Written by Carol McAlister
Corn Hill is Rochester’s oldest residential neighborhood, long known as “The Third Ward.” Flour millers and merchants built impressive homes during Rochester’s first growth after the building of the Erie Canal in the 1820s and 30s. Rochesterians called the neighborhood “The Ruffled Shirt Ward” because of the prosperity of its residents with their substantial homes and mansions of architectural diversity and style. Founding meetings were held here for the University of Rochester and Rochester General Hospital.
The advent of income tax, two World Wars and the construction of super highways in the 20th century caused the glorious days of the Third Ward to diminish. Large houses were made into apartments. The construction of I-490 cut through the north portion of the Third Ward. Its path cleared many houses standing in the way. Rochester’s first mayor and early leaders once lived in the area demolished for “new progress.”
The Urban Renewal Program of the 1960s threatened to take what was left of the Third Ward. Rochester would lose an important part of its historic homes and heritage. In 1964, the Landmark Society did architectural surveys of surviving homes to persuade the government to include a conservation area in the urban renewal plan. Residents who worked to revive the neighborhood formed an organization to promote and protect the area, named “The Corn Hill Neighbors Association.” The name was taken from early land deeds in the area known as “The Corn Hill Tract.” In 1969, a group of artists living on Greenwood Street organized a small arts festival, which grew into the annual Corn Hill Arts Festival.
Today new townhouses, single-family homes and a school reflect the vast amount of land cleared of early dwellings in the Third Ward during the Urban Renewal program. Plymouth Avenue, for example, used to head directly south but now curves east to Exchange Boulevard. The newly landscaped area, which replaced this section of street, was named Ralph Avery Mall in honor of a nationally famous and much-loved local artist who resided at the Hervey Ely mansion on Troup Street. Many of Ralph Avery’s watercolors were of Rochester and Corn Hill scenes. Throughout his career he was a contributor to the Saturday Evening Post and the Reader’s Digest magazines. Ralph Avery Mall remains today as a tribute to this prominent Corn Hill artist and resident.