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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.

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.

Mark IV (1982)

Mark IV (1982)

Artists live here…and it shows.

Jim Hansen, a highly praised choreographer, is Interim Chair of the Dance Department at SUNY/Brockport. Brian O’Neill is a fulltime professional artist whose work is beautifully displayed throughout their home.

When it was time to buy a house, they knew what they wanted—a home on this block. They wrote to residents along the street asking if any of them would be interested in selling. The owner at #235 said yes. Once they moved in, they committed a great deal of time and hard work to create an open, loft-style space on the first floor with very little clutter—a “minimum aesthetic.” Brian has a favorite spot where he likes to sit and view the results of their labors.

Walls were removed to achieve the desired effect, even along the stairway up to the second floor. That can be disorienting to visitors, so exercise some caution as you climb them.

The first impression is how modern the interior is. Look again and you will notice a retro motif—furnishings are right out of the 1950s. Take special note of the Danish Modern table and chairs in the dining area. The spacious kitchen, however, is right up to the minute. Just a sliding door away is a large deck that looks out over a beautifully landscaped back yard.

This is one stop where you might wish the tour were still part of the July Arts Festival. Then you could enjoy the plantings and flowers leading up to the front door. It is a sight that has caused many a passerby to stop and admire how lovely and inviting it is. Well, why not? After all, artists live here….

Henry G. Spurr/Soderstrom-Boyd House (1870s)

Henry G. Spurr/Soderstrom-Boyd House (1870s)

Corn Hill’s house tour tradition began in 1971 when the Landmark Society conducted a House and Garden tour during the third Corn Hill Art Show. When people got inside these old homes, many of them began to see the possibilities of living in Corn Hill.

In December 1977, a young couple, Christian Soderstrom and Bonita Boyd, bought this Italian Villa style house built by Henry G. Spurr in the early 1870s. The following July, they welcomed visitors into their home as part of the 1978 tour. Among many improvements they had made in six months, two small rooms had been turned into one large living-dining room, a space you will see today. The house was also on tour in 1981 and one final time in 1984, the last year that tours were part of the summer Arts Fest before becoming a holiday tradition. This is the first time that any part of the house has been open to the pubic since then.

Chris Greenlee, the current resident in the apartment open today, calls himself a “rescuer.” Some of his furnishings have been salvaged after being relegated to the curb by previous owners. This is a long-standing tradition in Corn Hill where many families have restored their older homes by using discarded items such as plumbing fixtures, fireplaces, and even wrought iron fencing.

Chris has carefully integrated these acquisitions with pieces that once belonged to his mother and grandmother.  The walls are decorated with posters and artwork he has accumulated over the years. Some items are original works given to him by friends. The entire apartment is tasteful and calm, a reflection of the man who lives here.

Doody-LoPresti House (1867)

The Doody-LoPresti House (1867)

This Victorian house, built and owned by carpenter William Doody in 1867, almost got away from us. It is very representative of what took place in our neighborhood when the old Third Ward was being reborn as Corn Hill.

In the mid-1960s, many local properties were owned by an elaborate system of corporate slumlords, a practice exposed in a 1965 series of articles that appeared in the Democrat and Chronicle. The owner of this house at 34 Atkinson was cited in that series but, coincidentally, he died even as the articles were in the news.

The house sat empty for many years as the city struggled with the owner’s estate. A blight on the neighborhood, demolition orders were imminent. Although the home clearly needed a lot of work, the Landmark Society found it to be structurally sound and fought hard to save it. In 1974, an electrician named John LoPresti, president of the recently formed Corn Hill Neighbors Association, bought the house and gave it new life. By 1981, it was offered for sale as an “outstanding brick 2 family” home.

Almost forty years later, the current owners, Nancy and Blair Brown, appreciate the improvements that LoPresti made, even as they add renovations of their own. They have completely modernized the kitchen but have been respectful of the house’s long history as they work their way through other rooms. On the first floor, the living room’s yellow walls and high ceiling create a cheery, spacious ambiance. Upstairs, each bedroom is taking on colors and decor unique to each family member.

Best of all, a family has brought new life to a house that is now fully recovered from a time when its future was bleak.

The Campbell-Whittlesey House (1835-36)

The Campbell-Whittlesey House (1835-36)

Corn Hill was once known as the “Ruffled Shirt District” for its wealth and large mansions. Only two of those great homes remain at their original location: The Hervey Ely House on Troup Street where The Daughters of the American Revolution reside today and The Campbell-Whittlesey House.

This Greek Revival home was built in 1835 by Benjamin Campbell who made a fortune in the milling business after the Erie Canal made Rochester America’s first boomtown. Seven years later, he lost a fortune in the same business when the industry moved west for those “amber waves of grain.” Thomas Rochester, son of our city’s founder, purchased the home and, for several years, rented it back to Campbell who, with his wife, ran it as a boarding house. In 1848, ownership passed to Frederick Whittlesey, a city attorney who once served as a justice on the New York State Supreme Court. When he died in 1851, his daughter took it over and it remained in the family until 1937.

By then the house was in danger. It was the Depression and the house was on the approach to the Troup-Howell Bridge, then under construction. Helen Ellwanger, fearing for its future, purchased it and then led the way in creating the Landmark Society to protect this house and other historic buildings like it.

For the next 73 years, the house survived as a history museum until, in 2010, it reverted to being a private home. The current owner Ron Yearwood has made many improvements to make it more livable in the twenty-First Century but he has also been respectful of the home’s long history by preserving original wall colors and architectural detail.