Southeast Quadrant - EMMA (East Main, Mustard & Atlantic Avenue)
The old real estate maxim “location, location, location” helped to create the EMMA (East Main, Mustard & Atlantic Avenue) neighborhood. Two of Rochester’s major transportation routes—East Main Street (originally called Schanck Avenue) and New York Central Railroad (now Amtrak/Conrail)—were key to EMMA’s growth as a community.
Modern day EMMA’s boundaries begin north at East Main Street, south to the New York Central Railroad/Atlantic Avenue while Culver Road makes up its eastern boundary and North Goodman is to its west (in the 1830s, Rochester’s eastern boundary was located at Goodman Street (North and South).
At that time, EMMA, a mostly undeveloped, rural area was located in the town of Brighton and would remain so until 1874. One of EMMA’s earliest houses was Mr. Schanck’s cobblestone Green Revival style farmhouse, circa 1840, on the northwest corner of East Main Street and Culver Road. (The house was demolished and first replaced by a gas station and more recently by the V.O.A retail outlet store.)
Rural EMMA contained a few streets and buildings and a cemetery (1843-1872) located along the north side of the New York Central railroad tracks. The cemetery was established in 1843 for the parish of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, one of the first three Catholic parishes in the city then located downtown on Franklin Street. In 1872 burials were re-interred in a newly opened Holy Sepulchre Cemetery on Lake Avenue.
From horse and buggy to street car, bus and automobile, East Main St. was a major conduit in and out of the city. The New York Central Railroad yards, repair shops, and Engine House on the south side of Atlantic Avenue in the mid 1870s fueled the growth of an adjacent industrial district and factories that stretched from N. Goodman Street, east along Atlantic Avenue and Main Street East towards Culver Road. One of EMMA’s first industries was Leighton Bridge and Iron Works, located on the south side of Leighton Avenue, west of Barnum Street.
A 1888 map of the area shows the Glen Haven Railroad depot, then a charming Queen-Anne style building that housed passengers waiting for the steam engine railroad that travelled to Glen Haven Amusement Park and Hotel on the west side of Empire Boulevard. Today the site is home to the headquarters of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transit Authority (RGRTA).
For most of the 19th century, railroad crossings at Atlantic Avenue and Culver Road were at grade level. After numerous fatal accidents, public pressure encouraged New York Central to elevate the tracks above the roads throughout the city, and by the early 1900s EMMA had safer conditions for the growing numbers of motorists and residents who traveled its streets.
EMMA’s neighborhood strong community identity was apparent many years before a neighborhood association was formed in 2013. Dorothy Parham, a long-time resident and community activist for the poor and underserved, was instrumental in gathering support for the association. Parham’s family history includes Albert Philip Moore, whose son, also named Albert, was elected in 1878 as a Republican to the South Carolina state legislature during the Reconstruction Period. A popular, well-respected politician, he retained his seat for four years. It was not until 1960 that another African American would take a seat in that same legislature. Another Parham family politician is Wanda Stringfellow, the youngest and first African-American to be elected and re-elected several times as Mayor of Chester, South Carolina.
The Warfield family is another powerful presence in the EMMA neighborhood. Its most famous relative was William Caesar Warfield, the renowned African-American bass-baritone concert artist considered one of the finest singer-actors of the 20th century. Warfield is most identified by one song, “Ol’ Man River” from Jerome Kern’s Show Boat and his work in Porgy and Bess. Warfield’s parents and four brothers moved from Arkansas to Rochester in 1925 when Warfield’s father began a Baptist ministry. The future singer attended City public schools. In 1938 he won a National Music Educators League’s singing competition and won a scholarship to the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. He was drafted into the army in 1942 and because of his fluency in French, German, and Italian, he served in military intelligence during World War II. Four years later, his musical career was launched and he went on to work in clubs, recording studios, opera concert halls, films and television. He toured for the U.S. Department of State and performed Porgy and Bess in Vienna from 1965 to 1974, along with a touring in a German-language version of Show Boat. The musical giant’s music is still listened to today while his legacy continues in the William Warfield Scholarship at the Eastman School of Music which supports African-American voice students.
Brother Robert E. Warfield and his wife Rev. Vernice Warfield moved into their EMMA home in 1952. The late Mr. Warfield was the Commanding Officer and conductor of the 98th Division Army Band for 38 years. He attended Eastman School of Music and was an accomplished singer, pianist, organist, violist, who performed for three U.S. Presidents. Rev. Warfield has a long legacy of working for social justice in the city. She served as secretary of FIGHT (Freedom, Independence, God, Honor, Today), a group formed after the 1964 Rochester riots. She remains active in the community today.
Her son, Michael, works to transform abandoned and run down housing in the historic Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood and serves on the Preservation Board. Another son, Thomas, is the founder of Peace/Art, a nonprofit international organization that utilizes art and creativity to build community and performing artist.
Another famous name that originated in EMMA belongs to a condiment. EMMA’s streets were once perfumed with the smell of mustard when French’s Mustard Company manufactured its condiment at 1 Mustard Street. The mustard empire was founded by two brothers, Robert and George, who bought a flour mill in 1883 in Fairport, NY. After it burned down, they relocated “R.T. French Company to Rochester. George developed the formula for the bright yellow mustard. , and in 1904, French’s mustard debuted their French's Cream Salad Mustard to the world at the St. Louis Word’s Fair. Paired with a hot dog, French’s mustard became an American classic meal. Each 9-oz jar cost ten cents, and came with a wooden paddle for serving.
In 1926, French’s was sold to a British company, J.J. Colman. By the 1960s it was owned by yet another company who introduced its pickle product including piccalilli relish. It went on to manufacture spices and extracts, sauces and gravy mixes.
The EMMA landmark closed its Rochester headquarters in 1983 and moved outside the area.
The Hillside Family of Agencies corporate offices now reside 1 Mustard Street and another building on East Main Street. Hillside Family of Agencies has a long Rochester history. In 1837 it was founded as as the Rochester Female Association for the Relief of Orphans and Destitute Children. Its founders included the wives of influential city fathers and church leaders. First located in Corn Hill, it moved to Hubbell Park until a devastating fire on January 8, 1901 destroyed more than half of the orphanage and killed 29 children and 3 staff. Four years later, the Rochester Orphan Asylum built cottages on a 30-acre site on Pinnacle Hill. Two decades later its name was changed to Hillside Home for Children and in 2000, it was renamed Hillside Family of Agencies to better describe the scope of its activities.
EMMA streets has always teemed with children. Current demographics notes some 367 households with some 213 school age children.
Two noteworthy neighborhood children-- Kim Batten and Roland Williams—grew up in the neighborhood, attended East High School and later became acclaimed athletes. When Batten attended East High School in the 1980s she excelled in basketball only later turning to track later in her athletic career. Throughout the 1990s Kim Batten won a series of championships that culminated in 1995 World Olympic gold medal for track and field in Goteborg, Sweden and a silver medal at the 1996World Olympics.
Rochester native Roland Williams who lived on Herkimer Street for a time grew up to become a Super Bowl Champion with the St. Louis Rams. Roland went on to win Super Bowl XXXIV in the thrilling Rams victory over the Tennessee Titans. Today Williams Roland is currently a motivational speaker, trainer and author.
Sticky Lips Pit BBQ Restaurant opened its Culver Road location in 2004 with a marquee reading “I just spent my life savings, please eat my food.” Ten years later people drive from all over to eat barbecue and enjoy the original signs, magazines and photos from the Rochester in the 1940s and 1950s. In recent years Sticky Lips BBQ’s Atomic Bomb challenge was featured nationally on The Travel Channel’s Man V. Food Nation with Adam Richman. Nearby Lorraine’s Food Factory, in business for 30 years, serves takeout lunches and caters from its Culver Road location.
From transportation hub to a slower paced neighborhood, EMMA neighbors are today working hard to revitalize the neighborhood and support the families with long family histories along with newcomers to this historic section of Rochester.
For Additional Information
1433 E. Main St., 14609 794-0111
Cynthia Houck – Landmark Society
Rev. Cynthia Cole