For centuries the area occupied by today’s Rome has been known to the travelers in the north-central woods. Boats coming up the Mohawk River from the Hudson River had to transfer their cargo and boats overland only between 1.7 and six miles, depending on the season, to continue west to Lake Ontario. The portage between the Mohawk River and Wood Creek was used by canoeists of the Iroquoian-speaking peoples and early English settlers called it the Oneida Carrying Place. Such a place of importance needed to be protected and the British erected several small forts along the Carrying Place to guard its lucrative fur trade from French interests in Canada. In 1758, during the French and Indian War British General John Stanwix began building a more substantial fortification here. Fort Stanwix was abandoned in 1768 and allowed to go to ruin but was revived by American Continentals during the Revolution. It was the primary staging point for American attacks against the British and continued to protect the frontier until it was abandoned in 1781.
With peace at hand settlers began to trickle into the Carrying Place. Dominick Lynch acquired 2,397 acres here in 1786 and began selling village lots. In 1797 the portage was eliminated with the completion of a canal connecting the Mohawk River and Wood Creek, a considerable engineering feat for the day ushering in a new era of progress. Twenty years later the Erie Canal, which was originally sited south of the village, was relocated and Rome’s success was assured.
Railroads followed the canals and with it came industry. Jesse Williams founded America’s first cheese factory at Rome in 1851. More importantly, in 1866 the Rome Iron Works began rolling iron rails and a decade later began rolling brass. The company evolved into Revere Copper and Brass, employing thousands in the world’s largest copper rolling mill. At one time, 10 percent of all copper products used in the United States were manufactured in Rome.
The United States Air Force became the dominant employer in Rome in the second half of the 20th century. Ground was broken on August 2, 1941 for the Rome Air Depot which became named Griffiss Air Force Base after Lt. Colonel Townsend E. Griffiss, the first U.S. airman to be killed in the line of duty in the European Theater during World War II. Griffiss became the headquarters of the Northeast Air Defense Sector until it was de-activated in the 1990s.
Rome is the second largest city by area in New York State and aggressive urban renewal efforts make it seem that way. Our spread-out tour will begin where the British dug their trenches during the siege of Fort Stanwix...
James, Court, Park and Church streets
Peter Gansevoort was born in 1749 in Albany into one of the original Dutch families in New York. Gansevoort joined the Albany militia at the outbreak of the American Revolution and his commanding presence soon earned him a command. He was made a full Colonel and led the 3rd New York Regiment in its resistance the siege of Fort Stanwix in 1777. After the war Gansevoort returned to the Hudson Valley to look after the family brewery, farms and mills. In 1809, he was made a Brigadier General in the United States Army but died at his home in Albany at the outbreak of the War of 1812. This statue was placed here in 1907 and East Park was renamed Gansevoort Park.
STANDING IN THE CENTER OF GANSEVOORT PARK FACE NORTH WITH JAMES STREET ON YOUR LEFT. BEGIN WALKING CLOCKWISE AROUND THE PARK, MOVING TO YOUR RIGHT.
Oneida County Courthouse
302 North James Street
In 1849 Oneida County authorized the building of a new Courthouse and jail in Rome at a cost not to exceed $12,000. The Greek Revival Courthouse was completed sometime after 1850. A two-story addition was added on the North James Street side to house County offices in 1896. In 1902 the porch was rebuilt and a dome added to permit light and ventilation to the upstairs courtroom.
Rome Historical Society
200 Church Street
The Rome Historical Society was founded in 1936 and moved into here in 1980. The brick Colonial Revival building began life as a post office.
St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church
105 East Liberty Street at James Street
When this church was completed in 1897 it was hailed by the New York Times as “the handsomest in the State outside the larger cities.” Archimedes Russell, maybe the busiest architect to ever practice in central New York, provided the plans for the Romanesque-styled church. Russell completed nearly 850 commissions during his forty-three year career and this was the largest church he ever designed. The price tag for St. Peter’s, constructed of Medina sandstone and rock-faced ashlar, was $150,000. The altar alone, fashioned of white marble and Mexican onyx, cost $6,000 and was paid for by James A. Murphy. Murphy left the town for Chicago where he became a millionaire broker and nationally known as the owner of America’s fastest pacing horse for awhile, Star Pointer. St. Peter’s was the first Catholic congregation to form in Rome, moving into a meetinghouse along the Mohawk River in the early 1840s.
TURN LEFT ON JAMES STREET.
Old City Hall
207 North James Street
Rome didn’t have a real City Hall until the cornerstone was laid for this splendid Dutch-inspired building on October 14, 1894. Two stories of brick rise above a rusticated stone first story. The square building is topped by a tile-covered hipped roof crowned by a domed cupola. The City Hall is trimmed in stone and decorated with fluted pilasters. The government moved out in the 1970s and the building is now occupied by public agencies.
100 North James Street
It was possible for early travelers and later English settlers to paddle by canoe from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean if their transport could be picked up and carried across a short, level stretch of ground between the Mohawk River and the Wood Creek, near present day Rome. The British built Fort Stanwix here in 1758 to replace three smaller forts that protected the Oneida Carry during the early years of the French and Indian War. The fort, named for its builder Brigadier General John Stanwix, never saw action and was abandoned when the British won Canada in 1763. In June 1776, Colonel Elias Dayton began rebuilding an old frontier fort on the strategic portage between the headwaters of the Mohawk River and Wood Creek. By July 1777, Fort Stanwix was garrisoned with 750 troops. It was eventually fortified. Fort Stanwix was a prime objective in General Burgoyne’s New York campaign of 1777. Needing a western diversion to draw troops away from Albany, he sent Lt. Colonel Barry St. Leger against Fort Stanwix to clear the western approach to Albany in late July. St. Leger, reinforced with Tories and Indians, arrived at the fort on August 3 and quickly decided against a frontal assault. American defender Colonel Peter Gansevoort “rejected with disdain” the British demand for surrender. St. Leger and his 1,700 men settled into a siege. He was first distracted by a relief column of Nicholas Herkimer three days later at Oriskany, but the Americans were forced into retreat with severe casualties. Three weeks into the action Brigadier General Benedict Arnold began another relief mission from Fort Dayton, 30 miles to the south. As Arnold approached with 800 Continentals, St. Leger’s Indian allies deserted and he soon retreated. The British never conquered Fort Stanwix; the American defenders in Albany never turned away from Burgoyne’s army; and the British initiative to win the upper Hudson River was over. Fort Stanwix was manned until 1781 but never tested again. In October 1784, American and Iroquois representatives met here to negotiate the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, which set terms for a separate peace with the Indians and forced the Iroquois Confederacy to cede large tracts of their ancestral lands to the United States. A blockhouse was constructed at Fort Stanwix to store ammunition, but it disappeared sometime after 1815. By 1830 the fort was leveled. It has been completely reconstructed to its 1777 appearance inside a palisade fence above the glacis.
TURN RIGHT ON DOMINICK STREET.
Rome Savings Bank
100 West Dominick Street
The Rome Savings Bank took its first deposit - $20 from Smith Tulley - on September 16, 1851. W. Hervey Brayton was elected the first president. The first mortgage was issued to the First Presbyterian Church in the amount of $3,000. The bank remained independent for nearly 160 years before being acquired by the Massachusetts-based Berkshire Hill Bancorp company in 2010.
The Capitol Theatre Center for the Performing Arts
220 West Dominick Street
Brothers Michael J. Kallet and Joseph S. Kallet got into the entertainment business in 1920 when they renovated the Carroll Theater on East Dominick Street and called it the Strand Theater. In 1928 they erected Rome’s first building designed only to show movies with over 1,741 seats. Opening night on December 10 featured the Capitol Theatre screening Colleen Moore and Gary Cooper in the wartime romance Lilac Time. In 1939 the theater received an Art Deco makeover with “scientific indirect lighting” on the ceiling dome, air conditioning and a Vitrolite glass ticket booth. The Capitol sputtered to a close in 1974 but it was reworked for use as a performing arts center. Today the Capitol, backed by a rare Moller concert organ with seven ranks of pipes, is one of the few places in New York where early silent films can still be viewed with music and sound effects.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH GEORGE STREET.
H.P. Sears Service Station
201 North George Street at Liberty Street
Howard P. Sears left school at the age of 14 in 1910 and rode the trolley to Utica to buy used bicycles. He checked them for free in the baggage car and returned to Rome where he fixed the bicycles up and resold them. He quickly realized, however, that the automobile was replacing the bicycle and when he was still only 15 Sears had published an automobile accessories catalog under the name of Sears Auto Supply Company. By 1919 Sears was selling gasoline from his shop and was soon delivering oil in his first truck. In 1929 he built a modern filling station in Utica and an identical station opened in this location in 1930. In 1936 the stations were upgraded with red, white and blue art-deco porcelain enamel oval signs. The gas station stopped operating in 1974 and was vacant until 2002 when restoration began for its conversion into a museum.
First Methodist Episcopal Church of Rome
400 North George Street at Embargo Street
The First Methodist Episcopal Society of Rome, NY, was established in 1799 with meetings held ina house about three miles from the village. In 1819 when the Village of Rome incorporated the congregation moved into the court house. The first church was constructed in 1829 on East Court Street and was replaced by this brick edifice in 1869. Architect Marcus Fayette Cummings of Utica drew up the Italianate flavored house of worship with its 150-foot-tall steeple.
TURN RIGHT ON EMBARGO STREET.
AT WASHINGTON STREET YOU REACH ONE OF THE MOST FASHIONABLE RESIDENTIAL STREETS IN THE CITY. TO SEE THE ROME PUBLIC LIBRARY HOUSED IN THE HOME OF ONE OF ITS MOST NOTED 19THCENTURY CITIZENS, TURN LEFT AND WALK THREE BLOCKS AND RETURN TO THIS CORNER. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO TAKE THAT DETOUR, TURN RIGHT AND GO TO STOP #12.
613 North Washington Street
When the first shovels of dirt were turned on the Erie Canal John Bloomfield Jervis was hired as an axeman. Within two years he was resident engineer in charge of the canal’s middle section. Jervis would go on to fashion one of the 19th century’s most celebrated engineering careers. Included in his achievements were work on the Delaware and Hudson Canal, the Croton Aqueduct and the Harlem River High Bridge. When railroads were just beginning to appear in America, he drew plans for the “Stourbridge Lion,” the first locomotive to run on this continent. He also invented the swiveling, four-wheel “bogie” truck, to keep the engine from jumping the track when rounding curves. In 1894 the Jervis Public Library Association was incorporated by an act of the New York state legislature. Although a downtown location was the vote for convenience, Jervis had bequeathed his property and personal collection of books and documents for a town library when he died a decade earlier so new library moved into his 1857 mansion.
Stevens Mansion/VFW No 2246
315 North Washington Street
Rome native Jim Stevens entered politics in 1866 at the age of 30 and went on to be in the forefront of the Democratic Party in New York for more than a quarter-century. Stevens was in the state senate and also served as mayor of Rome. In the business world Stevens was the ruling force in the Rome Merchant Iron Mill, one of the city’s largest industries in the 19th century. He was also at the head of the city’s largest dry goods store, Jackson & Company, and was president of the Central National Bank of Rome. Stevens began construction of one of Rome’s most magnificent mansions in April 1890. The site was regarded as the most desirable spot in the most fashionable part of the city. Stevens worked in tandem with Syracuse architect Archimedes Russell to create an ornate Victorian palace of Potsdam red sandstone trimmed in Longmeadow Kidby brownstone. A three-story brick stable on the grounds is constructed of pressed brick and finished inside of the finest oak. The property was purchased by the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1945.
AT LIBERTY STREET TURN RIGHT.
St. Mary’s of the Assumption Church
210 West Liberty Street
German Catholics who came to Rome to work on the Erie Canal and the railroads began worshiping in the 1840s and constructed a small church in 1848. The cornerstone for this brick Gothic-flavored church was laid on May 18, 1871; its location on West Liberty Street caused a split in the congregation, leading the German Independent Catholic Society to break away. St. Mary’s parish remained independent until being folded into St. Peter’s in 2009 due to a lack of priests. The church is now maintained by the Syracuse Diocese for special services and events.
TURN AND WALK EAST ON LIBERTY STREET.
Zion Episcopal Church
140 West Liberty Street
Zion Episcopal Church was founded in 1825 as a mission of the Trinity Episcopal Church in New York City. Richard Upjohn, America’s leading cheerleader for the Gothic Revival style in church architecture in the 1800s, drew up the plans for this meetinghouse in 1850. It is the oldest church building in Rome and sports several stained glass windows from Tiffany studios.
AT JAMES STREET TURN LEFT AND WALK PAST OLD CITY HALL INTO THE PUBLIC SQUARE.
First Presbyterian Church
108 West Court Street
Early settlers gathered to worship in 1793 in the home of Ebenezer Wright and in 1800 the Reverend Simon Watermen established the First Religious Society of Rome, a Congregational denomination. The church joined the Presbyterian denomination in 1807 and constructed its first meetinghouse on the public square in 1808. This Italianate-inspired church with its 180-foot steeple dates to 1852.
WALK BACK ACROSS JAMES STREET INTO GANSEVOORT PARK AND THE TOUR STARTING POINT.