Transit Authority May Rename Mortimer Street "RTS Way"

Transit Authority May Rename Mortimer Street "RTS Way"

This article was scraped from Rochester Subway. This is a blog about Rochester history and urbanism has not been published since 2017. The current owners are now publishing link spam which made me want to preserve this history.. The original article was published October 29, 2014 and can be found here.

RTS wants to change the name of Mortimer Street to RTS Way.

     By       Mike Governale

Next month Rochester's transportation authority, Regional Transit Service (RTS) will open a new $50 million transit center at Mortimer Street in downtown Rochester. According to     a D&C story

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RTS has requested that the City change the name of Mortimer Street to "RTS Way."     Mortimer Street

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has quietly existed between N. Clinton Ave and Saint Paul Street since Rochesterville was incorporated in 1817.

I've spent the last five years of my life advocating for Rochester's public transit system and building a good working relationship with folks at RTS. That's why I know they will take what I'm about to say as constructive criticism, and nothing more. Here it goes:

Renaming Mortimer Street after yourself is a bad idea. Don't do it!! Now, let me explain...

The new RTS Transit Center. Mortimer Street can be seen on the left edge of the photo. [PHOTO:]

Firstly, it's polarizing

For good reason     City code

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prohibits streets from being named after a living person... and I'd go so far as to say we should not be naming our streets after corporations (public or private). It's just a polarizing thing to do. Unless maybe you're George Eastman, you'll never have unanimous consent and many will find issue with it. So why even attempt it?

Show Some Humility

While naming a street after yourself may seem like an appropriate thing to do after you've served the community for 150 years, it actually comes across as an unnecessary and self-gratifying move.

RTS wants to be seen as your "friendly" local transportation service. This is why the organization is currently in the process of rebranding itself. They know better than anyone that corporations have personalities - just like people do. For an organization that wants to be seen as friendly, reliable, and service-oriented, narcissism is not a virtue. Humility is.

Respect Local History

The D&C article reports "both the City and RGRTA searched for the namesake of Mortimer [Street] to no avail, officials said." I don't know how much "searching" they actually did, but some fairly easy searching through     online local history docs

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give us a pretty good idea for who Mortimer was likely named.

Stay with me here...

Abelard Reynolds was one of the original residents of Rochesterville, and father of Mortimer Reynolds. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]

   In 1812 Abelard Reynolds of Pittsfield, MA stopped at the Genesee Falls on his way to Ohio. During his visit he took an interest in Colonel Nathaniel Rochester's Hundred Acre Tract and decided to buy a couple of parcels on the west side of the river north of Main St. In 1813 he returned with his family and this is where they built their home.

Colonel Rochester established his 100 Acre Tract on the Genesee River in 1811 and Rochesterville was officially chartered in 1817.

   The Reynolds were an enterprising bunch and became very active in the settlement of Rochesterville. They brought with them some iron goods to sell, and they used their home as a tavern, a saddlery, and also the town's first post office. Abelard was even appointed as Rochesterville's first Post-master "at the intercession of Colonel Rochester."

In 1823, on the site of the family home, Reynolds had built a 4-and-a-half-story commercial building - the Reynolds Arcade. Some people said it was the largest commercial building west of Albany at the time! [PHOTO: Rochester Public Library]

   In 1823, on the site of the family home, Reynolds had built a 4-and-a-half-story commercial building - the Reynolds Arcade. Some people said it was the largest commercial building west of Albany at the time!

What does this have to do with Mortimer Street (on the EAST side of the river)? So in 1814 Abelard and his wife Lydia had a baby boy. They named him... MORTIMER.

Aww! Baby Mortimer. Cutie!

Mortimer Street can be found on maps dating back to around the time of the founding of Rochesterville and the birth of Mortimer Reynolds. [PHOTO:]

   Old maps do show Mortimer Street as early as the 1820s. But I could find no property owners in this vicinity by the same name - at any time.

Now, while I have no direct evidence that Mortimer Street was named for baby Mortimer Reynolds, when one considers that Rochesterville was just being settled (officially chartered in 1817) and how prominent the Reynolds family became during this time, I think it quite likely that a new street could have been named for the family's newest member.

If there's even a chance this street were named for baby Mortimer, by itself this would be enough reason for me not to rename it "RTS Way." But there's more.

Little Mortimer went on to become a very successful businessman in his own right, and he would do something which I consider to be truly great...

The Reynolds Library on Spring Street. Built in 1856 for Samuel Hamilton. Mortimer Reynolds bought the home in 1877 and lived in it until his death in 1892. The house was remodeled in 1895 and the Reynolds Library (incorporated in 1884) moved from the Reynolds Arcade to this mansion. In 1936 the collection was transferred to the Rundel Memorial Building. The mansion was then sold to the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1940. It was later razed for the construction of the inner loop. [PHOTO: Rochester Public Library]

   When the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics' Association (the precursor to R.I.T.) went bankrupt in 1877, Mortimer purchased their entire book collection and with it sought to establish a new free library. The Reynolds Library was incorporated in 1884 and opened to the public in the Reynolds Arcade in 1886.

An interior view of the Reynolds Library on Spring Street. [PHOTO: Rochester Public Library]

   Mortimer Reynolds died in 1892 and he left his home, a mansion on Spring Street, for the library's new headquarters. In 1933 the Reynolds Library merged with the Rochester Public Library to form the bulk of Rochester's new Central Library. The Reynolds Collection is maintained to this day at the Rundel Memorial building.

That is pretty cool. If Mortimer had nothing else named for him other than the street, he probably     should    have.

And now in 2014 (on the 200th anniversary of his birth and 130th anniversary of the Reynolds Library) we are going to strip Mortimer's name from the map??

We might as well rename the Mortimer Street Parking Garage the "RTS Parking Garage" while we're at it.

In Conclusion

If you are the Transportation Authority; that probably means you have more important things to spend your time on than renaming streets. Besides the fact, it's more than a bit tacky to propose to name a public street after yourself - even if you do own the newest and biggest building on the block. And most importantly, you don't get to erase local history simply because you were unable find its source.

Mortimer Street should remain Mortimer Street.

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UPDATE 1: This story is evolving in the     comments section    below. Dave Gottfried points to another Mortimer - Mortimer Johnson - who was son of Rochester's 5th Mayor, Elisha Johnson. This seems make more sense, as Mortimer Street is located within the Johnson & Seymour Tract established by Elisha Johnson and James Seymour.

UPDATE 2: There may be a 3rd possibility. Brian Sharp (D&C) tweets, "There also is a Charles Mortimer who was a civil engineer at the time and lived on North Street."

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Let them know what you think

Contact RTS:
   (585) 288-1700 or email      [email protected]

Contact your      City Council

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Carolee A. Conklin
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Matt Haag
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Dana K. Miller
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Jacklyn Ortiz
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Loretta C. Scott
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Adam McFadden, South District
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Carla M. Palumbo, Northwest District
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Elaine M. Spaull, East District
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Michael A. Patterson, Northeast District
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Chris Gemignani

Chris Gemignani

Rochester, NY, USA