The Erie Canal, the Rochester Subway, and Stop 22

I’m a bit of a local history buff and have a special interest in the two-hundred-year-old Erie Canal, which runs through our town, and the former Rochester Subway. The recent photo above is a picture of me standing in front of a former trolley waiting station, which has an interesting connection to both the Canal and Subway.

Back when I was a young child in the early-1960s, my father was driving the family through downtown Rochester and I noticed a decrepit little building on the corner of South Avenue and Court Street near the main library. I asked my father what the boarded-up structure was and he answered that it was one of the entrances to the former Rochester Subway. Huh? Rochester had a subway?!?!?! I knew that big metropolitan cities had subways, but little Rochester? That encounter led to a lifelong fascination with the Rochester Subway.

Allow me to fill in a few blanks. The old Erie Canal ran right through downtown Rochester, crossing the Genesee River over an aqueduct. But when New York State officials redesigned and enlarged the canal in 1918, it bypassed the city to the south, leaving behind a 7-mile-long abandoned canal ditch. City fathers got the bright idea of turning the ditch into a trolley route. The two-mile portion that ran through city center was roofed over by Broad Street creating a subway. Tracks were laid, rolling stock was acquired, and the Rochester Subway began operations in 1927. Several interurban commuter trolleys that connected Western New York’s cities and towns, including the Rochester, Syracuse, and Eastern Rapid Railroad (keep that one in mind), made their way into Rochester utilizing the newly-created Subway right-of-way. But trolley travel was already being eclipsed by automobiles and buses. By 1931, all of the interurbans had ceased operations. The Subway struggled on, even providing very valuable service during the World War II rationing years, but ridership was rapidly decreasing (the Subway route was several blocks from the main commercial and government districts) and the last trolley car plied the Subway rails on June 30, 1956. I noticed the abandoned Subway entranceway about six or seven years after that.

The memory of the Rochester Subway stuck with me and I ended up doing a lot of research back in the 70s and 80s. I traversed the abandoned underground tunnel many times with my powerful lantern. I also explored the former route of the Rochester, Syracuse, and Eastern interurban trolley. One day in the late 1970s, I was walking the trolley trail east of Perinton and came upon a former trolley waiting station that was…Ach!…being used as a storage shed. The interurban had built a number of these small waiting booths along its route for rural customers. I was disappointed that a valuable piece of local history was being used as someone’s backyard shed.

Forty years went by and the memory of that waiting station stuck with me. This past week, I was taking a break from house painting and reading a local newspaper. To my surprise was an article (see here) about the restored “Stop 22,” the Rochester, Syracuse, and Eastern waiting station that I had “discovered” forty years ago. I learned that a gentleman named Bill Matthews had been hiking along the same trolley trail and came upon RS&E Stop 22, just as I had. But unlike me, Bill had the resources to purchase and move the waiting station (he was the owner of Matthews House Moving Company). Following restoration, in 1992 Stop 22 was moved to its current site on the south bank of the Erie Canal in the Village of Fairport. It’s currently being used as the “dockmaster” office for canal tour boat excursions.

I just had to visit the old waiting station that I had “discovered” forty years ago. I took a break from house painting and my wife and I made the short drive to Fairport Village along the Canal. Yup, there it was. Stop 22. And in much better condition than I remember it. Nice job, Bill!

*Route 490 East follows the old Erie Canal/Subway right-of-way between the Genesee River and the “Can of Worms” interchange. Several remnants of the Subway and Canal can be viewed along the expressway route including Subway retaining walls and what’s left of Erie Canal Lock 66.

Above: An RS&E waiting station back in the 1920s
Above: A former Rochester, Syracuse, and Eastern power house located on Chestnut Street in East Rochester

20 thoughts on “The Erie Canal, the Rochester Subway, and Stop 22

  1. Thanks for the historic stroll in your neck of the woods! And including a winsome photo of yourself!
    I really appreciate these old finds. Like in this post, they have much to tell and what stories might be therein!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Wil! The Erie Canal was such a neglected resource. Only in the last 20 years or so have the towns and villages along the Erie Canal been leveraging it as a tourist and recreation asset by adding parks and walkways. There’s also been some tourist-friendly commercial development such as cafes, restaurants, and hotels.


  2. Wow this is so neat to have a local history post and also know about it! That’s crazy I dont normally think of ROC as having subways either, so neat and I enjoy the picture of the station in the 1920s…also neat to see the modern day pic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, brother! I’m glad you enjoyed the post! It was enjoyable to write. The Rochester Subway was a pretty humble affair: Only two-tracks (plus another track for freight traffic) and seven-miles in length, with the covered portion being only two-miles long.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In my personal reading I’m reading about the making of the intercontinental railroad and it mentioned about how railroads before the intercontinental railroad were typically for a few miles long. I can see more how that is true with your posts! Though I know technically this isn’t a freight train per se. still fascinating

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, most of the railroads were just small, regional outfits. Vanderbilt bought up most of the regional lines in creating his NY Central RR monopoly.


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