4th in a 9-part series

Today's fourth installment of Fortune Magazine's 1936 article about Rochester features a detailed examination of the city's social structure. First, however, Saturday's busy farm visitors are followed into their nightime activities before they head for home. FYI: The existence of local.

brothels was a subject that The News-Sentinel later acknowledged had been "treated frankly" in the article, and, the Mrs. Hawkins mentioned here was my maternal grandmother.

The reporting team Fortune sent to Rochester included two others besides writer Catherine Hamill. Arriving a bit later than she did were artist Maitland de Gogorza and photographer Norman Taylor. de Gogorza, who taught art at Smith College in Massachusetts, set up his studio at the Barrett Hotel, now the Ace Hardware location at Seventh and Main Streets. There he would complete the watercolor paintings of city scenes that accompanied the published article. Taylor, British by birth, roamed the city and its environs for photos, adding individual portraits at Ms Hamill's direction.

Plenty of farm families stay in town for supper and the movies and more shopping. They eat at Hoover's or the Coffee Shop or Thompson's Tavern or Mrs. Hawkins's cafe. At Hawkins's they leave the tables to the town clients and sit up at the counter under the slow paddle-wheel fans and eat oven steaks, fresh fried potatoes, buttered corn, peach pie, and coffee for 40 cents. They gossip with Mrs. Hawkins while they eat and she puts a dab of vanilla ice cream on the children's pie free, and they all feel good about that and go out smiling, letting the screen door slam behind them.

After supper they go to either the Rex or the Char-Bell movie theatre. Maybe they'll go to the long and narrow and smelly Rex because it's showing a western and it charges only 15 cents. The Char-Bell was named for one of the founders, Charles Krieghbaum (who now runs the liquor store), and his wife Mattie-Belle. It is owned now by Krieghbaum's brother, Lisle, who couldn't be hired to show a Mae West film in his theatre. The people of Rochester, he says, want clean movies, good wholesome comedies, and they don't mind paying 20 cents for them. Shirley Temple is the favorite star, replacing the late Will Rogers, and other popular players are Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Joe E. Brown, Dick Powell. Dick got his start in the show business with Charlie Davis's orchestra right out here at the lake.

After the movies the farmers wander again along the bright streets, their women drooping and their children whining, until the stores close at midnight. Then the family men take their wives and kids home. But many a young farmer stays in town, hanging around pool halls and bowling alleys, sometimes starting enough of a brawl in one of the beer parlors to make the cops, Roy Hupp and Paul Whitcomb, who take over Chief Sheets's duties at night, step in and warn them to shut up or go home. They hang around sometimes, talking and drinking and eating hamburgers and popcorn, till dawn and drive back to their farms as the sun comes up hot on the flat horizon.

Long before all the farmers have driven back home, leaving the downtown streets empty and wide again, the citizens of Rochester have gone to their homes in one or another section of town. A few furtive men have left the bars and pool halls not to go home but to sneak through alleys and across the Nickel Plate to the two or three houses along the narrow creek where the town prostitutes live. It's kind of risky in a place where everybody knows what everybody's doing, and men with any reputation to maintain would rather go down to the red-light district in Logansport (pop. 18,000), 23 miles away, but there are always a few to patronize the local girls here on the other side of the tracks.

Home across the tracks and along the unpaved streets of the gashouse section and Iceburg (after a family named Ice) go hard-faced, discouraged men and slattern women carrying dirty sleeping children. They walk without talking and go silently into their dark, unpainted shacks. They are the shiftless, the improvident of the town, and many of their names appear on the County Poor Relief and WPA rolls. They rent their ramshackle houses for 4 or 5 dollars a month or live in tar-paper shanties they have built in vacant lots.

Not all of Rochester's poor live in one section; they are pretty well scattered around the edges of town, and the one Negro, one-armed Bob Rickman, lives over an old store building on North Main, alone since his white wife died. He picks up odd jobs here and there and he is an accepted part of life in Rochester. He was born here, went to school here, and on the street people speak to him in as friendly tones as they use to anyone else in town.

To the frame bungalows and two-family houses in the southeast section and fanning out all along the fringe of the swell part of town come the laborers - but half of them are unemployed - and the clerks and skilled workers, the small businessmen and the retired farmers. Among them are a few foreigners, but most of them are of the English, Scotch and German stock that came to Rochester 100 years ago from western New England, Pennsylvania and New York. They are solid citizens of Rochester, thrifty and simple and conservative, church members and good neighbors. They come back to modest comfortable homes set behind the row of trees along the street in patches of ground big enough for vegetable gardens out back.

The laborers' families (there are 500 of them in town) may live on as little as $500 a year. Rents are as low as $5 a month (average for the whole town is only $17). Clothes are cheap, and the biggest expense is food, which costs as much as it does in Chicago or any midwestern city. These families drive old cars, and the women take in washing or sewing, and the children deliver papers after school, or knock on the screen doors of the big houses to ask can they cut the lawn for a quarter. It is in this group that most of the comparatively large number of divorces occur (32 in 1935).

Above the laborers but, like them, a solid part of the base of Rochester's social pyramid are the 300-400 moderate well-to-do families, the clerks and little shopkeepers and retired farmers, who have incomes of from $1,000 to $2,500 a year, who belong to the lodges instead of clubs, who drive their cars for three years instead of one, who play softball and pool instead of golf and bridge, who may or may not own their own homes.

And at the top of the pyramid are the 100 or more families with incomes ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 (maybe three or four of them have as much as $10,000) who live in the best section of town and belong to the "best" (Baptist and Methodist) churches and own their own homes - rich with stained-glass windows and overstuffed chairs and damask drapes and marble statuettes - and their cottages at the lake and late-model cars. They buy their clothes in Chicago and they may go to Florida in the winter or to New York for a week of theatres. Their men go fishing and hunting. Their children take music lessons from Professor Ben Brandenburg and go, when they leave high school, to Indiana or Purdue or DePauw or Northwestern. The heads of these families have in most cases inherited their businesses and professions, along with their homes and beliefs and social standing, from their parents. They are the prominent citizens, the leaders of the town.

Published February 27, 2001