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Answer Man: Whatever happened to Rochester’s College Street?

November 28, 2018

Between 1887 and 1893, Drs. Will and Charles Mayo built neighboring homes on the 400 block of West College Street, now Fourth Street. The houses’ colors resulted in locals knowing them as the White House (Will’s) and the Red House (Charlie’s).

Dear Answer Man: When driving along the newly reopened (but not yet finished) Fourth Street Southwest the other day, I recalled the street once had a different name. I’m sure I read about it in the Post Bulletin. University Avenue maybe? — Joe

Dear Joe: While we’re pleased you read the Post Bulletin, you’d better get your eyeglasses checked.

We’ve had several stories over the years indicating that what is now Fourth Street was formerly called College Street. It got that name because the street started out as a gravel lane up what was then called College Hill. In fact, Great-Grandpappy Answer Man used to deliver papers and collect tips along that route, starting our family tradition of newspaper work.

Anyway, College Hill was thus named because a fast-talking entrepreneur had convinced city fathers, including Rochester founder George Head, that he was going to build a seminary at the top of the hill. By the time it became obvious he lacked the necessary financing to launch the school, everyone in town knew the hill as “College Hill.”

With the college kaput, Head, who owned the land, decided to build his new mansion near the top of the hill. The town’s movers and shakers followed suit, and soon fashionable homes lined College Street.

It wasn’t until nearly 50 years later, around 1900, that Mayo Clinic physicians started building along the street and atop what later became known as Pill Hill. Both Charlie and Will Mayo built homes in the 400 block of College Street.

Then, exactly a century ago, in 1918, the city created mass confusion by changing the name of nearly every street in town, going to a strict numbering system. In the switcheroo, College Street became Fourth Street Southwest.

By then, Charlie Mayo had moved out to Mayowood, and Will Mayo was in the process of moving farther up the hill into what is now known as the Foundation House — in the same square block where George Head’s mansion once stood.

So, to untangle this mess for you, Joe: College Hill became Pill Hill, and College Street became Fourth Street Southwest.

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