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Historic House Restored

1883 farmhouse made over to restore its historical features

NEWPORT, Ky. -- It's hard not to notice the bright white wood-framed home that looks like it could have been snatched from th...


Seeking Docents to Give House Tours

It’s not quite central Downtown Brooklyn, Vinegar Hill or Fort Greene, but this quirky little hose deserves love.  Call 585-464-9740 for more information or to volunteer.

Mt Vernon

Keeping history alive in Mount Vernon

MOUNT VERNON — There is nearly 140 years of history in the town of Mount Vernon. And for the first time, the community has a ...

Holden House

Holden House nears addition to National Register of Historical Places

Flagler County’s Holden House is one step closer to being added to the National Register of Historical Places, according to c...

New Book

Author co-writes book on historic cemeteries

The U.S. has been the scene of many movements in its history, such as civil rights ... But it started an upgrade in one of th...



Why Preserve and Restore?
The Importance of Saving Historical Houses

David Woodruff

Preservation and restoration plays a vital role in American cultural life. Historic buildings teach us about the events that happened before we were born and promotes respect for those who lived in earlier times. Visiting the buildings people lived in plays a significant role in our understanding of how they lived. One of my earliest memories is of the Revolutionary War cabins at Jockey Hollow. I came to a unique understand of how cold those soldiers felt who fought for our independence. As a former actor I can also tell you, from experience, that the costume you wear has important impact on the way you play a role. It can make you stand differently or change your posture in more than just subtle ways.

As a reenactor, I can also testify that walking around, in uniform, in a house of the same period is a very different experience than just visiting the house … as well as being remarkably different from simply reading about it. For example, walking up and down an 18th staircase while carrying a musket and wearing a tall hat is a rare experience. I personally have had learning experiences just sitting at desks and in chairs in uniform. I discovered, much to my surprise, that chairs and desks which are quite uncomfortable in modern attire are more that comfortable while wearing clothing from the appropriate period. I’ve found I learned a great deal more about history by being in historic houses than can possibly be learned through the reading of any book.

It even affects modern activities in ways which are hard to predict. I recently spoke with a good friend of mine who is preparing to hike across the country. That’s a task that takes some preparation. I suggested that he march with me for a few miles through Buffalo in the July 4th parade wearing an 18th century heavy wool uniform and carrying a musket. Believe me, once you made your way through that ordeal, modern hiking, under any conditions, is a piece of cake.

Books can tell you a lot of things, but they can’t communicate feelings. Visiting a historic house or site is all about the feelings you get from standing in the same places where others stood all those years ago. Visiting a historic house lets you make history your own, rather than leave it to academics, television programs or movie entertainment. Actually being in a historic place can give you a visceral insight that no other media can accomplish.

Here’s another example. Years ago, I visited Dallas on a business trip. Not far from my hotel, I saw a log cabin. I went to visit it and found myself looking at one of the oldest buildings in Dallas. Once I was there, I had my only déjà vu experience. Turning around I recognized a building intimately, even though I had never been to Dallas before. Crossing the street, I read a plaque on the building placed there by the Texas Historical Commission. It read “Formerly the Texas School Book Depository Building.” I had seen this building … hundreds of times. Without knowing it, I had accidently walked into Dealey Plaza. In all the pictures I had seen, I had never seen the log cabin. Had I not gone to investigate that historic building, I would never have known I was down the street from a place that was fixed in my psyche. Something that had impacted me personally. I formed my own opinion on what happen there on that fateful day, something I would never have achieved had I not wanted to visit history for myself.

The History of Gates New York

The first inhabitants of the area now known as Gates were believed to be Algonquians, although most of the evidence of their habitation is archaeological in nature. The same is true for the Mound Builders, whose name is even lost to history, but whose structural changes in the region remain in the form of the earth mounds by which we refer to them today. Written historical evidence doesn’t come into play until the seventeenth century when Europeans began arriving in the region.

By that time, the Seneca Indians were the local residents. A powerful and warlike tribe, they were members of the Iroquois Confederacy, occupying the region between the Genesee River and Seneca Lake. Still the region remained little known until the 1790’s. At that point, the federal government started to make good on its promise to Revolutionary War soldiers who had remained in service until the end of the war. The Military Tract Act promised 100 acres to these soldiers. However, this agreement was later modified to 500 acres, which was no small amount for the time. Since cash in the early United States was unreliable, many soldiers took up the governments offer and moved to settle in Western New York.      

In 1797, one of the New Military Tract land areas was designated as Northampton in Ontario County. In 1808, the town was subdivided and part was renamed Gates on April 1, 1813. At the time, Major General Horatio Gates was enjoying a resurge in popularity. Often derided for his abysmal performance at the Battle of Camden during the Revolutionary War, he was additionally discredited for his activities at Saratoga by his subordinates:  Benedict Arnold, Enoch Poor, Benjamin Lincoln, and Daniel Morgan. Fortunately for Gates, Arnold’s notoriously traitorous behavior redeemed him in the eyes of his countrymen during his later life. Only a few years after his death in 1806, he was being thought of as an officer who stuck to his support of the American cause throughout the entire revolution … albeit with mixed results. In addition, he was one of the few officers whose successful career occurred solely in New York State.  As a result, his name was a fitting choice for the new town and distinctively more American than Northampton.

Travel to the new region was difficult at best. A stagecoach was set up to travel over the old trail running along an ancient sandbar from Sodus to Lewiston. Probably the earliest access to Gates, it was in operation from 1818 until 1848.  

Between 1819 and 1820, residents of Gates petitioned the state for the formation of a new county. Thus, on May 8, 1821, Monroe County was formed. The chairman of the founding committee was Matthew Brown, Jr., a resident of Gates. Parts of the town were later detached to form the City of Rochester and the Town of Greece, both of which now border the town.

A canal was first proposed to pass through the area as early as the 1780s, but it was not funded due to the proposed cost. In 1807, the idea was floated again, due to the difficulty of travel to the western part of the state. This time, a survey was authorized which was executed in 1808. For years, the concept was denigrated as "Clinton's Folly" or "Clinton's Big Ditch" after the governor of the state. However, the War of 1812 changed all that. British fleets operating on the Lake Ontario effectively cut supply routes to US military installations in the west. After this, an inland canal that could not be blocked by the British began to be viewed much more favorably. The Federal government even provided funds for building and maintenance of some of its locks. Construction began in 1817 and the Erie Canal opened for business on October 26, 1825. It was the first water transportation route between the Eastern seaboard and the western interior of the United States that did not require portage. The Mohawk and Hudson Railroad followed it in 1837, running between Albany and Schenectady. By 1842, a single, continuous railroad line opened the whole way to Buffalo. Part of this line, the New York Central, ran through Gates. As the railroad used the same general route as the canal, but provided faster travel, it began to supplant the canal. Still, the canal carried goods and passengers west as late as 1902.

Like the railroads in the west, the canal and the railroads opened the region to settlers. The population of Gates grew from 2,600 in 1820 to its current population of over 26,000 today.

Between 1830 and 1840, the canal not only brought new settlers to the region, but also a new movement of itinerate evangelism to the region west of the Genesee. Revivalists like Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) toured the region speaking extemporaneously about religion and not using any prepared text. This style of preaching became so popular in the region that the area gained the title “the Burned-Over District” for the enormous number of religious revivals held in the area.

Gates suffered a series of booms and busts in population over this period, rising to a height of almost 8,000 residents by 1830 before crashing to a near all-time low in the census of 1840. Parts of these reductions would be the result of annexations of parts of the town by the nearby city of Rochester. One resident affected by this was Addison Gardner. This resident of Gates was a lawyer and avid pre-modern baseball player from 1825 to 1829. In 1829, he became the judge of the Circuit Court. He continued to promote baseball however, hosting charity and recreational games at his farm in what was then Gates and is now located near Child Street in Rochester. The Birds and Worms baseball club was actually founded on his farm after a game in August of 1868.

In a reversal of that population trend, Henry Elie Rochester (1806-1889), son of Col. Nathanial Rochester, one of the city’s founding fathers, moved to a farm in Gates. An early daguerreotype of the family was made in 1852, when the family lived in Gates, and is still in the possession of the George Eastman House. To show the strong link between Gates and Rochester, Henry was an alderman in the city’s Third Ward and even ran unsuccessfully for mayor on the Democratic ticket.

By 1860, Gates had finally returned to its 1830 population size, only to be hit in the same way most other American towns were … by the Civil War. As a farming community, it shared a stronger heritage with the agricultural south than the industrial north, yet it remained fervently pro-union. Residents of Gates would go on to serve in all four of the Union army’s “Rochester” regiments: the 13thInfantry, the 105thInfantry, the 8th Volunteer Cavalry and even the famous 140th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. A number would even witness the death of local hero Col. Patrick "Paddy" O'Rourke, commander of the 140th, near Little Round Top at the height of the battle of Gettysburg. That three-day battle is often considered the climax of the Civil War. Almost 1,000 men from New York would be killed in that war, with almost twice as many captured and four times that number wounded … not to mention the almost 30,000 New Yorkers who died of disease. It would be an event that would touch every family in Western New York.

After the war, Gates would remain a quiet agricultural town right up to the start of the 20th Century. It was during this period that the current Hinchey Homestead was constructed. With the dawn of the new century, Gates would see one of its sons serve in Congress. Henry Gold Danforth (June 14, 1854 – April 8, 1918) was born in the town of Gates. Danforth attended private schools in Rochester and Phillips Exeter Academy, New Hampshire. He graduated from Harvard University in 1877. A practicing lawyer in Rochester, he served as director of the Rochester General Hospital (1889-1918). He also served as a trustee of the Reynolds Library (1906–1918).

Danforth was elected as a Republican to the Sixty-second, Sixty-third, and Sixty-Fourth Congresses of the United States (March 4, 1911 to March 3, 1917). He eventually lost his seat to Republican Archie Dovell Sanders in 1916. After serving in congress, he resumed his practice of law in Rochester until he passed away on April 8, 1918.

Yet by 1920, Gates would fall to its lowest population count since its founding, as industrialization in the United States grew and agriculture shrank. It might have remained that way, or disappeared altogether, had it not been for its close association with Rochester.  The final change for Gates was its transformation from a sleepy agriculture center to a suburban town of the city. The expansion of Rochester’s population together with the invention of the automobile, created a demand for more housing. Developers began building homes outside Rochester where construction was less expensive. Gates, like many other towns, became very popular once the GI bill began providing financial support to veterans of World War II and the Korean War, assisting them with mortgages for home ownership.

Thus, a town whose impetus for existence was the Military Tract Acts of the 1790’s was rescued by other laws supporting veterans passed almost 150 years later. Historically, Gates spans all the periods of American history from post-colonial expansion to Post-WWII suburb. Like so many parts of small town America, it has successfully weathered change from a far western frontier town to grow into an eastern hub of 21st century family life.