More Great Homes of Rochester

The Patrick Barry House

The booming frontier city of Rochester wasn’t even a decade old when the Erie Canal helped bring two hard working immigrants named George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry. They discovered a climate perfect for starting what would become the largest tree and plant nursery in North America. As that nursery grew, both men built stately homes that served as signposts of their success. Patrick Barry’s would also house a family that would grow to 10 children. When the last of those died in 1951, the newest generation of Barrys donated Patrick’s home to the University of Rochester. The university took the greatest care and hired the most gifted of restoration experts to bring the century old structure back to life. Its 13 foot ceilings and 11 foot doors now gleam next to ornate woodwork and period furniture. The home has since served as the residence of several U of R provosts and presidents.


The Harris House

Like Ellwanger and Barry, Edward Harris brought little other than a quick intelligence and a love of hard work with him to Rochester. He arrived as a dirt farmer but after a year of night school, he passed the bar and opened his own practice. It would become one of the signature law firms in upstate New York. By 1865, Harris built an elegant Italian villa on several acres of farmland that lay well to the east of a growing Rochester. Later, other equally regal mansions would be built on the road that passed by Harris’ front door, East Avenue. Harris sold the home in 1892 when he mistakenly thought his wife wanted something newer, more modern. Subsequent owners included the wife and daughter of Western Union co-founder Don Alonzo Watson, socialite and rose scholar Harriet Hollister Spencer, and current Harris-Beach partner Beth Wilkens. Now, a new generation has moved in. Mark and Kathy Cleary bring with them at least one important link to the generations previous: a determination to use their new home as a home and not a museum.


The Katz-Bernunzio house

Abram Katz also celebrated his wealth by building a home on East Avenue full of soaring spaces and different, expensive wood. 2 years later, he watched from his front porch as work began on a home for his newest neighbor, George Eastman. Katz had done well in the city’s clothing and banking industries and was a leader in the religious community his father had helped found, Temple B’rith Kodesh. When he died at a relatively early age, Katz was lauded in local newspapers as a “well known financier-philanthropist” who had often and generously entertained friends at his East Avenue home. That home became apartments after Katz’s wife sold the building in the 1940s. It would be another 50 years before John and Julie Bernunzio threw caution to the winds and began to remake it into both a home for their young daughters but as a haven for their growing business. To visit the Bernunzio’s, one must only want a ukulele, banjo, or other vintage stringed instrument. People from around the world do want such things and so now take what becomes a very pleasant journey.


Mercygrove

Pearl Waite had a great idea. His wife even gave it a name: Jell-O. What Pearl didn’t have was the time and business sense to properly pedal that idea. He sold it all to Orator Woodward for $450. When the Woodward family sold the trademarked name again, it was worth 66 million dollars. Orator Woodward didn’t live to see that windfall. His family, squabbling and fractious, enjoyed it in many, very different ways. The youngest son, Donald Woodward used some of it to build a house for his wife on dozens of acres with a commanding view east of the town of LeRoy. Divorced soon after, the Woodwards had little time to appreciate the three-story mansion with the in-basement pool, enormous central hallway and richly wooded ballroom. It would become, instead, a rehabilitation home for children with cerebral palsy and then a summer rest house for the Sisters of Mercy. In the last decade, yet another owner lives and works from here: the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy. Mercedian Friars date their order’s beginning to the year 1218. The latest generation of Friars calls Mercygrove both home and US headquarters. On its ample grounds and through its wide inner spaces, the Mercedians say they have found the perfect place to find their inner peace and to help others do the same.


The Tackle-Yates house

Veterans of the Revolutionary War campaign of General John Sullivan gaped in wonder as they marched through the fertile Genesee Valley. Unlike their homes in stony New England, there was rich, black soil unmarked by anyone other than the Seneca. Many of those veterans were first in line when the land opened up in the 1780s and 90s. Some of them named a their new settlement after their old home in Middlebury, Vermont. In that town, a village called Wyoming began. And south of it, veteran Alexander Tackles built what at first was a nice, unassuming farm house in the lee of a tall hill. Later generations made the home into something far more, an U-shaped wonder with a floating staircase, expensive imported wallpaper, breathtaking entryway and 84 windows. When the home finally passed out of the hands of the Tackles family, it was to a couple who had no intention of buying anything that was old, north, and constantly demanding of money. Brock and Pamela Yates had it made in the late 70s and early 80s. Brock’s career as a writer now included a Hollywood credit to his name. The story of his cross country, no rules race had been made into Cannonball Run. California beckoned. But California was also expensive. The Yates decided that they had indeed fallen in love with the abandoned house south of Wyoming. 2 decades and much remodeling and restoring later, it is a showcase still in progress.

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