I was working on an informal study guide for A Little History of the United States when I came across one of my favorite stories in Charles Grandison Finney's Memoirs. Finney was a revivalist preacher who traveled along the canal through upstate New York in the mid-nineteenth century. Perhaps his biggest revival campaign took place in Rochester during the autumn and winter of 1830-1831.
The drawing above, by Gordon Allen, shows the canal a few decades later, where it bends and actually passes over the Genesee River (seen at the left side of the drawing, flowing under the aqueduct arches of the canal). Rochester looked a bit less industrial in 1830, though it was still bursting at the seams. Basil Hall, an English traveler, passed through three years earlier and commented that all was in motion. "The very streets seemed to be starting up of their own accord, ready-made...the lime seemed hardly dry in the masonry of the aqueduct, in the bridges, and in the numberless great saw-mills and manufactories. In many of these buildings the people were at work [at their regular jobs], while at top the carpenters were busy nailing on the planks of the roof...In the centre of the town the spire of a Presbyterian church rose to a great height... I need not say that these half-finished, whole-finished, and embryo streets were crowded with people, carts, stages, cattle, pigs, far beyond the reach of numbers;—and as all these were lifting up their voices together, in keeping with the clatter of hammers, the ringing of axes, and the creaking of machinery, there was a fine concert, I assure you!"
And it was here that Finney came in 1830 and went to work at First Presbyterian Church:
The church didn’t collapse, though its walls did continue to spread, so the revival was moved to the nearby “Brick” church—which, as it happened, was where my family worshiped over a century later when I grew up in Rochester.
James West Davidson
Occasional thoughts on history, teaching, paddling and the outdoors