Monday, October 21, 2013

Linden Street

John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

Linden Street gets short shrift when people think of downtown. It’s one block long, traffic only runs one way, and half of the eastern side of the street is a concrete wall. It’s a passage to somewhere else, and its only good quality is the drive-up letter boxes for the post office.

1890 insurance map of Linden Street, with west side on top.

Rubbish, I say. Geographically, Linden Street is the heart of downtown. While it hasn’t been extensively photographed, there are plenty of records of the street’s business activity. Sanborn fire insurance maps show both physical change over time – when buildings were erected, changed, or demolished – and change in use. The 1890 map shows manufacturing (Geneva Optical Works, a printing company), public protection (Hydrant Hose fire house at 217), and retail businesses. There were still a few houses (dwg. = dwelling) on the north end of the street as well.

This map shows a connection from 15 Linden Street to 28 Seneca Street. Funny story about that. In the 1880s, the owners of J.W. Smith Dry Goods owned both buildings and wanted to build a second-story connection. Village code forbade building a structure over driveways…so the Smiths did it in the middle of the night, and the village let it stay. (The story seems a little suspect – how much work can you get done in one night? – but it’s a good one.) J.W. Smith maintained a Linden Street storefront for decades; many people recall using it as a cut-through to Seneca Street, or vice-versa, in bad weather.

Color slide of the J.W. Smith storefront on Linden Street, around 1950s.

I won’t indulge in an address-by-address history of the street, but it’s always been active. C.S. Burrall Insurance Agency. Farmers & Merchants Bank (later Geneva Savings Bank). Joseph “Soufa” George’s shoe repair and hat cleaning. A variety of real estate and law offices.

[Natural foods store and shoe shining] A natural foods restaurant next to Soufa George’s shoe shining, both in the Fairfax Building near Castle Street

Linden Street has been, and is, a place to try different businesses. In the past, it has had the New Delhi Natural Food restaurant and juice bar, the Geneva Food Co-op, and Café Cabana, a Carribean-style restaurant. Now, the Geneva Savings Bank, long vacant, is a special events and arts space, and 38 Linden (once the office of Ontario Coal Company) is Microclimate Wine Bar.

“Quaint”, “side street”, “hidden” – call it what you will, but Linden Street has always been an important part of downtown Geneva.

1 comment:

  1. I think the slide that is labeled "the JW Smith storefront on Linden St. in the 1950s" is mislabeled - it appears to be the shoeshine and integral food store. I remember the Linden St. entrance to Smith's fondly. It opened into the bookstore section where I would eagerly look for Nancy Drew volumes to purchase at $2 each as I recall. I could swear there was a tearoom of some sort when I was very little - would have been the late fifties. But the crown of Smith's for me was the pneumatic tube system that brought your change to you. Not as fancy as that in Keilty's - there's was visible, not behind walls - but still astonishing to a youngster.