A Brief History of Brockport, New York 1929
by David G. Hale
At its centennial Brockport had both stability and modest prosperity. Although the village grew during the 1920's, the population of 3,511 was still below the high point of fifty years before. Brockporters appreciated their links to the past and enjoyed many of the social and technological innovations of the time, unaware of the Great Depression just ahead.
The appearance of the village had changed moderately, but it retained much of its Victorian flavor, especially downtown and the older residential neighborhoods. The streets were better paved and lit with electricity. In January a link to the past was destroyed when the wind blew down the brick collector's house built in 1848 by Thomas Cornes. Before the World War the canal had been substantially constructed and renamed the Barge Canal and the two lift bridges had been installed. Another link to the past was the proud celebration of its 65th anniversary by the First National Bank of Brockport; the bank had just replaced its landmark building with the present structure at the corner of Main and King streets.
Though on a lesser scale than in the heyday of the harvester factories, industry continued in Brockport "founded, for the most part, on the agricultural wealth of the district." A&P's Quaker Maid Canning Co. and Brockport Cold Storage were examples of these. On the other hand, the local economy suffered with the closing of the Moore-Shafer Shoe Co. in 1927. Brockport had one hotel, the American, and phone service from Rochester Telephone, as well as twice-daily mail delivery. The paper was full of advertisements for gas and electric appliances, especially radios on which one could listen to the inauguration of President Hoover or get baseball scores from WHAM. The Republic-Democrat, merged in 1925, and some "live-wire boosters" campaigned against mail-order shopping by urging residents to "Buy in Brockport."
The coming of the automobile marked a major shift in transportation. In 1929 Brockport had seven car dealerships; a Chevrolet roadster was advertised for $525. The Million-Dollar Highway, now Route 31, had been built to connect Brockport and Rochester. The Fire Department had begun acquiring motorized equipment in 1914. The New York Central still provided some passenger service.
In 1929 the schools of Brockport were in transition. The state had ordered the removal of the academic (high school) department from the Normal School. A central school district had been formed, the first in Monroe county, but no definite plans had been made for the construction of a separate high school. So the high school, with 285 students, conducted classes in the Normal School building. Among the more popular activities were the boys and girls basketball teams and the beginnings of a student orchestra. The elementary grades had been consolidated into the Grammar School on Utica Street, where Elizabeth Barclay was principal for thirty years. At the Normal School itself, Alfred C. Thompson was in the middle of his long tenure as principal. 343 students were enrolled in the teacher-training program, receiving free tuition in exchange for a promise to teach for two years after graduation. The faculty numbered 23.
Brockport was a healthier community than it had been before. At the turn of the century the village had contracted with the Holley Water Co. to supply a public system for drinking and fire protection. Shortly thereafter the installation of sanitary sewers began. In 1912 the voters authorized the construction of the present water system, which draws on Lake Ontario. Another improvement was the Brockport Hospital, located in the former home of Mrs. Manley Shafer. In 1929 Dr. H. J. Mann presided over the hospital's third anniversary celebration. In October a Hospital Aid Association was formed.
Founded in 1919, the Community Center with its library was a valuable resource, but experienced considerable financial difficulties during 1929. In 1936 its books would become the nucleus of the Seymour Library's collection. Other active community groups included the Boy Scouts (founded in 1911), Girl Scouts (1916), American Legion (1919) and Kiwanis (1926). With Prohibition in effect, liquor was not officially an issue. Temperance groups urged the strict enforcement of the laws and dreamed of spreading prohibition around the world. A bit more practically, in May, 1929, the Young Women's Christian Temperance Union, donated a water fountain to the village, to be installed in the park between the Methodist church and the Republic building.
Brockport's entertainment center was now the Strand Theater. In April such movies as Ramon Novarro in The Flying Fleet and Lillian Gish in The White Sisters were featured. In November a further marvel came to town - "all-talking" pictures! Live entertainment was local and infrequent; the Capen minstrels were one example. Other forms of recreation were provided by the Brockport Tennis Club, the Brockport Yacht Club, and the very successful local baseball team, the Brockport Freezers. In August the Monroe County Fair brought five days' activities to the Brockport Fair Ground - the Fair would shortly move to Rochester.
Brockport Fairgrounds about 1929
For more information contact:
Village Historian of Brockport
Jacqueline M. Morris