Henrietta at the Crossroad of Monroe County
By Helen Vollmer Elam
Henrietta Town Historian
When Henrietta officially became a town in 1818, it also became the crossroad of Monroe County.
The pioneers settled here on the various crossroads of the town and agriculture became their prominent occupation. Not only is Henrietta the geographical center of the county, it has also become the apex for business and commerce, culture and history.
The history of Henrietta began with the sale of land that is known as the Phelps and Gorham Purchase This purchase opened up western New York State for development after the Revolutionary War. It included over a million acres starting north from Lake Ontario and south to the Pennsylvania border; east from Geneva and west to the Genesee river. The town which later would become Henrietta is located in Township XII, Range VII of that purchase. It had been under the jurisdiction of Pittsford and was called "The Woods of West Town" or sometimes just the 'West-Town'. When the pioneers were not allowed full representation in Pittsford, they broke away and formed their own town in 1818. A new name of "Henrietta" was chosen in honor of Henrietta Laura Pulteney, Countess of Bath. She was the daughter of Sir William Johnstone Pulteney, who was the major British investor of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase in which he bought in 1791.
The first settler, Major Ezekiel Scott and his wife Catherine purchased in 1790 nine hundred acres for 200 pounds at $4.50a pound or about $900.00. This property was purchased directly from Oliver Phelps. They lived in a log cabin near the Genesee river. When he became ill, they moved away and the land was sold to John Wadsworth by 1800.
Settlement began in the early 1800s by people of English descent on the various crossroads of Henrietta. One settlement was called "Calkins Corners" located on Calkins and East Henrietta Road and then there was Stevens Corner at Wadsworth (Pinnacle) and Calkins' Roads. Another was at the corner of East Henrietta Road and Lehigh Station Road, while another was located at the intersection of the plank road (West Henrietta Road) and Erie Station Road. These two areas became known as the East Village and the West Henrietta Village. Rivalry existed between these two hamlets. People built homes on the western crossroads of East River Road as well as Pinnacle Road on the east side of town. Settlement also took place on Middle Road and Erie Station Road which was known as Search's Hill for a prominent citizen whose Greek Revival house stilll stands looking over the valley below.
The early settlers established small businesses. By 1812 there were six asheries, three sawmills and one brickyard. On the east side of town by 1810 a store was located in Acer's Tavern on East Henrietta Road where he also opened a post office. On the west side of town a store was opened by David Jeffords atop Methodist Hill. Taverns would follow and a hotel was kept by Henry Chapman on the southeast corner of West Henrietta Road and Erie Station Road by 1820. Several other taverns were built in other parts of town. Medical needs of the town were met by Dr. Jonah Simonds, the first physician. He came in 1811.
Farms were developed and the town became known for its good soil producing much needed food.and grain After the Erie Canal opened in 1825, farmers could send their crops cheaply by barge to markets in New York City and elsewhere. The town began to prosper.
The residents of Henrietta since its early times had been interested in education. The first school opened at Stevens Corners in 1809. James Sperry whose name is on the present Senior high school promoted the building of the Monroe Academy. It opened in 1826 and was the first incorporated academy west of Canandaigua. A boarding school, it served the community for many years. Antoinette Brown Blackwell who was born in Henrietta in 1825 was educated there and became one of its teachers. Antoinette Brown became the first ordained woman minister in the United States on September 15, 1853. The Academy building burned to the ground in 1974
One-room elementary schools dotted the Henrietta landscape, but only a few remain standing today. When the Rush-Henrietta District became centralized, a new building was erected in 1952 that was both an elementary and high school known as the Charles H. Roth School. It was one of the first such types built in the nation. Next came the James Sperry Senior High School in 1966 with many other elementary schools being built in this same time period.
With their thirst for knowledge, settlers opened in1816 a public library with lending libraries in many of the district schools. When the Henrietta Town Hall was opened in 1964, a wing of the building housed the town library. It soon outgrew that location and a new modern library building across from the Town Hall was built in 1968.
The first religious group organized in Henrietta in 1812 was a Baptist Society and members met in each others homes. Various other sects joined them and built many churches and temples. Today there are many denominations including Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Hindu and Budhist. With its many ethnic groups, Henrietta today has become an interesting multi- cultural society.
Henrietta remained an agricultural town for over a hundred years. With the advent of a sewage systerm, and new water and gas lines, a building surge began The town became known as a 'Boom Town'. When returning veterans of WWII were looking for homes, they came to the many housing tracts being developed. The population grew from around 3,000 in the early1950s to 14,000 in the 1960's. For many years it was known as the 'Township of Friendship" and even though the population had been expanded it still had a small town flavor. Today the population is over 37,000.
When Routes #390 of the Genesee Expressway and Route #90 of the Thruway opened, they made businesses easily accessible. As a result many companies came to Henrietta. It now boasts three companies that are in the Fortune 500 list:Kodak, Xerox and General Motors. There are also several commericial areas with the opening in 1982 of Marketplace Mall drawing many vendors to the area. Jefferson Road boasts so many restaurants that you could dine in a different one for two weeks straight.
The town also abounds in many cultural activities. When Rochester Institute of Technology moved here from the city in 1968, it established a beautiful large campus where many events take place that respond not only to their student's needs but to those of the Henrietta community as well. The National Technical Institute for the Deaf was built on the R.I.T. campus providing classes and opportunities for its deaf students. The Rochester metropolitan area serves the largest deaf population in the country.
The Henrietta Public Library adjacent to the Town Hall serves the public well with its many programs. The Library's community room allows groups to hold meetings and events there. In addition the churches in Henrietta provide services for both spiritual and cultural events. The Rush- Henrietta School District proudly promotes many cultural events as well , along with other private schools. Fine recreational activities are given by the town's Recreation Department.
The Tinker Homestead Museum and Tinker Nature Park are places of interest where thousands of town residents join in their programs or walk on the nature trails. The Veterans Memorial Park next to the Town Hall also houses the Don Cook Senior Center; another park is being developed on Martin Road with some other small neighborhood parks as well.
Henrietta has been known for its low tax base and so continues to attract new people and business. It has bcome an urban center with farmland mostly existing in the southern part of town. What began as strictly an agricultural town, now is a blend of agricultural, commercial, and residential areas. The Historic Site Committee for the town has established twelve preservation districts protecting many of our old structures and culture.
Every day Henrietta lives out its history in both large and small events. Yet Henrietta,with all of its services and features can boast that it is a great place in which to live and work!
Sources: "Henrietta Heritage" by Eleanor C. Kalsbeck and U.S. Census Records