Cities contain us. Cities hold our stories, our dreams, what we wanted to be, what we failed to become, the way we lived, what we built and why. A good city has swarms of stories, and a best city is a city in which the most narratives remain legible for the longest possible time.

Stories of people. And in even modest sized cities, this means millions and millions of stories. For which we can and should give endless thanks.

Herewith, one pretty interesting story about our place. Get comfy: we’re going to Carthage.

In 1809, at a place that is now called St. Paul and Norton Streets in Rochester, and which is also the home of the Lower Falls on the Genesee River, a few folks settled on the east bank of the river and called their little spot Carthage.

Lower Falls (2)

Photo by Sheridan Vincent. Carthage would be near the green tank and the bad modern building.

Carthage was below the lower falls on the river, so if you had goods to ship, you could take them to Carthage, and from there they could go out onto Lake Ontario and into the wide, wide world.

A few years passed and in 1816 a couple of rich Rochester guys, the two Elisha’s (Strong and Beach), bought 1,000 acres of land that included Carthage. By 1818 there were 40 buildings there.

But there was a problem. Isn’t there always a problem? Carthage was on the east banks of the River, and so if you were coming from the west, you could not get there to ship your stuff. The entrepreneurial Elishas decided to build a bridge across the river so everybody could come to Carthage, and by 1817 they had amassed $16,000 in state and local funds to do the deed.

The bridge was completed in 1819. It was over 700 feet long, and stood 200 feet above the river. Some described it as the eighth wonder of the world. (Have you ever wondered how many eighth wonders there must be? I have….)

Carthage bridge

Unfortunately, the bridge fell down in 1820.

And by 1825 the Erie Canal was here, and Carthage was doubly obsolete. Poof.

Enter our intrepid Rochester hero, Albert Stone. In 1908 he made this photo:

Carthage monument 1908

The monument was a column, a vent for sewer gas, a watering trough for local horses, and the holder of a plaque to the memory – the stories – of Carthage.

The column lasted quite a while. It is visible on a whole host of plat maps until sometime between 1925 and 1936.

I bumped into Mr. Stone’s picture this afternoon, and kept pulling on its threads until Carthage had fully emerged.

Good stories in good cities last a very long time.

Turn the page.

6 thoughts on “Carthage

  1. Fascinating opening to what we hope will be a continuing story. Please do turn the page. Do Rochesterians know where Carthage is, is it alive in memory?

  2. I have yet to know how vividly this story is lodged in the memories of native Rochesterians, but I can report that Amy did remember the basic outlines of the tale. We’ll see as things unfold.

    By the way, there is a bridge on this spot now, as the opening photo indicates. It’s called Driving Park Bridge. It is the latest in a long string of bridges here that kept failing for 160 years or so.

    I am always interested in excavating the reasons why we look and feel the way we do. And I am in the middle of preparing another post along these lines, but one that requires a lot of legwork. Soon, but not quite yet.

    You might want to take a look at this: Colleague and urban planner Jason Haremza ran one of these here recently – he led a terrific tour of a southern part of the city where an expressway was defeated (it would have REALLY killed the place) but not before a couple of hundred homes bit the dust. The walks are a great way to dig out the stories, and since you do Alameda walks anyway, this might broaden your audience.

  3. Readers, the story of Carthage has continued to unfold here. Stay tuned: another Elisha, a Rochester Mayor, an optimistic map, a horse drawn railway, and more.

  4. I’ve been trying to locate the actual locations of the various bridges that crossed over the river near the lower falls. It’s more difficult now than when I was first interested in the late 1970s because they replaced the third bridge in 1989, by blowing up the old one into the gorge and river and excavating the sides of the gorge for new footings, potentially spoiling any remaining evidence of older footings. Also I spent the late 1980s in a different city, so visiting the gorge to explore and take photos wasn’t happening.
    Historical remembrances of the older bridges ( place the location of each “in the proximity of the (c. 1890) bridge.” Hardly a definitive description.
    Anywho, if you want to learn more about what was once the Village of Carthage (or Clyde; St. Paul was known as Clyde St), check out the link.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s