Corner of Castleman and Crittenden
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Col. Crooks’ 8th N.Y. Vol. Cav.
& Irish Brigade of the 105th N.Y.
Vol. Inf. used this county
fairground site as Civil War
recruiting station, 1861-62.
County of Monroe — 1931
What was there
The former Monroe County Fairgrounds, which stretched from what is now Mt. Hope Ave/West Henrietta Rd. on the east, Stanford Rd to the south, and the western boundary being just beyond Castleman Rd. The entrance was near the present day intersection of Raleigh and Mt. Hope. The fairgrounds had a large exhibition ring for showcasing livestock and a barn or two. It was used for large local events, including the County and State Fairs.
It was probably these county fair facilities that attracted the military authorities to choose this site as a recruiting and training encampment, which met its first regiment in 1861. The land was rented to the U.S. Government for a period of two years and saw 4 regiments: The 108th Volunteer Infantry; 105th Infantry Irish Contingent (organized in part by the Rochester Catholic Church); and the 8th and 22nd New York Calvary regiments.
The US Government erected additional facilities on the property, including quarters for 1,000 men, a mess hall, guard house, stables, latrines, and an officers’ quarters. It was laid out so the Officers’ Quarters and guard tower had a view over the south-westward slope and thus the whole camp. It was surrounded by an 8-ft high wood fence. The camp was under the command of Colonel Samuel J. Crooks.
The lease expired in 1862, and despite the military’s need, it decided against taking the land back from the State of New York, which it needed as an ally for further support. The State Fair opened here on October 1, 1862 to great success, catering to over 20,000 visitors a day. The buildings constructed by the military were converted to exhibition houses, showcases, and dining halls.
What is there now
Strong Memorial Hospital and its subsidiaries now dominate the neighborhood of West Brighton, but the hospital itself is actually north of the former encampment. The sign was erected in a high traffic area for visibility, where the school of nursing is, but the camp’s north end was a block to the south. Some medical facilities, such as the Lattimore Community Surgicenter and University of Rochester School of Nursing are within the original Fairground boundaries. Commercial establishments line Mt Hope Ave, with a hair and nail salon at the former entrance to the camp. Much of the area within the old fairgrounds is residential.
- Camp Hillhouse was named after Thomas Hillhouse (March 10, 1817 – July 31, 1897), Adjunct General of New York State (July 1861 until the end of 1862).
- A tavern existed on what is now the corner of Mt. Hope Ave and East Henrietta Rd, and another north of here at the entrance of Mt. Hope Cemetery. Much of the surrounding area was farmland. Soldiers would often patronize these two establishments.
- One 105th Regiment recruit wrote in 1861,
“We are out in the morning at 5:30, and then commences the duties of the day; breakfast at 7 a.m., and after that comes two hours’ drill; then guard mounting, and things begin to assume a warlike appearance; dinner at 12 o’clock, and supper at 5. We are good feeders, and expect to handle our warlike weapons as well, if not better, than a knife and fork.
- The Rochester Daily Democrat and American wrote in November 2, 1861,
The military occupation of the [county fairgrounds] makes a great transformation in its appearance. We found nearly eight hundred men in the camp under the jurisdiction of Samuel J. Crooks, Colonel commanding. The camp presented a lively and animated scene. Squads, detachments, and companies of the men were drilling at different points of the camp. Soldiers newly garbed in Uncle Sam’s habiliments, were marching to and fro, some with the measured tread of the sentry and guard; others, soldiers of a month, were strolling about smoking their Briars, with all the taciturn dignity of the old soldier.“The grounds have a gentle slope to the south and west. At the entrance gate the eye can overlook the whole camp, and a sight meets the view such as has rarely before been seen near our quiet city. On the ￼extreme right are the tents of the Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, and Regimental Officers; these are flanked by the stables for the horses. At the left of the entrance the Secretary’s office is used as hospital, and is under the supervision of regimental Surgeon Dr. James Chapman. To the left of the hospital are the tents of several officers and men, numbering about a dozen. At the extremity of these tents in a line running at right angles, are the wooden barracks. The tents and barracks form a hollow square, the center of which is used as a drill and parade ground. One of the buildings used as a barrack, was the old Floral Hall. The others are temporary structures made warm and tight, of new pine lumber. In the rear of the two barracks are large and commodious dining rooms, the largest of which is one hundred and twenty feet in length, and is sup- plied with five plain pine tables running the entire length of the room, and provided with stationary seats. This room is capable of seating three hundred persons. The other dining room will seat one hundred. In the Historic Marker near site of Camp Hillhouse rear of the dining rooms are the cook rooms. Everything is cooked by steam. O. S. Hulburt [see Camp Porter below], proprietor of the city recess, has the contract for feeding this large family. We had an opportunity to inspect the Cuisine. … We can pronounce the cooking unexceptionable, and the variety, plain, substantial and wholesome. We saw on the table beefsteak, corned beef, boiled cabbage, pork and beans, boiled and roast potatoes, good sweet bread and coffee, with sugar. We ￼￼notice an entire absence of both butter and milk, which in camp life are considered among the superfluities. The dining room presented a motley appearance. Several ladies were present, some of them relatives of officers, who were dining with them. Some were there to take leave of the members of Capt. Cothran’s artillery company, which were to leave in the evening for Albany. Some of the men were shaving at the unoccupied windows, others were writing letters to their wives and sweet- hearts, whom they were leaving, perhaps, destined never to meet them again.
- After Camp Hillhouse was decommissioned, the Adjunct General Thomas Hillhouse set up Camp Fitz John Porter on an authorization dated July 15, 1862, which was along the Genesee River north of here, opposite the University of Rochester Campus. It is now Genesee Riverway Park.
- Rochester Civil War Camps -Padraic Mac Aodhagain
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