Friday, April 9, 2010

The River Gang

When I was growing up, my family lived in the Albertson Addition and my playground was the Rochester Municipal Park. During our pre-teen years, we neighborhood kids would enter the park from the foot of Griggs St. with considerable trepidation. We had been told stories about a mysterious group of older youths who styled themselves the "River Gang." Their hideout, local wisdom warned, was on the north bank of Paint Creek, and we dared not trespass on their "territory" for fear of being beaten up - or worse.

We saw evidence of someone's presence along the river, in the form of graffiti and discarded beer cans, but we never came into personal contact with anyone who claimed to be a member of the much-feared River Gang. I began to wonder whether they were just the product of our collective imaginations, or perhaps an urban - make that suburban - legend. Then came a front-page story in the Rochester Clarion on September 28, 1972, in which city officials not only named the notorious River Gang as a serious problem in the park, but gave the group its fifteen minutes of fame:
Boys and girls who call themselves the River Gang have been joined by older teens and young adults from here, and from Royal Oak, Warren and Utica and elsewhere. They hide in the dark brush covered park "natural area" for all night parties in disregard of the park closing hour.
The thick brush easily within view of the Municipal Building hides a rotten, abused clearing and jungle stretch of Paint Creek bank that is said to be unsafe for women and children even in many bright daylight hours, and worse in the evenings and pre-dawn! Well worn paths lead in and out, making capture of the park closing hour violators next to impossible.
From 30 feet away, the nighttime miscreants cannot be seen, but nearby residents testify that loud obscenities and foul language are heard at distances of a half block from the spot.
The hidden place is littered with items of clothing, moldy blankets, beer empties and broken glass. There is evidence that park furniture and picnic tables have been dragged away and smashed to bits for firewood.
The article went on to say that city officials planned to evict the River Gang from its hangout by removing the undergrowth that screened its hiding place, and by turning the river bank into a recreation area that could be used by all. This was done, and the River Gang faded into oblivion. I took this photo a few days ago in the park and there is little resemblance to the bank as it appeared in the River Gang's outlaw days.


  1. this brings back alot of memories. went to school with alot of the "River Gang"

  2. We had a similar group that hung out along Sargent's creek "behind the Chatham's". We were warned over and over as kids not to hang out in the woods over there.

  3. I remember when we got bold enough to go to "The Swing" at the bend in the river. Our first worry was that the gang would show up and chase us off, "or worse." They never did and we had a ball there every time. Even when we got leeches!

  4. The River Gang?!?! Now THERE'S a blast from the past! Got a chuckle from reading this piece, but sure wasn't chuckling then. There was also the woods at the curving intersection of Dequindre and 23 Mile Rd (Yates Road, at the time) where an apartment complex now stands. We were always warned not to ever go in there without parental accompanyment - all the parents claimed there were motorcycle gang members in there who pushed LSD and other nefarious substances....

    Submitted by John Mohr