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A view through time and history of Liberty Pole Plaza in Rochester, New York USA.

History of Liberty Pole Plaza

Liberty PoleThe area that would eventually become Liberty Pole Plaza in Rochester has gone through many changes. Great seas, mountain ranges, and vast continental glaciers have all been located here.  This area has seen the rise and fall of many civilizations.  We hope you enjoy a quick view through time of Liberty Pole Plaza below.


Many millions of years ago this entire area was covered by a warm, shallow inland sea.    The chain of Taconic mountains grow and erode away leaving red shale and sandstone. Traces of these rocks can be seen at the bottom of the gorge below the Lower Falls. Other mountains develop and erode away leaving more shale and limestone, also visible in the river gorge.  About a million years ago the earth cooled dramatically and the first of the great Ice Ages takes over. Four times the polar ice has advanced over this area, covering the area with glacial ice up to two miles thick. The glaciers in this area did not gouge the surface away as mountain glaciers do, they worked more like sandpaper rounding and smoothing the contours. The primary change was actually in the material they left behind. Vast areas in Canada were scraped down to bedrock and this dirt was pushed south giving some areas of the Genesee Valley a covering of glacial till 300 feet deep. Today's geography would  be very different had the glaciers not made their appearance. There would be several deep valleys with ridges separating them. The many ridges and rounded hills would not be present. The lakes would never have formed by the normal action of erosion. The soil would be poor.

245 to 2 MILLIONS OF YEARS AGO (Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras) dinosaurThe area was rich in plant life, first with ferns, mosses, and conifers, then evolving to flowering plants, forest trees and palms. Animal life would include massive amphibians, and then the giant reptiles of the land and air. This region may have been home to early horses, camels, rhinoceros and other animals that were driven off by the advancing glaciers.

Half a million years ago. A gigantic sand bar started to form in an ancient lake. Extending 150 miles from Sodus to Lewiston it formed a ridge that the Indians would follow as a primary east-west trail. Stagecoach lines followed this ridge from 1818 to 1848. Today's NY Route 104, or Ridge Road follows this same geologic formation. Genesee River gradually evolves through erosion of the region. The Genesee River starts as a spring (today, on the farm of Dave Slaybaugh, in Gold, PA). About five miles north of Avon the river turns east at Rush taking the route of Honeoye Creek, until just before Honeoye Falls, where it turned northward again following the Irondequoit Valley where it joined the Ontario River at a location near the center of today's Lake Ontario. The Genesee and the Nile, are the world's only major rivers that flow North.

100,000 YEARS AGO. glacierIn the last million years there have been four glacial ages that have covered the area. Each age scraped and gouged, and sometimes buried evidence of the previous glaciers. The earliest glacier to leave evidence in the area arrived here 100,000 years ago. It was about 2,000 miles in diameter, and 1,000 to 10,000 feet high. This ice would have put about a ton of pressure on each square inch of the ground below. At the end of its 40,000 year stay it had compressed the earth below by as much as 2,500 feet! Before the ice would finally melt away, it would advance and recede across Rochester five times. Each time scraping away old soil and depositing new. The glacial till (soil left by the glaciers) in the Genesee Valley is between 200 to 300 feet deep.   

12,000 YEARS AGO

Mammoth◄Mammoth and Mastodon live in the area. Retreating glacial ice heads northward, finds new strength and re-advances to the south, then stalls. Melting ice at this static point slopes to the north at an angle of 20 to 30 degrees. The melt-water along this front, deposits mounds of debris forming the Pinnacle Range, a range of hills extending four miles, forming Cobb's Hill, Pinnacle Hill (the tallest at 230 feet), the hills of Highland Park, Mt. Hope Cemetery and the University of Rochester River Campus.

Evidence of how important the glacial action has been to this area as we know it, is all around us. It is easily seen in the fertile soil, the Great Lakes, and the Finger Lakes.  Retreating ice exposes a new outlet, and Lake Dawson's level rapidly drops 45 feet, creating Lake Iroquois (elev. 435 feet). This in turn drains Lake Scottsville, and moves the mouth of the Genesee a mile further north, to a point just north of the Veteran's Memorial Bridge. Rapids at the Niagara Escarpment have eroded to form a 40 foot falls, just north of today's High Falls. Two new sets of rapids are formed between the escarpment and the river mouth.   

Lake Iroquois remained long enough, so that it's shoreline can still be seen. Extending 150 miles from Sodus to Lewiston it forms a ridge that the Indians would follow as a primary east-west trail. Stagecoach lines follow it from 1818 to 1848. Today's NY Route 104, or Ridge Road follows this same geologic formation. Land slowly rebounds from glacial weight. (Imagine squeezing a rubber ball, when you release the pressure it returns to it's original shape.)Because more weight was removed from the Canadian side of the lake, it is raising faster. Even though the land has risen 250 feet in Rochester, northern portions of the lake have rebounded nearly 500 feet.  The faster rebound on the Canadian side is causing Lake Ontario is literally spill onto New York, forming the many ponds and the wetlands along the lake shore. The original outlet of the river has also flooded, forming Irondequoit Bay  

10,000 Years Ago

Climate starts to warm, plants and animals start to reappear.

8000 -500 BCE

mammothEarliest people in region are the Archaic Algonkins. They came in small wandering groups, hunting and fishing. Evidence of these people is scattered across the area, with two sites located on Irondequoit Bay, and the River Campus of the University of Rochester. After several thousand years they developed a rather advanced culture in the villages they built.

Eskimos also wandered in this area. At some unknown period they were hunting and fishing in the hills to the south, where they left characteristic knives of rubbed slate.

There is evidence of a community at the northern end of Maplewood Park near a flint deposit. Early settlers at Kings Landing said that they had found remains of a pallisaded village. Signs of Indian campsites were located at the Charlotte Lighthouse, and several other locations along the lake and river. Rattlesnakes and Malaria were the most likely impediment to permanent settlement of the area.


Indians from the Ohio River valley migrate to the area. Seneca Indians inhabit the region. They were most powerful and warlike tribe of the Iroquois Nation. They lived between the Genesee River and Seneca Lake.

IndiansMan's first contact with the area came with the Indians, but they were displaced by the advancing tide of settlers from the east, drawn by the fertile land in the Genesee Valley

1300’s. An early Indian trail traced the original route of East Avenue. About midway between Clover and Winton Streets the main portage on the secret Indian route connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River forks. The right-hand trail follows the route of today's East Avenue heading for the High Falls of the Genesee. Just before reaching the falls the trail crossed another path at today's intersection of Franklin and St. Paul St. This North-South route connected the southern end of the Mississippi portage with the mouth of the Genesee.

Seneca Indian trails cross the area. They were eventually built into today's main roads:

The trail from the west became Brooks Ave.
From the south, we now have Scottsville Rd.

The northern approach to the city has become Plymouth Ave. and Genesee St.

1629. King Charles I of England grants all land between the 34th and 45th parallel, from coast to coast, to the Massachusetts Bay Co

1664. King Charles II of England gives his brother, the Duke of York, the same land grant that his father had given the Massachusetts Bay Co. thirty five years earlier.

1752. Col. Rochester born February 21

1761. 'Views of Upper and Lower Genesee Falls' published in London.

1779. Gen. Sullivan's campaign of scorched earth rids area of Indians.

1811. East Ave. cut through the woods, four miles from Orringh Stone's Tavern to the river

18121812 – New houses among the trees in Rochester, New York.

1812. Rochester post office established, A. Reynolds postmaster

18201820’s. In the early 1820's the Erie Canal passed through the area, and the settlers now arrived in a flood tide, bringing civilization to the wilderness.

1822. First sidewalks.

1830. Original Liberty Pole erected at triangular intersection of East Avenue, Main and Franklin Streets. This date may be inaccurate, with the first documented pole being erected in 1846.

1831. Rochester Savings Bank chartered. It is the first savings bank west of Albany. Started with $114 in deposits.

18341834. THE NEW BAPTIST TEMPLE and OFFICE BUILDING (Now under Construction)

Clinton Wunder, Minister 'In the Heart of Rochester' (NY), (Organized 1834). The new Temple, now being erected at North and Franklin Streets, inclusive of the site will be valued at $2,750,000. Fourteen stories high, it will contain an office building, retail stores, the latest church equipment for recreation, religious education, community service and worship. A Hook and Hastings organ, specially designed and the largest most complete church instrument in this section is now under construction. The congregation this year is giving $100,00 to current expenses, benevolences and the building fund. The Temple is a church of, for and by the People who "heard Jesus gladly.' 100,00 people attended services last year. When in Rochester, worship with us. We meet in the Lyceum Theatre until the greater Temple is completed. Temporary staff offices are maintained at 66 North Street. Architects for the new Temple, Gordon & Kaeber and Carl R. Traver, Rochester, NY. Contractors, Thompson-Starret Company, New York City

1834. Postal rate 6 cents for 30 miles.  Rochester is incorporated as a city.

1838. First Rochester murder

1846.  Liberty Pole erected on the hill at the triangular intersection of East Avenue, Main and Franklin Streets by the 'East Side Boys'. Standing 118 feet tall with a 3 ft. diameter brass ball on top, it was a patriotic symbol. During national celebrations a 25 foot banner was flown.

1846. Josiah Bissell names East Avenue. He nails signs to trees renaming old Main Street from the Liberty Pole to Pittsford. The name change becomes official when Main Street is extended from the Liberty Pole to Goodman Street. He also made it the most beautiful entry to the city by planting of a double row of horse chestnut trees from his mansion to the Liberty Pole.

1852. East Avenue Shade Tree Association plants elm trees on both sides of the Avenue from the Liberty Pole to Culver's place to replace the ailing horse chestnuts. The trees are fenced in, and hitching posts provided at each house to prevent damage by horses. A man is hired to care for the trees and to take action against anyone who allows their cattle to run at large on the street.

1855. Josiah Bissell nails signs to trees renaming old Main Street from the Liberty Pole to Pittsford, East Avenue. The name change becomes official when Main Street is extended from the Liberty Pole to Goodman Street. In the late 1880's Main Street reaches Culver Road, and twenty five more years pass before it is extended again to it's present end at Winton Road.

18571857. Rochester Savings Bank opens on Main St. In 1877 the original two story structure was enlarged by the addition of three more floors.

1859. Liberty Pole's foundation damaged in severe March gale, Authorities cut down the 118 foot pole to prevent an accident.

Liberty Pole 101 ft. tall, 3-ft. diameter top had brass ball and arrow weather vane. It was located on the hill at Main & Franklin Streets. 

1860. Second Liberty Pole erected. 102 feet tall, it was topped by a large wooden ball and a weather vane. During the Civil War a 30 x 17 1/2 foot American flag, and a 75 foot streamer were flown to show the city's patriotic support.

18611861. First Liberty Pole falls, second pole erected at same site. The first Liberty Pole erected in 1846, gave way to this second pole, 1861-1889

1870. Local farmers begin using the open area surrounding the Liberty Pole as a market. This tradition continues for thirty years.

1877. Run on the assets of Rochester Savings Bank stopped when they display $1,000,000 in cash.

1880’s – The Liberty Pole, Rochester, NY

1884. Buffalo St. has it's name changed to Main St.

1888. Central Bank of Rochester opens.

1889. On December 26 the Liberty Pole breaks and falls in a 72 MPH gale, on the day after Christmas. A steel replacement is proposed, but is not built. A marker in the pavement to note the site, disappears before the turn of the century.

1897. 4. The Sibley Triangle Building, (4) 20-26 East Avenue, at the southeast corner of E. Main Street and East Avenue, was designed by J. Foster Warner and built in 1897. Occupying a prominent site at the intersection of East Avenue and Main Street, this triangular five-story building was constructed by Hiram Sibley – realtor, banker, philanthropist and heir to the fortune amassed by his father, the builder of the Western Union Telegraph Company. Its Neo-Classical and Romanesque design includes large brick arches, a decorative cornice, and an arcade of Roman-arched windows on the fifth floor.

Sibley Block Main StreetSibley Block on Main Street


Sibley BuildingSibley Building


1902. Smallpox Epidemic kills 100. Dr. Goler is hero in fighting disease.

1904. At 5 AM, Feb. 26 a fire starts in the Rochester Dry Goods Store on Main St., by noon the entire block had been destroyed. Sibley's Department Store lost $3,000,000 in buildings and inventory. Also lost was the company safe containing the books showing the several hundred thousand dollars owed the store. Within months voluntary payments were made, estimated to be 90% of what was owed. In just over a year a new, larger building was on the site and open for business.


19041904. Scene during Great Fire of February 1904, Rochester, N.Y.






1904. Sibley Fire, Rochester, N.Y. February 26, 1904


1905. 2. Sibley Centre (2), 228 E. Main Street, between N. Clinton Avenue and Franklin Street, was designed by J. Foster Warner and built in 1905 as a major downtown department store. Construction of the present Sibley’s started after a disastrous fire destroyed the Sibley, Lindsay and Curr Company’s former store. In 1911, the building was extended to Franklin Street; six stories were added to this addition in 1926 to create the Sibley Tower Building, the city’s largest office building at the time. The imposing, long-cherished landmark is a handsome example of the Chicago School of architecture. Constructed of slender Roman-style bricks with granite trim, the clarity and simplicity of its design was very progressive for its time. Only the landmark clock tower, with its copper dome, displays ornamental detail. Sibley’s Place (2), formerly Sibley’s Department Store, closed in 1989; in 1992, the Damon City Center opened here as the downtown campus on Monroe Community College. Today, in addition to the college, the building houses offices, and retail establishments.

1906. Farmers Market at the Liberty Pole site is abolished.

19061906. Business Section of East Avenue looking towards Main Street, Rochester, N. Y.

19081908. Main St. Looking West, Rochester, N. Y.

19101910.  Newspaper Boy 10-year-old Marshall Knox delivers Saturday Evening Post newspapers on a snowy Main Street in Rochester, New York Photographed by Lewis Wickes Hine on February 10, 1910. 



19101910. Main St. East showing Sibley, Lindsay & Curr Co., Department Store, Rochester, N. Y.





19131913. In this 1913 photograph, the Second Baptist Church steeple can be seen behind the Triangle Block at Franklin, North and Achilles Streets. The Church preceded the Temple Building at this downtown location. In the foreground, on Main Street, a man stands above a horse drawn wagon-based elevated platform to work on the overhead trolley wires. Photo: Copyright Albert R. Stone Negative Collection of the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Printed in the Rochester Herald November 23, 1913

1913. Some merchants petition for trolley service, but there is opposition because the narrow roadway. At the suggestion of the "East Avenue Improvement Society" (Organized by James Cutler, who had recently purchased and made available to developers four properties in the area) the city suddenly began cutting down all the trees from Main to Alexander. Before a protest could be organized by concerned residents, the deed was done. The street was made wider and further improvements promised.

19131913. Main St. Illuminated, Rochester, N. Y.

1914. Hiram W Sibley purchases Home of the Friendless at the NW corner of Alexander and East for a business block opposite the Sibley Building which he plans to build.

1914. Earthquake frightens local citizens.

1918. Influenza epidemic kills many.

1919. Canal closed in city. New route goes south of city through Genesee Valley Park.

19191919. Main Street, East from Front Street, Rochester, NY


Looking EastBirds-Eye View, Looking East from St. Paul and Main Sts., Rochester, N. Y.


Looking EastBirds-Eye View, looking East, Rochester, N. Y


East Ave Looking SouthEast Ave. Looking South, Rochester, N. Y.


East and MainEast Avenue, Corner Main Street, Rochester, NY



19201920. This 1920 photograph shows the "Triangle Block" at the junction of Main and North Streets. The Triangle Block was recommended way back then, as a site for a memorial shaft, and indeed was later used for the "Liberty Pole."

1920’s. Noise and congestion of auto traffic destroy the genteel ambiance of East Avenue.  Wealthy residents leave for quieter suburbs to the south and east.

1920s1920’s. Photo: "Reverand Clinton Wunder sitting at his desk." Copyright Albert R. Stone Negative Collection of the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Sometime in the early 1920's, Reverand Clinton Wunder, Pastor of the Second Baptist Church, convinced his congregation to build the Temple Building. The parish had outgrown their existing Church. Rev. Wunder thought that a nine story building would become an economic engine for the Church's mission. Eventually the plans changed to a fourteen story building. Many in the congregation thought that it was unwise to build a fourteen story "Skyscraper Church."

1923. One of the cities first overhead traffic lights is installed at the corner of East and Main.

1924. Bus service extended from Main Street down East Avenue to Alexander Street.

19241924. Photo: "The Temple Building Skeleton." Copyright Albert R. Stone Negative Collection of the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Printed in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle March 1, 1925. Rev. Wunder prevailed however, and a building committee, headed by William Hartman was established. Originally the committee decided to build a combined church and hotel. They changed direction though and decided a combination church and office building would be better suited for the needs of the church and also more profitable. Mr. Hartman died suddenly in July 1923, but not before every penny of the estimated $1,900,000.00 had been raised to build the Temple Building.

The existing church was quickly demolished and construction began sometime in 1924. The congregation would temporarily worship in the old Lyceum Theater. Arthur Castle, the chairman of the building committee was determined to finish construction within one year, and very nearly succeeded. Despite many trying circumstances, the new Temple Building was dedicated on September 7th, 1925.


This colorized architectural rendering of the future Temple Building was produced by the local firm of Gordon & Kaelber. Along with Carl R. Travers they designed the building. Tthe Thompson-Starett Company, of New York City was the Contractor.

During the early years of it's use, the splendid auditorium was frequently filled to capacity, and it was not uncommon to turn folks away. Rev. Wunder had strong oratorical skills and unusual advertising and promotional abilities. Each year more than 100,000 people would walk through the Temple doors to attend worship services or an occasional debate. The Church prospered and the Temple Building became one of Rochester's landmark destinations.

1925Almost all of the early depictions of the Temple Building used for promotion would show a trolly car or automobile in the image. Reverand Wunder wanted the potential tenants, as well as their customers, to know that the building was easily accessible by means of modern transportation.

1925. The Temple Building (7) was designed by Gordon & Kaelber and Carl R. Traver and built in 1925. Featuring pinnacles, pointed arches and decorative tracery, it is Rochester’s only example of a 20th-century Neo-Gothic skyscraper. The building is unusual in that it was developed for both religious and office use. The Second Baptist Church, founded in 1834, had a previous church on this site that no longer accommodated its needs. They built a new 14-story structure that served both religious and office functions and occupied it until 1965 when the Baptist congregation relocated to Brighton.

1925. Hiram Sibley Building completed. The English Renaissance style building was a memorial to the founder of Western Union.

19251925. Remarkable Night Photo of Rochester, New York: Photo shows what is probably the most remarkable night view ever taken of any city in the world. The picture is not alone remarkable for the fact that it was taken at night but for the fact that objects at a half mile distance were shown with astonishing clearness. The photo was taken with the aid of 50 pounds of flashlight powder, thought the heaviest charge of power ever used to make a picture. The camera used was an ordinary new camera such as is used for all news pictures day in and day out. The flash that enabled the photo is to be made was dropped from an airplane by the arm scientists who conducted the first experiment of its kind in night aerial photography ever attempted anywhere.  Photographed November 23, 1925.

19251925. This 1925 aerial photograph shows the Temple Building to the north. Off to the right you can see the Triangle Building and Cutler Building on East Avenue. Besides the Sibley Buiding on Main Street, they are the only Triangle Block buildings still standing. The Temple Building was a marvelous and long lasting addition to the Rochester skyline. Gordon and Koelber, original designers/builders of the Temple Building were also credited with the building of the Eastman Theater, the Columbus Building (known today as 50 Chestnut Plaza,) The Sagamore Hotel (known today as 111 East Avenue,) the Rundel Memorial Public Library and the Cutler Union at the Memorial Art Gallery. Photo: Copyright Albert R. Stone Negative Collection of the Rochester Museum and Science Center

Wunder1926. Back in 1926, the Rev. Clinton Wunder and Clarence Darrow stand on a sidewalk with their hats in their hands. Darrow had just arrived in Rochester for a debate at the Temple Building with Rev. Wunder on the topic "Has Life A Purpose?" Darrow's argument was based on his bold agnostic theories. Photo: Copyright Albert R. Stone Negative Collection of the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Printed in the Democrat and Chronicle October 30, 1926.

19191929. Charter One Bank (8), 40 Franklin Street, was designed by McKim, Mead and White of New York with J. Foster Warner of Rochester and built in 1929. This outstanding example of 20th-century Byzantine architecture exemplified the traditional banking house “temple of commerce” theme. The restrained exterior belies the grandeur of the interior glass wall mosaics, marble pavement mosaics, decoratively painted wood-offered ceiling, and monumental Rouge Antique marble columns. The painted ceiling and the mosaics are the work of Ezra Winter, the American muralist whose work also decorates the Eastman Theatre interior.


1944. Main and Clinton Streets by Night, Rochester, NY




19511951. Intersection of Main Street E, and East Avenue, Rochester, N. Y.

1962. One East Avenu, built in 1962, was originally constructed for the Security Trust Company. It is now Fleet Bank. This striking example of 1960s architecture consists of a two-story glass-enclosed public banking facility, an adjoining 11-story tower, and an outdoor plaza. The public banking facility is notable for its imaginative roofline, glass walls, and Rochester artist John Menihan’s 130-foot-long mural, a symbolic tribute to the diversification of Monroe County’s economy. The Tower building, resting on stilts, is notable for its band of quartz aggregate and gray-tinted glass.

1962. Midtown Plaza, designed by Victor Gruen Associates of Los Angeles, and built in 1962, was the nation’s first major urban shopping mall, and became a much-publicized early example of downtown redevelopment. Midtown comprises the interior of an entire city block and was developed atop several levels of underground public parking that connects existing buildings. Directly opposite Midtown Plaza on the north side of E. Main is Sibley Centre, 228 E. Main Street, an important early-20th-century retail building.

1964. Controversial new Liberty Pole is erected. The 198 foot stainless steel pole is supported by a network of steel wires forming a triangle around it's base.

Liberty Pole1965. 190 foot stainless steel Liberty Pole is built on the site of the city's first pole. The official name of the triangular piece of land where the pole is located is 'John F. Kennedy Square' or 'Liberty Pole Green'. The Liberty Pole was designed by Rochester architect James H. Johnson and built in 1965. This modern steel sculpture is symbolic of earlier wooden liberty poles that stood on the site between 1846 and 1889. This 20th-century work is expressive of a Colonial American custom that originated in 1766, when the first liberty pole in America was raised in Manhattan to celebrate England’s repeal of the Stamp Act.

19801980.  Jimmy Carter make Remarks at a Rally at Liberty Pole With Area Residents.
October 29th, 1980



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