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The History Of Oak Hill

Many people don't know it, but Kilbourn Road is not the original home of Oak Hill. Nothing would be here if the founding fathers of this country club hadn't made a gut-wrenching choice.
Many people don't know it, but Kilbourn Road is not the original home of Oak Hill. Nothing would be here if the founding fathers of this country club hadn't made a gut-wrenching choice.

George Eastman biographer Elizabeth Brayer says in the early 1900s the Kodak founder had a say in everything going on in Rochester, New York.

"He really had all the influence. He was the power behind the throne and he had the most money," Brayer said.

"George Eastman was very interested in having a medical school and a school of music. There was not enough room at the Prince Street location, they had to move," Fred Beltz said.

Oak Hill historian Fred Beltz says in the early 1920s the University of Rochester was growing and out of room. The earliest known picture of the site of the original Oak Hill is a lithograph from 1877. The old 85-acre farm south of downtown on a bend in the Genesee River was converted into a golf course in 1901. The farm house served as the club house until members raised enough money to build a new one. Not long after that community leaders came calling. They wanted the land for the university.

"There was a campaign called 10 million dollars in 10 days to buy the campus," Brayer said.

Money talks, especially Goerge Eastman's.

"And he gave 2.5 million of the 10 million," Brayer said.

This U of R newspaper article from 1920 showed support for moving the campus. Not everybody at Oak Hill liked the idea, but in the end it happened.

"Oak Hill agrees to move and they agree to a land swap," U of R archivist Melissa Mead said. "What happens is the university purchased land in Pittsford and in fact starts making improvements on it."

The new Oak Hill opened in 1926 with two 18-hole golf courses on 355 acres and a beautiful new club house.

"There was I believe a strong sense this could be be good for Oak Hill but more importantly this could also be good for Rochester," Beltz said.

"It really was a win, win situation," Mead said.

This rare movie was taken in 1927 during construction of the new campus. Of course it was shot on Kodak film. It captures the historic link between golf and the University of Rochester.

"So they're testing the soil. And it starts off with a man hitting a golf ball and in the background you can see the newly-built medical center. So he hits the ball and the next picture is this man emerging from this enormous hole and smiling," Mead said.

Right after, you see the groundbreaking of the new river campus.  May 21, 1927. And likely none of it would have happened; the U of R, prosperity in Rochester or the PGA Championship, if the leaders of Oak Hill Country Club hadn't agreed to take a mulligan and start all over.

There is one other way George Eastman left his mark on the new Oak Hill Country Club. It is no coincidence the road leading to the golf course is called Kilbourn. That is the maiden name of Eastman's mother.
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