The Life and Work of Harvey Ellis

Rochester 1877-1885: Life and Work

Later in 1877, Ellis and his family returned to the Rochester area. Harvey and his brother Charles formed their own architectural firm, H. & C. S. Ellis. The firm was responsible for many projects, including the Federal Building (now City Hall) at Church and Fitzhugh Streets. Most accounts seem to agree that Charles had the talent for securing commissions and Harvey did much of the design work.

By 1881, an advertisement in the Union & Advertiser extolled the firm as among "the first in the state."

Domestic Architecture

Early work done by the Ellis firm (according to Manning) possibly included the homes of Professor Asahel C. Kendrick at 301 Alexander Street in 1879 and Professor O. H. Robinson at 272 Alexander Street. The Kendrick home is no longer standing. Early in the 1880's the firm began work on the residences of Alexander Lamberton and Henry Ellsworth on East Avenue.

Lamberton was a Parks Dept. official who had also been involved in other building ventures with the Ellis brothers. His home provides an early and beautiful example of Harvey Ellis' fascination with lightness and airiness in architecture. The brick exterior is softened by tall, curved windows, some of which extend beyond the limits of a single story.

Home of Alexander Lamberton.
Lamberton residence built 1883

The Queen Anne style Ellsworth home (built in the early 1880's) is more fanciful in style. It is more ornate and yet very gracious in appearance.

Home of Henry Ellsworth.
Ellsworth residence

Harvey Ellis did the designs seen below. They could possibly be drawings of his childhood home on Gibbs Street, or they may be drawings of commissions never executed.


Drawings for house.
Drawings for house



Details from drawings

Ellis drawing.

Churches and Schools and Other Public Buildings

The Ellis firm designed at least one area church, Grace Episcopal Church in the Village of Scottsville.

Grace Church.
Grace Episcopal Church

The Ellis firm also worked on plans for school buildings in the cities of Rochester and Buffalo, although it is not certain these were ever brought to fruition.

Floor Plans.
Floor plans for a school

The brothers worked on plans for a police station as well.

Police Station.
Plans for police station

Commercial buildings in Rochester 1877-1885

The Ellis firm also was responsible for a variety of buildings in downtown Rochester. These structures, done in the days of the infancy of the modern skyscraper, show the foresight of Harvey Ellis in styling buildings that were strongly vertical in form, yet were also full of light and airiness due to their tall windows. Semi-circular arches above them added an element of grace even to buildings intended as warehouses.

Nash Building at St Paul and Mortimer Streets in the 1960's.
The Nash Building, built 1885

The location of the Nash Building was the corner of St. Paul and Mortimer Streets. This view shows the building shortly before its demolition in 1967. At the time it was built, it was known as Child's Building.

National Casket Company building.
The National Casket Company, at Court and Exchange Streets

Ellis was responsible for the tall addition seen here to the right. Previously this had been known as the Stein Manufacturing Company. This addition was made in 1887. The Ellis portion has survived and been renovated; it is currently named the Court Exchange Building.

Brewster, Gordon and Company.
Brewster Gordon Company, 43 N. Water Street, as seen in 1904

This Ellis-designed building was described in the Democrat & Chronicle of June 13, 1926:

Harvey Ellis was its architect and the building is more than thirty years old. It looks a bit dingy now but it expresses still the strength and security which a warehouse and factory should express and yet with all its solidarity, the building has grace of its own.
There is no ornamentation, beyond the inset panels at the top. Ellis depended on proportions and massive brick pylons to secure proper effectiveness. He liked always to emphasize the vertical and therein he was ahead of this time, since the modern note in building to-day is accentuation of the vertical. An observer who takes time to mark detail may decide that the great verticals of the building here shown give to it a massive appearance more impressive than that of neighboring buildings which are almost as tall but have not the same solid significance."



Olde Rochesterville.

river side of Old Rochesterville.

183 North Water Street, designed by Harvey Ellis. Left view shows Water Street side, right view shows river side.

The architect Edwin S. Gordon was quoted (in the Democrat & Chronicle of May 30, 1926) as saying about this building:

"Careless in detail, perhaps, but fine in proportion and composition, and beginning to indicate the trend in architectural development which was coming due to changed forms of construction and demands for light and air. You see these ideas expressed now in our present-day industrial plants and our great office buildings."

Gormly Building.
Detail of the Smith Gormly Building, designed by Ellis, on St. Paul Street

Chamber of Commerce Building and the new Archer Building.
Archer Building, designed by Ellis (right in photo)

Platt Street area bought by Eastman Kodak.
The Woodworth Building, designed by Ellis

The Federal Building

The masterpiece of the Ellis firm in Rochester was the Federal Building, which in 1978 became restored for use as Rochester's City Hall.

Federal Building.
The Federal Building, as seen circa 1888

M.E. Bell is listed as the supervising architect, but it is believed that the Ellis firm did much of the design and on-site supervision. This prime example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style was authorized by Congress in 1882 and took nine years to complete. At some point in the course of construction, the design was revised due to additional funding, which undoubtedly delayed the completion. This building was used to house the U.S. Court House and the U.S. Post Office. City Hall moved to this location in 1978. The building was constructed of brown sandstone quarried in Portland, Connecticut.

Federal Building under construction in 1887.
This view shows the building under construction in 1887

City Hall.
Here is a recent image of the exterior showing the building in use as Rochester's City Hall

City Hall Atrium tower.
This interior shot of the building shows the atrium's walls and skylight

Readerfest at City Hall.
Atrium, City Hall

Here, an event is taking place in the atrium. Round arches, columns and highly decorated walls are the hallmarks of the interior. In the 10th anniversary book on City Hall, published in 1988, the interior is referred to as being of "delicate detail and embellished with fine material. Abundant hardwood trim, cast ironwork and marble pillars add visual interest."

City Hall exterior detail.
Detail, exterior, City Hall

This exterior close-up shows the massive stone walls and elaborate decorative detailing. The building abounds in sculptural adornments of various animals and human heads, all hand-carved by Italian masons.

Ellis the Artist: 1877-1885

In addition to his work as an architect and draftsman, Ellis was deeply involved in other forms of artistic expression. He was one of three charter members of the Rochester Art Club in 1877.

Ellis submitted works for the annual exhibitions of the art club. Here is a sample of his illustration work from their 1883 exhibition catalog:

Ellis sketch.
Cutting Corn, listed at $200.00 in the 1883 catalog

Ellis also exhibited this work at the Annual Exhibition of the National Academy of Design in New York City in 1884, and received favorable notice.

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