Nobody who lives or works in the vicinity of downtown Rochester needs a watch to know when it’s lunchtime. Six days a week, at high noon, the blast of the fire department’s siren marks the midday hour. However, the daily sounding of the noon whistle has nothing to do with signaling a meal break and everything to do with a devastating fire that nearly destroyed an iconic Main Street business.
Back in 1926, Rochester boasted a brand-new, state-of-the-art Ford dealership. Partners C. Lawrence “Larry” Jerome and Oliver N. Phillips had opened their modern showroom and service garage at 215 South Main in February of that year with a well-attended community dance party. The Phillips & Jerome building was part of a wave of new investment that was exciting Rochester at the time. The state had announced in 1925 that it was planning to build an 810-foot-long, concrete highway bridge to connect South Hill with the foot of Main Street, and business was booming in anticipation of the coming construction.