Digital Collections -> Pathfinders -> Many Roads to Freedom -> Rochester in April 1865

Erie Canal Aqueduct during 1865 Flood


April, 1865 was a tumultuous period in Rochester. In the previous month Rochester had experienced the "Great Flood".

"A sudden thaw and rain on the uplands of the Genesee sent the flooded river rushing lakewards with the heavy snows of an exceptionally long and cold winter. At Rochester, where the river channel had been steadily narrowed for many years by the greedy mills and factories, the Genesee had its revenge. The struggling currents burst over the banks and into the Genesee Valley and Erie Canals and from there poured into the streets in the western part of the city. At midnight of Saturday the angry river broke over the barrier of Main Street Bridge and rushing across its western end found a new outlet through Buffalo and Front Streets to the lower river. At this end of the bridge the water was six to eight feet deep, while the swirling currents tore up the paving and hurried onwards to do more damage to Front Street. Buildings at either end of the bridge were undermined, and on the bridge itself the suspended basements of the new brick buildings were torn out causing the collapse of many of the walls and upper stories. Three men trying to save the goods in Hartwell's store in the western end of the Globe Building narrowly escaped death when the floor suddenly collapsed into the river. Erickson's Building, on the site of the old market, and the rest of the Globe Building were left sagging dangerously.

When the waters subsided the aldermen were so appalled at these and other scenes of devastation that they petitioned President Lincoln to exempt the city from further calls for the Civil War draft because, as they said, they needed every man for repairs at home."

--Description from Rochester History, April, 1941 Vol. 3

While Rochester was still attempting to recover from the flood damage, the end of the Civil War was announced on April 10. Rochester celebrated by the ringing of many bells, the setting of bonfires, the setting off of rockets and guns, and the giving of speeches to the crowds which had gathered in the downtown streets. The draft was suspended, and families began to eagerly await the return of their soldiers.

However, the news that President Lincoln had been assassinated brought celebrations to a standstill. The city participated in the national observance of Lincoln's funeral in April 19. A procession of almost two miles in length took place in the city, where mourners listened to eulogies. On April 27, Mayor Daniel D.T. Moore (also the editor of Moore's Rural New Yorker), accompanied Lincoln's funeral train as it passed through Rochester in the middle of the night, where yet another somber group gathered. The incident echoed the trip the President had taken through the area on the way to his inauguration in 1861, where he had addressed the crowd from the rear platform of his train while at the same New York Central Railroad Station. Lincoln's death was also the subject of sermons preached throughout local churches.

Rochester's own Frederick Douglass later paid tribute to President Lincoln in a speech he gave in 1876 at the inaugural ceremonies of the Freedman's Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln in Washington D.C.

See more pictures of the Great Flood

Read a local newspaper account of the flood:
Rochester Evening Express March 20, 1865 [pdf, 1.14 MB]

Read a local newspaper account of the end of war and the assassination:
Rochester Daily Democrat April 18, 1865 [pdf, 4.73 MB]

Read sermons preached at local churches:
Discourse on the Death of Abraham Lincoln: Preached at the Presbyterian Church, Palmyra, N.Y., April 19th, 1865 [pdf, 1.31 MB] by Thomas Tousey.
Sermons on the Death of President Lincoln: Delivered in St. Luke's Church, Rochester, N.Y., on Wednesday, April 19th, and on Sunday, April 23d, 1865 [pdf, 1.5 MB] by R. Bethell Claxton.

Read Douglass' Speech at the Inaugural Ceremonies of the Freedman's Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln, Washington City, April 14, 1876
[pdf, 2.91 MB].

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The New York Central Railroad Station