Rochester’s Four Corners — A Present From the Past

June 18, 2012 at 5:30 am Leave a comment

Finger Lakes Summer

Ornate exterior of the Powers Building

If you want to learn about the rich history of Rochester, NY — tag along with a walking tour by the Landmark Society of Upstate New York. I joined an “architecture for lunch” speed tour of the famous Four Corners of Rochester. But first, what are the Four Corners?

The intersection at Main Street (of downtown Rochester) where State Street becomes Exchange Street. It was located where the first two streets crossed, then called Buffalo Street. (Main Street) and Carroll Street (State Street). That intersection is still commonly called by its original name, The Four Corners.

The tour began inside the Powers Building — a building so vast and ornamented, it swallows the sky for a city block.

Finger Lakes Summer

Looking up inside the Powers Building

Entering the atrium my eyes scanned upward, enjoying the vast expanse of multi-tiered interior space, bathed in natural light. How could I have lived in this city for 50 years and NEVER seen this gorgeous space? (I think our educational system needs a little more emphasis on local history — this is worth learning about.)

Quoted from “

“Construction of the building utilized steel framing with a cast iron and ornamental stone façade. This revolutionary method of construction was employed to create what was then billed as a fireproof building. The building was the first in upstate New York to have a passenger elevator (then called a vertical railroad), gas illumination and marble floors. In 1861 it became the first commercial structure in Rochester to have electricity, utilizing its own power generating boilers.”

Mr Powers built several of the buildings in this small footprint, but he did not want any other structure in Rochester taller than this his masterpiece, continuing to add to it’s height in 1874, 1880, 1888, and 1891 as others vied for the top spot in the sky.

Case and point, here is an excerpt from “The Flower City: 1850-1899”


Powers Building completed


Ellwanger & Barry Building is erected to a height of eight stories. Daniel Powers adds a third Mansard roof to the Powers Building, adding two additional floors, reclaiming again the title as Rochester’s tallest.

Wilder Building erected to a height of thirteen stories. Daniel Powers adds to the height of the tower on the Powers Building, recapturing the title, for another five years.”

It is difficult to believe that less that 100 years prior to this building’s construction, this same area is unsettled and described as ” a swamp with dense forest, and swamp fever (malaria).”

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Glassed in atrium inside the County Courthouse

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Inside the County Courthouse

Other fabulous examples of architecture in this same area are 39 West Main St, which is the County Courthouse, Two Saints Episcopal Church, 17 Fitzhugh St S, and The Rochester Free Academy, 13 Fitzhugh St S..

Finger Lakes Summer

Gothic Revival Style displayed by the Rochester Free Academy and the Episcopal Church

Designated in the National Register of Historical Places, “The City Hall Historic District, tightly clustered in two downtown blocks in Rochester, is one of the most architecturally compelling nineteenth century civic complexes remaining in a major New York State city.” (More info)

Each building in this provides diverse examples of architecture. The church and academy stand side by side representing the early and later phases of Gothic Revival in the nineteenth century.  Across the street is the courthouse backed up to the City Hall.


Entry filed under: Activities, Barge Canal, Genesee River, Historical Tours, Landmark Society, New York, Rochester. Tags: , , , .

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