There’s much more to the Finger Lakes Region than water, woodlands, and wine … just glance about.
I had driven past the red brick structure several times before finally stopping to knock on the door. On each trip the hip-roofed building had caught my eye with its odd and angular style. On one side a substantial turret-like structure, long but narrow, rose well above the roofline. It was clearly someone’s home, but without features that might fit a classic Finger Lakes prototype – not Victorian, not Federal, not Gothic, and certainly not Greek Revival. At one time it must have been something else, built for another use … but when and what?
Cheryl Rozell met me at the door. As I began an apology for dropping by unannounced, she interrupted. “Don’t bother, it happens quite often. There’s a great deal of curiosity about this place.” I had lots of questions, and Cheryl was gracious enough to take the time to answer.
The building had been a station stop along the Rochester & Eastern Rapid Railway, an interurban line powered by overhead electric trolley wires and constructed between 1902 and 1904. Originating at the center of downtown Rochester, the railway continued for almost fifty miles to the shore of Seneca Lake in Geneva. It passed briskly through Pittsford, Victor and Canandaigua, as well as other towns and settlements along the way. Small frame buildings or shelters served as stations at most stops. But at three locations, substantial brick combination passenger and power sub-stations with slate roofs were constructed. Those at Pittsford and Victor exist today, but have been altered extensively over the years for commercial use. The third stands at the corner of County Road 4 and Gates Road near the hamlet of Seneca Castle. Eye-catching and unusual, it has been Cheryl’s home for over 50 years.
With declining ridership due to the increase in automobile use and effects of the Great Depression, the rapid railway closed down in 1930. Around 1950, the building came into the possession of Howard Rozell’s family, and it was there that he grew up. When Cheryl and Howard were married in 1965, the sturdy brick station house became their home.
Both Howard and Cheryl admit they weren’t familiar with many of the obscure facts relating to the railway, but were very, very aware of the building’s quirks and peculiarities. “Floors were slanted and nothing has ever been ‘true’ in this building,” says Howard. “Much of it had to be gutted to make it livable.”
After poles, braces and power lines were removed, high ceilings were lowered to provide a comfortable living area. Creating sufficient storage space was a problem. “The tower which had housed electrical equipment was too narrow to create rooms,” Howard added. “So we used it for storage … once it was cleared of cobwebs and bats!”
Cheryl admits that living in an old station house over the years has been unconventional to say the least. “Even while gardening, I’ve uncovered bits of glass and metal … electric insulators, and the like.” A few souvenirs have been kept including several pieces of track – one curved and one utilized occasionally as an anvil. “After about 50 years, I’m pretty used to living with the eccentricities in this place.”
The glory days of the Rochester & Eastern are long gone – history to most, a memory to a very few. Overhead wires once crackled and sparks flew as people sped along its smooth rails in 50 foot long cars illuminated with bright overhead lights, some outfitted with plush crimson high-back seats and shiny brass parcel racks. Little remains to indicate the lively routine that occurred in days gone by along those tracks from Rochester to Geneva, except possibly that notable brick roadside structure near Seneca Castle that still puzzles travelers from time to time.
by Jim Hughes