Since we’re mostly stuck in the house these days, we could all use some new and novel distractions to keep us busy. So, to help us all maintain our sanity and celebrate Preservation Month this May, here’s a roundup of several online resources that you can use to distract yourself (and maybe your kids) during quarantine. Be forewarned though: if you’re as nerdy as some of us, you might get sucked in and suddenly realize you’ve lost several hours!
This tool, put together by the City of Rochester’s GIS department, is a preservationist’s and researcher’s dream come true. It offers plat maps from 1888, 1900, 1910, and 1935, which you can compare against each other or the present day maps or aerial views. Plat maps and Sanborn Fire Insurance maps are integral to the research that we do–they provide a birds eye view of street patterns and building footprints, allowing you to trace the evolution of a particular building, neighborhood, or city as you travel through time via the maps. And while we love the tangible aspect of flipping through the 100+ year-old hard copy maps, these are so convenient (and fun!) and allow you to compare different years side by side.
We highly recommend you poke around and explore some of Rochester’s development patterns. In most neighborhoods outside the center of downtown, for example, you’ll notice that in the 1888 maps, there is almost no development. Most of the land outside the area of what we consider the Inner Loop today, was still farmland. But 1900, you start to see lots and streets being laid out, and by 1910, most everything is completely built-out. It’s fascinating to see this explosion of construction in such a short period of time!
If you haven’t already dived into this digital treasure trove, what are you waiting for? Rochester Images is a database that includes thousands of historical and contemporary images from Rochester and Monroe County. Images were chosen from the collections of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County Local History Division, the City of Rochester Municipal Archives and City Hall Photo Lab, the Rochester Museum & Science Center, the Town of Brighton Historian’s Office, the Town of Perinton Historian’s Office, the Village of East Rochester Historian’s Office and the Village of Hilton Historian’s Office. Photographs and postcards form the foundation of the database, but it also includes other materials such as maps, manuscripts, and newspapers.
Above, is one of our favorite images, of the Warner Observatory, which was demolished in the 1930s. Located on the southwest corner of East Ave. and Arnold Park, the observatory & attached residence was the brain-child of one of our most colorful entrepreneurs, H.H. Warner – the patent medicine king. In the 1950s, the chapel for Third Presbyterian Church was built on this site. The observatory (as well as Warner’s own home) were designed by John R. Thomas, Rochester’s most “undiscovered” architect.
On a more national scale, the Association for Preservation Technology has an amazing collection of American and Canadian, pre-1964 architectural trade catalogs, house plan books and technical building guides. Trade catalogs are an important primary source to document past design and construction practices. These materials can aid in the preservation and conservation of older structures as well as other research goals. Don’t where to start with this one? Follow APT on Instagram, where highlight pieces of their collection.
Rochester History is a scholarly journal that provides informative and entertaining articles about the history and culture of Rochester, Monroe County, and the Genesee Valley. Former City Historian Blake McKelvey published the first quarterly issue in January 1939 with the goal of expanding the knowledge of local history. Today Rochester History is published biannually (spring and fall) by the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County.
If you need a temporary escape and want to pretend you’re a Gilded Age tycoon, why not stroll the halls of George Eastman’s historic mansion? The Eastman Museum also has plenty of other digital offerings.
If you come across any fascinating finds in your digital travels, tweet at us, post a link on Facebook, or a photo on Instagram and we’ll share it!
And don’t forget–you can also help us celebrate Preservation Month by posting pictures of your favorite historic places on Instagram with #PreservationMonthWNY. We’ll re-post our favorites!
Whether it’s a park, cemetery, an old bar, a house of worship, your porch, your living room, or a random building in your community, all of these places matter. They don’t need to be fancy or associated with anyone special; they just need to be special to you!