William Allen, Captain George Scofield and I went to Buffalo and bought the little steamer "Signet" which was then running as a ferry at Black Rock, to be brought back to charlotte and put on the route from the lower landing at the foot of Buell Avenue to Ontario Beach. At the time about the only thing at Ontario Beach besides lots of sand and weeds wa a little wooden house kept by Mart McIntyre. The place was noted for the white fish dinners served there and visitors by the score would flock to the little house.

From Ontario Beach we went to Sea Breeze and Irondequoit Bay, landing at Sea Breeze on the inside of the bay, and then on to the Newport House. Later on other steamers were put on this route, the "city of Rochester" and the "Charlotte," which then landed at the upper landing. Elwanger and Berry who owned most of the property near there had an elevator built near the upper falls. L. S. Graves installed it, and it was the first large elevator he ever built. The Glenn House was built there in about 1870.

On River, Lake and Bay

Captain Wilcox here recalled that the steamer "City of Rochester" afterwards was rebuilt and renamed the "J.D. Scott," well known to those whose memory traverse only a decade or so because of its "Pink Ticket" fame.

"Tickets were issued from any home in Rochester," Captain Wilcox continued, "by the way of the street cars and down the elevator to the boats navigating on the river and lake to Sea Breeze, from where they might return to their home by way of the Bay Railroad, if they should choose to go that way."

Along in the eighties Irondequoit Bay was made a navigable government water, mainly due to the efforts of Congressman Charles S. Baker, Captain Wilcox said, and he had to take out government papers to operate passenger boats on it. A few years later, however, the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad built a bridge across the outlet of the bay and that shut the boats out.

Sewer Beginning of the End

"In time," said Captain Wilcox with an air of unforgettable moment, "the east side sewer was allowed to run into the river at the lower falls. I ran boats about two years after that and they gave up the river route. In addition to the menace of the sewer going in the river, there was the growing competition of the railroad and the street cars. While there would have been a few passengers to take the trip, there would not have been enough to make it pay.

Captain Wilcox also related that at the time when navigation on the river and the lake was at its highest the hotel at Sea Breeze which was burned a few years ago was run by Mrs. Allen and that Henry Walzer was proprietor of the Newport House.

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June 30, 1920
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Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, NY), June 30, 1920