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Reynolds Library and Reynolds Family records

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: RITArc-0598

Scope and Contents

The Reynolds Library and Reynolds family records provide an overview of the history of the Reynolds family, Reynolds Arcade, Reynolds Library, and the city of Rochester as it developed in the 19th and 20th centuries.

There are news clippings, as well as journals and publications regarding the history of the Reynolds Library and the creation of the Reynolds Reference Library in the Rundel Memorial Building. Materials within this collection date from 1872 to 1984; however a majority of the collection dates from 1927 to 1984. Also included is the Seventh Annual Report of the Reynolds Library, which was published in 1892. Articles that contain extensive history about the Reynolds Library and Estate, as well as the Reynolds Building, are included within this collection, along with a brochure about the Rundel Memorial Building at the Rochester Public Library.

There is a book with the address and sermon from William Abelard Reynolds’ funeral, as well as other memorial papers from 1872. The collection also contains the Will of Mortimer Fabricus Reynolds.This will was executed in 1884 following his death in 1892. There are also drafts and incomplete parts of the will.

Rochester civic engagement strategic plans discuss educational centers in Rochester, the Rochester Museum of Arts and Science, and the combination of museums and educational centers. Various news clippings from the 1930’s to the mid-1980’s discuss history of the Reynolds family and the Reynolds Library. Some reference the planned merger of the Reynolds Library and the Rochester Public Library and the planned merger with the Rhees Library at the University of Rochester after the former option was removed. Others reference the possibility of combining the library with a local museum.


  • Creation: 1872-1984
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1927 - 1984

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to researchers.

Biographical / Historical

Abelard Reynolds (1785-1878) served as the first postmaster of Rochester from the years 1812 to 1829. In 1829, he was replaced as postmaster due to Andrew Jackson’s spoils system. In the same year, he opened the Reynolds Arcade, which served as a commercial and social center for the Rochester community. It housed local stores, businesses, and meeting rooms. Companies such as the Western Union Telegraph Company and Bausch & Lomb started at the Reynolds Arcade.

According to the history of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) website, “Colonel Nathaniel Rochester and other Rochester community leaders founded the Athenaeum, an association ‘for the purpose of cultivating and promoting literature, science, and arts’” in 1829 and it was located in the Reynolds Arcade. The Athenaeum was comprised of a meeting room and a reading room; both often held public lectures and debates. The reading room also had a library that Abelard Reynolds donated to the Athenaeum. The Athenaeum rapidly became part of Rochester’s culture. Retrieved June 2, 2015 from History of RIT:

Abelard Reynolds was the father of William Abelard Reynolds and Mortimer Fabricus Reynolds. William Reynolds founded the Mechanics Literary Association in 1836. William assumed control and management of the Arcade in 1845. The Athenaeum and the Mechanics Literary Associated merged in 1847 and became the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Association. The Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Association merged with the Mechanics Institute in 1891.

Much like their father, both William and Mortimer Reynolds pursued prosperity and enrichment for the community of Rochester. William Reynolds died in 1872. Mortimer Reynolds managed and expanded the library at the Reynolds Arcade as a memorial to his family in 1884. The Reynolds Library served as Rochester’s own public library that was independent from a university. The Rochester Public Library system was not founded until 1912.

After Mortimer’s death in 1892, the collection of books, which contained many rare volumes and priceless periodicals and magazines, was moved to his home on Spring Street. In Mortimer’s will, he made a condition that the Reynolds Library collection was to remain at the house. However in the late-1920’s, the Reynolds mansion was deemed inadequate for housing the collection. Reynolds’ descendants and trustees of the library and the estate did not have enough money to build and maintain a library as an independent entity. They felt the best option for the Reynolds Library was to be associated with other institutions of the Rochester community. They sought association for 3 years. The trustees sought to have the library associated with the Rochester Public Library system and the Rush Rhees Library at University of Rochester (U of R), which had state of the art facilities, after the former option was eliminated. This proposal was also withdrawn due to the dissension of both parties.

In 1931, the City Council of Rochester passed a resolution that contained plans, specifications, and the estimated cost of constructing a feasible building. A portion, $100,000,000, of the cost of this building would be covered by the Rundel Memorial Fund, which was created by Morton W. Rundel’s bequest to Rochester for a library and fine arts building. All other costs would be funded from what the Arcade accumulated in profit and a Public Works Administration (PWA) federal grant. This building would be known as the Reynolds-Rundel Memorial Library, Fine Arts and Science Building. The Reynolds-Rundel Memorial building was proposed to be built at the present Reynolds Library site; however this did not come to fruition. Ultimately in 1933, it was decided that the city was in need of a central library for the Rochester Public Library system. The location chosen was on the Genesee River on South Avenue between Court and Broad Streets. The building would be called the Rundel Memorial Building and within it, there would be the Reynolds Reference Library. In the 1930’s, the Reynolds Arcade was deemed to be hazardous and unfit for use. It was demolished in 1932. However, a building that embodied the feel of the original Reynolds Arcade was built in Art Deco style.

In 1936, the Reynolds Library at Spring Street was closed and all of its collection was transferred to the Reynolds Reference Library at the Rundel Memorial Building. The Reynolds mansion was unoccupied until 1940, when the Reynolds estate sold it to the Mechanics Institute. The mansion and grounds were bought by the Mechanics Institute to be turned into a campus and recreation center for students. However when the USA became involved with World War II, the Mechanics Institute loaned the Reynolds building to the Rochester Red Cross chapter, which held knitting and sewing classes there. In 1944, the Mechanics Institute became RIT. In 1947, RIT proposed converting the mansion into student housing for veterans soldiers, but President Mark Ellingson turned this down. The Red Cross briefly turned the mansion into the Rochester Blood Center, but then purchased a new building to better house all their facilities. In 1949, Dr. Ellingson announced that the Reynolds mansion would be used to house the newly created department of the School for American Craftsmen. The reconstructed Reynolds Arcade was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. An addition to the Rundel Memorial Building named the Bausch & Lomb Public Library Building was added on the opposite site of South Avenue in 1997. Also in 1997, the Rundel Memorial Building underwent a multi-million dollar restoration project. The Reynolds Library served as an early library to the community and provided civic engagement and knowledge to all who wished to seek it. The Reynolds Reference Library at the Rundel Memorial Building of the Rochester Public Library system still provides this today.


0.21 Linear Feet (1 Half-Hollinger Box)




The Reynolds Library and Reynolds family records provide an overview of the history of the Reynolds family, Reynolds Arcade, Reynolds Library, and the city of Rochester as it developed in the 19th and 20th centuries.


Materials arranged chronologically and by series.

Other Finding Aids

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

Reynolds Library and Reynolds Family records

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection is comprised of previously existing materials in the RIT Archives to create a more comprehensive collection about the history of Reynolds Library.

Reynolds Library and Reynolds Family records
RIT Archives
Jenna Bossert
02 June 2015
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