Hear UR
Hear UR

Season 3, Episode 2 · 2 years ago

Episode 301 - A New Hope


In Episode 301, Hear UR goes through the foundations of the short lived Rochester Fast Ferry. With the help from former Mayor of Rochester William A. Johnson, we get to understand what was really happening in Rochester during its Fast Ferry boom. 

Welcome to here you are season three. I'm your host, Tom Fischmann, and today, to kick us off, we have in the studio Eleanor Leano. Eleanor say hello, hi, guys, welcome. Okay, Eleanor, so, I am new to Rochester. I've only been here three years. You, on the other hand, grew up here, and one thing I've learned being new to Rochester is don't talk about the fast fairy. For sure it's kind of a taboo topic growing up in this area. I came here in two thousand and six, so it was right after the faery failed, and I have some super vivid memories of not only my parents but random elementary school teachers discussing this fairy and how it had taken their tax dollars and all this crazy stuff happened and it's kind of a meme. Yeah, you've mentioned fast fairy and people will just lose it. So wait. Oh, yeah, so if you were to explain the Rochester ferry to somebody not from Rochester, how would you do it? Well, do you know the simpsons? Yeah, of course, who doesn't know the Simpson? I love the simpsons. Every day after school I would come home and watch the simpsons with my dad and watching the simpsons in two thousand and six as this whole fast, very thing was unfolding, I kind of started to notice some similarities, in parallels between the episode and marge versus of Monterrail and the fast ferry. Yeah, wait, what, it's been a while. What happens in that episode? So it's a really great one. But basically springfield is and shambles, as it always is, and this man, this huckster con man named Lyle Lanley, comes through, noticing that Springfield has a lot of money to spend on some sort of public project. You know, it's an with money. Is a little like the mule with a spinning wheel. No one knows how he got it and danged of the knows how to use it. And he brings this idea of a monoail. People are very skeptical at first. They have a lot of criticism, but he is a very, what's the word, confident man, and he manages to convince them through song, like the music, exactly like the music man I hear. Those things are awfully loud.

Lies as softly as a cloud is dead. A junch. That's that could bend, not on your life, my Hindu friend. What about US Brandon Slobs? You'll be given coushy jobs where you shin here but the geble. But is that what happened in Rochester's that the best way to understand it? This conman came to town and took the city for millions of dollars and left it with nothing. Well, that's the way that we like to think about it now in two thousand and nineteen people of Rochester, but in reality what actually happened was quite different, and the one way to really know how it actually happened is through one man, Bill Johnson. Our story begins in November of two thousand and nineteen in retiner studios at the University of Rochester. Well, my former name is William a Johnson Junior, known by many people as Bill, and I am a forty seven year resident of the city of Rochester, Native Born Virginia, came here to work and stayed. Most importantly of all, Johnson was the mayor of Rochester during the fairies rise and fall. So I'm a graduate of Howard University in Washington, DCI, or two degrees. They are in political science and the mid S I left graduate school and moved to Flint, Michigan, when flint was a prosper city in that one thousand nine hundred and sixty seven. I then went to work for the local Urban League affiliate and Flint, which was at that time one of the largest in the country. became the deputy director and after about twenty months on that job, as successfully interview for the head job here in Rochester and I moved to Rochester in December seventy two to begin a twenty one year tenure as the CEO of the Urban League of Rochester. When Johnson was elected mayor in...

November of one thousand nine hundred ninety three, he was the first Urban League president to become the mayor of the city he had worked over. And when Johnson was elected the first black mayor of Rochester with the seventy eight percent majority vote, it was beyond surprising. It was a feat. Not only did Johnson run his own campaign, it was his first time running for any sort of political office. Here are some of Johnson's thoughts on the campaign and election. It was highly competitive. There were eight other Democrats who announced for that vacant position at a time. We got the primary day. We've gotten down to five. I was not the presumptive favorite. I was actually the underdog in that race, but I think we ran an excellent campaign. It was one based on information, based on substance, based on tackling problem. If elected, I will focus on these several major challenges in the city, public education being one, public safe to be in the other. So I put this out on a booklet and we tested it and we said to the citizens, you can read this booklet in thirty minutes and we were amazed at their number requests. Thousands of people requested that booklet. I kind of got the reputation as being the serious candidate, the non politician, because I had never held any political office before. Though Johnson was considered the underdog, he won. At his inauguration he was celebrated as the first black mayor of Rochester, the Marshall Douglas Student Choir saying Hallelujah and the Rochesterian poet Arthur Brown recited Sterling Allan Brown's strong men, a poem depicting the long journey since slavery. Strong men, I take the title from the line by Carl Sandberg the strong men...

...keep coming on. Well, it was a great day of celebration. You know, it was really a turnipoint, first time and almost a generation that ranchester had a new mayor and a new Canon mayor. So we had grand series of celebrations. People were ready. Overall, Johnson's inauguration was an event of unity for the Rochester community and people had high hopes for his period in office. In an interview with the Democrat and chronicle and a Doser, a city resident who played organs at the same church Bill Johnson attended, said it's a historic day in a day I will never forget. But it's not only going to be because he's a black mare but because he's a mayor for the people. When Bill Johnson first entered office, Rochester was stagnating. In one thousand nine hundred and ninety three, Munroe County's crime rate was on the rise. In fact it was the second highest in the state behind New York City. Despite the Rochester School Reform Movement of one thousand nine hundred and eighty seven, little had improved for the Rochester city schools during this period. Dropout and suspension rates were on the rise, while test scores fell. Rochester's one of those six fiscally dependent cities. So that means that each of us, New York, Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse in Yonkers, all have to provide a significant amount of fat answers to the school bill. Johnson had many goals, but some of his main focuses included improving the city schools, erasing the city's projected seventeen million dollar debt and creating jobs in revenue for Rochester. At the beginning of his mayor will tenure, Johnson was searching for the perfect remedy to the issues plaguing Rochester. And then a solution sailed through the door. One day. A gentleman came to my office from Toronto named William Wilkinson. He was the reason that they we ever started discretion about the fast fare.

He came representing wealthy interest in Canada and he said, you know, fifty sixty years ago they used to be at regular ferry service going back and forth between Rochester and Canada. We want to reinstitute that service. The idea of a ferry service was not new in Rochester. Back in one thousand nine hundred and seven, another service reversed the Great Lake. It was called the Ontario car ferry company. And it connected Rochester to the industrial Canadian city of Coburg. The two ships, Ontario one and two, carried rail cars fill of grain, coal and timber over the lake, but not passenger passenger transit was later added as a way to increase profit, but the fairies main purpose remained cargo transport. Both fairies ran until nineteen fifty two, when cold prices increased after the Second World War and legislation mandated in an increase in pay for fairy crew members, making it impossible to keep the vessels running. Ironically enough, the founder of Ontario Ie died on the titanic in nineteen twelve, sinking to the bottom of the ocean along with the mighty ship. After nineteen fifty two, there was no fairy connecting Rochester and Toronto. Though there had been some talk of a new fast ferry linking the two cities, no one had officially brought it to the table, fearing that it would be too expensive and difficult a project to fund. This was not the case in other parts of North America. Around the late nineteen nine s and early two thousands, the US and Canada experience a fast fairy boom. New York City is the most famous place where fairies run on a regular basis. Seattle has fairies of run, but there are a lot of places that were considering starting or reinstituting ferriser. There was a service on Lake Michigan. They built a smaller boat for...

...that venture. Cities including Hartbird in ninety six, Vancouver in Ninety Eight, Honolulu and O one, Sheboygan, Wisconsin and Oh for and New Brunswick, New Jersey in o five, all launched their own fairy lines, though other cities were joining in on the fast ferry craze. Mayor Johnson's choice to champion a ferry service was bold but also very risky. When William Wilkinson brought his idea to the table, the resurrection of the Old Rochester Toronto ferry began. To Bill Johnson, the fast ferry was one avenue to bettering Rochester and its surrounding areas in a myriad of ways. The state of New York came up with the idle of New York campaign. All right. That was, I think, in the mid S, and they put money behind it. So every major men is proud of trying to Figu out how to get a piece of that money. So they really forced us into a serve an asset identification exercise. What are your assets? Where do you have to market? How do you market your particular region? Then we began to look at the fact that on all we develop a number of festivals. This became a huge festival community, starting with the Lilac Festival in the spring, and we hay a Park Avenue Festival, we have corneeld festivals and then people begin to fill in those things. So we said, Oh, all of these become inducements to get more people to come to Rochester. Johnson dreamed of transforming the reputation of Rochester and wish to transform it into an appealing city, somewhere that people would want to visit and tour. The city was lacking easy and expensive transportation to and from Toronto, and a fast ferry could bring business, economic and tourist success to the city. In the past, Charlotte had already proven itself a viable candidate for a tourist spot. In one thousand eight hundred and eighty four, an amusement park was built on Ontario beach by the New York Central Railroad.

It featured three major hotels, band concerts, a garden tour and, of course, the beautiful boardwalk. In the turn of the twentieth century, the port of the Chlatte, of the port of ratchers, who used to be called a coney island of the West. It was our big amusement area, okay, and then it burned down and it was never restored. I've been to the port several times this summer. Most people don't consider ratches to waterfront city. While Charlotte no longer hosted an amusement park, it was still a viable transportation hub, with three major river lines meeting there, as well as ships transporting passengers from Canada. In Johnson's mind, the fast ferry would redevelop Charlott, reviving the town in a way it had not seen since the days of the Amusement Park. The perceived benefits of the fast ferry outweighed whatever large risks may have been present. After agreeing to bring the idea forward, the only thing in his way was the taxpayers opinions. When Johnson brought the posal to city council, he was financially supported by Wilkinson and his successful Zeros colleague Leo Smith. They were so supportive of the fairy idea that Wilkinson said. Investors are so confident about the project that they are predicting they will eventually need to buy a third fairy. What is going to make this a success is it's different from anything that's been tried before. Smith and Wilkinson ended up being the original investors to the project. However, when it came from time to meet and bring the idea to fruition, they were nowhere to be found. Johnson looked for a plan B. So we began to explore various sources of funding to do that and we enlisted support of our congressional delegation at the time, Senator Clinton, Senator Schumer and congresswoman slaughter. We're very engaged,...

...and congresswoman slaughter herself got over fifteen million dollars so we could dredge the harbor so that we could actually bring a boat in that size could come into the port of Rochester. So all of that activity was going out. I won't bore you with the details. Well, it resulted in over a hundred and fifty million dollars worth of investment. That was here mark for the fast fairy project. Okay, unfortunately for Johnson, not everyone was on board. Taxpayers were unsure about investing this much money into such a high risk expenditure. There were other projects going on, including renovating the local soccer stadium, updating the zoo and building a new performance art center for children. And response to these concerns, Johnson sought to reassure the public from the business side of things. Peter Green, a fairy company spokesman, was concerned about Rochester's lack of appeal to tourists. We've drawn more Americans to draw into then Torontonians to America, and that's what may happen in Rochester. To prove Green's point, even today Rochester remains an unpopular attraction for Canadians. In late two thousand and eighteen, Air Canada canceled all flights between Toronto and Rochester, citing a lack of ticket sales. Green was not the only person wary of Canada's lack of involvement with the project. Rick Berman it concerned. Rochester resident, told the Democrat and chronicle I think it's a huge risk. If we had mutual encouragement and financial support from Toronto, I would be much more supportive, but I don't see that happening. Nothing is proven. To take this risk it's a huge gamble. The newness, the novelty, is going to wear off in a couple of years. We had a casino, that's a much better bet. At least that way we would have something for people to come to. Rick Dona...

Frio, fifty one from Brighton, voiced a similar sentiment. People have got to have a reason to come here and residents have to benefit. We've wasted the lake all these years. Why waste money on the ferry when we can use it to fix up the water from Johnson was determined to gain supporters as he continued on his journey to make the fast ferry a reality. He was able to garner lukewarm support from some big names, like US Senator Chuck Schumer. This plan puts us back on track to restart the engine of the Rochester fast ferry and I'm going to do all that I can to see that it succeeds. Humor understood that Johnson's project had potential but a need a lot of work in order to succeed. Humor understood the politics of funding and the work necessary to make big public projects happen. In the late spring of one thousand nine hundred and Ninety Eight newspaper reports showed that the fast fairy had entered the public eye. At this point there are many people who joined Johnson in support of his venture. To many, this was an opportunity for the city to gain more jobs, get a financial boost and revamp the port town of Charlotte. Johnson's pride resonated with many Rochesterians. Rochester resident John Kuren, aged fifty six, told the Rochester Democrat and the chronicle the fast fairies an opportunity for heritage tourism to thrive on the west side of the city. Creates an opportunity for an old neighborhood built and develop his story district museums and for a trolley service. It's ris benefit, but the benefit is worth the risk. It's important to have an entrepreneurial spirit behind it. Chris Muscarrella, thirty five, had similar thoughts. I think it's an excellent idea to have the city run the ferry. Not Many fairies are run by municipalities. Once Johnson and the city council had received approval to move forward, they proceeded with the next step...

...finding an operator to run the port and it's ferry in two thousand. Johnson and the city council issued a request to thirty nine companies for an operator to run the port and the two proposed fairies out of the thirty nine companies for responded to express potential interest. The city asked these companies to write written proposals. At only one company responded. Their name was Canadian American transportation systems, or cats. Despite the potential risks and controversy surrounding bringing the ferry to the table, Johnson went forward with the project in the hopes of finding a way to drastically improve Rochester and its surrounding areas, as we've heard. A look back at Johnson's Ordins in the city paint a less sinister picture. Johnson says Rochester was jes worked for economic development. So when dominant delucia and Brian Prince were the only ones who stepped up on the fairy project, the city went for it. This project, we worked on it diligently to bring it to the market to succeed. I have never been a stable. I'll just content to be dream even if I could have fought a stable, I would take the ferry boat every time. This has been. Here you are a podcast from the Department of History at the University of Rochester. The lead researcher for this episode was Margaret Brennan. This episode was produced by Eleanor Leano and sound engineered by Ben Horne. Our narrator for this episode was Elean or Leno. The coordinating producer for this season of here you are is William Gucios. The executive producers are Thomas Fleishman and Steven Ressler. Music for this episode was provided... Pottington Bear and the tongue. Johnson's dream was composed and played by Elean or Leno. Our theme song, the Faerry Boat serenade, was written by Harold Adamson, Mario Penzeri and Eldo de Lazaro and arranged by Elean Orleano. It was performed by Elizabeth Tie, Lauren Bales, Elean or Leno and Dr Bell and engineered by Ethan Wins. A big thank you to Mariville Johnson for agreeing to be interviewed for this podcast. The production team at here you are would also like to thank the following people and organizations. Thank you to Michelle Finn and the Rochester Public Library for their guidance and access to newspapers and research materials. Thank you to colleen law and W RO OC channel eight for access to their extensive newslips, thanks to Melissa mead from rare books and collections at the University of Rochester for her insight into proper research methods and practices, and especial thanks Sandra Nipsel for interview advice, so Fiato car for Social Media Tips and Janelle Hart for her graphic design work. For more information on this episode, including images, additional links, transcripts, as well as the rest of the season three visit. Here you arecom thanks for listening to music. is so much every on the up. Girls are sweetheart sorrows, happy as we think together, happy as we seem together, happy with the Fay boat. Seven.

In-Stream Audio Search


Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (26)