The Town of Penfield’s First Historian

Aristides "Tide" Church, circa 1930


The Town of Penfield is situated in eastern Monroe County. The Irondequoit Creek flows through town and was an asset to its  development. In the early 1800s, mills and other early industries flourished along a one mile stretch of the creek, making it the fastest growing area in what would become Monroe County.

Another asset to the town  was a man named Aristides Francis Church. Born December 12, 1846,  “Tide,” as he was known locally,  grew up in the “village” area near the creek, swimming  in it in the summer and ice skating on it in winter. He was making memories to be shared at a later time.

In 1864,  Tide Church began to keep a diary. He recorded daily on the weather, money spent, work accomplished, people he encountered, and some births, marriages, and deaths. We can follow Tide’s life, and the life of the town, through his writings.  His diaries were donated to the Town Historian’s office in the mid-1900s, and  largely cover the years 1864 to 1933, with only a few years missing.

In 1896, as secretary to the Veteran Association of Penfield, he compiled stories of over 300 Civil War soldiers, including enlistment information, battles, wounds and illnesses, and contemporary details of the veteran. He also included engagement and skirmish data for the three main units from Monroe County. Tide was not a veteran himself. His only brother, Pharcellus, enlisted in the 108th NY Infantry, became ill several months later, and died. He was buried on his 18th birthday.

On November 8, 1919, after describing the weather as cloudy and cold, purchasing socks for $.50 and darning cotton for $.03, and setting window glass at the school house, he was visited by Town Supervisor Ed Schutt and asked to be Penfield’s first Town Historian. The following day he noted that he wrote a letter to James Sullivan, New York State Historian. Tide did not retain a copy of the letter, so we don’t know its contents.

Tide’s focus at that time was to record “Town of Penfield Record of Enlisted Men 1914-1918”. This was to fulfill the request from James Sullivan on local activities during WWI. In that same year he also wrote “Reminiscences of Boyhood Days of A.F. Church”, which serves as a valuable resource on the early days of the town.

I have tried and have been thus far unsuccessful to connect Tide Church’s family with that of Francis Pharcellus Church, journalist and editor, who was born in Rochester in 1839. He was the editor of the New York Sun, and in 1897 wrote the still famous editorial, “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” in response to a young girl’s inquiry. Each man had a love of writing and both families used the unusual given name of Pharcellus, and several other more common given names were repeated as well.

We are indebted to Mr. Church for his writings that provide a wealth of primary source information for researchers.

Kathy Kanauer, Town of Penfield Historian