This afternoon was the perfect day for a tour of the Genesee River and Erie Canal on the Mary Jemison, a historic boat serving as Rochester’s Corn Hill Navigation vessel. Corn Hill Navigation also has a boat that works out of Pittsford, the Sam Patch. Docked at Corn Hill Landing in the city, there is a great view of the boat with a backdrop of the beautiful Rochester city skyline.
The vessel is historic in its own right, having been constructed in 1931 in Virginia as a Chesapeake Bay working boat.
“…She hauled daily oyster catches purchased from Maryland fishermen to packing houses and markets on the bay. By mid-century, when many buy boats were scrapped and replaced as freight haulers by trucks, she was converted to a double decked sightseeing boat and joined the fleet of Atlantic City restaurateur Captain Clarence Starns. In the late 1980s, the vessel began operating on the Erie Canal in central New York. Corn Hill Navigation purchased and launched Mary Jemison in 2005 as work on the Erie Harbor Riverwalk and Corn Hill Landing development in downtown Rochester neared completion.” (source)
The Mary Jemison is named after a historic individual – Mary Jemison, of course, who was also referred to as the ‘White woman of the Genesee.’ “An Irish-American woman born en route to the U.S., Mary Jemison chose to remain with her adoptive Seneca family after being taken captive as a child during the French and Indian wars. She lived for many years along the banks of the Genesee with her adopted people, the Haudenosaunee Iroquois, in what is now Letchworth State Park.” (source) You can read more about Jemison here.
The boat cruise begins in Corn Hill Landing, and as it passes through the Corn Hill district, a narrator discusses the significance of this historic Rochester neighborhood. The boat then passes several historic Rochesterian locations during its hour and a half journey, including the U or R river campus, the Ford Street Bridge, Mt. Hope Cemetery (which everyone knows I love), Genesee Valley Park - designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (whom I also love), and many other notable sights along the river and canal. Of course, both the river and the canal present opportunities for intriguing historical discussion, both being essential to the growth of Rochester and it’s success as America’s first inland boom town.
Check out the location of the Mary Jemison here, from above:
Below, you can watch a little snippet of the discussion regarding the history of Rochester’s Corn Hill district (unmute for sound).
In my master’s thesis (‘Romanticism and Ruralism‘) you can read more about Rochester’s 19th century history, specifically Mt. Hope Cemetery, the works of Frederick Law Olmstead, and the Rochester park reform movement. The Genesee River was considered by Olmstead to be a key feature in many of his works of landscape architecture, as Olmsted believed in crafting his designs in relation to the pre-existing natural landscapes.
Click here to book a cruise on the Sam Patch or Mary Jemison! It’s a must for Rochester city lovers, or those interested in learning a bit more about the complex history of the region.