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Rochester Athenaeum collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: RITArc-0028

Scope and Contents

The Rochester Athenaeum collection contains materials related to the organization and its operation. This includes a bound volume of subscriptions to the institution, as well as member lists and information on specific members such as Abelard Reynolds. There is also a copy of Charles Perkins's address to the Rochester Athenaeum, the first official lecture sponsored by the organization.

Additionally, the collection includes typed copies of the Athenaeum's charter, which was granted by New York State on February 12, 1830, along with two typed copies of an act to amend the Rochester Athenaeum's charter, approved by the New York State Governor on May 22, 1891. Although the Rochester Athenaeum changed its name several times throughout the 19th century, this amendment formally changed the organization's name to the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute.

The collection also includes excerpts taken from the Rochester Advertiser and the Rochester Telegraph. These excerpts focus on the activities of the Rochester Athenaeum from 1829-1831. There is also a series of documents related to the history of Reynolds Arcade, home to the Rochester Athenaeum.

Finally, the collection includes a list of materials owned by the Athenaeum and a bibliography of books written on the institution.


  • Creation: 1829-1980


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to researchers.

Biographical / Historical

Although Rochester, NY was not incorporated as a city until 1834, Rochesterville (as it was officially known) was a thriving town during the 1820s. Located at the mouth of the Genesee River, Rochester became a prominent port and crossroad for the Erie Canal (opened 1825), earning itself the nickname the "Flour City." Basil Hall, a former captain in the British Navy, visited Rochester in June 1827. In his Travels in North America narrative, written in 1829, Hall explained:

Rochester is celebrated all over the Union as presenting one of the most striking instances of rapid increase in size and population of which that country affords an example. (v. 1, p. 153)

He later described the rapidly growing city in more detail:

Everything in this bustling place appeared to be in motion. The very streets seemed to be starting up of their own accord, ready-made, and looking as fresh and new, as if they had been turned out of the workmen's hands but an hour before – or that a great boxful of new houses had been sent by stream from New York, and tumbled out on the half-cleared land. (vol. 1, p. 160)

In 1826, several individuals got together to form the Franklin Institute in Rochester. This was one of the earliest examples of an educational organization in the city. The Institute, modeled after the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, promoted the field of science and scientific exploration and was supported by funds raised from various lecture series. Unfortunately, the Institute was not long-lasting. The same year the Institute was founded, the anti-Mason author William Morgan was supposedly abducted, never to be seen again. The incident, known as the "Morgan Affair," became a hot topic among the members of the Franklin Institute, as many of them were Masons.

With the Franklin Institute's membership divided over the Morgan issue, a physical split occurred. Members who wished to remain neutral on the topic left the Institute to form the Rochester Athenaeum. By 1833, the Franklin Institute permanently closed. The first meeting of the Athenaeum was held on June 12, 1829 and Nathaniel Rochester was chosen as the first president. For a $5 annual fee, individuals could use the Athenaeum's space in the Reynolds Arcade building for private events. More importantly, however, they could use the organization's collection of books and journals. These materials were not limited to the field of science, but spanned a variety of subject areas. On February 12, 1830, the Athenaeum was granted a charter from the State of New York, with the stated purpose of "cultivating and promoting literature, science and the arts."

Although the Rochester Athenaeum remained a prominent educational force in Rochester for many years, it ultimately fell into decline. As early as 1838, the Athenaeum began merging with similar organizations in an attempt to maintain its footing. Through these mergers, the organization eventually morphed into the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute, now known as the Rochester Institute of Technology.


1.4 Linear Feet (6 folders, 1 clamshell box)




Materials related to the Rochester Athenaeum and its operations. The Athenaeum was founded in 1829 as an educational institute and is an early predecessor of the Rochester Institute of Technology. The collection contains excerpts from local newspapers, charter documents for the organization, member lists, a copy of Charles Perkins's address to the Athenaeum, and information on Reynolds Arcade. Also included is a subscription book for the organization.


Materials are arranged chronologically within six series. The collection is divided into Rochester Advertiser and Rochester Telegraph excerpts, Book and material lists, Charter documents, Member information, Charles Perkins's address, and Information on Reynolds Arcade. The subscription book is housed separately at the end of the collection.

Physical Location

C.S. South, Shelf 151 (Early records)
C.S. South, Shelf 152

Other Finding Aids

In addition to this finding aid, an inventory is available below. For more information, please contact the RIT Archive Collections.

Rochester Athenaeum collection

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Charles Perkins's address to the Rochester Athenaeum was a gift from Mary R. Cole, donated on June 20, 1952.

Processing Information

Finding aid created by Lara Nicosia in November 2010.

Rochester Athenaeum collection
RIT Archives
Lara Nicosia
24 November 2010
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the RIT Archives Repository

Rochester NY 14623 USA