Next month Rochester’s transportation authority, Regional Transit Service (RTS) will open a new $50 million transit center at Mortimer Street in downtown Rochester. According to a D&C story RTS has requested that the City change the name of Mortimer Street to “RTS Way.” Mortimer Street has quietly existed between N. Clinton Ave and Saint Paul Street since Rochesterville was incorporated in 1817.
I’ve spent the last five years of my life advocating for Rochester’s public transit system and building a good working relationship with folks at RTS. That’s why I know they will take what I’m about to say as constructive criticism, and nothing more. Here it goes:
Renaming Mortimer Street after yourself is a bad idea. Don’t do it!! Now, let me explain…
Firstly, it’s polarizing
For good reason City code prohibits streets from being named after a living person… and I’d go so far as to say we should not be naming our streets after corporations (public or private). It’s just a polarizing thing to do. Unless maybe you’re George Eastman, you’ll never have unanimous consent and many will find issue with it. So why even attempt it?
Show Some Humility
While naming a street after yourself may seem like an appropriate thing to do after you’ve served the community for 150 years, it actually comes across as an unnecessary and self-gratifying move.
RTS wants to be seen as your “friendly” local transportation service. This is why the organization is currently in the process of rebranding itself. They know better than anyone that corporations have personalities – just like people do. For an organization that wants to be seen as friendly, reliable, and service-oriented, narcissism is not a virtue. Humility is.
Respect Local History
The D&C article reports “both the City and RGRTA searched for the namesake of Mortimer [Street] to no avail, officials said.” I don’t know how much “searching” they actually did, but some fairly easy searching through online local history docs give us a pretty good idea for who Mortimer was likely named.
Stay with me here…
In 1812 Abelard Reynolds of Pittsfield, MA stopped at the Genesee Falls on his way to Ohio. During his visit he took an interest in Colonel Nathaniel Rochester’s Hundred Acre Tract and decided to buy a couple of parcels on the west side of the river north of Main St. In 1813 he returned with his family and this is where they built their home.
The Reynolds were an enterprising bunch and became very active in the settlement of Rochesterville. They brought with them some iron goods to sell, and they used their home as a tavern, a saddlery, and also the town’s first post office. Abelard was even appointed as Rochesterville’s first Post-master “at the intercession of Colonel Rochester.”
In 1823, on the site of the family home, Reynolds had built a 4-and-a-half-story commercial building – the Reynolds Arcade. Some people said it was the largest commercial building west of Albany at the time!
What does this have to do with Mortimer Street (on the EAST side of the river)? So in 1814 Abelard and his wife Lydia had a baby boy. They named him… MORTIMER.
Aww! Baby Mortimer. Cutie!
Old maps do show Mortimer Street as early as the 1820s. But I could find no property owners in this vicinity by the same name – at any time.
Now, while I have no direct evidence that Mortimer Street was named for baby Mortimer Reynolds, when one considers that Rochesterville was just being settled (officially chartered in 1817) and how prominent the Reynolds family became during this time, I think it quite likely that a new street could have been named for the family’s newest member.
If there’s even a chance this street were named for baby Mortimer, by itself this would be enough reason for me not to rename it “RTS Way.” But there’s more.
Little Mortimer went on to become a very successful businessman in his own right, and he would do something which I consider to be truly great…
When the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics’ Association (the precursor to R.I.T.) went bankrupt in 1877, Mortimer purchased their entire book collection and with it sought to establish a new free library. The Reynolds Library was incorporated in 1884 and opened to the public in the Reynolds Arcade in 1886.
Mortimer Reynolds died in 1892 and he left his home, a mansion on Spring Street, for the library’s new headquarters. In 1933 the Reynolds Library merged with the Rochester Public Library to form the bulk of Rochester’s new Central Library. The Reynolds Collection is maintained to this day at the Rundel Memorial building.
That is pretty cool. If Mortimer had nothing else named for him other than the street, he probably should have.
And now in 2014 (on the 200th anniversary of his birth and 130th anniversary of the Reynolds Library) we are going to strip Mortimer’s name from the map??
We might as well rename the Mortimer Street Parking Garage the “RTS Parking Garage” while we’re at it.
If you are the Transportation Authority; that probably means you have more important things to spend your time on than renaming streets. Besides the fact, it’s more than a bit tacky to propose to name a public street after yourself – even if you do own the newest and biggest building on the block. And most importantly, you don’t get to erase local history simply because you were unable find its source.
Mortimer Street should remain Mortimer Street.
UPDATE 1: This story is evolving in the comments section below. Dave Gottfried points to another Mortimer – Mortimer Johnson – who was son of Rochester’s 5th Mayor, Elisha Johnson. This seems make more sense, as Mortimer Street is located within the Johnson & Seymour Tract established by Elisha Johnson and James Seymour.
UPDATE 2: There may be a 3rd possibility. Brian Sharp (D&C) tweets, “There also is a Charles Mortimer who was a civil engineer at the time and lived on North Street.”
Let them know what you think
(585) 288-1700 or email [email protected]
Contact your City Council member:
Carolee A. Conklin
Dana K. Miller
Loretta C. Scott
Adam McFadden, South District
Carla M. Palumbo, Northwest District
Elaine M. Spaull, East District
Michael A. Patterson, Northeast District
Tags: 100 acre tract, Abelard Reynolds, Athenaeum Library, City of Rochester, Col. Nathaniel Rochester, hundred acre tract, Lydia Reynolds, Mortimer Reynolds, Mortimer Street, Regional Transit Service (RTS), Reynolds Arcade, Reynolds Library, Rochester, Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics' Association, Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA), Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Rochester NY, Rochester Public Library, Rochesterville, RTS, RTS Transit Terminal, Rundel Library, Rundel Memorial Building
This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 at 12:03 am and is filed under Opinion, Rochester History, Rochester News, Transit + Infrastructure, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
And, on top of all that, I just plain don’t like renaming public places. There is comfort in continuity.