Pittsford is a historic Erie Canal village, located seven miles southeast of Rochester in western New York. This small village, with a population of 1500 persons and an area of approximately three quarters of a square mile, has been remarkably successful in maintaining its distinctive small town character and quality of life despite the rapid growth of the surrounding suburban area.
Pittsford is the oldest of Monroe County's ten incorporated villages. Israel Stone, the village's first settler, built the village's first structure, a log house, in 1789. Early Pittsford served as the governmental seat for the town of Northfield, comprising most of what is now eastern Monroe County. The settlement contained the county's first school (1794), the first library (1803), the first permanent church (1807), the first post office (1811), and the first newspaper (1815). In 1813, after the surrounding towns were organized, reducing Northfield's territory, the name Pittsford was adopted to honor the Vermont birthplace of Colonel Caleb Hopkins, a farmer, community leader and hero from the War of 1812.
Pittsford prospered as a local trading center due to its location on the primary road between the mills at the Genesee Falls in Rochesterville and Canandaigua, the region's oldest and largest town. In 1816 Samuel Hildreth established the area's first stage coach line, eventually putting Pittsford at the center of a large stage network covering much of western New York.
Pittsford grew rapidly after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1822 and was incorporated as a village on July 4, 1827. Local entrepreneurs made fortunes from both canal construction and other businesses which benefited from the canal trade. Pittsford's fine collection of Federal period buildings are remaining evidence of the prosperity the community enjoyed during this period.
Because of its waterpower, Rochester soon eclipsed Pittsford as Monroe County's dominant economic and population center. Pittsford grew slowly through the rest of the nineteenth-century. Boosted by the arrival of the Rochester & Auburn railroad in 1834, Pittsford remained an important shipping center for local grains and produce until the mid-twentieth-century. Village industries included a flour mill, lumberyards, produce warehouses, a malt house and several fruit dry houses. The present charm of the Village's waterfront is due to the survival of historic canal warehouses, mills and silos, many of which have been renovated for boutiques and restaurants.
In the second half of the nineteenth-century wealthy Rochesterians began to establish country estates in and around the village. These estates were the first step in Pittsford's evolution from a farming community into a suburb.
Three of these grand homes remain within the village. Pittsford Farms, the oldest of the three village estates, was established in the 1860's by Jarvis Lord, a canal contractor. The property has retained its historic appearance and remains today a 200-acre working farm. The farm's dairy plant continues to bottle milk in returnable glass containers. The Town of Pittsford has purchased the development rights to this farm and seven others to ensure their open space remains for generations to come.
During the first quarter of the twentieth century, the construction of the Rochester & Eastern Trolley line and growing automobile ownership placed Pittsford within easy commuting distance of Rochester. By the 1950's Pittsford began to experience significant population growth from suburban residential development.
As the area surrounding the village continues to grow rapidly, residents became increasingly concerned about the effects of this growth on the village. Increasing traffic, demolition of historic buildings, commercial encroachment into historic neighborhoods, and the loss of open space led to the beginning of grass roots preservation efforts. Over the last thirty-five years, residents, business people, and government officials have worked cooperatively to preserve, enhance and revitalize Pittsford Village. Among the community's accomplishments are the restoration of numerous village buildings, the establishment of a historic preservation district, the redevelopment of the village's Erie Canal waterfront for commercial and recreational use, and the preservation of farmland through the town's purchase of development rights.
Pittsford has been fortunate to have dedicated, vocal, and active citizens. These qualities are best embodied by the members of Historic Pittsford, a local grass-roots preservation organization which for thirty-five years has been an advocate for the Village by addressing local preservation issues, assisting with grants, historic designations, and educating the public about the community's history and the importance of preservation. Vocal citizens have helped Pittsford avoid the fate of several neighboring communities which have been severely compromised by roadway volume enhancement projects, excessive parking lots and demolition of historic buildings.
The presence of four churches, three schools, the library, town and village offices and businesses have kept the Village functioning as the "downtown"' for the surrounding town. Pittsford's business district remains vibrant despite competition from nearby suburban shopping centers and big box retailers. The canal, walkable tree-shaded streets and restored historic structures provide an ambiance very different from the typical commercial strip. Despite its small size, the village contains over 250 individual services and businesses. Adjusting to the current retail environment has created some problems including the conversion of retail space to offices and the proliferation of gift boutiques and apparel stores at the expense of essential services. The village has revised the Main Street business district zoning to require retail or restaurant use of first floor storefronts and to encourage coffee shops and restaurants.
Pittsford Village contains a variety of housing types and a mix of age groups. Over eighty percent of the village's housing stock is over fifty years old. Despite its age, real estate in the village is sought after because of the architectural appeal of the houses, the presence of sidewalks and street trees and the appeal of village living.
To continue the goal of preserving and enhancing existing assets, the Village is now looking ahead to the future. Currently a comprehensive plan is being developed by a citizen's committee. Primary issues to be studied include the Erie Canal waterfront, the Main Street business district, parking, traffic, and residential neighborhoods.
Today Pittsford is widely recognized for the success of its preservation efforts. The Village is fortunate to have an active citizenry committed to the preservation of a vital village center for the enjoyment of present and future generations.