Frederick Douglass in Rochester: a gallery of images and words

From Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave with an Introduction and Notes by Robert G. O’Meally.


Frederick Douglass was the first African American to whom a public sculpture was dedicated. The bronze was dedicated on June 9, 1899, in Rochester, New York, with Theodore Roosevelt, governor of New York, in attendance. The cast of Douglass stands with arms held forward palms up, as if welcoming visitors. The statue is the work of James, W. Thomas, an African-American artist from Rochester. Originally erected near the train station, the statue enjoyed a prominent position in the city; in 1941 it was moved to Highland Park, near the site of the Douglass Rochester home.

Photo of Douglass statue in Highland Park by George Payne


Freedom seekers traveled the Genesee River looking for Canadian vessels heading north via Lake Ontario.

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 This was a typical route for freedom seekers during the Fugitive Slave Law period in Rochester.


Douglass mural by artist Shawn Dunwoody


The view of the river from Maplewood Park and the banks of Seth Green Island. Freedom seekers would have traveled through this passageway to reach the majestic bend in the river by what is now Turning Point Park.


I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence. – Frederick Douglass


The Underground Railroad trail captured in these pictures may date back to the Fulsom Point people almost 10,000 years ago. After the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850, it became a federal penalty to harbor escaped “slaves” in Rochester.  (Photos by George Payne)


A Rochester that Douglass would have known well.

The slave is a man, “the image of God,” but “a little lower than the angels;” possessing a soul, eternal and indestructible; capable of endless happiness, or immeasurable woe; a creature of hopes and fears, of affections and passions, of joys and sorrows, and he is endowed with those mysterious powers by which man soars above the things of time and sense, and grasps, with undying tenacity, the elevating and sublimely glorious idea of a God. It is such a being that is smitten and blasted. The first work of slavery is to mar and deface those characteristics of its victims which distinguish men from things, and persons from property. Its first aim is to destroy all sense of high moral and religious responsibility. It reduces man to a mere machine. It cuts him off from his Maker, it hides from him the laws of God, and leaves him to grope his way from time to eternity in the dark, under the arbitrary and despotic control of a frail, depraved, and sinful fellow-man. As the serpent-charmer of India is compelled to extract the deadly teeth of his venomous prey before he is able to handle him with impunity, so the slaveholder must strike down the conscience of the slave before he can obtain the entire mastery over his victim.                                                        The Nature of Slavery. Extract from a Lecture on Slavery, at Rochester, December 1, 1850


Interpreters such as Bob Stevenson of the Maplewood Avenue neighborhood and Dr. David Anderson with Nazareth College, have generously donated their wisdom and time to the Lower Falls Foundation Stevenson is an expert on the local history of the gorge and its various mill settlements. Anderson is an expert on Douglass and the Underground Railroad. Both men are enchantingly kind, thoughtful, full of information, and happy to teach what they know to others.


I have shown that slavery is wicked—wicked, in that it violates the great law of liberty, written on every human heart—wicked, in that it violates the first command of the decalogue—wicked, in that it fosters the most disgusting licentiousness—wicked, in that it mars and defaces[345] the image of God by cruel and barbarous inflictions—wicked, in that it contravenes the laws of eternal justice, and tramples in the dust all the humane and heavenly precepts of the New Testament. Inhumanity of Slavery. Extract from A Lecture on Slavery, at Rochester. December 8, 1850



Without friends and mentors such as Austin Steward, Douglass’ years in Rochester would have been lonely and cold. Steward’s example lit a flame underneath Douglass to keep vigilant in the mental emancipation of African Americans everywhere.

Photo by George Payne (West Main Street in downtown Rochester, NY)


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Follow the North Star my children. Photograph by George Payne



Letter to Harriet Tubman

Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day — you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt ” God bless you ” has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown — of sacred memory — I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony to your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy Letter to Harriet Tubman (29 August 1868), as quoted in Harriet, the Moses of Her People (1886) by Sarah Hopkins Bradford, p. 135


There would be no black upper middle class in Rochester without the work of Frederick Douglass. He paved the way for generations to come.

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Photos by George Payne


A man’s rights rest in three boxes. The ballot box, jury box and the cartridge box. Let no man be kept from the ballot box because of his color. Let no woman be kept from the ballot box because of her sex. – Frederick Douglass



Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge: One of the best kept secrets of Western New York

One of the best kept secrets of Western New York.


Photo by George Payne

A Bit of History

Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, located in the rural towns of Alabama and Shelby mid-way between Rochester and Buffalo, NY has been described as one of the best kept secrets of Western New York. The refuge is one of over 540 National Wildlife Refuges in the United States managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Going  back in history, this 10,000+ acre refuge was once entirely covered by Lake Tonawanda. Due to draining and filling of the lake since the last glacial period, the area now consists of swamps, marshlands, and wet meadows. This lake they called Tonawanda covered much of Western New York. Through the slow passage of time the lake drained and filled until only a few swampy areas remained. Here, wildlife flourished.

According to the INRW,

centuries later, the Seneca Indians began to drain the swamp and clear some of the forests for farming. To the first European settlers in the early 19th century the remaining clusters of oak trees were reminiscent of an orchard and so they named the area “Oak Orchard Swamp.” Settlers expanded artificial drainage of the swamp to improve logging and farming operations, but, plagued by high costs, and a cycle of muck fires and floods, the outcome was marginal at best. By the 1950s, landowners were looking to further develop and convert the lands to other uses. This development would have resulted in the loss of these vital wetlands forever.

On May 19, 1958 the federal government established the Oak Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, using funds from the sale of Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, or “Duck Stamps”. To avoid confusion with the neighboring Oak Orchard State Wildlife Management Area, the refuge was renamed Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in 1964.

  • The refuge is a key link, serving the western portion of the Atlantic Flyway.
  • The refuge encompasses 10,828 acres which includes part of the ancient Oak Orchard Swamp.
  • Designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. Attracts 268 species of birds.
  • Four distinct habitats, forests, grasslands, emergent marsh and hardwood swamp, found within the Refuge also support 42 species of mammals, plus amphibians, reptiles and insects.
  • Numerous wildflowers can be seen throughout the refuge during spring, summer and fall along all the refuge nature trails and roadsides.
Photo by George Payne

 While researching online I found this recording created by William Ruscher at the Onondaga Trail.


Today, the refuge serves primarily as a nesting, feeding, resting and staging areas for migratory waterfowl. The varied habitats support approximately 266 species of birds, 42 species of mammals, plus reptiles, fish, amphibians and insects. Bald eagles have maintained an active nest on the refuge since 1986. Management goals also address the needs of species of special concern including black tern, black ducks, osprey, American woodcock, and peregrine falcons which use the refuge during some time of the year.

Check them out! They see, really cool!!

Wildlife to Watch

  • Kestrels, bald eagles, osprey, Great blue heron
  • Ducks, geese, shorebirds, songbirds
  •  Black crappie, bullhead, yellow perch, freshwater clams and mussels
  •  American toad, numerous species of snakes (non-poisonous)


On the INWR website, it is explained how grassland nesting birds have suffered decades of population decline, primarily due to a loss of critical habitat. The refuge maintains several large grassland areas, providing nesting and foraging habitat to these birds, which often require large unbroken grasslands for their survival. Smaller grasslands, which generally do not provide good habitat, are slowly being converted to more appropriate and useful habitat types.

They also explain how emergent marsh is important to waterfowl as well as wading birds, shorebirds, songbirds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and others. Species such black tern, bald eagle, Virginial rail, muskrat, mink and green frog all need emergent marsh for their survival. This habitat is characterized by shallow water, approximately 1-2” feet deep, with waterloving plants emerging through the surface of the water. Much of the emergent marsh in the area was long ago drained and converted to other uses. The refuge tries to restore and manage this habitat for the many species that depend on it.


Photo by George Payne


If you travel much in the wilder sections of our country, sooner or later you are likely to meet the sign of the flying goose-the emblem of the National Wildlife Refuges.

You may meet it by the side of a road crossing miles of flat prairie in the middle West, or in the hot deserts of the Southwest. You may meet it by some mountain lake, or as you push your boat through the winding salty creeks of a coastal marsh.

Wherever you meet this sign, respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving, for themselves and their children, as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization.

Wild creatures, like men, must have a place to live. As civilization creates cities, builds highways, and drains marshes, it takes away, little by little, the land that is suitable for wildlife. And as their space for living dwindles, the wildlife populations themselves decline. Refuges resist this trend by saving some areas from encroachment, and by preserving in them, or restoring where necessary, the conditions that wild things need in order to live.

-Rachel Carson



One of my favorite sections on the INWR website describes the seasonal habitats within the refuge.


Photo by George Payne
  • Spring

    Spring waterfowl migration may peak from the last two weeks in March to the first two weeks in April. It is impossible to determine ahead of time when the actual peak will be since the migration is dependant on number of factors including weather and timing of the spring thaw. Geese typically leave the marshes at sunrise to feed in fields within a 15 mile radius and then return to roost at sunset. The best times see large numbers of geese is during dawn or dusk as they are leaving or returning to the marshes. Goslings make their first appearance in May.

    Trail Guide-by-Cell

    Shorebirds and warblers generally peak in May. There is a shorebird observation area on Feeder Road just north of Route 77, which when flooded often holds shorebirds in the spring. If any marshes or impoundments are drawn down in the late summer or fall, shorebirds can often be found using the mud flats from August to October fattening up on their southward migration. During both spring and fall migrations, Swallow Hollow and Kanyoo Trails are some of the better areas to observe migrant warblers and other songbirds due to the variety of habitats present. Mammals such as red and gray fox may occasionally be seen hunting in fields.

  • Summer

    The summer months on the refuge are often quieter than spring and fall, although several waterbirds do stay and breed on the Refuge, including Rails, Moorhens, and Coots. The state endangered Black Tern and American and Least Bitterns can also be found breeding in the marshes. A large rookery of great blue herons is located along Route 63 just south of Oak Orchard Ridge Rd. Many songbirds also breed on the refuge such as cerulean warbler, northern waterthrush, and yellow-throated Vireo all of which can be found along Swallow Hollow trail. grassland birds such as meadowlarks, bobolinks, and savannah sparrows breed in the fields and are sometimes seen along Casey Rd., Oak Orchard Ridge Rd. and Sour Springs Rd. (near Roberts Rd.).

  • Fall

    Fall migration is much more extended than spring and typically peaks in October. Due to vegetation growth during the summer months, migratory waterfowl are less visible from the overlooks during the fall, although numbers do occur, with Mallard Overlook offering the best viewing.

    In recent years, great egrets have used the marshes around the refuge as a staging area during the fall months with large numbers often seen during this time.

  • Winter

    Red-tailed hawk,white-breasted nuthatch, northern cardinal, American tree sparrow, and American goldfinch are the most common winter birds. Uncommon species include American kestrel, morning dove, pileated woodpecker, dark-eyed junco and house finch.

    During the winter months, overlooks and parking areas are not plowed on weekends. Trails are not cleared of snow.


Photo by George Payne

Iroquois Video

Photo by George Payne (My wife Amy’s boot. The frogs at INWR are omnipresent.)


Photo by George Payne


Photo by George Payne

Contact the Refuge

From the New York State Thruway (I-90) take exit 48-A (Pembroke/Medina). Go north on Route 77 for approximately 8 miles. At the 4-way stop light in Alabama Center continue straight for one more mile to Casey Road. Turn left on Casey Road. The Headquarters Building is one mile west.

Iroquois NWR
1101 Casey Road
Basom, NY 14013

Phone: (585) 948-5445


National Wildlife map

Warner Castle & the Sunken Garden: Two Public Gems in Highland Park

All photos in this blog were taken by George Payne

 To my knowledge, Warner Castle on Mt. Hope is the only actual castle that exists in our city. This stone fortress with a sunken garden in the backyard, was constructed in 1854, to resemble the ancestral castle of the Clan Douglas which supposedly fascinated Horatio Gates Warner, the building’s owner, during a visit to Scotland. Warner, a prominent lawyer, capitalist, and newspaper editor, had not only royal aspirations, but also the means to make his ambitions a reality.


Photo by George Payne

In many people’s opinion, this Gothic styled castle is just as much an architectural statement today as it was in 1854; but the real treasure is the Sunken Garden designed by famous landscape architect, Alling S. DeForest (1875-1957). DeForest studied with the Olmsted Firm, learning the trade from the world’s greatest landscape architect and apostle of public spaces himself, Frederick Law Olmsted. Fittingly, the Warner Castle is now owned and operated by the Monroe County Parks Department and rests within the tranquil arboretum of Highland Park, perhaps one of Frederick Law Olmsted’s most impressive municipal achievements. (Highland Park was also Rochester’s first park after the land was donated to the city by the horticulturists George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry.)


According to the Rochester Civic Garden Center, “in 1912, Frank and Merry Ackerman Dennis, owners of the Dennis Candy Factory and candy stores purchased the castle. They commissioned DeForest to design gardens for the site beginning around 1920. His plan for the grounds included the Sunken Garden completed in 1930, a courtyard, rose and woodland gardens.”

I have since learned that Alling Stephen DeForest, a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, “contributed to a wide variety of landscape designs, both public and private, during the early 20th Century. DeForest’s most notable projects were the original landscape of the George Eastman House on East Avenue in Rochester and the gardens of the Harbel Manor, the Akron, Ohio home of Harvey Firestone. Although the majority of his designs were the landscapes of private estates, he also designed campuses, housing developments, cemeteries and parks.” To see more Warner Castle info, go here:

The one eyed Warner Castle cat. Quite friendly!

To this day, there is a romantic aura to this space. It feels like it has been carved out of a Jane Austen novel. Adding to the mystique, I read online that apparently there had been at one point a catacomb entrance located in the sunken garden that has since been sealed, but I can’t say if this has been verified.

I also found this fascinating tidbit from an unnamed source.

In the mid 1960s I had a friend who acted as a night watchmen of sorts at the castle. He had a small apartment on the second floor. At the time, most of the rooms were open and the first floor was used for meetings by the Rochester Garden Society. At the time, there seems that there were more trees. There is a tunnel between the formal gardens and the house. Evidently originally used by the help, to get food to the garden for outdoor parties. It could have been used as an emergency escape route. Facing the grand staircase, there were grilled doors on each side of the staircase. The one on the right held garden tools the one to the left went to the house. The house entrance to the tunnel has been concealed.

I also understand that the house was originally built for the owner’s wife and was a diminutive copy of her home in Scotland.


Filling in the remaining chronology of the Warner Castle story, the Rochester Civic Garden Center states:

Frank Dennis died in 1927 and Merry Dennis continued to live in the castle until her death in 1936. Dennis’ relatives contested her will and the estate was not settled until eight years after her death. The castle became a sanitarium in 1944 when it was purchased from the estate by Christopher Gainers a self-styled naturopath.

The City of Rochester bought the property in 1951 and the castle and grounds became part of Highland Park, an internationally known arboretum. The City’s Parks Department’s offices and herbarium were located in the castle and the Sunken Garden became a popular location for weddings and wedding photographers. The Rochester Civic Garden Center’s headquarters now occupy the building.

In 1961 an agreement between the City of Rochester and the County of Monroe turned the responsibility of the maintenance of the castle grounds and Rochester’s major parks over to the Monroe County Parks Department.

Time, weather and vandalism took their toll of the garden’s infrastructure and in 1988 the garden was closed to the public because of the Monroe County Parks Department’s concern for visitors’ safety. A year-long study of the site, funded by the Institute for Museum Services, was undertaken by Doell and Doell, Historic Landscape Preservation Planners and Environmental Design and Research, P.C. of Syracuse, NY.

Restoration of the Sunken Garden’s infrastructure was completed in October 1991, with funds from Monroe County and an Environmental Quality Bond Act Grant. The garden’s stone walls were repointed and missing stones replaced. Paving stones, an important landscape design element included in DeForest’s design for the garden were also replaced.

The historically appropriate plant material was replaced through the cooperative efforts of The Landmark Society of Western New York, the Seventh District of the Federated Garden Clubs, and the Genesee Finger Lakes Nursery and Landscape Association in 1993. The plant material restoration project received the New York State Preservation League’s Historic Landscape Preservation Award in 1995 and illustrates what can be accomplished through the cooperative efforts of the public and private sector.

The Rochester Civic Garden Center, a not-for-profit horticultural education center, is chartered by the Board of Regents of the State of New York. Their mission is to improve the quality of life in the Genesee Region by fostering knowledge, providing information, increasing interest, and promoting all aspects of gardening and horticulture. 2

Not surprisingly for a man who had the audacity, fiances, and willpower to create his own castle in a burgeoning industrial city like Rochester, there is plenty of surviving material about Warner’s life to investigate and maul over. According to letters on file in the Warner Papers at the University of Rochester’s Rare Books and Special Collection., H.G. Warner was born and grew up in Canann NY in 1801. Horatio Gates was son of Daniel Warner and Olive Douglas and grandson of William and Rebecca Lupton Warner. H.G. Warner’s brother, Wiliam H. graduated from West Point in 1836. He was supposedly killed by Native Americans in the Sierra Nevada in 1849.

 He grew up in Livingston County, and was admitted to the bar in Madison County in 1826, the same year in which he was graduated from Union College. He was married to Sarah Warner in 1831 and in 1835 he was appointed judge of the Court of Common Pleas by Governor Marcy. The Warner family moved to Rochester in 1840, where Judge Warner practiced law in partnership with Delos Wentworth. He received an LL.D. degree from Union College in 1860. He died February 11, 1876 in Georgia.

Judge Warner’s varied interests are apparent in his service to the community as editor of The Rochester Courier, which was published during the presidential campaign in 1848. He was also publisher, for a time, of the Daily Advertiser before its consolidation with the Union. For several years he was president of the old Bank of Rochester and a trustee of the East Side Savings Bank. At the time of his death he was a regent of the University of the State of New York.

Volume XVIII · Autumn 1962 · Number 1 From California by Sea in 1852

The UR collection is extensive and deserves much more scrutiny. In Box X, for example, there is documentation about various lawsuits he was involved in, including one that had his brother William as the plaintive, and one that Warner levied against Alvah Strong in 1863. Strong was an influential person in Rochester during that time, so I am curious to learn more about that.

In Box XI, I noticed that there are writings about his trips to Panama and California, as well as essays about Constitution Island, West Point.

And in Box XII, I see that he was also a poet and drawer.

Most intriguingly however is what I read about Warner’s engagement with a Georgian plantation after the Civil War from 1870 to 1873.  Without casting any aspersions, I think this business venture merits further inquiry.  After-all, a man of such grandiosity wouldn’t mind a little extra attention, don’t you think?

The Warner Castle property was built in 1854 by businessman Horatio Gates Warner to resemble his wife’s house in Scotland.

Notable Documents in the University of Rochester HGW Collection

Box IX: Horatio Gates Warner – Business Transactions

  • Bank Book, 1853-1856
  • Bills and Receipts, 1846-1889
  • Cancelled Checks, ca1856-1865
  • Deeds and Land Contracts, 1849-1867
  • Expenses of Horatio Douglas Warner at Union College, 1859-1860
  • Georgia Plantation, 1870-1873
  • Income Tax, 1850-1863
  • Rochester Bank – Bonds and Stock Transactions, 1858-1865
  • Rochester Daily Advertiser and Republican – Ownership Transactions, 1849-1855
  • Seneca Warner – Mortgage, 1852-1860

Box X: Horatio Gates Warner – Law Practice

  • Asahel Warner et al. against William B. Warner, 1843
  • H.G. Warner et al. against George G. Cooper, 1857
  • H.G. Warner against James F. Royce, 1858
  • H.G. Warner against Alvah Strong et. al., 1863
  • William H. Warner against Luther King, 1846
  • Miscellaneous Law Papers

Box XI: Horatio Gates Warner – Writings

  • Essays – Constitution Island, West Point
  • Essays – Panama
  • Essays – Southern U.S.
  • Essays and Short Stories – California
  • Essays and Short Stories – Miscellaneous
  • Journals and Diaries – California, 1850-1852, and Almanac, 1855
  • Manuscript – California

Box XII: Horatio Gates Warner – Writings and drawings

  • Poetry
  • Political Essays, Editorials, and Petitions
  • Speeches
  • Miscellaneous Writings
  • Drawings

Warner Castle is open to the public – Visitors Welcome. Reservations requested for groups of 8 or more. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 9:00am – 4:00pm. Admission is free.

The caste iron around the building’s exterior is marvelous. It is also used in the Sunken Garden.

Original Moon Landing Prints Offer Convincing Rebuttal to Conspiracy Theorists

How I happened to procure these original moon landing prints doesn’t really matter. The only thing that matters is that I got a hold of them long enough to take some pictures of the pictures. Now these historical documents can be shared with the world for the first time.


I will disclose that the first owner worked at Kodak for over 30 years. Through a series of happy accidents the pictures came into my purview about two months ago. When I saw them in my living room, spread out on the couch below a desk lamp, I was absolutely bedazzled by their quality. Not only were they in pristine condition, they also had the Kodak insignia on the back with a date of production!

The images captured in these photographs are arguably the most important moments in human history. At the very least, it was the greatest technological achievement of our species. And here, in my humble abode on Exchange Street, was brand new documentation to help prove that it happened. Pretty cool if you ask me!

If any conspiracy theorist wants to tangle with these images, I say go for it. Prove them wrong. Do what you can to make your case. Admittedly, I have also shared some of these suspicions concerning the official narrative. Anyone who has watched Room 237, a subjective documentary which  explores the numerous theories about the hidden meanings within ‘Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining (1980) and its connection with a faked moon landing in 1969, knows that there have been many discrepancies left unsettled. Basically, these people believe that Kubrick was hired by NASA and the U.S. Government to film the landing in a Hollywood studio in order to gain the upper hand against the Russians in the space race. Although getting to the moon was still technologically unmanageable, staging a fake moon landing and broadcasting it to the world was relatively easy.

Eoom 237

More about Room 237

Room 237 is an interesting film; but after seeing these pictures for myself (and knowing how they came to be) I have become convinced that we did go to the moon in 69. The luster of authenticity that these photographs possess is simply mind blowing. Room 237 posits a provocative theory, but it must now come to grips with this crucial new photographic evidence.






There’s a historical milestone in the fact that our Apollo 11 landing on the moon took place a mere 66 years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Buzz Aldrin


Through the Looking Glass.


I see human beings who have transcended the outer limits of what’s possible.

There is a side of the Moon which we never see, but that hidden half is as potent a factor in causing the ebb and flow of the Earth’s tide as the part of the Moon which is visible.                                                                                                                                                    Max Heindel



And then there were footprints on the moon.



A flag suspended in the stillness of space


The moon looks upon many night flowers; the night flowers see but one moon.         Jean Ingelow

Paint Made by Kodak.
The moon from my back porch in downtown Rochester, NY.                                    Photo by George Cassidy Payne


Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. Buddha

A Rochester that I Know

  “‘Rochester? Why Rochester?’ ‘Why not?'” — It’s a Wonderful Life, phone conversation between George Bailey and Sam Wainwright


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Rochester skyline from the Ford Street Bridge.


St. Boniface Church, the Moon, and the Planet Jupiter. A sort of Holy Trinity, I think. Would the Church agree?


Poet’s Garden in Highland Park. “And this our life, exempt from public haunt. Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks. Sermons in stones and good in everything.” William Shakespeare, As You Like It


Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse, America’s oldest surviving lighthouse on Lake Ontario


George Payne at the Fireman’s Plot in Riverside Cemetery. Along with 250,000 other people, this is the final resting place of Giuseppe Aiello, organized crime figure and William Joseph Beldue, inventor of the eyelash curler.


Rhino at the Seneca Park Zoo



A former Catholic church in the northeast section of the city which became a Pentecostal temple. The building is gorgeous no matter what name is on the facade.


Lewis Morgan’s grave in Mt. Hope Cemetery. Morgan is widely considered to be the most influential anthropologist in American history.


The Boynton House by Frank Loyd Wright. What can be said about Wright that has not been said already? He is one of the undeniable geniuses of the 19th and  20th centuries. This house is a representation of his Prairie School style. This style attempted to create an indigenous North American style of architecture that did not share design elements and aesthetic vocabulary with earlier styles of European classical architecture.


Albert Paley sculpture piece at RIT


Canada Geese along the Genesee Riverway Trail in the Plymouth Exchange neighborhood.  Having grown up in the Tug Hill Plateau of the Adirondacks I have a special connection to Canada Geese. I admire their beautiful patterns, both in terms of their physicality and their migration habits.


Young protestor at a Black Lives Matter march downtown


Icicles along the Genesee gorge near the RG&E substation. Icicles can form where ever water seeps out of or drips off vertical surfaces such as road cuts or cliffs.
Hostas in the Plymouth Exchange Neighborhood. Hostas are widely cultivated, being particularly useful in the garden as shade-tolerant plants whose striking foliage provides a focal point.


Statue at Nazareth College


The Kodak Hawkeye Manufacturing Plant. I have written extensively about the Hawkeye Plant on this blog at: TOURING HAWKEYE: AN INSIDE LOOK AT KODAK’S MOST ENIGMATIC LANDMARK


Monument in Mt. Hope Cemetery. I read somewhere that Mt. Hope has more people buried there than the number of people who live in the city. This is both a testament to the sprawling magnificence of the Mt. Hope landscape and the dwindling size of Rochester’s population.



Genesee Riverway Trail near Brooks Landing. The Genesee Riverway Trail is a 16 mile trail that stretches from Genesee Valley Park to Lake Ontario. The trail passes the Erie Canal, the University of Rochester, Corn Hill, the site of Frederick Douglass’ North Star,  three Frederick La Olmsted municipal parks, the Upper Falls and Lower Falls, ancient Seneca trails, Turning Point Park, and the Ontario Beach pier in Charlotte.


At a Metro Justice “Fight for $15” rally at the University of Rochester



Climate Justice March outside of St. Luke &  St. Simon Cyrene Church. Rochester has always been a hotbed of social justice and progressive reform. When the churches are at their best, they are leading these movements.


Norton Falls  at the Seth Green Trail on the east side of the Genesee River. Seth Green is the most important fisherman in the Western world. He helped to invent the modern fishing reel. He was the first to make an enterprise out of fish propagation. He studied fish and turned his discipline into a science; and can rightly be called the grandfather of “fish culture.” He was raised in the destroyed city of Carthage, which can still be explored today if one knows how to access the bottom of a two thousand year old Native American hunting trail off St. Paul.


I.M. Pei’s Wilson Common’s Building at the University of Rochester. He is known for combining traditional architectural elements with progressive designs based on simple geometric patterns


A beach at Mendon Pond Park.. My wife and I love Mendon Ponds so much that we named our son after the park. It will always be a spiritual home for our family.
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Mendon Joseph Payne, born June 22 at 1:46 am in Highland Hospital.


George Cassidy “Casey” Payne,                                   philosopher, photographer, and poet.

Touring Hawkeye: An Inside Look at Kodak’s Most Enigmatic Landmark

What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are. George Eastman

The Hawkeye Plant is a 759,000 square foot totem pole of Kodak’s storied past. It sits on 12.56 acres on 1447 St. Paul Street in the City of Rochester and is totally empty of business. This summer I had the rare opportunity to officially tour the facility from the inside. The pictures in this article provide a snapshot of what it feels like to walk through a legendary building that has been nearly abandoned by its own company and mostly forgotten by the public.

Photo by George Payne
Plaque inside Eastman Business Park Main Office

First a little background. The name Hawkeye is important to the Kodak story. The Boston Camera Company was the original owner of the Hawk-Eye camera until the Blair Camera Company bought them in 1890. Hawk-Eye cameras then changed hands again in 1907 when Eastman Kodak bought Blair which was then changed into a division of Kodak called the Blair Camera Division. Eastman moved this company, with some other smaller outfits, into the PMC building in St. Paul Street, near Driving Park Bridge. In 1911 the building was named “Hawk-Eye Works.”  The Kodak lens department was moved there from Camera Works in 1913.

Eastman’s success over his competitors was primarily due to relentless marketing and incredible sales organization with international affiliations. He also had a remarkable instinct for hiring just the right people for the job, and predicting what would most entice and satisfy the consuming public.

As we all know, under Eastman’s helm the Kodak brand grew into a global icon that may only be rivaled by Coca Cola in terms of sheer notoriety.

“You could look up and see that yellow sign all over the world — no matter where you went, people depended on that for their memory-recording,” said photography writer John Larish, who worked for Kodak in the 1980s as a senior market-intelligence analyst.

History of Kodak


Hawk Eye


Like an American castle of industry, Kodak’s Hawkeye Manufacturing Plant sits atop the Genesee River Gorge at the Lower Falls. Photo by George Payne

Architecturally speaking, the building itself is quite fascinating. One local architect with a firm in the East End told me that it is considered to be one of the finest examples of “Factory Art Deco” in the world. I learned on Wikipedia (where else?) that “Art Deco, or Deco, is a style of visual arts, architecture and design that first appeared in France just before World World I. It became popular in the 1920s and 1930s and influenced the design of buildings, furniture, cars, movie theaters, trains, ocean liners. It took its name, short for Arts Décoratifs, from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) held in Paris in 1925. Art Deco features geometric shapes, clear and precise lines, and decoration which is attached to the structure. One of its major attributes is an embrace of technology. During its heyday, Art Deco represented luxury, glamour, exuberance, and faith in social and technological progress.”

The Hawkeye Manufacturing Plant, during its peak, exemplified these virtues to a tee.

Learn more about Art Deco here


Sadly, as we also know, especially anyone who has grew up or lived extensively in Rochester, the Kodak Company began to rest on their laurels. Faced with intense foreign competition, then rocked by a digital revolution, the company ultimately filed for bankruptcy, in the process becoming a worldwide symbol for the decline of American rust belt cities.

Today, it can be fairly said that the company has made significant strides to reinvent itself. For example, it has emerged as a major player again in technological innovation and has been tasked to lead the charge on photonics R&D.

Hawkeye has not been as resilient. As far as I know, the building is currently languishing. A lone custodian roams the silent corridors, and the heating bill alone cost the company over a million dollars a year. It is unclear whether it is for sale or if it has a future at all.

Business Insider Article on Kodak’s Fall

Hawkeye’s glorious role in manufacturing is a relic of the past.


I was relieved that our tour guide trusted these elevators more than I did.
The infamous windows on the 11th floor. Supposedly this is where the covert government offices were located. You needed top secret clearance to access this floor.


That being said, over the past decade or so, people have begun to learn about Kodak’s long and extensive involvement in covert photographic operations centered at the plant. One program in particular has garnered national attention.

Project Bridgehead began in 1955, peaked with some 525 staffers and employed more than 1,400 in total. Perhaps my favorite quote which came out when this project was disclosed, was in the Democrat and Chronicle: “In the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, (the staff) all felt that they were part of (a project) that was extremely important to America,” recalled Dick Stowe, who served as the Bridgehead program manager for five years. “We felt we were making a significant contribution to ending the Cold War-which was true. The overhead reconnaissance that Eisenhower promoted was one of the gathering mechanisms that was part of ending the Cold War.”

Undercover: For decades, a covert photographic operations center existed at Kodak’s Hawkeye plant

As should be expected, the D&C was one of the first newspapers in the nation to cover the declassification of Bridgehead, putting the facility’s legacy in geopolitical context for readers. They also had a little fun with the whole cloak and dagger theme of this phenomenal chapter in the secret history of America.

The plane arrived at the airport and taxied to a special location. Its top-secret cargo was offloaded and taken in an unmarked truck to the Eastman Kodak Co.’s Hawkeye plant.

The cargo — aerial reconnaissance film — was processed and developed, turned into photographic images.

These images were then sent to the “customer,” the code word for the U.S. government’s National Reconnaissance Center.

The film was analyzed at the center to see where the Russians — usually it was the Russians — might have had tanks, munitions factories, troops, planes, bombs.

It was a complex, exciting and clandestine Cold War program that ran here from 1955 to the late 1990s. For the longest while, it was part of Rochester’s secret history, a significant contribution to life everywhere known to hundreds of Kodak workers, all of whom had been sworn to secrecy.

Yet another covert government program with ties to Hawkeye is CORONA, a name given for the first operational space photo reconnaissance satellite.

Apparently President Eisenhower approved the project in Febuary 1958. The project was conceived to take pictures in space of the Soviet Bloc countries and de-orbit the photographic film for processing and exploitation.

Some of the scholars I have been researching tell us that CORONA spacecraft were built from 1959-72 by Lockheed Space Systems under Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Air Force contracts spanning 145 launches that provided intelligence the government has called “virtually immeasurable.” (See article link below)

They say that “CORONA’s payload was a vertical-looking, reciprocating, 70-degree panoramic camera developed by Itek that exposed Eastman Kodak film by scanning at right angles to the line of flight. Resolution in early flight years was in the range of 35 to 40 feet. By 1972, CORONA delivered resolutions of six to 10 feet, routinely. In the 1970s, flights could remain on orbit for 19 days, provide accurate attitude, position, and mapping information, and return coverage of 8,400,000 nm2 per mission.”

In fact, the Corona Project, all hyperbole aside, actually established satellite surveillance as a new scientific field. Hawkeye was part of a larger project to provide vital photographic information that permitted the United States to comprehend the nuclear threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In other words, there is no way to calculate how important it was to the United States Government to have clear and decisive intelligence when assessing the actual threat of the Soviet Union. How much carnage has been released on the world because of ignorance and false information? Is it not fair to say that what went on inside the hallways and corridors of Hawkeye may have prevented a nuclear war?

Kodak’s Secret History

The Photographic Historical Society

The line on the 11th Floor. For over 40 years the U.S. Government used Hawk Eye for covert research and development projects, including work on the KH-7 and KH-8 spy satellites.

As if these projects were not influential enough, I have also read that Eastman Kodak was responsible for manufacturing the GAMBIT camera at Hawkeye. This was one of the most powerful reconnaissance cameras ever built.  One investigative journalist told the following story:

One young Air Force officer who traveled to view the GAMBIT camera manufacturing facility at the Hawkeye plant in the late 1960s remembered walking through a large cleanroom where dozens of women were assembling small commercial cameras. Because of the requirement for dust-free operations the women wore nothing under their white jumpsuits. The officer fondly remembered that the women occasionally flashed their bare chests at the Air Force visitors, which made the visit to cold Rochester worthwhile.

Kodak, it should be remembered, was an enormously successful corporation that did not need to invest resources into reconnaissance. Nevertheless, their contribution to this enterprise-no matter what your political opinions about spying happen to be- was immense. It is not lost on me that this all happened in a building which now sits dormant in a socioeconomically struggling section of town, within a natural wonder of North America called the Genesee Gorge at the Lower Falls. It truly is an amazing convergence of landscapes and buildings. What will become of this structural and historical marvel is, at this juncture, anyone’s guess.

If I had my way, it would be converted into a mixed use facility that includes small businesses, job training centers, a charter school like the Rochester River School, or a RCSD off site experiential learning center. It could also be transformed into a museum which tells the story of photography, politics, social innovation, architecture, and the power of community. It could be one of the most amazing museums ever designed. George Eastman would not have accepted anything less.

Ike’s gambit: The development and operations of the KH-7 and KH-8 spy satellites


Hawkeye Cafeteria
Lecture Hall
Kodak was legendary for giving their employee all of the amenities they could possibly hope for. George Eastman valued the happiness of his workers as a strategy to improve the quality  of production.
Conference Room




An eerie shot inside one of the the boiler rooms
View of Kodak headquarters from the rooftop of Hawkeye.
A safe on one of the floors.
Some floors look like they could go into operation tomorrow. The building has been vacant since 2011.


A view of the Genesee River from behind an office curtain on the 13th floor.


The world is moving, and a company that contents itself with present accomplishments soon falls behind. George Eastman

New Leadership at the Iroquois White Corn Project

Posted with permission of the Iroquois White Corn Project. Please consider supporting this wonderful effort to preserve the sacred legacy and nutritional value of white corn.

Nya:wëh skannoh’:

I would like to introduce myself as the new project manager at the Iroquois White Corn Project. My name is Lauren Jimerson, although some of you may know me as Goodie. I have been associated with Ganondagan for the past 18 years and the last 10 of those years have been focused on my education. Growing up on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation, I have learned various lessons that the white corn provides since my maternal grandfather cultivated and processed his own white corn. I have said to people that I come from a “white corn family” because my mother and all of her siblings work with white corn. A few of my cousins and I have been handed down the knowledge to work with it as well. Across the road from my father’s home in the Pinewoods community is where the original white corn project was started by John Mohawk. I also remember listening to John talk about the importance of the white corn over dinner at Ganondagan.

While I come to the project with a wealth of knowledge of the white corn itself, I commend our former project manager, Kim Morf, for the time that she committed to getting the project flowing the way that it does now. She created an environment that flows steady so that we could get our amaizing products onto people’s stovetops and into peoples crock pots and ovens. My goal at the project is to retain that flow, share the stories of the corn, and expand on creative ways to incorporate white corn into our diets.

Seneca scene

Last week I had the pleasure of working with the head chef of Conflict Kitchen who will be using our corn for their fall menu in their Pittsburgh restaurant. This is an exciting project for us and since they put in a substantial order, this week’s production focus is on shucking and preparing corn for processing. My hours here at the project are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 10:00 am until 4:00 pm.  If you are interested and are available to help us out during any of those times, you may email or call 585-742-1361.

I hope that the rest of your week brings many joyful moments!

Nya: Wëh,

Thank You

Lauren Jimerson, Seneca

Project Manager

Iroquois White Corn Project



(585) 742-1361

“While we actively become aware of our thoughts, especially those that have a kind and loving intent; we naturally allow ourselves to become spiritually in tune with the Creators wishes. This allows us to use our talents to fulfill our purpose on Earth.”

-Freida J. Jacques, Onondaga

Ronnie, a staff member with Ganondagan, sharing her knowledge about Seneca artifacts at Maplewood Park in Rochester. (This public event was sponsored by the Lower Falls Foundation.

Willows out of Mud: taking a survivor centered approach to domestic violence in Rochester.

Although the pace is often torturous for victims, history shows that we are making progress on domestic violence. Just think, there was a time when most legal systems in the world viewed wife battery as a legit expression of a husband’s  authority. In Ancient Rome, for instance, a father could legally kill his children.

Today, these practices still occur but they are no longer permitted by the vast majority of global societies. What is more, even though religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all traditionally supported male-dominant households- and all three have sanctioned unspeakable acts of violence against women- these cultural forces are diminishing in power as the world grows more educated, interconnected, and secular.

“Hand of Mercy”         Photo by George Payne

As a result of these trends, son preference in Asia, the caste system in India, and child marriages in Africa are waning in prevalence with each generation. In the next 50 years, it will be internationally forbidden to practice any of these traditions without facing significant legal and social consequences.

Most encouraging is that a number of international committees, conferences, and conventions have assembled over the past few decades to strategically address the issue from a variety of viewpoints, including religion, economics, politics, public health, and psychology.  The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993), the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, the Maputo Protocol, and the Istanbul Convention, have- in their own unique ways- addressed the physical, sexual, emotional, and economic effects of domestic violence. For the first time in human history the entire international community is responding with one voice to this crisis.


Photograph by George Payne


Nevertheless, cultural traditions and religious customs still plague the domestic violence abolition movement. A recent survey in Diyarbakir, Turkey, found that, when asked the appropriate punishment for a woman who has committed adultery, 37% of respondents said she should be killed, while 21% said her nose or ears should be cut off. Horrific acid attacks for adultery are still common in Cambodia and other parts of Southeast Asia, and honor killings are a frequent subject on the news in the Middle East and India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, no less than 8,618 dowry deaths occurred in India last year alone. Despite growing opposition to female genital mutilation, stoning, bride burning, honor killings, and other forms of domestic violence, these barbaric rituals are still way too common throughout the world.

In America, we have our own forms of culturally sanctioned violence within the family. The methods of control and abuse may look and sound different, but the suffering inflicted on victims is the same. So, despite historic progress, the crusade against domestic violence must be waged anew everyday. This is a never ending fight that demands the most compassionate, competent and courageous members of our communities to take the lead.

Enter Pamela Graham and the work of the Willow Center for Domestic Violence in Rochester.

“Threatening a current or former partner isn’t passion, or love, or heartache. It’s violence, it’s abuse and it’s a crime.”
Miya Yamanouchi


willo logo 2


Known previously by the name Alternatives for Battered Women (ABW), this 40 year old organization based out of Rochester, NY, offers free and confidential services to victims of domestic violence. Their role is to empower those going through domestic violence, not tell them what to do. Their ultimate vision is a community free from domestic violence, where healthy relationships thrive.

I was surprised to learn that the Willow Center is the only New York State certified domestic violence service provider serving Monroe County, NY. Just over half of their clients are from the City of Rochester and nearly half are from the surrounding suburbs. In fact, 51 percent of the 4,709 incidents of domestic violence reported in Monroe County in 2014 came from suburban communities and 49 percent from Rochester residents. It was the first time the rate of suburban incidents surpassed the city rate since 2006.

Monroe Community College holds conference on domestic violence

I also didn’t realize how comprehensive their services are. The Willow Center provides a full-continuum of free and confidential services, including:

  • 24/7 Crisis and Support Hotline
  • Short-term Counseling
  • Court Accompaniment
  • 40-bed Emergency Shelter
  • Children’s Programming
  • Prevention Education & Training

For readers already familiar with the rich legacy of Alternatives for Battered Women, the name change goes beyond creative marketing. As one long-time advocate and staff member said:

“Willow speaks to the tremendous strength, action, planning, determination, perseverance, tenacity, and power that the survivors we work with possess in their most difficult moments.”

While over 90% of those Willow serves are women and children, the name change is meant to be more inclusive of the services they provide (by mission and law) to men and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. They recognize entire families are impacted by domestic violence. Nearly 300 children receive services from the agency each year. And since dating violence is also on the rise – with young men and young women reporting abusive relationships in record numbers, Willow needed to expand its identity as a women’s shelter and empowerment organization.

Photo by George Payne

Today, all are welcome. As their website states,

“Domestic violence knows no boundaries. It affects women and men of all ages, income levels, cultures, religions, races, and sexual orientation—in cities, suburbs, and rural areas.”

Willow Center Website

I was also edified by my 30 minute Broken Spear Vision interview with Pamela Graham, who has served the organization for 9 years as a Prevention Training Coordinator.

“We all know someone impacted by domestic violence, ” she told me. “The statistics show that  1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime.” That means at least 1 out of every 4 people you see on the way to work is involved in an abusive relationship. That means 1 out of every 3 women in line at Wegmans is being stalked, shamed,  threatened, or worse. That means one of your friends is in trouble, or that someone in your family is suffering in silence. It may be you. As Graham explained to me, there is a false assumption that we are actually talking to one another given how often we are communicating through social media and texting. The truth is we need to be really checking in with each other.”

As Graham has seen more times than she probably cares to admit, countless times, many victims don’t even realize that they are in an unhealthy relationship until it becomes dangerous to get out. To paraphrase something I heard her say that caught my attention, “All abusive relationships start out as being loving and beautiful.” After-all, what abuser convinces someone to fall in love with them by using tactics of fear and manipulation. What victim falls in love because they are stripped of their autonomy and self respect? The effort to control and abuse someone in a relationship built on intimidation usually happens over a period of time and can be expressed in extremely subtle ways.

That said, as a survivor based agency, the Willow Center provides services for anyone who may believe they are in a dangerous relationship. They are also a resource for family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and other service providers who are concerned and want to know what they can do help someone they care about. According to their helpful website, “our services, including emergency shelter and non-residential programs, are available to all victims of domestic violence, regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, marital status or disability.”

Although Pamela was apt to point out that the solution to domestic violence is actually quite simple- for we know what a healthy relationship consists or, and we also know how the level of abuse can escalate when partners begin to see themselves as being unequal and undeserving of happiness- Willow strives to work with each victim individually, allowing them to be responsible for their own destiny, and this can involve a certain level of expertise and attention to the more complex issues involved.

For instance, what can make domestic violence more complex is that each group has a particular context that they bring to this crisis. Immigrants, for example, may not report crimes because of their status, or fears that they will be accused of having entered into sham marriages. LGBT people in some parts of the world have very little legal protection from domestic violence, because engaging in homosexual acts itself is prohibited. In general, financial or familial dependence, normalization of violence, and self-blaming have been found to reduce the likelihood of self-reporting.

Responding to why some studies have shown black women to struggle more with domestic violence, Feminista Jones wrote in a Time article:

The reasons Black women suffer disproportionately from abuse are complex. Racism and sexism are two of the biggest obstacles that Black women in America face. But because many Black women and men believe racism is a bigger issue than sexism, Black women tend to feel obligated to put racial issues ahead of sex-based issues. For Black women, a strong sense of cultural affinity and loyalty to community and race renders many of us silent, so our stories often go untold. One of the biggest related impediments is our hesitation in trusting the police or the justice system. As Black people, we don’t always feel comfortable surrendering “our own” to the treatment of a racially biased police state and as women, we don’t always feel safe calling police officers who may harm us instead of helping us. And when we do speak out or seek help, we too often experience backlash from members of our communities who believe we are airing out dirty laundry and making ourselves look bad in front of White people.

Why Black Women Struggle More With Domestic Violence

pamela from willow
Willow Center trainer and domestic violence expert, Pamela Graham (far left), was featured on the Broken Spear Vision 106.3 FM. Listen to the Interview


To learn more about Jackson Katz, visit and check out his on point Ted Talk.


If you are inspired to contribute to the Willow Center, they are always receiving monetary donations and actively soliciting other forms of help. One of the most creative fundraiser ideas I came across is the Willow Center’s collaboration with local jeweler, Marisa Krol, of Interstellar Love Craft. Krol has created sterling silver Willow Center necklaces. It is my understanding that the sale of these beautifully crafted necklaces directly supports their programs and services.

willow jewlery by
Willow by Marisa Krol

If walking in a charity event is more your thing, the Willow Center is organizing a special event on October 1 called “Walk a Mile In My Shoes.” For more info, visit the event page at: Walk a Mile in My Shoes Charity Walk

walk a mile in my shoes.JPG 2


Lastly, if you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence, contact the Willow Center immediately. They can be reached at:

Call Willow Center:

(585) 232-5200

(585) 222-SAFE

(585) 232-1741

Mailing Address:

Willow Domestic Violence Center
P.O. Box 39601
Rochester, NY 14604-9601



wilberforce plaque


Explore Rochester’s Lower Falls.

For the past year I have been been exploring, researching and sharing with others the beautiful area known in Rochester as the Lower Falls Gorge. This somewhat hidden treasure is waiting to be experienced by anyone who loves the outdoors and cares about our local and national history. To schedule a class and/or hike with the Lower Falls Foundation, call us directly at 585-703-9230.

George Payne, Co-Founder



Lower Falls Foundation Recently Featured on TWC News

Musician Turned Climate Justice Activist Inspires Mothers Everywhere to Join the Front Lines

Meet Abby. If she wanted to she could become one of the most sought after cello instructors in the region. If she wanted to she could earn a cozy job at a prestigious music conservatory. If you ask me, Abby could do just about anything that she sets her mind to do.

Abigail McHugh- Grifa in the Rochester Free Radio studio. This was her second time appearing on the Broken Spear Vision to talk about climate change activism
Thankfully for the rest of us who are not aspiring to master the sounds of Bach, Abby has chosen a different path.She will always be a musician at heart; but these days she is all about helping to save the planet by combating climate change. Rather than stay on the sidelines moaning and groaning about the worsening conditions of planet Earth, Abby is on the front lines trying to do something about it. And she is not just signing petitions and posting memes on Facebook. Like all genuine activists committed to their cause, she has put her money where her mouth is by engaging in nonviolent civil resistance.
Digital photograph by George Payne
On May 7 of 2015, Abby and thirty other Finger Lakes/Rochester residents rallied along Route 14, holding signs and banners with Mother’s Day messages and decrying fossil fuel build-out as a direct threat to their children. In the face of broad public opposition, Crestwood’s methane gas storage expansion project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. With unresolved questions about geological instabilities, fault lines, and possible salinization of Seneca Lake, which serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people, the company continues to expand its plan to develop.
IMG_20140921_234649 (1)
New York City People’s Climate March in 2014. Photo by George Payne.


In protest, Abby was arrested and transported to the Schuyler County Sheriff’s department, charged with trespassing, and released.

During the arrest Abby, who was 35 at the time, said to a reporter, “I have a 16-month old son and I’m pregnant. If I’m going to create life, it’s my responsibility to protect it too. I’m very concerned about the climate and for my children’s future. The more money we invest in fossil fuel infrastructure, the deeper we dig ourselves in.  I want to do what I can to speed the transition to renewables. So, I’m here doing what I can.”

That about sums up the attitude Abby brings to everything she does. She may not be solving global warming by getting arrested, but it is the best she can do. It may not shut down Crestwod, but at least she is out there making her voice heard. Is it better than playing a cello and teaching at a university? I am guessing that this question is irrelevant to her. This is what she is called to do. She is out there risking her comfort and security not because it is easy and enjoyable, but because it is what the situation demands of her. She is doing it because she is a mother and her children need her to be vocal on their behalf.

Sixteen Mothers and Grandmothers Arrested in Blockade at Crestwood Midstream


mother day mother out front
“We Are Seneca Lake” Mother’s Day Action at Crestwood Midstream Facility in the Town of Reading. Abigail was arrested for protesting natural gas storage on Seneca Lake on May 7, 2015.

Remarkably, Abby continues her professional life as a music instructor with The Eastman Community Music School (ECMS), which was founded in 1921 by industrialist and philanthropist George Eastman (1854-1932), founder of the Eastman Kodak Company. The Eastman Community Music School is a part of the world renowned Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester, and is a centerpiece of George Eastman’s grand vision of the power of music to enrich life. This is evidenced in the words carved on the front of the Eastman Theatre “for the enrichment of community life.” According to their website, the school is

 “Located on the campus of the Eastman School of Music, the ECMS has been educating residents of the Greater Rochester and Western NY State area for more than ninety years. We estimate that as many as 60,000 students have received music instruction at the school since its inception. The school is deeply embedded in the community and is one of the most important connections between Eastman, the University of Rochester and the residents of the extended area.

Grace Lee Boggs, the inimitable and prolific social justice activist from Detroit, once said, “The physical threat posed by climate change represents a crisis that is not only material but also profoundly spiritual at its core because it challenges us to think seriously about the future of the human race and what it means to be a human being.”


abigail mchugh grifa

Abigail McHugh Grifa playing the cello

Abby has responded to Boggs charge. Sure, there may be other ways that she could be spending her waking hours. After all, two little boys is enough to keep some mothers occupied 24/7. And this is probably not the career that she envisioned for herself when she was studying music education at Eastman. But it’s the life that she has signed up for because she knows that it is not just her life that matters. Abby is not the type of person to say let someone else do the heavy lifting. If there is a problem to be solved-even if it is a bewilderingly complex problem like climate change-she wants to help figure it out. She is a problem solver, pure and simple.




Abigail and the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition

One project that has consumed Abby’s time lately is the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC), a network of diverse organizations unified around concerns about climate change. As she explained during our interview, RPCC includes businesses, faith groups, nonprofits, labor, media, civil servants, and others. Although she did not go into detail about the organization’s methods, she did mention that they include climate change legislation, education, and mitigation, and working with the media to amplify the message.

Formed in September 2014, RPCC continues to grow, collaborate, and build political will for climate action. (For a full list of member organizations and information on how to join the coalition, see here.) As she puts it, the mission of The Rochester People’s Climate Coalition addresses the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the impacts of global warming. The groups has four major goals:

  1. Build a major force for change that will influence legislators to pass meaningful climate action laws
  2. Educate the general public about man-made global warming and mobilize them for direct action
  3. Encourage local leaders to take steps to prepare our region for the future effects of climate change (e.g., update transportation and utilities infrastructure)
  4. Leverage our collective power to encourage local media to improve their coverage of climate-related issues

Abby also gave me a brief overview of the history of RPCC. It was formed in 2014 during the weeks leading up to the People’s Climate March, when 30+ organizations in the Greater Rochester Area joined together to voice support for the march and demand action on climate change.  Over a period of several months following the march, representatives from member organizations worked together to define the coalition’s mission, goals, and structure.

Shortly after the historic march, RPCC’s second big project took place in April 2015, when member organizations collaborated to organize 15 “Earth Week” events, including several public appearances by renowned climate scientist Dr. James Hansen.  Collectively, these events served to raise awareness about climate change and move local leaders and citizens to action.


Abby leading a climate justice march in Rochester, NY (Photo by George Payne)

From the looks of it, RPCC is garnering some impressive accolades from both local and national leaders in the climate justice movement. On their website, the group has been endorsed by author and influential environmentalist Bill McKibben, ecologist and activist Sandra Steingraber, NASA scientist and climate change whistle blower James Hansen, and U.S. Rep Louise Slaughter. RPCC Facebook

Tune in to Rochester Free Radio 106.3 FM every Sunday at 12:30 PM to hear social justice voices from the Rochester community.

In addition to her role as a Leadership Team member with RPCC, Abby has continued her involvement with the Rochester Chapter of Citizen Climate Lobby. CCL lobbies in support of a Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal by building friendly relationships with federally elected representatives. They aim to reach across the aisle with respect, appreciation and gratitude for the service of elected officials.

During our interview, she explained that CCL writes letters to the editor and op-eds, and meets with editorial boards to gain their editorial endorsement.They also facilitate presentations and table at events to promote CCL and introduce others to the Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal.

Basically, CCL believes that politicians don’t create political will, they respond to it. Moreover, they contend that citizens who are well-trained, organized by Congressional district and with a good system of support can influence the political process. Based on what climate scientists and economists say, members of CCL argue that the Carbon Fee and Dividend plan is the best first step to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate the impacts of a changing climate. Not only is Abby active with CCL. she has assumed a leadership position in the chapter and has traveled to Washington to lobby.

Author Elizabeth Kolbert once write: “Right now, in the amazing moment that to us counts as the present, we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed.”

I think of Abby when I read this. She is someone who, without quite meaning to, chose a different evolutionary pathway. As a result, she is opening new doors while managing to leave old ones open. It is an amazing moment that we find ourselves in. I am glad that we have amazing people like Abby to match the moment. I am honored to have her as a guest on the Broken Spear Vision.

*To listen to my first BSV interview with Abigail McHugh Grifa, check out my friend Judy Bello’s archive on her blog, The Deconstructed Globe Selected Views through a Fractal Prism. Judy was gracious enough to preserve many of my early shows when the station was still getting its feet wet with the technology. Abby’s Interview is #4