Would you like to take a walk around Rochester to see what it was like nearly 140 years ago, in 1866? Not much of a place, you might think, being only about 30 years old and just out of the Civil War.

Well, come along, and we'll take a look at it.

To begin with, on the square there is a Courthouse made not of limestone but of brick in the Greek classical style. Around it are plenty of trees, a gazebo for band concerts and a jail building at the rear.

Looking west from the Courthouse across a dirt-surface Main Street, the land is completely unoccupied. Business has yet to locate there, between South and Pearl Streets (Eighth and Ninth today).

There is some commercial activity on the south side of the square along Pearl: a grocery on the corner and east of it toward Madison Street a butcher shop, a bakery and a millinery store.

Beyond Madison there is a cornfield that extends from Madison and Franklin Streets southeast to Perry Street (14th) and even beyond. The field is enclosed with a split rail fence and its Logansport owners have yet to sell any of it for habitation.

Rochester began its settlement on the north near Mill Creek and by 1866 still has most of its business conducted between Columbia (Fourth) and South (Eighth) Streets.

We can see a couple of places operating north of Columbia. There is the two-story hotel and inn of Alex Chamberlain, Rochester's founder. It's at the corner of Main and Mill Creek (Third) Streets. Beyond it is a foundry.

So, if we walk south from Columbia Street (Fourth), here's what we pass: In the first block, on the east side, are a blacksmith shop, two general stores and a saloon. On the west side are a general store, drug store and hotel-boarding house.

By then we're at the corner of Market Street (Fifth) and as we continue our inspection we find on the east side of the street the Wallace Hotel on the corner, a barber shop, two saloons and on the next corner a boarding house. On the west side are two more general stores and a justice of the peace court.

Now we are at York Street (Sixth). On the east side corner is another popular hotel, the Jefferson, and on the west side is a two-story house that's also the office of Dr. Henry Mann (later to be the site of the Times Theatre).

Pausing at the corner of Washington Street (Seventh) we look over the last of the town's business section. On the east corner is a millinery store and beyond it are a restaurant, butcher shop, another restaurant and on the South (8th) Street corner, is Jesse Shields' small general store. (Shields two years later will build there the town's first brick business structure; today it's Community First Bank.)

On the west side beyond Washington Street looking south we pass in front of a book store with dental office above, a confectionery store, a bank, a drug store, dry goods store and, on the corner, a saloon. (The bank in time becomes First National and now is Wells Fargo; the Plank drug store continues in many forms at the same location and today is Webb's.)

South of Pearl (Ninth) along Main Street, we can glimpse only one building, that being the two-story home of Dr. Mann at High Street (13th.) Across from it there is the large county fairgrounds, our first. The entry is on the west side of High and the ground extends west and north to include a half-mile horse racing track and exhibit areas, all enclosed by a high board fence. (The entrance today is occupied by the Catholic Church.)

How can I conduct such a tour, you might be asking about now? It's because of Horace Shelton, a Rochester native who in 1941 charted his boyhood memories of the town and brought it to the offices of this newspaper. Horace was born in 1855 and lived here his entire life. He became a familiar figure when he operated a one-horse dray line and until 1939 was seen daily in the downtown area with his wagon and faithful gray horse, Old Bill.

Horace has left us with a captivating image of long-past days in the history of our town that now is in its 170th year.

Published Aug. 2, 2005