The colorful history of High Street began in 1853, when the New York Central Railroad first laid tracks through the village of Fairport. The initial tracks were approximately 400 feet further to the north than those in use today. The railroad gained a right-of-way through that portion of the village by purchasing land from the 101-acre farm formerly owned by Solomon Ralph (1778-1843), which extended from Thomas Creek, north to Whitney Road. Solomon’s daughter, Ruth, married Smith Wilbur, and he, in partnership with his brother, Hiram Wilbur, developed the immediate area, first by selling land to the railroad.
Businesses and warehouses sprung up quickly on land adjacent to the railroad. Town documents indicate that the Wilbur brothers began laying out High Street early in 1855, east from North Main Street to Turk Hill Road, through the old Solomon Ralph farm. An 1858 map indicates 14 structures, including businesses, homes and the first Roman Catholic Church, which still stands at 22 High St.
By 1872, about 30 houses had been built on High Street. Most residents were Irish immigrants,
and many were working in local factories, as masons or laborers, or on the railroad. Names on the street included Beilby, Dunn, Downing, Mahoney, Flannagan, Benedict and Tooley. Father Patrick McGrath lived within steps of the Catholic Church.
The east end of High Street was sparsely populated in the 1870s, when land was carved out for a baseball field. As described in the Fairport Herald in July of 1877: “The grounds at the head of High Street have been graded, and in several days they will be fitted up in the most satisfactory manner. Ample seats are being erected and no pains will be spared to give those who favor this national game a chance to witness the highest science to be displayed on the diamond and in the field.” The price for admission was 10 cents for men and no charge for women.
A great wave of Italian immigrants arrived in Fairport in the early 1900s, typically settling on the village’s north side. Construction for the widening of the Barge Canal provided ample employment, as did the railroad and factories in both Fairport and East Rochester. The 1930 census indicates that High Street’s residents were primarily of Italian descent. Names on the street included Santini, Sozio, Pittinaro, Pomponio, Masciangelo, Rizzo, Parini and many others. Almost 300 people were listed as living on High Street in 1930. There were even more in 1940, as the Great Depression lingered on, and economic concerns caused many property owners to take in tenants or members of their extended families.