Rochester’s ‘official’ flag is not the one you think it is

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Driving around the city of Rochester, the iconic “Flower/ Flour City” logo is emblazoned everywhere. It serves as tattoos, an instant signifier of City cars and services, and most importantly, this symbol on a flag is a clarion call to evoke hometown pride.

Except …

It’s not “officially” the flag, or symbol, of the city of Rochester. Instead, it’s this:

According to Justin Roj, director of communications with the City of Rochester, this “crane flag” is still the official flag according the city charter, but for all intents and purposes, the heavily branded Flower City logo is the one in use.

It seems as though every couple of years, this flag makes its rounds over the Internet in Rochester, leading to droves of people voicing their generally negative reactions to the flag’s appearance, and questioned how and why this is the flag of Rochester.

One sparkplug of Internet discussion happened about five years ago, when a local couple — to be revealed shortly — starting asking around.

They happened to come across local historian and library assistant Emily Morry, at the place where some of the best historical inquiries begin: the local library. Specifically, in the genealogy division of the Rochester Public Library on South Avenue.

Emily Morry with the Rochester Public Library

“A couple of young eager patrons named Nick and Cheryl came in an wanting to learn about the Rochester City flag, and specified not the blue flag with the Flower City logo,” said Morry, the self-described “huge history nerd,” native Canadian, and lover of her adopted home of Rochester.

“So I did some research and found out that our division is one of two places that still had a flag,” she said.

Following that, she managed to find the infamous flag in a room at the library — presumably close to the size and scale from the ending credits scene of Indiana Jones — and was able to assuage the curiosity of the young and eager Nick and Cheryl.

Since then, they even discovered a second flag that had been flown frequently outside. That version has had its blue dye faded to an off-putting taupe-maroon, and has had its edges torn by wind and the elements.

In front of these flag displayed grandiosely on library tables, Morry relayed its history.

The flag’s history

Morry says the flags were designed over a century ago, 1910. During this era, she describes Rochester as in the throws of “civic boosterism.” Leaders at the time were trying to think of anything they could to prop Rochester higher on the national landscape, particularly as a convention center.

Part and parcel to pride: a flag. The Chamber of Commerce then noted that many cities did not have official flags, so they thought the novelty of a flag would be a good advertising tool. The task to design one fell to a city councilmember.

Shortly after the flag was designed, then mayor Hiram Edgerton issued a proclamation that this flag would be the official flag. However, it took 24 years for City Council to officially adopt the flag.

Morry said that the flag didn’t receive widespread use, and rather was flown at special events, like the opening of the Rundel Public Library in 1936.

“There weren’t a lot of Rochesterians with this flag hanging off of their homes or anything like that,” Morry said.

The flag would remain fairly dormant, and then the introduction of the Flower City flag in 1979 made the crane flag “fade into the public memory.”

The design

Morry calls it a very complicated design, and each color and design has its own symbolism, whether ascribed by the creators, or has its meaning steeped in heraldry — the Medieval system of coat of arms, flags, and iconography — or has a singular connection to something in Rochester.

“There’s a lot of things going on with the flag,” she said.

The colors

  • Blue: represents the city’s water and electric power from the Genesee River and Lake Ontario
  • White: represents the city’s cleanliness
  • Gold: represents financial strength and prosperity

The symbols

  • In the center is a coat arms, which Morry says possibly dates back to 1558 and Rochester family coat of arms in Essex
  • The crane on top of the crest represents vigilance
  • The three crescent moons represents fertility and prosperity
  • The black bar is a symbol of knighthood

All of these symbols are ancient in origin and many of them, the crane, for example, has little connection to Rochester, and rather stems from this Medieval system.

So, it maybe reasonable to conclude that the reason this flag faded — figuratively and literally — is its lack of connection to Rochester…

Which in contrast, makes the current logo and flag a symbol of connection and pride.

The Flower City logo and flag

“The Flower City logo and flag started really being used predominately in the 80s by Major (Thomas) Ryan, and now it’s ubiquitous throughout City government,” said Roj. “It is, in essence, the symbol of our City.”

Standing just outside City Hall where the interview with Roj took place, that fact is proven true again and again, all within a stone’s throw. The bright blue pride flies high, the symbol is on City Hall’s doors, on the parking garage across the street, and on multiple City garbage cans.

Roj says that the designer of the flag is not officially known, but the design incorporates the dual “flower/flour city” history of Rochester. It combines the water powered mill stones on the Erie Canal, with the flowers of the City, including the Lilac Festival.

So all this begs the question…

Why is it still our “official” flag?

“We’re already doing it in practice,” Roj said, addressing the fact that the Flower City flag is “for all intents and purposes the official flag.”

Roj did however quickly said in the interview that it is indeed trademarked by the City. While he says that their enforcement of the trademark is usually lax, they do occasionally have to defend it.

He added that the City itself isn’t tackling the issue because “there are bigger fish to fry,” but said that if any City Councilmember introduced legislation to officially make the change, City Hall would be supportive of it.

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