Centennial Pioneer Committe 1834-1934, Rochester NY

Rochester Centennial Pioneer Committee pin

For the last few months, I’ve devoted many hours digging into the lives of the Harris family of Rochester, NY. At left is depicted a commemorative pin distributed in 1934 to pioneer descendents of the city of Rochester on the occasion of the city’s centennial celebration.

My paternal grandmother, Florence Mary Garrison Marsh, her mother, Virginia Louise “Jennie” Harris Garrison, her sister, Edna May Garrison Elliot, and her uncle, Bertram L Harris, all applied for inclusion in the Centennial Pioneer Committee and received pins such as this one. (I was fortunate to purchase two of these pins on eBay.) Their application papers document their relation to Daniel Harris, a pioneer of Rochester.

Daniel Harris (1771-1853), my 4th great-grandfather, was born in Lebanon, CT, to Revolutionary War veteran, Asa Harris (1737-1817). Asa moved his family to Otsego County, NY, in the early 1800s. Daniel Harris left Otsego County in 1816 when he and his wife, Amanda Miller, along with their nine children, took up residence on the farm given to them by Amanda’s father, Jacob Miller. They lived in a log cabin and stories were passed down of Daniel barricading the cabin door at night to keep out the wolves and bears.

Excerpt from Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery, Winter 1990

Sluman W. Harris (1800-1874) was one of Daniel and Amanda’s five sons. Growing up, he saw the creation of Monroe County in 1821, the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, and the incorporation of the city of Rochester in 1834. When the city was chartered, five men were appointed constables, Sluman among them. Sluman was a carpenter and a boat agent and his son, Wilna C Harris, followed in his footsteps.

1827 Map of Rochester – Sluman Harris resided in the Washington Square area of the city

Sluman married Mary Histed in 1825. In 1826, their son Wilna C. was born in the family’s large brick home on Byron Street. Wilna became a boat builder and participated in rowing races, winning many medals and setting speed records. He married Harriet Farnham in 1846 and they had six children.

Virginia Louise (“Jennie”) was Wilna and Harriet’s youngest daughter. She as born in October 1861, just at the start of the Civil War. Jennie had two sisters and a brother and the children grew up in a comfortable home, never knowing poverty or want thanks to their hard-working father. Jennie married relatively late for a young woman; she was 28 years old when she was wed to George B. Garrison, a building contractor who worked in masonry. George and Jennie had four children: Edna, Howard (called “Budd” – he died as a toddler), Florence and Mildred. The family lived at 163 Reservoir Avenue in Rochester. The property was passed down to Jennie through her father, as Daniel Harris’ name can be found on the 1827 deed.

Sadly, I never knew my grandmother Florence; she died of cancer in October 1950, leaving behind her husband and two high-school age sons, Allan and John. She was only 55 years old.

In digging through the Harris family history, I’ve discovered a new-found pride in my hometown of Rochester, New York. A pride I never had before. For, I never knew my father, so I never heard any of his family history, and my mother’s family roots are in Cattaraugus County and McKean County, PA. So, I had to research my father’s family history on my own and I’m happy I did. I discovered many interesting, civic-minded people with adventurous spirits and creative minds.

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