Saving Rochester’s History

Iconic Communities, On the Road, Travel Destinations
on June 20, 2004

History is not a topic that’s taken lightly in Rochester, N.Y. In fact, the city’s preservation of its history has been a mainstay since 1860, when the Rochester Historical Society was founded by Lewis Henry Morgan, known as the Father of American Anthropology.

“We are one of the oldest historical societies in western New York,” says Ann Salter, executive director of the Rochester Historical Society. “We have saved 230,000 pieces of Rochester’s past—books, archival material and objects. That collection also includes French’s (mustard) memorabilia.”

Salter’s reference to French’s comes on the heels of the company’s celebration of its mustard’s 100th anniversary through historical preservations in Rochester, considered the birthplace of French’s mustard. The mustard made its debut at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, along with the hot dog.

The company recently partnered with The History Channel’s Save Our History initiative (, which strives to educate the public of the importance of saving local historical treasures.

The company’s connection to Rochester began in 1883, when George French, son of company founder Robert T. French, was traveling through Rochester on business. Due to a blizzard, French was forced to stay in the city overnight. “He discovers there’s a nearby mill for sale. Ultimately, he makes a decision to come to Rochester and bring the business and family here,” Salter explains.

Through its evolution the company kept its roots in Rochester, until its manufacturing center vacated its Mustard Street address in 1973, moving production to Springfield, Mo.

According to Salter, the timing for French’s involvement in the Save Our History effort was perfect. “They called us and asked how they could facilitate in our goal of contributing and participating in saving our history,” she says. “We told them we would love their input in a major new exhibit that’s in the planning stages.” The historical society’s exhibit, which is expected to open in 2006-2007, is titled There’s No Place Like Home.

The Save Our History initiative also will include six local schools in hand’s-on learning projects, “ranging from classroom projects to beautification projects,” says Kevin Klein, director of social studies for Rochester city schools.

The schools’ preservation efforts will be determined by teachers and students. “It could be a project as simple as finding out why a monument is important to Rochester,” says Elliott Penner, president of French’s food division. “And while they’re there, cleaning up the monument and the park.”

Finding historic areas shouldn’t be a problem. The city was founded by Colonel Nathaniel Rochester, who purchased land there in 1803. Many consider Rochester to be America’s first boomtown, brought about in the 1820s when the Erie Canal came through the city’s downtown. At the close of the 19th century, Rochester helped nurture industry giants such as Eastman Kodak and Bausch and Lomb, both of which are still headquartered in the city.

“What we strive to do through Rochester history is to make all of our students productive citizens in the community,” Klein says. “Learning that local history through this project will really help build that sense of community and belonging.”