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The Reynolds Family, part 2: Arcade

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Abelard Reynolds Arcade - Rochester NY

The original Arcade, built by Abelard Reynolds in 1828, was torn down in 1932 and replaced by this handsome 10-story Art Deco building, reportedly one of the first buildings in Rochester with central air-conditioning.

The winter of 1812-13 was a severe one. Settlers in the area surrounding the One Hundred Acre Tract hunkered down in their homes against icy winds and huge snowdrifts. Families rarely saw anyone beyond household members. An occasional visit from the local postmaster, Abelard Reynolds, was always most welcome. There wasn’t much mail arriving in those days; legend claims that Reynolds carried what little there was in his hat. However, the number of recipients grew quickly over the next few years.

In 1817, Nathaniel Rochester hand-carried an application for a village charter to the state legislature in Albany. It was approved on March 21 and Rochesterville was officially recognized. But there was a rival on the east side of the river—a village named Carthage was taking hold farther north where mills were harnessing the water power of the lower falls. Carthage had the backing of Canandaigua merchants and, with access to Lake Ontario, its prospects for becoming a major commercial center seemed more promising than Rochester’s little village.

Everything changed in 1823 when the Erie Canal was completed as far as Rochesterville. It would be two more years before the canal reached Buffalo but, with commercial traffic open all the way to Albany, Rochesterville’s size, population, and business opportunities grew rapidly. In April 1826, an “act to incorporate the village of Rochester” was passed, dropping the “ville” at the end of the Founder’s name, and dividing the community into five wards. The northern limit of the Third Ward was the Erie Canal and a portion of Buffalo Street (today’s West Main); the eastern boundary was the Genesee River.

When Abelard Reynolds first settled within the One Hundred Acre Tract, he operated a saddle shop in the front part of his home—the Tract’s first frame house (as opposed to log cabins). In 1828, Reynolds relocated his family and, at a cost of $30,000, replaced his house with a four-and-one-half story Arcade capped by a turret that looked out over the expanding village. Just one decade after Rochesterville’s original incorporation, people were astonished that so much of what they saw from that rooftop could have been accomplished in so short a time. Within the Arcade were shops, offices and, of course, Abelard’s post office. For decades, the building served as a center for Rochester’s business life. It has been suggested that Reynolds’ Arcade might have been the first indoor mall in the country, a claim now being investigated by staff of the Local History department at the Central Library.

In 1809, Reynolds had married the former Lydia Strong of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. They had six children, four of whom survived to maturity—two girls and two boys. The older daughter Clarissa married Dr. Henry Loomis Strong of Illinois (I have no idea if he was related to Lydia’s family). She gave birth to three daughters before dying at the age of 41. Mary Eliza married Byron Daniel McAlpine of Rochester; she had one daughter before dying at the age of 40. She is buried in the Reynolds plot of Mount Hope Cemetery.

In 1820, the elder son William Abelard Reynolds began his professional career as a barber (the second one in Rochesterville). Ten years later he pioneered a nursery and seed company. He maintained an office in the Arcade and a nursery on Sophia Street (now South Plymouth Avenue). He hired a young German immigrant named George Ellwanger to manage it for him—the same man who eventually joined with Patrick Barry to create the largest nursery business in America at that time.

In 1845, Abelard was 60 years old and gave management of the Arcade over to his son William. Three years later William built Corinthian Hall behind the Arcade and it would be the scene for many of the city’s cultural events, including—just a year after it opened—the first public appearance by the Fox Sisters, spiritualists who dazzled a large audience with their ability to communicate with the dead.

In 1867, at the age of 82, Abelard suffered a paralyzing stroke. The family feared for the worst but he survived. Shockingly, it was 60-year-old William who died unexpectedly in 1872. The baby of the family, Mortimer Fabrius Reynolds, replaced his brother as manager of the Arcade. His Spring Street mansion was in the heart of the Third Ward’s “Ruffled Shirt District”—the subject of my next article.