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Greece Historical Society Awarded Grants to Study the Life and Architecture of Thomas W. Boyde, Jr., Rochester’s First African American Architect

Greece Historical Society House


Link to Images of Thomas W. Boyde, Jr. and His Work: (See captions below.)

Greece, N.Y. - The Greece Historical Society (GHS) is the recipient of two grants totaling $30,000 to fund a Cultural Resource Survey of the architecture of Rochester’s first African American architect, Thomas W. Boyde, Jr. The grants were awarded by the Preservation League of New York State and their program partners at the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and the Rochester Area Community Foundation. The organizations are pleased to help fund this important work.

Thomas W. Boyde, Jr. was Rochester’s first and foremost African American architect. He was a prolific designer of Mid-Century Modern homes and businesses, but also did significant work designing buildings for economically disadvantaged communities. Several of Boyde’s projects have been lost to demolition or have been severely altered. This survey will help identify his buildings, calling attention to them and hopefully averting further losses. Boyde’s built work spans across Western New York, including several houses in the town of Greece.

A $15,000 Preserve New York grant from the Preservation League and NYSCA and a $15,000 Preserving Historical Assets Vitality Grant from the Rochester Area Community Foundation will enable the Greece Historical Society to hire a project team that includes: architectural historian Katie Eggers Comeau and architect Christopher Brandt from Bero Architecture PLLC; independent historian and historic preservation consultant Jeffrey A. “Free” Harris from Hampton, Virginia; preservation consultant Gina M. DiBella of Greece; and research assistant Alexis Rivers, a 2020 graduate from SUNY Geneseo, to complete this survey.

“Thomas W. Boyde Jr. is one of the most notable and accomplished architects of the mid-twentieth century in the Greater Rochester Region, in spite of the professional and personal prejudice he faced throughout his life,” says Brandt. “He was one of the first architects that I became intimately acquainted with nearly fifteen years ago before pursing my own career in the profession. I look forward to reviewing his beautiful color renderings again, and am honored to be part of the team that seeks to uncover, document, elevate, and celebrate the full and complete accomplishments of his decades long career.”

“There is a long and storied history of African American architects, but all too often, because of the era of Jim Crow, those early architects either were forced into the shadows, or had their work questioned, because of their race,” says Harris. “This project, I believe, is a part of a larger project to bring those architects, and their works out of the shadows, and into a deserved spotlight.”

The Project Team

Mr. Brandt and Ms. Comeau will share research and writing responsibilities based on their complementary backgrounds as an architect and historian, respectively. Mr. Harris is a specialist in African American history who is joining the team to share his expertise researching and writing about African-American historic sites. His role will include conducting oral history interviews, writing a section of the report to focus on Thomas Boyde, Jr. in the context of mid-20th century African American architects, and providing editorial review of the report. Ms. Rivers is a recent college graduate whose academic experience includes extensive and meticulous research into local African American history. She will conduct online and in-person research to gather materials related to Mr. Boyde’s life and career and will assist Mr. Harris with oral history interview transcription. Ms. DiBella will take the lead in creating and populating the database of Mr. Boyde’s projects, will assist with additional research, writing, and photography, and will be responsible for data entry at the end of the project. The team will make use of the Thomas W. Boyde, Jr. collection of architectural drawings and papers at the Rochester Museum and Science Center as they begin their research.

“The Greece Historical Society is honored to be sponsoring the cultural resource survey of the life and architecture of Thomas W. Boyde, Jr.,” says GHS president William Sauers. “Mr. Boyde had an important influence in the local community, not just Greece, but the greater Rochester/Western New York area. We are grateful to the Preservation League/New York State Council on the Arts and the Rochester Area Community Foundation for their support of this project.”

In July 2020, the Preserve New York grant panel selected 19 applicants in 15 counties to receive support totaling $193,390. Many of these grants will lead to historic district designation or expansion, allowing property owners to take advantage of the New York State and Federal Historic Tax Credits. Support provided by Preserve New York since its launch in 1993 totals more than $3 million to 457 projects statewide.

In August 2020, the Rochester Area Community Foundation awarded a total of $177,450 in historic preservation grants to 14 organizations in its eight-county region, which comprises Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne and Yates counties. Projects funded by the grants will lead to historic district designations or expansions, preservation of historic properties, preservation education through virtual and live programming, oral histories, and mapping of historic and culturally significant sites. Grants from its two historic preservation funds have been awarded for the past 15 years.

The Preserve New York grant program (PNY) is a partnership between the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and the Preservation League, made possible with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. PNY enables the Preservation League to support projects in all of New York’s 62 counties. Since 1993, the Preserve New York grant program has been providing funds to municipalities and nonprofit organizations that need technical, professional assistance to guide a variety of preservation projects. The historic structure reports, building condition reports, cultural landscape reports, and cultural resource surveys that are funded through this program can have profound impacts on the sites they are studying.

The Preserving Historical Assets Vitality Grants support the Rochester Area Community Foundation’s Historic Preservation Action Area by supporting its goal to strengthen regional vitality by preserving its region’s historic assets and promoting educational efforts that build on these assets. Of particular interest are projects that result in the preservation of historical assets; contribute to community or neighborhood revitalization; promote sustainability or expression of a sense of place; and provide new opportunities for the community to engage with our region’s rich historical assets. The funds supporting this competitive grant are the Elizabeth Gibson Holahan Fund to support historic preservation and the Lloyd E. Klos Historical Fund to support historic preservation, education and information.

About the Greece Historical Society

The mission of the Greece Historical Society is to discover, collect, preserve, and research local history, especially the history of the town of Greece and to share that history with its residents and the local community through public programs, publications, museum exhibits, and accessibility to its archives and artifacts. The Society is an all-volunteer not-for-profit educational institution chartered by the NYS Board of Regents. The Society owns and maintains a house and museum located at 595 Long Pond Road in Greece, New York. In 2019, it celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding.

Previously, the GHS worked with Bero Architecture and Ms. DiBella to complete a Cultural Resource Survey of the Architecture of James H. Johnson. Johnson is known for his mid-century designs that include St. John the Evangelist Church in Greece, Temple Sinai in Brighton, the Liberty Pole in Rochester, and the Mushroom House in Perinton. The Johnson survey was funded by grants from the Preserve New York program and the Landmark Society of Western New York, as well as a generous donation from the Johnson family. In 2019, the finished report received a New York State Historic Preservation Award for Excellence in Historic Documentation from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and a Special Citation Preservation Award from the Landmark Society.

About the Preservation League of New York State

Since its founding in 1974, the Preservation League has built a reputation for action and effectiveness. Its goal has been to preserve historic buildings, districts, and landscapes and to build a better New York, one community at a time. The Preservation League of New York State invests in people and projects that champion the essential role of preservation in community revitalization, sustainable economic growth and the protection of historic buildings and landscapes throughout New York State. It leads advocacy, economic development, and education programs across the state.

About the Rochester Area Community Foundation

For nearly 50 years, the Rochester Area Community Foundation, in partnership with generous philanthropists and community partners, has been working to improve the quality of life for people who live and work in the eight-county region through its leadership and strategic grant making. Known as the steward of charitable funds and endowments, the Community Foundation connects donors with the region’s current and evolving needs. As a leading grantmaker, the Foundation is now focused on two broad goals: To create an equitable community and strengthen our region’s vitality.
For more information on the project, contact:
Christopher Brandt, Bero Architecture: (585) 262-2035;
Gina M. DiBella: