Frederick Douglass’ Alexander Street home commemorated; Seward Seminary marker still missing.

Frederick Douglass’ Alexander Street home commemorated; Seward Seminary marker still missing.

One of 13 near-replicas of the Douglass statue made by local artist Olivia Kim. Across the street from the former Douglass home on Alexander Street [Photo: David Kramer]

Last week, Rochester celebrated an overdue event.

Site of the former Douglass home on 297 Alexander Street [Photo: David Kramer]

Site of the former Douglass home on 297 Alexander Street [Photo: David Kramer]

As reported by WHAM13, Historic marker commemorates Frederick Douglass’ house in Rochester (11/05/18), a new plaque on the former site of Frederick Douglass’ first Rochester home is now installed outside a parking lot on 297 Alexander Street. Douglass purchased the home in 1848 for $1000.  The Douglass family later moved to a larger homestead on South Avenue, now the site of the Anna Murray-Douglas Academy School #12.

As Emily Morry, Historical Researcher and Local History Librarian at Rundell, writes in Frederick Douglass Home on Alexander Street:

The house Douglass  left behind [when the family moved to South Avenue] later became home to both the Helping Hand Mission and Vogue Furniture in the early twentieth century. Sadly, the historic site was torn down and replaced in 1954 with the parking lot that remains there today.  (From Retrofitting Rochester: In partnership with the Office of the City Historian)


Site of Frederick Douglass’ first home on 297 Alexander Street from Emily Morry’s Frederick Douglass Home on Alexander

When preparing a recent article on Douglass, “The greatest American of the nineteenth century”, I recalled seeing a historical marker on the former site of the Seward Seminary on Alexander near the old Genesee Hosiptal. The marker described how Douglass’ daughter, Rosetta, was not allowed to sit with white students at the private academy.  At the time Rochester’s public schools were segregated.

Historical marker installed in1984 on the tite of the former Seward Seminary on Alexander St south of Tracy Street near the old Genesee Hospital (since removed). [Photo: Danny Busch, 2008]

Historical marker installed in 1984 on the site of the former Seward Seminary on Alexander St south of Tracy Street near the old Genesee Hospital (since removed). [Photo: Danny Busch, 2008]

 Lisa Dossenbach Kleman sent this 2013 photo.

Lisa Dossenbach Kleman sent this 2013 photo. Lisa says the plaque was gone by early 2015. In January of 2017, Lisa posted photos of the marker on facebook, asking if anyone knew its whereabouts. The photos generated lengthy discussion with lots of comments, but no one knew.

As explained by Christopher Brennan (Rochester Public Library/Local History & Genealogy Division) in Hello, I Must Be Going: Frederick Douglass’ Arrival and Departure from Rochester (Last of a Series):

Shortly after moving into the first of his three homes, Douglass sent his daughter Rosetta to the nearby Seward Seminary. The principal, Lucilia Tracy, admitted her, but placed her in a class by herself due to disapproval by the school’s board of trustees. After protests from Douglass, Miss Tracy sent the white children home with notes to their parents, seeking their views on accepting Rosetta as a pupil. Due to the opposition of one parent — Horatio Gates Warner, editor of the Rochester Courier newspaper and designer of the Warner Castle on Mt. Hope Avenue — Douglass was forced to withdraw his daughter from the school. He later took part in a campaign to desegregate Rochester schools, a goal that was achieved statewide in 1857.

An outspoken pro-slavery advocate, Horatio Gates Warner disliked that from atop his Warner Castle he could see the Douglas homestead on South Avenue.

But when I went to the site on Alexander/Tracy, the marker was no where to be seen!

Puzzled, I asked Emily at the Local History Division what happened. In an odd coincidence, at that very moment Emily was reading David W Blight’s recent biography of Douglass, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (2018), that was the basis for my article, “The greatest American of the nineteenth century”. Emily explained that when the hospital expanded, the marker was removed.  Apparently, no one is sure where the plaque is stored. The Office of the City Historian is searching but the whereabouts of the marker are still unknown.

I did wonder if I was the only person who inquired — or cared that much — about the marker. Emily said, believe it or not, several people have asked Local History about the fate of the plaque, reassuring me I was not alone as an eccentric history buff.


“The greatest American of the nineteenth century”

Frederick Douglass returns to Washington Square Park

A Frederick Douglass statue and the naming of the Anna Murray-Douglass Academy

Discovering Frederick Douglass

Fred DouglasS gets his due

A bust of Frederick Douglass at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School

Memorial Day, 1892, when President Benjamin Harrison dedicated the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument in Washington Square Park with Frederick Douglass. And Occupy Rochester

Storyteller Bill Pruitt interweaves the lives of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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