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NSOG Visit July 21, 2007

The Hervey Ely House

Rochester, New York


Donovan A. Shilling

As member Gerry Muhl had predicted, Saturday, July 21st was one of those special days of summer, The clouds were few and fleecy, the temperature just right, the sun bright, but not too hot, and a gentle breeze refreshed the air. That's when twenty plus members of the New Society of the Genesee arrived at 138 Troup Street to visit the historic Hervey Ely house. Today the mansion enjoys the stewardship of the Irondequoit Chapter of the Daughter of the American Revolution. Purchased by the DAR in 1920, the chapter had shown its appreciation for the venerable home. This is clearly evident to visitors who stroll the flowered grounds and admire the interior's period furnishings.

Built between 1837-38 by architect Hugh Hastings for Hervey Ely, the Greek Revival style mansion is located in the very heart of Rochester's gentrified Corn Hill community. The site, Livingston Park, was once the very pinnacle of wealth and respectability. A cast iron fence enclosed the area's park-like setting with an iron gate that restricted the park to the public each evening and all day on Sundays. A cobbled lane led between the park's stately mansions divided in the center to accommodate a large cast iron deer.

As one of its notable residents, Hervey Ely was a prosperous miller with interests in the Atlantic, Lake and Mississippi Valley Telegraph Company. His massive Red Mill stood on the west bank of the Genesee River south of the original Erie Canal aqueduct. He enjoyed his new home with his wife Caroline for only four years going into bankruptcy when the price of flour fell from $11.00 to $4.50 a barrel.

A long list of notable Rochesterians also resided in the mansion in later years. They included William Kidd, foundry owner and Rochester Savings Bank president, Azariah Boody, member of Congress whose farm became the University of Rochester's first campus, Edgar and Emma Holmes, Caroline Townson, wife of Reverend Dr. Howard Osgood, Bishop Henry Whitehouse Rector of St. Luke's Church and Aristarchus Champion, a wealthy and charitable city pioneer. Ralph Avery noted local artist also occupied an apartment and studio in the mansion until 1976.

The tour of the mansion's interior revealed its Pearl Doty Smith Memorial genealogical library and museum. Other areas contained an elegant curved staircase, a number of its nine fireplaces and its double parlors that held twelve foot high deeply recessed ceilings with molded panels of floral design. The parlors are furnished with a fine collection of period antiques. Most notable was a sideboard used in the Newburgh headquarters of General Washington during 1780-1781. A visit to the Hervey Ely House, open on Fridays, is well worth the small price of admission. Not only is the interior worth seeing, but use of the DAR's extensive genealogical library may also be possible.

Following the Ely House visit, the group had lunch at Nathaniels, a popular restaurant on Exchange Street. On the way to the restaurant Donovan Shilling led members on a short tour of the Corn Hill Neighborhood pointing out homes of former Rochesterians providing a note or two about their backgrounds and contributions to the city.

© 2007, Donovan A. Shilling
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