The Landmark Society makes resources available to help you solve your problem.
Contact The Landmark Society staff directly for more information about any of the programs listed below.
- NeighborWorks® Rochester Home Improvement Loans
- Tax Exemption for Rochester’s Historic Properties
- New York State Historic Homeowner Tax Credit program
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 203(k) Program
- The Landmark Society’s Preservation Grant Fund provides grants of up to $3500 to help fund pre-construction studies.
- Sacred Sites Grants through the New York Landmarks Conservancy
- Funding through The Community Foundation
- New York State Environmental Protection Fund Grants
- New York State Quality Communities Program
- Preserve New York Grant Program for historic structure reports, historic landscape reports and cultural resource surveys, through the Preservation League of NYS and the NYS Council on the Arts
- The Preservation League’s Technical Assistance Grant Program for small consulting grants up to $3,000, through the Preservation League of NYS and the NYS Council on the Arts
- New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA)’s Architecture, Planning and Design Program
- Funding from the National Trust for Historic Preservation: Includes the National Trust Preservation Funds, the Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors, and two loan programs.
- Transportation Enhancements Program: Grants for Transportation-Related Projects
- The New York State Main Street Program
- Certified Local Government Program
- New York State and Federal Commercial Tax Credit programs
- City of Rochester Conversion Urban Exemption Program
- Investment Tax Credit for Low-Income Housing
- Tax Exemption for Rochester’s Historic Properties
- Information from the National Trust for Historic Preservation on funding available for the rehabilitation of income-producing properties
Perhaps you own or are planning to buy a building in a preservation district, and you’ve heard about rules that govern alterations.
Maybe you feel your building is important and you want it protected from inappropriate alterations. Or maybe you hope to buy in a neighborhood where there is some assurance of stable property values. Whatever the reason, you should know about preservation in Rochester.
Are you a homeowner making repairs and updates to your older home?
A developer embarking on a major rehabilitation project? A non-profit organization running a historic site? A commercial property owner in a small downtown village? Big or small, 200 years old or 50 years old, commercial, residential, or industrial, Landmark Society staff can answer your questions about building repair and adaptive use, and can connect you with the information, craftspeople, and resources you need to make your older building functional and economically viable while retaining its historic character.
Contact us with your technical questions.
Preservation Briefs from the National Park Service: Preservation Briefs provide guidance on preserving, rehabilitating, and restoring historic buildings.The briefs are especially useful to Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program applicants because they recommend methods and approaches for rehabilitating historic buildings that are consistent with their historic character.
Find Funding: Our list of possible funding sources for religious institutions, non-profits, homeowners, and developers.
Contractors/Craftspeople: In order to respect and maintain the unique historic details and character of your property, some repair work requires the services of craftspeople who are skilled and experienced with historic buildings. The Landmark Society maintains a list of contractors who we are familiar with and we know have such experience and expertise. While we do not necessarily endorse or recommend any contractors, we can provide you with a list of names free of charge. Please contact Caitlin Meives with any inquiries.
The members of the Preservation Division staff are the Rochester area’s experts in all aspects of preservation planning.
We have specific expertise in:
- Providing advice on preservation planning procedures
- Educating citizens about the importance of the historic resources (buildings, landscapes and structures) in their communities
- Identifying appropriate sources of funding for preservation projects
- Assisting with the development of preservation tools such as ordinances, landmark designations, and design guidelines
- Assisting with research and documentation of historic properties, and with preparation of local, state, and federal landmark and district nominations
- Developing effective strategies for preservation advocacy
- Training and assisting preservation boards and commissions
- Offering educational opportunities, including our annual Preservation Conference and Preservation Board Training Workshop as well as other workshops and lectures
- Providing advice on the process of selecting a contractor or other professional to work on an older building
- Providing technical advice on repairing, restoring, or rehabilitating an older building
- Promoting homeownership in the City of Rochester through our award-winning program, Rochester City Living (RCL). RochesterCityLiving.com provides information about city neighborhoods and houses for sale. The RCL program also offers the course “Marketing Historic Houses Successfully” twice a year as continuing education for Realtors as well as the weekly HomeWork Column in City Newspaper.
- Providing news about preservation issues, practical advice on building maintenance, and updates on preservation trends and topics through our website; e-mail newsletter, Landmark Alerts; and our quarterly print magazine, Landmarks.
- Coordinating the annual Preservation Awards program, which recognizes noteworthy achievements in preservation
- Linking our local communities to sources of preservation information and resources at the state and federal level
- Evaluating development proposals for their impact on historic resources
For more information, contact The Landmark Society’s Architectural Research Coordinator, Cynthia Howk.
Owners often find it fascinating to learn more about their homes or business properties, and this information is designed to guide them in their research.
We encourage building researchers to share their knowledge with the Landmark Society. It is important that this information not be lost. We retain research information in our Wenrich Library, where it remains available to others who seek information on that building or neighborhood.
- “Finding the History in Your Home,”Old House Web
- National Register Bulletin 39, Researching a Historic Property
Some of the things owners and other researchers typically want to know about buildings include:
- Approximate date of construction
- First owner of the building and his occupation,
- The building’s original use
- Major changes in building or in use.
- A chronological list of owners and occupants, their occupations,
- Changes in use or in physical state of the building and grounds.
- Names of architect and contractor, information about them.
- Events of importance connected with the structure.
- The building’s relationship to the neighborhood and community.
This outline covers historical research of a building. You may wish to do architectural documentation as well, including description, photographs and maps. The Landmark Society can also help you with that effort.
There are many items important to note:
- Material of construction (frame, masonry, etc.)
- Shape of ground plan (for use in working with maps)
- Location in relation to side streets and prominent features such as railroads, churches, etc.; setback from street and lot lines (street names and house numbers change, but these relationships remain more constant and will be reference points in using maps).
- Information given on the building: house number, name, date, signs, etc.
- Current use, and other identical buildings.
If there is a plaque, historical marker, cornerstone, commercial, etc., record information from it as well as the source, e.g. State historical marker, cornerstone, name carved on façade, business sign, etc.
Estimate the period when building was constructed, if no definite evidence is found on sight, judging from style. (For more on style, see Chapter 1 of the Landmark Society publication Rehab Rochester.) This will help avoid attributing the date of an earlier building on the site to the later one that replaced it. Note apparent changes in the physical state of the building such as porches added or enclosed, 20th century siding, picture windows added, etc. These may correlate with changes in ownership and use.
Then start documentary research. The following sources are suggested. No one source has all the information; each provides clues to the history of your building.
Rochester Public Library – Local History Division, 115 South Avenue, 428-8730
Maps and Plat Books: Maps of 1832, 1851, 1875, 1882, 1900, 1910, 1918, 1926 and Sanborn Insurance maps of 1938, show individual lots and buildings, some with owners. These maps can bracket the time period during which the buildings appeared. A suggested procedure is to identify the building on a current map and then work backward in time.
Beware confusing the building now on the site with an earlier one! Material of construction, size, outline, location on site can give clues. Confirm estimate of construction period by style of building. If the style of building now on the site would not have been built in the period when a house first appeared on the site, the building is either a replacement or has been reconstructed in a later style.
Record, with sources, time period when building appeared, apparent changes in structure and outbuildings, names of owners, name of street, house number, lot number.
City and House Directories: Directories are available from early village days to the present (with a gap in the 20th century). City directories have listings by name of person or business until 1892; thereafter, City directories list by person or business and House directories by address. Starting in the 1920s, city and house directories were combined into a single book. Listings are for residents (occupants) who may or may not be owners. Some directories have a symbol indicating the owner.
Look up names found on maps, abstract of title, etc., going forwards and backwards in time. Note occupations, businesses, number of rental units, etc. Beware of changes in street names and house numbers! Check maps and lot numbers to be sure you are dealing with the same building, even if the house number changes. Lot numbers remain more constant than house numbers – one change is included in 1884-1885 directory.
If you do not find a name under one spelling, try another. An omission of a name does not necessarily mean a person was not there. Directories may omit occupants who do not report.
Other Local History Division sources:
- Newspaper index
- Ready Reference file
- Blake McKelvey’s books on Rochester History
- Rochester Historical Society publications
- Rochester History(periodical published by the Office of the City Historian)
- U.S. Census, including statistics for tracts and blocks (old census records are open, i.e. records for individuals may be consulted.)
Compare any pictures you find with present states of buildings. Beware artistic license in using drawings.
Local Library Branches and Historical Societies
Your local library branch and historical society may have additional resources specifically related to your neighborhood, town, or village.
This section of the Rochester Public Library website contains an outstanding searchable collection of historic photographs from the Library’s collection as well as from other local photographic collections.
City/County/Village/Town Historian’s Office
Consult the County Historian, 428-8352, for use of files and for New York census.
The City of Rochester Historian’s Office is located in the Central Library, 115 South Avenue, 428-8095
Call your Town or Village Hall to reach your Town or Village Historian.
Art and Architecture Division, Rochester Public Library
Information about architects, styles, periods, etc.
Landmarks of Rochester and Monroe County by Paul Malo
Architects and Architecture in Rochester by Carl and Ann Schmidt
Tax Assessor’s Office, Rochester City Hall, 30 Church Street
Tax rolls and individual cards will show:
- Current owner
- Size of lot
- Past owners
- Uses of building
- Assessed valuation
- Age of buildings as estimated by assessor
- Number of apartments known to assessor
- Tax account number
Assessor’s maps show lot dimensions and buildings in large scale.
Estimate of date is an assessor’s guess until recently, when building permits began to be required. Date must be confirmed by other sources.
Maps and Surveys Office, City of Rochester Environmental Services Department, 428-6873
- Maps of various scales
- Record books with some owners’ names
City of Rochester Planning Bureau’s Graphics Office, Department of Community Development, 428-6953
Current maps of various scales, including ones showing buildings and lot lines with house numbers. Scale of 1″ = 100′ is good for an area survey.
Monroe County Planning Department, 428-2970
Maps of towns and villages: Most do not show buildings and house numbers, but do show lots.
Wenrich Library, Landmark Society of Western New York, 133 South Fitzhugh Street, 546-7029
Surveys, books and files on individual buildings
Books on architecture, local history, preservation
Current and historical maps
Photographic prints and slides on individual building
Rochester Historical Society, 485 East Avenue, 271-2705
The Rochester Historical Society’s collections focus on social and family history.
Rochester Museum & Science Center Research Library, 657 East Avenue, 271-4552, x315
The RMSC Museum library houses books, pamphlets, published materials, audiovisual, and archival collections, including photographs, focusing on anthropology, local and regional history, local and regional natural history, museology, and collections care.
City of Rochester Water Bureau, 10 Felix Street (corner of Dewey)
Rochester’s Water works started in 1873. Records show date when service was started for each street and each property, name of earliest owner on their records and sometimes-subsequent owners. Earliest owners on record are undated but seem to be between 1913 and 1919.
Rochester Gas and Electric Corporation, 80 East Avenue
Records for dates gas was supplied to properties after time present company’s records started, about 1905. 19th century dates listed as “before 1905”.
Building Permit Office, City of Rochester Department of Community Development, 428-6526
From computer: current owner’s name, date of building permit, estimated date of construction (usually Tax Assessor’s office estimate). Permit number.
From deed files: if a building permit is on file, it may have an architect’s name, contractor names, physical and use information. Cards missing from deed files may be in “trouble file” not filed in any order.
Building permits began to be issued about the turn of the century, spotty before the 1920s.
Monroe County Clerk’s Office, County Office Building, 39 West Main Street, 428-5151
Deeds, mortgages, corporations, licenses (marriages 1908-1935, thereafter, see City Clerk’s Office), maps of tracts, some plat books.
A title search is the only sure way to know who owned the property, but note that title is to the land. Improvements, such as the building, may or may not be mentioned in the deed. Therefore, a title search will not usually tell you when a building was constructed; however, the prices recorded for sales may give you a clue. The owners’ names may be looked up on maps and in directories.
To start the chain of title, you must know either the current owner or an earlier one (with the approximate date when he might have transferred the property) in order to look up his name in the Grantor/Grantee Index.
Lusk Method of locating in Grantor/Grantee Index: use surname, go down the first two letters of the name and across the third letter. This gives the liber and page number for the deed for that transfer.
Then work backwards and forwards in time until you have a complete chain of title.
The County Clerk’s office has begun putting a large number of records online, starting with the most recent.
City Archives & Records Center, 414 Andrews Street, 428-7331
The City Archives & Records Center stores Field Assessment Cards for Rochester properties for the years 1927-1980. These cards contain information concerning every plot in Rochester, including previous owners and residents of the property. Best of all, many files – but by no means all – include drawings and/or photographs of the buildings.
In addition, the Archives & Records Center keeps an extensive photographic collection, including many photographs of streets and buildings.
Monroe County Surrogate Court Office, Civic Center, Room 501, 428-5200
Wills, lists of property, including buildings, dating back to 1821.
Information from Owner/Occupant
Archives and published booklets of the institution itself, in the case of business, churches, schools, etc.
Interviews: Recognize that memories distort; check against other evidence.
Abstract of Title: If owner will permit you to consult his abstract, copy it. This will save making a title search for the period covered by the abstract it may not go back to the time the building was constructed, so you may need to extend it.
When you have finished collecting your research:
Prepare a summary report of your findings.
Comments on building by historians or architect: quote verbatim, with source.
Include copies of any articles about or pictures of building and important owners or events associated with, if possible.
Record sources for each part of the information.
Record dates of changes in house numbers and street names
Compare and collate all information. For example, compare ownership information from maps and deeds with occupancy information from directories. Map evidence of a building on the site with style of building; construction dates as suggested by maps and style with tax assessor’s estimate and building permit; oral reports with written records.
Date your report and include your name and address.
Make copies for the Landmark Society and for your local historian and/or library branch!
For more information, contact The Landmark Society’s Architectural Research Coordinator, Cynthia Howk.
* We regret that public access to the Wenrich Library is currently on hold due to ongoing construction at our office *
The John Wenrich Memorial Library at The Landmark Society of Western New York is the only library in the Rochester region dedicated to historic architecture, landscapes, and preservation.
The library was founded in 1970 when John Wenrich’s family established a memorial fund on behalf of The Landmark Society.
The Wenrich Library is a non-circulating reference library containing books, periodicals, photographs, slides and drawings, information on preservation techniques, and The Landmark Society’s extensive archives of local architecture.
Located in The Landmark Society’s headquarters (Warner Castle, 5 Castle Park), the library is open by appointment only, usually during regular business hours. We regret that we cannot accommodate drop-in visitors to the Library. To schedule an appointment, please contact Cynthia Howk (585.546.7029 x24), Architectural Research Coordinator with The Landmark Society.
Fees for the use of the Wenrich Memorial Research Library:
- Use of the library is complimentary for Landmark Society Members.
- Nonmembers may conduct research at a starting fee of $10 per hour, per person.
- Research requiring ongoing staff assistance will be charged at a higher rate, based on hourly staff rates and other factors.
* * *
The library includes the following resources:
Books (approximately 3,500): subjects include building types and styles; architectural construction and details; restoration techniques; preservation ordinances; financial, legal and physical aspects of preservation; horticulture and landscaping; local history; and decorative arts. Also, the Friends of Mt. Hope Cemetery collection of books & slides on historic cemeteries.
Periodicals & newsletters: including Old House Journal, Victorian Homes, Old House Interiors, American Bungalow, Traditional Building: Historic Products for Residential Architecture, and others.
Informational Pamphlets: “How To” and news pamphlets from the Preservation League of New York State, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service, etc.
City & Suburban Directories & “Blue Books” of Rochester & Monroe County from the mid-1800s to the present.
Plat Maps of Rochester & Monroe County from the 1870s to the 1930s.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Rochester, 1911-1957.
Historic Resource Surveys: historical & architectural information (style, year built, history, etc.) and photos of individual buildings in Rochester’s historic neighborhoods and Monroe County towns & villages.
Thematic Surveys: Three inventories have been completed on the
following topics: cobblestone buildings of New York state, covered bridges of
the northeastern US, and Erie Canal structures (there are photographic
inventories with maps).
Site specific & architect files: containing information compiled through the years pertaining to buildings, properties, and architects (newspaper clippings, articles, etc.) of Rochester/Monroe County & eight surrounding counties.
Preservation ways and means files: Resources and information on specific preservation & restoration techniques.
Photographs (approximately 20,000) & slides (approx. 10,000): Historic architecture in Rochester, Monroe County and western New York state. Includes exterior views, architectural details, gardens, interiors, and stereo views.5