The French Jesuit missionaries Chaumonot and Fremin visited the Seneca Indians at the future site of Rochester during the 17th century. The
first permanent white settlement began in 1789, when Ebenezer Allan built a sawmill and gristmill at the falls. In 1802, a group of Marylanders, including Nathaniel Rochester, obtained the land on which Rochester would develop and started a settlement there around 1812. In 1817, it was incorporated as a village under the name Rochesterville. Growth was slow at first, since the community was somewhat off the main route between Albany and Buffalo, but with the opening of the Erie Canal, a boom began. The population grew quickly from 1,502 in 1820 to 12,252 in 1834, when the city was chartered as Rochester.
Several political movements feature in the history of Rochester. Thurlow Weed published The Anti-Masonic Enquirer in Rochester, which was a bastion of the Anti-Masonic Party from 1828 to 1830. Later, abolitionism was actively supported in Rochester, an important station along the Underground Railroad. As the home of Susan B. Anthony after 1846, Rochester also witnessed the growth of the women's suffrage movement.
Due in part to Anthony's efforts, the University of Rochester, established by the Baptists in 1850, began to admit women in 1900. The city's first hospital was St. Mary's Hospital, established in 1857.
Rochester's best-known corporate citizen has for more than a century been Eastman Kodak. The George Eastman House is the world's oldest
museum of photography and film. Another corporate citizen, founded in 1906 as the Haloid Company, and was renamed Xerox Corporation in 1961. Rochester's park system was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, architect of New York City's Central Park.
Rochester is still accessible by barge traffic on the New York State canal system, but the original route through the city of the Erie Canal has been "recycled." Below ground, a subway follows its path while Broad Street carries vehicles above.