3rd in a 9-part series

It is evident from her prose that Catherine Hamill, author of Fortune Magazine's 1936 article about Rochester, became entranced with the city and its inhabitants during her four-week stay here. Yet the full extent of her wonderment never will be known. She told Hugh Barnhart, editor of The News-Sentinel, that she turned in a manuscript of 20,000 words to her editors, who reduced it to 9,000 to fit the space allotted. Thus, many of her personal observations of local people and their lifestyle were lost forever.

If the missing parts were anything like those contained in today's third nstallment of the article, the loss is indeed regrettable, for here she begins to deal with local personalities. FYI: Percy Smith was the father of Mrs. Jane Miller, Brant McKee the father of Bill McKee, Jimmy Coplen the great-grandfather of Bill Coplen, Boyd Peterson the father of Mrs. Lorene Rauschke and Mrs. Engrid Brown, and, Swamp Root was a popular elixir said to improve liver, kidney and bladder functions.



Two young farmers from down near Athens lean up against the iron rail on the corner beside the First National Bank and look diagonally across to the courthouse. The tower clock strikes five long booming strokes. The bank door opens and clicks shut again and Percy Smith, the banker, stands there at the corner. "Hi, Perce." He turns to talk to the farmers. Percy hopes it isn't going to rain tomorrow because he wants to get out on the river and go fishing; the bass and redeye are biting good and he's been working so hard he hasn't had a chance to get out, didn't even get home today for lunch, and is only ready to quit now, two hours after closing time. There are always a lot of people from the farms out around the county who want to see him on Saturday.

Percy Smith is young, about 40, a careful, conservative banker who inherited from his father the bank his grandfather started in 1866. He doesn't take chances with anybody's money, including his own. He and his wife, who was Myra Paramore, and their daughter, Jane, live comfortably and simply in his father's big, green, wide porched house just two blocks west of the bank. He's got to go back there now before he goes out to the lake (Lake Manitou, a mile east of town) because his wife has driven up to Chicago for the day - won't be home until suppertime - and he wants to see that the new maid has cleaned up the house all right. The last one packed up her things and went back to the farm when she heard Mrs. Smith talking about going to a dance. It's a hard matter to find a maid. There are only a few in town and they have mostly come, untrained, from the country and are just as likely as not to call their masters and mistresses by their first names.

Percy goes on around the corner toward home, and the young farmers move back along Main to the Tom Thumb for a glass of beer while they wait for their families. Some of the farm kids have gone down to the fire station in the city hall to look at the two fire trucks and are disappointed when the chief, Art Smith, won't pull the siren for them. The women have gone down to Wile's to buy piece goods for the children's clothes and maybe pick up a cheap ready-made dress or two.

Ike Wile, the leading merchant of Rochester, has been busy in the store since 7:30 this morning and will be there till midnight, genial and shrewd, moving through the store from one department to another, watching the women pawing through the racks of dollar and dollar-ninety-five cottons and the more expensive silks and crepes. The salesgirls do the first talking and showing, but Ike is there to advise his customers, to criticize their choices, to lecture them on styles and prices. He jokes about the society women who go 100 miles up to Chicago to buy dresses at Field's when they could have gotten the same thing cheaper here. But at that he isn't worried about business - the ladies' ready-to-wear grows every year, and there's always a steady demand for yard goods, notions, linoleum, bed ticking and valises. Last year he did $150,000 worth of business. He can't complain.

The women go out of the store talking about what a good man Ike is, how even if he is rich and lives in a big brick house on South Main and belongs to the Country Club, he's easy to deal with and generous when anybody's in trouble. They carry their bundles back along the block opposite the courthouse, nudging each other when they pass a group of summer people in shorts and slacks. They go into Dawson's drugstore on the corner for a bottle of Swamp Root and they stand there at the end of the soda fountain waiting until Mr. Dawson gets through making up a prescription and selling a bathing cap.

While they wait Mr. Dawson's granddaughter, Carolyn Barr, comes in and joins a couple of girls she knew in high school sitting, cool with backless dresses and bare legs, at a table in the back of the store. Carolyn is home from Northwestern, where she graduated with a Phi Beta Kappa key at the head of her class, and she's terribly thrilled because she has just heard that she has a job as a secretary to the editor of the Chicago Times. Her grandfather treats her and her friends to Coca-Cola and he stays listening to their laughing talk while his partner, Mr. Coplen, waits on the customers.

Carolyn and the girls go out and get into her father's roadster. She waits until they have driven past the Courthouse and are going along Ninth Street toward the lake before she lights a cigarette - not because she minds being seen smoking in public but because Mrs. Dawson, social leader, regent of the D. A. R., active worker in the Baptist Church, doesn't quite like the idea of women smoking, and Carolyn is considerate of her grandmother's feelings. It's different with her mother and father, of course. Guy Barr and his wife, who was Mary Dawson, have traveled a lot and have sophisticated ideas about things like that.

The two farmers' wives get their Swamp Root and go out and across the street, along past the new Farmers & Merchants Bank and the News-Sentinel building with the crayoned bulletin pasted on the front window, to their car parked alongside the old hitching rail by the post office. They sit and wait for their husbands. They hear the noise and talk and whooping from Chamberlain's beer parlor - "stags only" - around the corner and they see Brant McKee and the other mail carriers coming back with the last pickup, which will be sent over to the Erie depot in Jimmy Coplen's taxi in time for the eastbound train.

They see Boyd Peterson, the sheriff, sitting on the front porch of his house, which is also the jail, across from the post office. And finally they see their men come, lounging along the street. The men stop to stick their heads into Chamberlain's and call out to their friends, and then they come along sheepishly and get into the car and head for home.

Published February 20, 2001