Browncroft history begins in Ellison Park, along the banks of Irondequoit Creek. It was more of a river then, as much as a quarter mile wide when the first French explorers arrived in the early 17th century. The famous French explorer LaSalle is said to have traveled into Irondequoit Bay and Creek during his search for an all-water route to the Pacific Ocean in 1669.
Then as, now the natural beauty of the area made a pleasing impression. One of the early French missionaries left this description of the Irondequoit Valley: "a pretty river winds between two fine meadows, bordered with little hills, between which we discovered valleys which extend a great way. The whole forms the finest prospect in the word, bounded by a great forest of high trees." (1)
Browncroft was part of that great forest.
Up to the mid-18th century, the Seneca Indians dominated the area, caring on trade with the strange, new foreigners, using a well-worn trail leading from Irondequoit Creek at Indian Landing to the Genesee River. Boats and supplies were carried along this trail to avoid the falls on the Genesee. It was part of one of the most important overland routes from the East to the Ohio Valley. For well over a century the area was the scene of conflicts involving the Indians, French, English and Colonists.
The Treaty of Paris 1783, which ended the War for Independence, also helped initiate the organized growth of the area. The land, once claimed by the Massachusetts Colony, officially became part of the State of New York and was opened up for trade and settlement. Trade routes developed along Irondequoit Creek to connect the early settlement of Canandaigua with Lake Ontario. Indian Landing became a jump off point for settlers heading west.
John Tryon, a judge from Columbia County, New York, recognized the potential of the area, and bought land in 1797 for a development just north of Indian Landing. This, the first settlement of any size in the area, grew to become the City of Tryon. The center of this "city" was near the corner of Landing Road North and Blossom Road. It proved a good spot for transporting farm products and trade goods from the rapidly developing western region through Irondequoit Bay to Lake Ontario and points east (i.e. Canada, Europe). In time, the settlement grew to include a warehouse five stories high, an ashery, distillery, cabins, a school house, and other buildings. (2)
The City of Tryon began to decline after the death of John Tryon in 1808. During the War of 1812, many of the settlers abandoned their homes after Buffalo was burned by the British and Indians. Though it became active again after the war, it was never to become the thriving metropolis envisioned by its founder. The final blow to Tryon, and the stimulus for the next expansion of settlement within the area, was the completion of the local section of the Erie Canal in 1823. It made the Village of Rochester five miles to the west of Tryon the central focus of the region. At Tryon, activity slowed as traders and travelers took advantage of the easy water highways. By 1833, Tryon was gone. All that remains today is a marker designating the spot in Ellison Park and two homes on Landing Road that were built in 1797 and 1800, one the original Tryon home.
Immediately west of the Irondequoit Creek/Tryon area, three miles east of the village of Rochester and north of the Village Brighton, lay what is now the Browncroft area. These lands lay in the Town of Boyle, which became Smallwood, which later divided into Brighton and Pittsford.
The only "highways" that defined this area in the 1800’s were East Avenue (called "the road that leads to Pittsford"), Winton Road (known then as North Avenue), Merchants Road and Landing Road (called "the road that runs to Canandaigua"). Merchants Road was originally an Indian Trail that was wider by merchants who wanted to connect the mouth of the Genesee River (the Port on Lake Ontario which led to western markets) with Canandaigua via Landing Road.
The intersection of East Avenue and Winton Road became the center of the Village of Brighton. The settlement grew steadily because it was located on the Erie Canal.
Through the 1800’s the area now known as Browncroft was transformed into farms and nurseries for growing fruit trees and vegetable seeds. By 1885, the land was fully occupied, a quiet place for raising families. Its potential and value continued to increase as Brighton and Rochester grew.
In 1894, when the founder of Browncroft, Charles J. Brown, first purchased land in the area, the City of Rochester (which ended at Culver Road) was considering expansion that eventually would incorporate Browncroft - then part of the Town of Brighton.
In 1905 annexation by the City was hotly debated by residents. Brighton over the years had developed its own school, fire departments, police and water supply. However, there was urgent need to rebuild the water and sewer facilities and residents were faced with an increased tax bill to finance the activity. The Blossom Road property owners petitioned the City to be annexed so that they could tie into new City sewer lines. They would also receive, they felt, better public services such as fire protection and schools. Others opposed annexation on the grounds that they had moved to the "country" to avoid city taxes.
Ultimately, on April 5, 1905, a majority of voters approved. The annexed territory ran roughly parallel to Juniper Street and was the first part of the neighborhood to become part of the City. Annexation of more land by the City was debated off and on over the next seven years with no action. However, land value increased and the desirability of "suburban" housing east of the City continued to grow.
The first three months of 1913 featured two events which affected the Browncroft neighborhood for many years. A Democrat and Chronicle headline of January 15, 1912 read "Brighton Residents Object to Gas Tank - Hear That Company Plans to Invade Town." The Railway and Light Company (which eventually became RG&E) had chosen a site south of Blossom Road just east of Newcastle Road past the City line. After a long and bitter debate, an agreement was made between residents and the company. The lighting company stood by its plans to build but agreed to make a 10-acre park around the structure to help make it more visually attractive. The four-story gas tank was torn down in 1977.
Also in 1913, a new annexation plan was unveiled. The City called for incorporation of the area north of Brighton Village, including all of what is now the Browncroft and Elmcroft neighborhoods.
The Brighton Town Board met with property owners at Spies’s Hall (formally known as Hoster’s Hotel), at the corner of Winton Road and Atlantic Avenue. There were 250 people inside and 100 outside the hall. The vote by property owners to oppose the annexation was 85-18. But continuing political pressure by the City, and a change in the annexation plan, turned things around. An amended annexation bill was approved by the State Legislature on March 25, 1913. At midnight January 1, 1914, the City expanded to include all of Browncroft.