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(Almost) hidden history

Surprising local monuments to once-famous people and deeds

Edward Mott Moore sculpture

Hiding in plain sight in the Rochester area are numerous out-of-the-way memorials to people and events that figured prominently in regional history. Some of these are the typical sort: honoring great men, great battles, and great achievements. Others are dedicated to women who, if mostly forgotten today, were household names over a century ago. This is the time of year to get out, take a walk, and acquaint yourself with some fascinating bits of hidden local history. 

Tucked away in the trees of Genesee Valley Park, close by the University of Rochester campus, sits a massive sculpture—as big as a truck—of Edward Mott Moore (1814–1902). In his day, Moore was a Rochester big shot: renowned surgeon, head of the American Medical Association, and president of the University of Rochester board of trustees. Considered the father of the Rochester park system, Moore brought famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted here to design an “emerald necklace” of parks along the Genesee River—hence his place of honor in the park where he sits gazing across the lawn rolling down to the water. Although today his statue is visited mostly by pigeons, Moore is not forgotten: each year the Monroe County Medical Society presents an award in his name “to both a physician and a layperson whose lives reflect the qualities exemplified by Dr. Edward Mott Moore as a physician, teacher, investigator, leader and contributor to the community.” 

The monument is on the east side of Moore Drive, a short distance from Elmwood Avenue. 

The Groveland Ambuscade Monument, a modest obelisk standing on a ridge near the southern end of Conesus Lake, honors Americans killed in an ambush by British soldiers and allied Seneca warriors during the Revolutionary War. In September 1779, George Washington ordered troops under General John Sullivan to drive out the Seneca, who had been conducting raids in western New York. Once near Conesus, Sullivan sent out a scouting party led by Lieutenant Thomas Boyd and Sergeant Michael Parker to locate the British and Seneca force. The party was ambushed, and many of its members were slain. Boyd and Parker were taken prisoner and later gruesomely tortured and killed. They were buried at the site of the battle, but in 1841 their bodies were reinterred, with military honors, in Rochester’s Mt. Hope Cemetery. 

The obelisk is a short walk from a parking lot at 5440 David Gray Hill Road, Geneseo. Another monument, where Boyd and Parker were killed, is at 3072-3078 Cuylerville Road, Leicester. 

On November 1, 1926, Rochesterians marked the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Erie Canal by dedicating a cairn in Eastern Widewaters Park—Cobb’s Hill Park today. Originally, the Erie Canal curved around Cobb’s Hill. Later, it was straightened and enlarged to create the Eastern Widewaters, a body large enough to allow barges to turn around. In 1917, the Eastern Widewaters was partially filled in to construct the Armory, leaving the park and the somewhat grandly named Lake Riley. The cairn was constructed of stones from the canal. 

The monument is near 145 Culver Road, in the park across the street from the old Armory building. 

In February 1861, president-elect Abraham Lincoln made his way by train from his home in Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, D.C., for his inauguration in March, making dozens of stops along the way to address crowds of admirers. He paused in Rochester on February 18 and spoke briefly from a platform on his train to a crowd of thousands. That whistle-stop speech is commemorated by a plaque in the High Falls district, placed there in 1912 as part of the city’s centennial celebrations. It reads, “Near this spot on the morning of February 18, 1861, Abraham Lincoln Addressed the Citizens of Rochester.” 

The plaque is affixed to a bridge support on Allen Street between State Street and Mill Street.

A small drinking fountain dedicated to Frances Willard in Churchville

Three memorials celebrate famous local women: Susan B. Anthony, on the spot where she voted illegally in the 1872 presidential election, two Spiritualist sisters, and a temperance leader. Finally, the most recognizable woman in America is memorialized, surprisingly, in Le Roy. 

The 1872 monument, a bronze ballot box, commemorates Susan B. Anthony’s law-breaking vote in that year’s presidential election. It stands at the site of what was the polling place, a woman-unfriendly barber shop. The sculpture was completed by Pepsy Kettavong, who also created Let’s Have Tea, featuring Anthony and Frederick Douglass, which is a short walk away.

The 1872 Monument is at 431 West Main Street, next to the 1872 Café. A five-minute walk takes you to Susan B. Anthony Park and Let’s Have Tea. 

The Spiritualist Obelisk in Corn Hill commemorates the birth of modern spiritualism, in Hydeville, a hamlet that no longer exists but was near Newark, on March 31, 1848. On that date, two sisters, Margaretta (1833–93) and A small drinking fountain dedicated to Frances Willard in Churchville Catherine (1837–92) Fox convinced neighbors they could communicate with the dead, who responded with rapping sounds, which, as “translated” by the sisters, told of a murder and a body concealed in their basement. The Fox sisters became a sensation and toured the country, leading séances and communing with spirits before packed audiences. Although decades later they would admit to making the knocking sounds with their toes, true believers continue to celebrate the Fox sisters as mediums. The monument, dedicated in 1927 near where the sisters lived for a while, declares “THERE IS NO DEATH/THERE ARE NO DEAD.” 

A bronze ballot box commemorates Susan B. Anthony’s law-breaking vote in the 1872 presidential election.

The Spiritualist Obelisk is at 49 Troup Street. It is a fifteen-minute walk from the 1872 Monument. 

A small drinking fountain dedicated to Frances Willard (1839– 98) stands in front of the public library in Churchville, where it could be mistaken for a bird bath. Although few people today know of Willard, in the late nineteenth century her name was a household word in the United States. Born in Churchville, she was a founder and longtime president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and arguably the most famous woman of her day. She campaigned tirelessly for, in addition to temperance, women’s rights, equal pay for equal work, protection of women and children in the workplace, and a host of other progressive causes. A prolific author and speaker, Willard was the first woman honored with a place in Statuary Hall in the US Capitol building, where she stands to this day. The drinking fountain in Churchville is one of hundreds erected by the WCTU throughout the U.S. to promote temperance. 

The memorial is at 1 South Main Street, Churchville. 

Le Roy is known as the birthplace of Jell-O, less as home to an eight-feet-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty, who raises her lamp beside Oatka Creek. In 1950, the Boy Scouts of America marked the fortieth anniversary of its founding by producing and donating about 200 small Lady Liberties, each about the size of one of the original’s index fingers, to be placed in cities and towns across the nation. The Le Roy statue, one of about 100 that remain standing, was refurbished and rededicated in 2016, so it is in excellent condition. 

The statue stands on the west side of Wolcott Street between NY-5 (East Main Street) and Lincoln Avenue, with her back to Oatka Creek. 

Monuments have a habit of fading into the background, whether of a busy city neighborhood or a park, and we pass them by with little if any notice. These remembrances of another time deserve—and repay—our attention.

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