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.
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….)
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:
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.