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       SEAC History: The First Thirty Years

The Genesis: 1960's & 1970's

   The roots for the South East Area Coalition run deep in the soil and fiber of our neighborhoods. Participating in a study by the Rochester-Monroe County Youth Board in the 1960's, southeast area groups conducted discussions and began plans for the Southeast Mobilization Project. The Reverend George Steiger, pastor of Calvary St. Andrews Parish, formalized the efforts in 1968 and became Convener of the Southside Coalition. Shortly thereafter, in 1969, Tom Swartz took over the reigns. At that time, thirteen groups attended the meetings and issues addressed by the group's committees were similar to those addressed by SEAC today: quality integrated education, sites for senior citizen housing, recreation facilities near Highland Park and neighborhood health and mental health services.

   In  1970, the Southside Coalition officially became the South East Area Coalition (SEAC) with Ellwanger Barry resident Clem Bayer as the Board President, and the first Southeast Neighborhood Council was formed. When work began on the Genesee Expressway and Outer Loop in 1971, SEAC joined the Community Organization Coalition on Zoning Reform.  It was then that planning studies began on the Southeast Wedge Area. SEAC's offices moved to 810 S. Clinton Avenue at the corner of Meigs Street.

   When Tom Canton and John Briggs came on board as SEAC's Director and Associate Director in 1972, the group was busy organizing the Genesee Gateway Task Force. At the same time, the Genesee Health Service opened and Title I funds for schools #13 and #15 were attained. The next year, three VISTA Programs began, including the Community Center Development, South Wedge Information Center and Mental Health Committee Organizing.  Also in 1972, the Genesee Expressway was voted down by a 9-0 vote of City Council.  Building on that success, SEAC obtained its 501[c]3 status and contracted with the  Community Chest to provide Community Organization and Neighborhood Development Services.

   In 1974, the first SEAC Convention was held.  Those organizing efforts would result in the formation of the We Care, Harburnam, Pinnacle Hill, Winton-Cobbs Hill, Swillburg and Pearl-Meigs Neighborhood Associations.  The following year, SEAC expanded its efforts to support business association organizing and published "Businews", to share information with the businesses relocating and expanding in the area. The Genesee Corridor Task Force made its recommendations and in 1976, Neighborhood Level Planning activities expanded with work vacant land projects, the Pinnacle Trail, Traffic Safety, and long-range neighborhood planning.

   In 1977, while Kirk Kirkpatrick was Board President and Michael McKenzie was SEAC's Director, the agency focused on issues such as South Wedge improvement, neighborhood commercial revitalization and community education. Through a grant received from New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal in 1978, part-time staff to work with the South Wedge Planning Committee for improvement in the South Wedge Area was secured.

   Leading into the new decade, SEAC adopted a new constitution and by-laws in 1979 and changed the organization's governance from a model of group representatives to a Board of Directors elected at-large from the membership.

Growing to Maturity: the 1980's & 1990's
   For the first time in 1980, Human Services planning staff were hired through a grant from the United Way, and by 1981, SEAC was offering energy conservation programs and weatherization kits to area neighbors.

   In the area of housing, 1982 was a big year, under the guidance of Director Larry LeFever and Associate Director Sandy Weisenreder,. A controversy between SEAC and the South Wedge Planning Committee over a New York State DHCR Grant resulted in grants from the state for both agencies. Grants were made available to eligible homeowners in the targeted area. The following year, the SEAC Tool Library was established through a grant from a private foundation.  That same year, SEAC was successful in gaining a commitment from NYSDOT to install noise barriers between I-490 and residences.

   Our Crime Prevention activities became a formal part of our offerings in 1984 when we received a grant from NYS for those programs, and the next year, we established a Task Force to provide input on traffic management during "Can of Worms" reconstruction. Part of that process included a 1986 Study of southeast transportation needs that was funded by U.S. Urban Transportation Administration.

   In 1987, with Allen Harris as Board President, Janet Laird and Keith Belton as Director and Associate Director, the SEAC Housing Task Force undertook a comprehensive Needs Assessment. Following that, a Memorandum of Understanding was developed in 1988 between the City of Rochester, SEAC and its member organizations to monitor code enforcement in the southeast.

   Karla Stevens, who had come on board as the Associate Director in 1987, became the Executive Director in 1988. Her tenure would continue until Mary Wells took the helm in 1991. It was under Karlaís leadership that the Court Watch Program was organized and activated leading up to SEAC's 20th Anniversary Celebration in 1989.

   During the 1990ís organizing assistance was given to merchants' groups with great success. The Monroe Avenue Merchants Association was awarded status as a Commercial Enhancement District (CED), as was the newly formed Mt. Hope Business Association.  The Village Gate Merchants Cooperative became active, the Upper East End Association formed, as well as the Culver, University and East Association.  From 1991 to 1993 SEAC organized around the expansion of the Genesee Hospital and construction of the new parking ramp garage, and the revised plan was much improved over the original.

   AmeriCorps became part of the staff at SEAC, adding needed personnel resources to the ever growing and reforming associations.  Most significantly, Atlantic University chose to join SEAC during the beginning of City Planning (later called NBN), and later Browncroft and North Winton Village aligned with SEAC.

   During the spring of 1999 SEAC completed a five-year plan with input from residents, businesses, landlords, institutions and law enforcement, The Comprehensive Plan for the Southeast 1999-2005.  Responding to a great demand for a "how to" book for neighborhood leaders, SEAC staff members wrote, compiled and published the SEAC Neighborhood Leaders Guide 2000.  This guide is provided free to neighborhood and business leaders, and is filled with interesting and helpful information to assist in the formation and continuation of associations.  It is available on loan to smaller groups and interested residents at the SEAC office.

   What began as a group of concerned citizens drawn together by youth needs in the 1960's, grew to become a voice for all residents and businesses in the southeast over the next thirty years. The program areas developed then - human service referral, housing, commercial development, crime prevention - remain at the core of SEAC's identity and offerings today.


A Brief History of the Southeast Area:

Early Days

   When Iroquois hunters built temporary shelters near today's site of the University of Rochester and Genesee Valley Park, they probably never envisioned the fifty neighborhoods and 44,000 people that would become the southeast quadrant of the City of Rochester. But whether talking about Native American fur traders in the early 18th century or Oliver Phelps' and Nathaniel Gorham's purchase of this land from Massachusetts in 1787, one thing remains constant: this area has always been a place for invention and creativity.

   Most of the area now called southeast Rochester was originally farmland surrounding the ever-important Genesee River mills that made us the Flour City. When Nathaniel Rochester, William Fitzhugh and Charles Caroll purchased the tract in 1803, it was ideal for growth because of two things: the river which provided power for industry as well as a means of travel, and fertile soil perfect for farming and forests.

Early 1800's 


   During the 1800's, things began to take shape in the southeast. The first school on the east side of the river opened in 1813 in Enos Stone's barn near Main Street. In those days, Sabbath schools met year 'round; all other schools were open only in summer months. And, of course, nothing contributed to the development of Rochester more than the Erie Canal, completed 175 years ago, in 1825.

   The City's oldest commercial building - the stone warehouse at 1 Mt. Hope Avenue  was built in 1822 to store goods being transported on the Canal (the route of today's I-490). With the increased use and success of the waterway came the construction of boatyards all along it on today's Monroe and Mt. Hope Avenues.

   It was common then for hundreds of people to travel on the canal each week, so the development and growth of Rochester was rapid. By the mid-1820's, almost one hundred shoemakers worked in the city and made a living by shipping their products to New York City. But with the sudden influx of people also came an increase in poverty and disease.

   In 1826, the Monroe County Poorhouse opened on South Avenue (currently the Monroe County Hospital). Twelve people who died there were buried in what would become Highland Park and their unmarked remains were forgotten until excavation unearthed them in 1984. The Contagious Hospital (commonly called the Pest House) treated quarantined patients. Nearby sheep often served as research animals and in 1904 Dr. George Goler, the City Health Officer, opened the Municipal Hospital on that site where Strong Memorial Hospital now exists as part of the UR (which it joined in 1963). Rochester Homeopathic Hospital - later Genesee Hospital - opened its doors in 1887 and two years later the Hahneman Hospital started up on Rockingham Street as the precursor to Highland Hospital.

   When it comes to reaching out and helping others, the Rochester Female Charitable Society began helping the poor in 1822. They divided the village into sections, including the southeast, and a member visited poor families every month providing food, loaning clothing and bedding, helping people find jobs, referring the needy to other sources and supplying needy children with schoolbooks and paper.  A hundred years later (1918) the Red Cross headquarters at Alexander St. and East Avenue was dedicated.

Mid-1800's

But did you know that Ellwanger and Barry donated twenty acres of their world-famous nursery to become Highland Park in 1888, or that St. Mary's Hospital on the City's west side treated 3,000 wounded Civil War soldiers? Frederick Douglass' anti-slavery newspaper, The North Star, was first published when he lived on the southeast's South Avenue in 1847, and Dr. William Greene opened an airplane factory on Belmont Street near Cobbs Hill in 1910. Eleven years later, the private Park Avenue Hospital became public before transforming into Park-Ridge, and while victory gardens dotted our neighborhoods during both world wars, German and Italian Prisoners of War were housed at Cobbs Hill. They were kept busy working in canning factories and on local farms.


Notable People

People like Eastman, Ellwanger, Barry, James Crosman, Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony are well-known and long-associated with our part of the city. Many of them are buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery which became the nation's first planned municipal cemetery in 1838. But do you know these other people in our rich history?
 
James Vick: In 1866, he bought the race track that would become Vick Park A and Vick Park B, off East Avenue. Together with Crosman, Ellwanger, Barry and Brown, Vick became one of the leading seedmen of the Flower City.

H. H. Warner: In 1882, he built the Warner Observatory for Lewis Swift on East Avenue. Swift was a local astronomer and hardware dealer and the observatory housed a 22' telescope beneath the 31' dome. In the depression of 1893, Swift moved the telescope to Pasadena.

James Moore: Rochester has always enjoyed many excellent cultural attractions, and in 1913, Moore brought the first feature-length movie to the Temple Theater on South Clinton Avenue as a vaudeville act.

   Throughout these centuries, a common thread uniting southeasterners has been our flexibility and diversification. As one example, consider the Carriage Factory started by James Cunningham in 1838. By adapting to changing times and remain flexible, it became one of the world's largest manufacturers in the field, specializing in hearses and ambulances. In 1928, morphing into the Cunningham-Hall Aircraft Corporation, they manufactured military equipment, tanks and armored vehicles for the war. By the 1950's, it produced electronic components for the broadcasting industry, and it was eventually bought by our own southeast mainstay on University Avenue - Gleason Works.

   The southeast continues to be a vibrant and exciting place to live and work. For more information or to discover the rich history of your own neighborhood, go online to the Rochester Public Library.  You'll find both information and pictures to enhance your research.

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