1918 - 1995
©1995, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

It bore the engraved number “1918,” and numerous other spray-painted designs added many years later. Cast in concrete, it was merely a small passageway for pedestrians. It literally allowed movement between Lakeshore Boulevard and the shore of Lake Ontario; both within the boundaries of Durand Eastman Park. But figuratively, it was a passageway back through time.

Back in the days when a trip to Sea Breeze or Charlotte Beach was a major excursion from the center of Rochester, that excursion was made by train. The Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad, more popularly known, for a long forgotten reason, as the “Hojack Line,” once spanned the east to west length of what is now Durand Eastman Park. A lengthy earthen fill provided a level footing across the up and down landscape that glaciers had carved out centuries before; this allowed the steam trains to chug along the sometimes swampy shoreline with minimal effort, but blocked access to the big lake itself. So, as part of the construction of the embankment, or, perhaps, as an afterthought, the passageway was built in 1918. This was the time in which cast concrete became a choice of construction engineers-- particularly for railroad bridges, where it was practical. My limited research tells me that the passageway was set down where it was, at the east end of the park, because there was a trolley line there as well as the steam railroad.

With the coming of the use of the concrete for another purpose-- highway building-- the railroad trains that pounded over the passageway steamed into oblivion, and the rails fixed along the embankment fell into rusty, forlorn solitude. As the iron horse faded from Durand Eastman Park, Lakeshore Boulevard was paved along a parallel path; still not at its full scenic potential as long as the man-made barrier stood between it and the waves of the big lake.

Eventually, what was left of the steel rails and wooden ties was pulled up by the corporate successor of the Hojack Line, and only the long thin earthen fill remained to receive the seeds of nearby grasses and trees and the footprints of deer, rabbits and other lake watchers. Then, sometime in the 1980’s, the western half of the embankment was removed, leaving only the eastern portion and its 1918 concrete artifact. Even so, it was still not difficult to imagine a Hojack summer excursion stuffed with overheated passengers, steaming over the passageway toward the promise of relief in the waters of the big lake-- or, perhaps, a nearby concession stand.

It is gone now. In the summer of 1995, it was decided that the passageway which had stood guard for 77 years should be removed to enable a wider, more generous view of the shoreline. Bulldozers and backhoes and dump trucks clambered in, and in the space of three or four weeks erased the last vestige of the Hojack Line embankment in Durand Eastman Park, as well as the trees and plants that had exercised squatters’ rights upon it. Then, one day, the concrete was gone as well. Judging by the large misshapen fragments of cement and stone that remained about the site for a time, it looked as though the past had put up one last good fight.

Special thanks to William Least Heat Moon, the author of, among other works, Blue Highways, PrairyErth and River Horse-- which I highly recommend to you. This installment was written in 1995, as part of a writing seminar I took that was given by Bill. The experience restarted my creative engine... just as my wife said it would. Bill, may your idiosyncratic detail never stray far from your notepad!