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Immaculate Conception Church ~ 1849

2012 Corn Hill Holiday Tour of Homes Immaculate Conception Church 1

Tour Gathering Place

A Rochester landmark for 150 years, Immaculate Conception Church was founded by Irish immigrants in 1849.  The first church was a frame structure that was destroyed by fire in 1864.  Construction of a second church began that same year.  The new church, which was built of brick in a modified Romanesque style, was damaged by fire in 1872.  The parish subsequently repaired and enlarged the surviving structure.

The present church is basically the 1864-1873 building modified by two large-scale renovations.  An entrance portico was added to the east façade and the spire was removed from the north tower.  The main sanctuary windows, installed in 1923, are made of richly colored German stained glass.  Pike Stained Glass Studio installed the handsome blue rose window and the three large lancet windows behind the organ in the 1950s.

In 1992, Immaculate Conception Church was placed on the National Register of Monroe County Historic Buildings. To prepare for the 150th anniversary of the church, the building underwent extensive rehabilitation in 2000.  Some pews were removed to make room for a gathering space near the back of the church.  An accessible entrance was added and the entire interior of the church was repaired and painted.

Today its congregation has joined with the St. Bridget’s community to form a thriving Roman Catholic Church of African American tradition.

The Hervey Ely House ~ 1837

2012 Corn Hill Holiday Tour of Homes Hervey Ely 1

The Hervey Ely House sits like a Greek Temple atop a hill in Corn Hill near the site of the Seneca Indians’ Last Sacrifice of the White Dog. It is the sole remaining testament to the grandeur that once was the historic Third Ward’s Livingston Park. Boston architect S.P. Hastings was commissioned to design this grand mansion. The style is Greek Revival, with freestanding Doric columns guarding the portico. Various entablatures, paneled pilasters, and carved capitals are other important external features. Inside the elegance continues with lavish parlors, elaborate plaster decorations, and nine fireplaces.

Mr. Ely was one of Rochester’s leaders during the booming flour milling period. He made his fortune by running a general store, a sawmill and the Red Mill gristmill. Hervey Ely and his wife Caroline lived in this gracious mansion on Livingston Park, the social heart of the Third Ward for only four years. After the collapse of the grain market in 1841, Ely was forced to sell the house. He passed away at 71 and is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Over the years, this historic mansion passed from prominent owner to prominent owner, including William Kidd, president of the Rochester Savings Bank. In 1920, it was acquired by the Irondequoit Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution for their headquarters. The Hervey Ely House is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is designated a landmark by the Rochester Preservation Board.

Beatrice W. Sill House (c. 1878)

Sill House - S. Fitzhugh St.
History begins before you even walk into this remarkable house. The iron steps leading up to the front door came from the long-gone Eastman Building, once part of the downtown campus for the Rochester Institute of Technology. The newel posts at the bottom of the stairs carry letters that were the emblem of the Rochester Atheneaum (Nathaniel Rochester helped found it), forerunner to the Mechanics Institute (Henry Lomb helped found it), forerunner to R.I.T.

The original owner appears to have been Beatrice Witherspoon Sill, a widow with three children who shows up at this address in 1878. Her husband Ebenezer E. Sill, who died in 1875, had built a highly successful business, the Sill Stove Company, after getting a patent that improved the efficiency of cast iron stoves used for heating and cooking. Within hours of the 1871 Chicago Fire, the benevolent Mr. Sill sent two of his commercial stoves by train to help feed the many residents left homeless. Each stove working day and night, it was reported, could do the cooking for ten thousand persons. “In feeding multitudes nothing like it was ever invented.”

Last year, a young professional couple, the Semlers, acquired this house. Acacia is a chemist for Bausch and Lomb (Henry would be pleased) and Dylan is an astrophysicist and software engineer. They admit they don’t have the furnishings to fill a four-story home, but in a short time they have already put their stamp on many of the rooms—a top floor apartment is nearly complete—while appreciating the home’s long history with its many adaptions installed by previous owners, such as the large round window in the back room overlooking a koi pond.

Mark IV House (1986) – Cornhill Place

Mark IV 1986 - Cornhill PlaceHow do you enlarge a space without changing its dimensions? That was the challenge facing Mike Sorensen when he moved into this unit nearly 10 years ago. Fortunately, as an architect, he came equipped with many ideas. 

Clearly the homes and townhouses on the east side of Corn Hill are very unlike the 19th Century houses for which the neighborhood is known. Less than forty years old, what they lack in history they make up for with modern conveniences and easier maintenance.  Even so, homeowners often want to make changes that suit their tastes and needs. 

Mike was pleased that this was an “end unit” giving him windows on the side of the house that brought in more light than center units. But he still found it dark and cramped. The kitchen is an example of how he opened and brightened the space. By enlarging a narrow doorway, the room now flows more naturally into the dining area. New glass door cabinets and the replacement of the east window with a larger boxed-out window further opened the space, offered greater views of the river, and brought in more day-light. The walls and banister of the 3-story stair were deconstructed and accomplished the same goals of open space and more natural light into the house.

Most people, trying to make a space feel larger, might paint everything white. But Mike uses colors ranging from subtle to bold, defining each space and giving each room a distinctive personality while still providing a cohesive home. Using artwork and carefully chosen furnishings, 1300 square feet have become a very comfortable home for a man and two dachshunds. 

Mark IV House (1983)

Mark IV House - S. Fitzhugh St.

There is so much Asian art in this home that one would expect its owners to be from that part of the world. In fact, Bill is Irish—the brogue has faded a bit but still shows up occasionally on certain words. Kathy grew up in New York but her ancestry includes some Irish. Appropriately, they met in Dublin. The artwork, however, reflects all the places they’ve been.

During their marriage, they lived for a number of years in Shanghai because of Bill’s work as Sales Leader for W. L. Gore & Associates. During that time, they often traveled to countries along the western half of the Pacific Rim, all the way down to Australia, collecting art that now fills every room in the house.

There are personal family touches as well—Bill’s mother collected ceramic horses that are displayed on the stairway landing. When the couple approached their ruby anniversary, they commissioned a work from Brian O’Neill, an artist who lives next door (#235 was a house on last year’s tour) that would interpret their forty-year marriage. The result is prominently displayed in the dining room.

If you expect the interior of this house to be similar to every other house on the block, it’s not. A previous owner had a section of a wall built to separate the living and dining rooms. The Shortts aren’t sure they like it (what do you think?), but it does provide more space for their artwork. They have expanded the deck off the dining room into a beautiful space for warm sunny days, perfect for a family cookout, reading a book or taking a nap to dream of faraway places.

Greenwood House (1850)

Kelly Radley House - Greenwood St.

If you had walked down Greenwood Street one hundred years ago or more, you would have seen the same houses that are there today. While many of the mansions that once lined Third Ward streets have disappeared from their Ruffled Shirt days, this short street with modest homes has remained intact well into the Corn Hill era.

This 1500-foot mid-19th century house has known so many owners over the years that it is impossible to track them all. Therefore, it is difficult to write about its past and much easier to write about its immediate future, which is bright.

New homeowner Kelly Radley already has a reputation in Corn Hill as the young woman who bought “the little red house on Greenwood Street.” Although Kelly is not responsible for the exterior color, the interior of the house has undergone quite a change since she took over last year. The assistant principal of a school in Batavia, it comes as a bit of a surprise that, despite her long commute for work, she has found the time to do much of the work herself. “I grew up with a hammer in my hand,” she says, as though that explains it. In all honesty, she acknowledges that her father contributed a fair share to the effort.

In addition to painting every room, she has also made extensive changes to the kitchen and two bathrooms. ”I laid the tile floors myself.” With such major projects demanding her attention, wall decoration has been modest so far. Rest assured, with her energy and determination, it will get done. Just as soon as she can put the hammer down.

J. Foster Warner House (1875)

J Foster Warner House Troup St.

Noted Rochester architect John Foster Warner lived in this house from 1885 until 1910. It is not one of his designs—he was only sixteen when it was built!

During the years he lived here, he created a successful career, started his own architectural firm after separating from his father’s company (A. J. Warner), and gained recognition for designing many iconic buildings that still stand today: The Granite Building (built 1893), the Monroe County Courthouse (1894-96), the original East High School Building on Alexander Street (1902), and the Sibley, Lindsay and Curr Building (1904) replacing the department store’s earlier building that was destroyed by fire. In 1910, Warner moved to Prince Street, into a magnificent house of his own design. Sadly that house does not survive.

Warner may have added improvements to this house while he lived in it but it went through some ill-advised changes during those years when the Third Ward was in decline. Recently it has rebounded very nicely.

Current owner, Geoff Selleck, lives on the second and third floors. His space is open and filled with daylight. He decorates with photos and mementoes from his family plus art and posters that reflect places where he has lived—Corn Hill and Boston dominate. Kim Rachunok, who lives on the first floor, fills her space with art and treasures that are delightfully eclectic: Corn Hill posters, glass bubbles (beautiful ornaments that transcend the Christmas season so she displays them year-round), and the black and white checked pattern of MacKenzie-Childs.

This stop is unique in that it requires entering two homes so pay close attention to the tour guide to avoid any confusion.

Aceto-Pumputis House (1888)

Aceto Pumputis House Adams St.

When you stop in front of this house, look toward Clarissa Street. Notice the houses that line both sides of a well-established street. They look as though they’ve been there for a century or more. But forty years ago, a number of these homes were not at their present locations.  Many original houses were lost because neglect had made them unsalvageable. The Landmark Society came up with an idea to move endangered houses from other locations to replace ones that had been torn down, thereby preserving the integrity of an older neighborhood. This house was one of them, moved from 463 Tremont Street in the 19th Ward where it was standing empty and abandoned.

John Aceto and Lee Pumputis have lived in this house for seventeen years, decorating it in a style that Lee describes as “French salon inspired by the Victorian era.” The house has several charms the owners like to point out. The red oak woodwork throughout the house has never been painted and its beautiful grain retains stunning clarity. They will proudly point to the tin ceiling in the kitchen and (get this!) the copper tub in the bathroom upstairs.

The house is art and has inspired art. Original work is prominently displayed, hanging on walls where decorative patterns are hand-painted; you won’t find a bit of wallpaper. The house is also featured in one of the most popular posters from the fifty-year history of the Corn Hill Arts Festival (you’ll see it). It features revelers wearing Corn Hill houses as hats. The hat on the left is this house.

Just in time for the holidays: a fanciful house with surprises at every turn.

William Clague House (1860s)

William Clague House (1860s)

The owners of this cottage and carriage house are a throwback to the 1970s when young couples would buy historic homes and invest “sweat equity” into renovating the property. It takes vision, determination and a lot of hard work to take what was old and make it new again. At the time of this writing, the house interior was little more than unpainted dry wall as they reconfigured a warren of small rooms into larger more livable spaces. It will likely remain a work in progress at the time of the tour.

As early as 1866, City Directories show that William H. H. Clague,a printer turned office supplies merchant, was “boarding” at this address, although a few years later he becomes its owner. In 1890, George Simpson purchased the property and, from the “brick barn” (as he once called it), he operated a livery business, renting horses, carriages and drivers. There was more than one livery operating in the Third Ward but “Simpson’s carriages had more style,” according to an early resident. In time, Simpson moved into the theatrical business and became president of the East Avenue Amusement Company, which built and operated The Regent, a grand movie house at the corner of East Avenue and Chestnut Street.

After Simpson, that “brick barn” served many other purposes: it housed a business devoted to “skill devices” (more widely known as pinball machines), which ran afoul of a law that considered them gambling devices; another person used it to sell pigeons; it became a parking garage; then a garage that serviced Buick automobiles and sold Sunoco gasoline; and later a tool and dye company. This property has a unique history of adapting to the times.

Mark IV House (1986)

Mark IV House (1986)

Anita Hansen sleeps in the guest room because it offers her better feng shui* than the master bedroom. Which one would you choose—although it’s hard to argue with a woman who retired from Kodak after thirty years to pursue a second career as an interior designer.

When Ms. Hansen moved into this recently built townhouse in 1989 as its first owner, it offered a fresh palette on which to realize her ideas. Over the years she has remodeled the kitchen, both bathrooms and a powder room and replaced the home’s mechanical systems. She has cast her creative eye on every square inch of this space to stunning effect, from the adobe-colored walls of her kitchen to the “Colorado room” on the second floor where she watches television.

It all seems perfect and yet it changes every six months—she has a summer look and a winter look, swapping the colors of her furnishings and even the artwork on the walls twice a year.

There’s more. The Ralph Avery Mall is just outside her front door where she can experience the changing seasons and the newly created Walk of Wisdom in a park-like setting. All of this offers Ms. Hansen even more inspiration. How’s that for feng shui?

*Feng Shui literally translates to “wind and water.” It is a Chinese philosophy that seeks to create an environment in which people can live harmoniously with the natural world. It considers everything from the orientation of buildings in a city to the arrangement of furniture and other items in a room. Proponents believe it promotes better health, stronger relationships and greater success in the world.