Seth Green: The Most Important Fisherman in American History

Portrait of seth green
Seth Green. He supposedly had the most captivating eyes imaginable. (Photo in the public domain)
Seth Green was born dirt poor to farmers in a tiny cabin on Culver Road. The date was March 19, 1817 and Rochester was not even a city yet. After growing up in near total wilderness-for the Genesee valley was pretty much empty besides trees, bears, wolves and rattlesnakes- his parents moved to a just developing area called Carthage on the Genesee River near the Lower Falls. Transitioning from the hard life of pioneers, the Green family opened up a tavern and Seth’s life changed forever.
Photo by George Payne
As a boy Seth quickly became friends with some local Seneca Indians and over the years they taught each other hunting and fishing techniques. One legend has it that Seth Green could identify hundreds of animals just by the sounds of their footsteps.  As a young man he would catch trout, sturgeon, walleye, and bullhead, and sell them to locals and ship crews that were docked in port. Fishing became his path in life.

 Eventually he found himself with enough business to open a shop on Front Street, near the High Falls. The new shop became very successful. By 1857 Green was considered the largest producer of fish in NY. His team of 100 men was reeling in anywhere from 12 to 25 tons of fish a month.

In 1864,  he sought out some experimenting grounds. Fed by fresh springs and with a consistently cold temperature of 45-60 degrees, Caledonia Creek was perfect for hatching brook trout free of season-limitations and pollution.

Soon there were large buildings packed along the creek and the Caledonia Fish Hatchery was born. Inside were huge tanks where Green began his famous research in fish hatching and where he would ultimately perfect the field of Artificial Propagation.

Although I have not been there myself, Seth Green’s Caledonia Hatchery in Livingston County is the oldest hatchery in New York State as well as the nation. Caledonia Hatchery rears brown trout along with a limited number of splake (from speckled trout and lake trout). A considerable number of the two-year-old brown trout used in the New York State DEC’s stocking program, for 13-15 inch trout, are produced at the Caledonia Hatchery. Annually, the production of brown trout and splake is approximately 170,000 pounds.

– editorial content courtesy of New York State Department of Conservation

Green received many awards for his contributions to society. In addition to his own island, the Seth Green Trail in Rochester is named after him. Green has been also credited for inventing the fishing reel.

He died on August 18, 1888, and is  buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery.


Photo by George Payne. This interpretive marker can be found at the end of Seth Green Drive by the RG&E Service Station Road off St. Paul.

 The Forgotten Settlement of Carthage

Rochesterville and Carthage were rivals, of a sort. Both communities boasted flour mills powered by the water power of the Genesee and its high, multiple falls in this area, as it descends into a magnificent gorge for the last few miles before it empties into Lake Ontario. These same waterfalls would prevent direct water navigation from the lakefront to Rochesterville, seven miles to the south. Carthage was fortutiously located at the farthest inland point to which lake boats could travel, hence its strategic importance in a period when water travel was the lifeline of Western New York State, which despite its lusty growth, had not quite outgrown its all-too-recent frontier status. Rochesterville, on the other hand, was located at the point where the vitally important Erie Canal crossed the Genesee River on an impressive aqueduct.

The coming of steam railroads would soon change all of this, and with the decline in importance of canal and lake boat shipping, Carthage would cease to exist as a separate community, and evenutually be subsumed under the rapid expansion of the new city of Rochester.


The pictures below were shot on a personal trek to find the surviving remains of the Carthage settlement in the Lower Falls. I was surprised to stumble across such large quantities of building material, including brick facades, metal piping, concrete foundations, old appliances, and other intriguing artifacts. If you are interested in walking through a forgotten industrial settlement which almost became the most powerful municipality in Western New York, this trail is for you. (Fair warning, this trail is somewhat off the beaten path.)





Photo from the shores of Seth Green Island.


Seth Green Island – Rochester, New York

Named after Green, the undisputed father of Pisciculture and Aquaculture, this island is accessible from the banks of the Seth Green Trail near the remains of Carthage. If the water is low enough you can walk across the river on the exposed rocks and stones. As I reached the island by foot, I actually startled a green heron from its perch. The view of the river from the center of the island is incredible.





The water’s edge by the Seth Green Trail. Photo by George Payne


  1. Timeline

    1864: In 1864 he located a small hatchery in Caledonia, New York along a spring creek.
    1867: In 1867–1869 he experimented and pioneered methods to successfully propagate American shad in the Connecticut River near Holyoke, Massachusetts.
    1870: In 1870, Green resigned his position as fish commissioner and the governor appointed him Superintendent of Fisheries.
    1871: In early 1871, at the request of the California Fish Commission, Green transported over 12,000 American Shad fry to Sacramento, California to plant in the Sacramento River.
    1872: In 1872 and 1875 the Imperiale d’Acclimatation of France awarded Green solid gold medals for his work in pisciculture.

Furthermore, I am pleased to report that at least one Rochester city school believes in the importance of Green’s legacy. 4th grade students from Roberto Clemente School # 8 made his life’s work a part of their expeditionary curriculum last fall. The school plans to use the Seth Green Trail again this year. The Lower Falls Foundation was excited to help lead this innovative new outdoor teaching program.


It can not be overstated how influential the Seneca were in shaping Seth Green’s scientific, philosophical and religious worldview. He saw the world through their eyes. He learned to treat nature with a deep and profound appreciation which was rooted in the ancient ways. Green was just as much Seneca in his outlook as he was American. If ever there was a beautiful example of these two cultures coming together in a way that promotes mutual awareness and reciprocity, it was the relationship Green had with his Seneca friends. The photos below show a typical Seneca scene along the river, as well as the Native American/Carthage wooden trail sign at the entrance of the Seth Green Trail, and the top of Norton Falls, which is a beautiful cascade directly below the Seneca Tower apartments.



Lower Gorge Fishery

 A fishing access point is located at the corner of Seth Green Dr. and St. Paul St. and open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Call the Bureau of Parks and Recreation at 585-428-6770 for information.



Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. Henry David Thoreau



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