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Elizabeth Lee, part 2

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City Hospital, now Rochester General Hospital

City Hospital, now Rochester General Hospital, was originally built in the Third Ward, slightly west of the 1872 Café. Image courtesy the Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

The 1850 Federal Census reveals that Charles M. Lee owned real estate valued at $130,000. Some of it was for speculation in property, common at the time though not without risk. In 1842, an uninsured rental property of his burned down, a curious oversight by the attorney.

Nonetheless, Lee and his wife, the former Elizabeth Case were living very comfortably. They were pioneers in a rapidly growing village, having arrived in Rochesterville shortly before the Erie Canal was completed from Albany to the Genesee River (1823) and, by mid-century, they were raising two sons, William S. (age 6) and James Case Lee (2) in a stone house they’d built on the west side of St. Paul Street just south of Andrews.

Charles G. Lee and his wife lived across the street in a home near where World Wide News stands today. The younger Charles attended Yale University but his post-college life was a strange mixture of professions: grocer, a hardware merchant, a Major and Brigade Inspector for Rochester’s militia. Once he even appears as Reverend Lee. His wife gave birth to five or six children but several of them died in the first years of life—those names and dates I couldn’t make out on the grave marker pictured in last month’s Gazette.

Suddenly, over a seven-week period during the fall of 1856, Elizabeth’s life turned upside down. On October 9, forty-two year old Charles G. died of consumption, leaving “a widow and three children of tender years to mourn his early death.” In late November, Charles M. Lee, Elizabeth’s 68-year-old husband, was diagnosed with erysipelas, an inflammation of the skin that would be treated today with antibiotics. In the mid-1800s, it was fatal.

On March 24, 1857, the Rochester Daily Union (forerunner to the now defunct Times Union) announced that the “elegant homestead of the late Charles M. Lee, on St. Paul [street, sold for] $11,500, a low price if the cost of the house and improvements is taken into consideration.” It appears that there were many claims to Attorney Lee’s estate, perhaps because those real estate investments left him land rich but cash poor. Elizabeth may have had to settle for what she got.

By 1859, the widow was living in a Third Ward home—today’s 67 Atkinson Street. The 1861 city directory shows her living at 41 Glasgow (#80 today). On the outside, the house is the mirror image of the Atkinson Street home. City records say #80 was built in 1864 but this record suggests it may have been built as early as 1860. Located several blocks south of the expensive homes in the “Ruffled Shirt District,” this must have been a comedown for the Lee family who, a few years earlier, had been living with servants in the “elegant” St. Paul Street home.

Elizabeth was very active in the Female Charitable Society, an organization founded in 1822 by Everard Peck and his first wife Chloe in their South Fitzhugh Street home. In 1834, following Chloe’s death, Peck boarded briefly in the home of Dr. John D. Henry, Elizabeth’s uncle. This may be how Elizabeth became active in the Society and she pursued it with passion.

She became a founding member of the Rochester Orphan Asylum that opened on Hubbell Street in April of 1844. Elizabeth’s house on Glasgow was just two blocks away and, during the final years of her life, she served as its honorary director. The following year, she and the Society began a campaign to build a much-needed hospital. Mount Hope Cemetery had opened in October of 1838 so Rochester’s Common Council gave the Society the grounds of an older cemetery on Buffalo Street (West Main). First, the bodies had to be exhumed and moved to Mount Hope—a long, slow process. When City Hospital opened in 1864, it was Elizabeth’s homage to Dr. Henry, the uncle who brought her to Rochester more than forty years earlier.

On February 22, 1893 Elizabeth Lee died in her Glasgow home leaving a legacy that has grown in stature. City Hospital expanded its services, changed its name to Rochester General Hospital and eventually relocated to Irondequoit. On January 8, 1901, fire destroyed Elizabeth’s beloved Orphan Asylum killing 28 children and three adults. It was rebuilt in the Cobbs Hill area where it is known today as the Hillside Family of Agencies.