Chapter VII: Assembling a Campus
We arranged the formation of a corporation entitled, ""The Basilian Fathers of the State of New York." Dan Macken, our attorney, drew it up. We needed an official body to take title to the land when we purchased it and to serve as the beneficiary of any and all gifts. I was president of the newly-formed corporation. Other members were Basilians at Aquinas who were U.S. citizens or who had been naturalized as I had been. Fathers Oscar Regan, Ray Prince and Bill Duggan were originals I recall. We met a few times in Father Bill Duggan's office at our residence, 402 Augustine Street. Attorney Dan Macken was present at all of our meetings.
Late in July 1947 things were moving nicely. Maginnis and Walsh, the architects, had plans on their drafting boards. Periodically I drove through the beautiful Berkshires to confer in their Boston office on Newbury Street. It was a long, lonely drive from Rochester. Often I hoped to meet a hitchhiker, but only on one trip did I pick up a young serviceman en route to Worcester, on Highway 9.
The progress made between visits to Boston more than compensated for the ennui of the trips. There was an excitement discernible in the architects' offices which matched my own. Several of their staff remarked how it seemed all their other projects were put aside to hustle the Rochester job. Eugene Kennedy of the firm had been assigned the chief designing role. He was a young artistic person who had done some European study prior to employment with Maginnis and Walsh. It was he who sketched the main building with its attractive tower. He had shown it to the older Mr. Maginnis who approved it. The moment I saw it, I was thrilled, Sometime later in my Rochester office where we had displayed some large sketches of the buildings, I was visited by Father Raymond J. Schouten, S.J., then President of Canisius College in Buffalo. He spoke rapturously of the sketches. I thought then that we must have something quite fine when a distinguished Jesuit was impressed.
By early August of 1947 we were almost ready to consummate the purchase of the site. Mr. Parks, owner of the 55 acre tract, had retired as superintendent of the General Railway Signal Company. The general manager of this same company was also the local guardian and the agent of Mrs. Salmon's 15-acre tract, at the intersection of Fairport Road and East Avenue. Evidently there were lines of communication still existent between the old and the present. Mr. Parks, I'm sure, used his influence to have the Salmon representative agree to sell. Reciprocally, the Signal Company manager told Mr. Parks of the price offer I had made for the Salmon tract.
The Fairport Road-East Avenue intersection piece was, in my opinion, worth more per acre than the Parks' tract. Mr. Parks' attorney, Carlton F. Bown, who operated from a wheelchair in his office, was all business, though cordial. There was a space of five minutes when the whole deal hung in the balance. I was thinking of a total of $100,000 for the entire acreage which would mean $70,000 for the 55-acre Parks' farm and $30,000 for the 15-acre Salmon tract. The thought that Parks might not Sell, coupled with the fear of losing all that we had in the hopper at the time, was paralyzing. I could see Parks and Bown were not prepared to yield. My vision of a $40,000 saving quickly dissolved. I thought: perhaps land out that way will be worth much more per acre some day. Either chunk by itself would be inadequate. And then, to top off all the rationalizing: What's $40,000 when you don't have even one dollar? Which, at the time, was true. We didn't have one cent. Somehow we would get it. All the contracts to purchase were duly signed. I signed for the Basilians, the named purchaser.
We would pay $30,000 cash for the 15-acre tract. For the 55-acre tract we would pay $110,000: by cash $10,000 and the remainder spread over a 10-year period. Mr. Parks had some tax considerations. We would allow Mr. Parks to live on the property as long as he and his wife should live. His dwelling there would not interfere with our building plans. He would hold title to a small triangle of land on the south side of Fairport Road. He needed this ownership to qualify him as a member of the district's sewer commission. He would return it to us when his term on the sewer commission expired.
There was to be a token exchange of $1.00. I agreed. Years later, I heard that other surveys showed the non-existence of such a parcel. For Mr. Parks who was so proud to be a citizen of that area, it meant much. To me it meant nothing, except protection from the building of a hot dog stand on the parcel east and south (across the road) from the present main building. It was not the triangle at the intersection on the south and east side now occupied by an office building.
He would continue to collect the rent ($5 a month) from the family which lived in the little dwelling just north and slightly west of the intersection at East Avenue on the 15-acre tract. Few Rochesterians will recall this old one-story farmhouse. Centered in the roof was a parapet structure about 3 or 4 feet high which could have been a lookout tower. When I heard stories about it being an old stage coach stop on the route to Syracuse, I pictured it also as a refuge. Perhaps marauding Iroquois had been up that-away. I had considerable difficulty in having the occupants moved. They claimed some sort of squatter's rights and so we let them stay for a few months. After several notices to leave, which they ignored, I told them we needed the land and to be off the property the next day - or else. They left. Next day I had a bulldozer raze the house and barn. That night there was not a trace of it. The old stage coach inn had made room for the new college.