Chester Dewey

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Section A Vignette # 7 

Chester Dewey Mount Hope Rochester, NY

If you have the occasion to travel into downtown Rochester, look for 200 University Ave, Rochester, NY 14605 at the corner of Scio Street. There you’ll find a stately two-story, brown brick public school originally named for Chester Dewey.  The eclectic design freely combines elements and details inspired by the Italian Renaissance, including its eleven bay loggia. While Dewey was long-dead when it was constructed, it commemorates his life-long commitment to the education of all children when such a belief was not universally supported.

Massachusetts born in 1784, Dewey studied for the ministry at Williams College.  Soon after, his passions turned to math and the natural sciences, which he taught at Williams.  His dedication to education continued at the Berkshire Gymnasium in Pittsfield, MA.  In 1836 he was called to Rochester, NY to be both a teacher and the principal at the Rochester Collegiate Institute, located on what is now the site of the former Midtown Plaza.

Dewey realized that public schooling was critical not only for young men but also for young women.  He firmly believed that learning at all levels was the only way to enhance the quality of American life.  The natural progression of students from such a high school was into a university, so in 1850 Chester Dewey became a founding faculty member of the University of Rochester.  He was a long-time professor of chemistry and the natural sciences and an undisputed leader among Rochester’s professional educators.

At UR Dewey also continued his extensive research in meteorology and North American plants.  For decades he sent daily weather observations to the state bureau in Albany.  A science building on UR campus is named after him, and his collection of preserved plant specimens and data was bequeathed to Williams College.

Rochester City School District erected the Chester Dewey School #14 in 1915 -16.  This historic building is currently home of the World of Inquiry School.

A visionary is someone with original ideas about what the future will or could be.  Chester Dewey knew that the future must involve all people, not just the privileged few, and he strove tirelessly toward that end.  In his own words he said, “I have lived life with the young, and for them I have labored.  By their influence I have felt obligated to keep up with the times in valuable knowledge and benevolent effort, and my life has seemed to be renewed among them.”  At age 84, Chester Dewey died, as he lived, with dignity.  He is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery not far from his beloved University of Rochester in his beloved adopted home of Rochester, NY.

Wendy Heffer