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RIT charter collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: RITArc-0360

Scope and Contents

RIT charter collection includes legal documents related to the establishment of RIT and its precursors. Includes copies of laws, official charters and amendments to the charter.


  • Creation: 1830-1998

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is not 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.

The Rochester Athenaeum was established in 1829 with the "purpose of cultivating and promoting literature, science and the arts." To this end, the organization established a library and sponsored various guest speakers and performers. However, by 1838 the city's Young Men's Association had become the dominant social force in Rochester. Started by Henry O'Reilly, the association was formed in response to the city's economic depression and first murder, committed in 1837. Members promised to help each other maintain a high standard of moral conduct by supporting each other and attending sponsored events such as educational lectures. With the Rochester Athenaeum's numbers continually declining, the two organizations agreed to a merger in 1838, forming the Rochester Athenaeum and Young Men's Association (RAYMA).

Continuing in the footsteps of its predecessors, RAYMA offered members access to a books, reviews, newspapers, and scientific specimens. The organization also sponsored notable guest speakers, such as Elihu Burritt (activist), Chester Dewey (botanist), Edward Mott Moore (surgeon), and Erasmus Peshine Smith (lawyer). In addition to these, members could attend lectures twice a week during the winter season on various educational topics.

To ensure that the organization remained current, a rule was set restricting active membership to individuals under the age of 35. This was to ensure that those who could vote on issues affecting RAYMA were in the organization's target audience and full of fresh ideas. Although RAYMA continued to prosper for some time, O'Reilly's departure from Rochester was a strong blow to the organization. By 1847, RAYMA merged with the Mechanics Literary Association (established 1836) to create the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Association. After several more mergers and name changes the organization became the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1944.


1.75 Linear Feet




Original copies of laws and charters related to RIT.


Arranged by size and then chronologically.

Physical Location

C.S.North Shelf 330

Other Finding Aids

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

RIT Charter Collection

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The volume of the Laws of the State of New York was donated by David Parrish in 2005.

Accession number(s):

Processing Information

Finding aid created by Becky Simmons in December 2011.

RIT charter collection
RIT Archives
Becky Simmons
7 December 2011
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