In this section
- Suggested Itineraries
- Escort Notes
- Touring Facts
- See & Do
- Group Friendly Dining
- Services for Tour Operators
- Receptive Services
- Area Waterways
- Tour Profiles
A Wilderness Tract Becomes a City
In 1788, two Yankee traders purchased two and a half million acres of land from the Seneca Indians. A year later Ebenezer "Indian" Allan built the area's first grist (flour) mill on the west bank of the Genesee River. Living in that first settlement was not easy. Parts of the wilderness tract were swampy and so infested with rattlesnakes that a colorful character called "Rattlesnake Pete" decorated the walls of his saloon with the skins of rattlers caught along the riverbanks.
By 1810, Colonel Nathaniel Rochester (whose name the city still carries) and his partners had purchased Indian Allan's site. More flourmills were built, their water wheels powered by the mighty Genesee River; but it was the man-made Erie Canal that turned Rochester into a "boom town." Long lines of barges loaded with flour, lumber, and other goods moved along the canal, which crossed over the Genesee River by means of a stone aqueduct-at that time, an amazing feat of engineering! Rochester also became known as "The Flour City"
The river has always played an important role in the city's history Beginning in the hills beyond Letchworth State Park, an area of deep gorges and woodlands often referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the East," the Genesee River flows north to Lake Ontario. Much more than a source of power, however, the Genesee River and its four magnificent waterfalls also attracted plenty of visitors, as well as some notoriety. In 1829, Sam Patch, famous for his dare-devil leaps, advertised that his last jump of the season would take place on Friday November 13 at the Genesee River's 100-foot waterfall. Thousands of spectators gathered to watch as Patch made what was to be a fatal jump, disappearing into the swirling waters below.
Others who came to Rochester in later years made headlines in different ways. Susan B. Anthony worked tirelessly to promote the cause of women's suffrage. Arrested at her home on Madison Street for casting an illegal ballot, she died before passage of the 19th "Susan B. Anthony" Amendment that bears her name. From escaped slave to renowned orator and spokesman for the abolition of slavery, Frederick Douglass published his eloquent journal, The North Star, in a building on Main Street in Rochester. Years later, the statue of Douglass erected here was the first in our country to honor an African American. Today it stands at the top of Highland Park Bowl on South Avenue and near Mt. Hope Cemetery-the final resting-place for both Douglass and Anthony.
By the end of the 19th century Rochester's commerce was thriving with the men's clothing industry second only to its flour mills in importance. The need for uniforms during the Civil War, and after that a demand for ready-made suits in the West, fueled the city's rapidly growing garment trade. However the business that eventually gave Rochester a new "Flower City" fame was horticulture. Two leading nurserymen, George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry, gained international reputations for their work headquartered in Rochester. The city's impressive park system and numerous gardens can be directly traced to the foresight and efforts of these two enterprising men.
Three internationally famous corporations also had their start in this image-making city In 1853, John Jacob Bausch and Henry Lomb opened a small optical shop that would one day become an outstanding Fortune 500 company known around the world as Bausch & Lomb. A few decades later in 1888, a young bank clerk named George Eastman, who had begun to experiment with dry plates and film in his mother's kitchen, produced a flexible-film camera that would launch an entire new industry of amateur photography. The company he founded-Eastman Kodak-has also become one of the most-recognized brand names in the world. And as the 20th century was just beginning, the Haloid Company started in 1906 in a loft above a shoe factory. A half century later in 1959, this small business had developed the world's first automatic, plain-paper copier-and renamed Xerox Corporation in 1961-revolutionized the way people transmitted information. Today it is also known for its "paperless" digital systems and carries a slightly different name: The Document Company-Xerox.
Rochester's Unique Skyline
Modern skyscrapers share Rochester's skyline with unique historic landmarks such as fleet-footed Mercury This 21-foot, 700-pound copper statue was originally commissioned by tobacco magnate William S. Kimball and mounted above a smokestack at his tobacco factory on Exchange Street in 1881. A symbol of Rochester for many years, it disappeared from view in 1951 when the old factory was torn down to make way for the Community War Memorial. In 1974, a noontime ceremony welcomed "The Winged Messenger" back to the city skyline above the Aqueduct Building, where he remains today
The massive "Wings of Progress" atop of the Times Square Building at Exchange and Broad streets have been referred to as "praying nuns" or "rabbit ears." This unusual feature of Rochester's skyline was the work of architect Ralph T. Walker who is said to have conceived the design while walking on a beach in the l920s. He found four seashells that suggested to him "a sense of flight.... a sense of upward lift," which he subsequently incorporated into his building.
Other shapes making up Rochester's skyline are the rounded top of the building on Main Street that once housed a revolving restaurant but now holds offices with a great, although not moving, view! The dark gray tower rising above a cement courtyard was built as the world headquarters of Xerox and still holds corporate offices of that Rochester-born company. Across the street is the pointed-tower world headquarters of Bausch & Lomb. It reflects another headquarters building with a similar tall, pointed top that has been on the skyline for many years, although set apart from all the others. That tower is easily identified by the bold letters of Kodak-yellow during the day and red at night-a reminder of the company's yellow logo.
Native American Heritage
The area of western New York State around Rochester first belonged to the Iroquois, a Native American people who lived in villages, farmed extensive crops, hunted and traded with other tribes, and eventually, with Europeans. The five tribes of the Iroquois also formed a confederacy to promote peace among themselves and present a united front to outsiders. The Senecas of the Genesee Valley comprised the largest of these tribes and were known as the "Keepers of the Western Door."
The State Historic Site at Ganondagan was the "capital" of the Senecas from 1650 until 1687, when it was destroyed by a large French army led by the governor of Canada. Illustrated signs now mark trails where visitors can learn about this invasion as well as about the significance of plant life to the Seneca. Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) customs and beliefs are also shared in a video program that surveys the history of Ganondagan and the construction of an authentic replica of a Seneca longhouse there.
At the Rochester Museum & Science Center, visitors can learn about the fascinating culture and accomplishments of the Seneca through exhibits and artifacts that date from around 1550 to 1820, Historic displays, audio-visual presentations, and hands-on activities illustrate Iroquois traditions and the concerns of those living here today.
In nearby Letchworth State Park, visitors will find a Seneca Council house and the cabin built by Mary Jemison, the "White Woman of the Genesee," for her daughter. Jemisonè burial site is also here. The park's William Pryor Letchworth Museum features exhibits of both Seneca and early pioneer settlements.
The Underground Railroad & Rochester's African-American Legacy
Rochester has a long and proud African-American history that began with a small population of only 300 to 500 people during most of the l800s. Active in creating and sustaining a church, they were also involved with the temperance movement and contributed to the success of the famous Underground Railroad. Rochester was an important stop on that unmarked route as escaped slaves came here to cross Lake Ontario and reach freedom in Canada.
Asa Dunbar, the area's first black settler, was a free man when he arrived in 1795 and cleared the land in Irondequoit. He came from Massachusetts with his family of six, raised fruit, and sold salt from a nearby spring. He also worked as a store manager and was selected to serve as city attorney on one occasion.
Rochester's most famous African-American resident was Frederick Douglass, who published his well-known newspaper, The North Star from a building still standing on Rochester's Main Street. Years later, a statue erected in his honor became the first in the United States to honor an African-American. It stands today in Highland Park Bowl, near the street corner where he once lived and where John Brown, another famous historic figure, often visited. In Mt. Hope Cemetery, a large, flat stone and iron bench mark his final resting place in the city where he said he would "always feel more at home" than "anywhere else in the country"
Austin Steward was a runaway slave who settled in Rochester in 1816 and entered the produce business. He also opened a school and was one of 40 delegates at the First National Convention of Colored Citizens held in Philadelphia in 1830. Information about Steward can be found on the second floor of the Sheraton Four Points Hotel on Main Street-originally the site of his store.
In July of 1853, Rochester hosted the National Black Convention with 140 delegates in attendance, including Frederick Douglass. By 1869, Monroe County residents had voted for equal suffrage for African-Americans. Ironically, however, Susan B. Anthony would be arrested in 1872 at her Rochester home for casting an illegal vote-illegal because she was a woman.
Other interesting African-American sites include the Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in the Corn Hill neighborhood, founded in 1827 and the oldest black church in Rochester. Monroe Community Hospital at
435 East Henrietta Road, featuring an ornate façade and many gargoyles, was designed in the early 1930s by Thomas Boyde-the first African-American architect to work in the Rochester area.
In later years, Cab Calloway and William Warfield called Rochester home while many of the best African-American blues and jazz musicians performed at the legendary Pythodd Club. Today, Garth Fagan Dance, an internationally acclaimed troupe founded by Jamaican-born Garth Fagan, continues to be based in Rochester.
Birthplace of Women's Rights
The Women's Rights Movement in America was born in 1848 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Jane Hunt, Mary Ann M'Clintock, Lucretia Mott, and Martha Wright organized the First Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. These brave women presented a Declaration of Sentiments to an audience of 300 people. It began with a familiar phrase from another famous "Declaration" with one important difference: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal."
Twelve days later a second convention advocating women's rights was held in Rochester and this social revolution gained its critically important "general." The woman who became the movement's voice, who campaigned tirelessly for women's rights, and who was arrested for the "crime" of voting also became one f Rochester's most famous residents-Susan B. Anthony. Today her home on Madison Street is a National Historic Landmark and her burial site in Mt. Hope Cemetery is a place of pilgrimage.
Other locations important to the Women's Rights Movement within an hour's drive of Rochester include:
The court house in Canandaigua where Susan B. Anthony was tried for the crime of voting.
The National Women's Hall of Fame, Seneca Falls Historical Society, and Seneca Falls Urban Cultural Park/Heritage Area in Seneca Falls.
The Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls and Waterloo with five sites including the Wesleyan Chapel (location of the 1848 convention), the Suffrage Press, Elizabeth Cady Stanton's home, the newly restored M'Clintock House and a Visitor Center.
The homestead and burial site of Harriet Tubman, known as the "Moses of her people," in Auburn.
The historic Erie Canal, first carried over the Genesee River by means of a stone aqueduct, today flows directly into the river at Genesee Valley Park. The original Erie Canal aqueduct was an 800-foot stone structure hailed as the longest in the world at that time. Visitors can still see the second, sturdier version-built in 1842 to replace the original aqueduct. It stands today as the base of Rochester's Broad Street Bridge. Nearby is the historic Campbell-Whittlesey House Museum, built by a wealthy Erie Canal merchant for his family. Tours of the house and its neighborhood are available from the Landmark Society of Western New York. History lovers also enjoy treks to see old Erie Canal locks that are no longer in use but recall the glory of its yesterdays.
What has become known as "The Must See 100 Miles of the Erie Canal" are found in the connecting counties of Orleans, Monroe, and Wayne. Here, the famous waterway winds through fourteen towns and villages plus the city of Rochester. Groups can visit sites that have survived unchanged and savor a slower pace while traveling through beautiful rural vistas, browsing at picturesque farmers markets, shopping in charming boutiques, or mingling with residents at old-fashioned canalside festivals.
At 175 years of age, the Erie Canal continues to offer a variety of activities both on and along its waters. Tour boats provide narrated cruises rental boats let visitors navigate for themselves; canoes, kayaks, and rowing teams regularly ply its calm waters. Fishing is another popular pastime, as is feeding families of ducks, and watching for the graceful glides of blue herons.
Biking, hiking, skating, and jogging routinely take place on the Erie Canal Heritage Trail. Clusters of charming shops, restaurants, and parks for outdoor picnics are found along its route. Also captivating are the canal locks, where people gather to watch a procession of boats rise and fall to the rhythm of carefully controlled waters.
Spring is a floral wonderland along its path, summer brings lively canalside festivals, and viewing fall foliage is an annual delight. During winter months, the channel is empty, but cross-country skiers and others continue to enjoy its silent pathway.
Absolutely unique to the Rochester area is the large number of cobblestone structures, the handiwork of men working on the Erie Canal who knew how to use the abundance of small round stones as a construction material. Popular between the completion of the Erie Canal and the Civil War, ninety percent of this rare architectural style in America is found within a 75-mile radius of Rochester. In Albion, visitors can also learn about the history and technique of this distinctive architecture by touring seven closely-grouped buildings that comprise the Cobblestone Museum Complex.
Genesee River & High Falls
The Genesee River is a waterway of many moods as it roars through the enormous gorge it carved into Letchworth State Park, swirls past rural farmlands, flows beside a university campus and into the City of Rochester, where it tumbles over three waterfalls on its way north to Lake Ontario. It provides whitewater rafting, boating, and fishing fun and also creates the 96-foot High Falls backdrop for laser shows! An attraction for visitors since the 1800s, people once traveled to see what was then a magnificent waterfall in the wilderness. Today, this visitor attraction from the past is still a popular destination with travelers. The largest to be found in the heart of any major city, this "metropolitan" waterfall is just a few blocks from Main Street but can best be admired from a pedestrian bridge across the gorge or the overlook viewing area on the east side of the river off St. Paul Street.
Also here is the Center at High Falls, a small museum of hands-on exhibits and displays that illustrate Rochester's remarkable geographic and technological heritage. This provides visitors with a wonderful orientation to Rochester's past and present. Be sure to save time for a stop at their gift shop offering treasures created by local artists.
Lake Ontario & the Seaway Trail
One of five fresh-water lakes in America known as the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario also boasts the best salmon fishing in the country and exciting boating action. Its waterfront pleasures include a rare 1905 Dentzel menagerie carousel, extensive sandy beach, long piers, a wooden boardwalk with Victorian gazebos, a 1930's bathhouse, and concert pavilion.
Dating from 1822, nearby Charlotte/Genesee Lighthouse, on the Genesee River's west bank, is one of the oldest on the Great Lakes and includes a mini-museum which traces the history of lighthouses, lake transportation, and the Port of Rochester.
The Seaway Trail-a fresh-water coastline that follows the Niagara River, Lake Ontario's shoreline, and the Saint Lawrence River-is the longest scenic byway in the United States. It offers a great array of activities and attractions from historic forts and museums to scenic parks and quaint villages. All types of water-related sports are also found along its route. Visitors can easily follow the Seaway Trail by looking for the distinctive green and white signs clearly marking the way.
Public Art Enlivens Public Spaces
Works of art-sculptures, paintings, stained glass, tapestries, wood carvings, and other creative treasures-enliven public spaces throughout the Rochester area. Most are in very visible places where thousands pass by every day; others are tucked away in quiet spots that invite leisurely contemplation. In Rochester's Center City area, statues adorn parks and buildings where they seem to "soar" and "dance" and "twist." A colorful 1,000-square-foot mural in Manhattan Square Park celebrates the city's diversity beneath a framework of metal rising in a ‘Tribute to Man." Stunning works of art grace most downtown buildings, including the impressive mosaic wall inside Citizens Bank near Liberty Pole Plaza-named for the towering memorial of metal and wire that becomes a "Christmas tree" of lights in December.
An immense, 60-foot metal sculpture titled ‘Genesee Passage" does seem to soar skyward at the entrance to Bausch & Lomb's office complex. Conceived and created by world-renowned sculptor Albert Paley, it was installed in 1996. Decorative railings along the Main Street Bridge-another Paley creation-make yet another dramatic statement.
Other areas for the artistically inclined to explore? Mt. Hope Cemetery is famous for its many pieces of funereal art, artistic creations beautify college campuses, and Rochester's airport features the largest work of diachronic stained glass in the world as well as several other commissioned art works.
Shopping in the city of Rochester includes a visit to Craft Company No. 6 featuring handcrafted jewelry blown glass, pottery, home accents and garden art. Galleries, restaurants, and more inside an old printing factory now known as Village Gate Square. There are one-of-a-kind boutiques and specialty shops scattered throughout city neighborhoods while the gift shops in local museums and other attractions offer still more one-of-a-kind treasures and souvenir gifts.
For a fun experience, visit the Rochester Public Market, the city's oldest and largest open-air market on North Union Street. With more than 200 outdoor selling stalls and some indoor stands on a site that first opened in 1905, this is the place to find fresh, locally-grown produce, craft offerings, and flea-market bargains. Smaller markets with farm-fresh produce appear from spring through autumn in a range of other locations while more rural areas offer fresh fruits and vegetables at roadside stands plus the fun of "u-pick" temptations.
There are gatherings of intriguing stores and more along the Erie Canal in Bushnell's Basin, Fairport, and Pittsford plus quaint, canalside Main Streets in Brockport and Spencerport. If modern malls are more your style, try a bit of buying at Eastview, Greece Ridge Center, or Marketplace-all feature pleasurable surroundings, a diverse collection of stores, and numerous special events throughout the year. And for those who simply can't resist a bargain, try Southtown Plaza with its collection of discount stores and outlets.
Golfing Around Rochester
Rochester and the sport of golf have a long history. The city's first private golf course appeared in 1895 and was soon followed in 1899 by one of the first public courses in the country. Today there are more than 40 public, private, and semi-private golf courses throughout the Greater Rochester area. One of the premier golf cities in the United States, Rochester has more golf holes per capita than any other northeastern industrial city in America!
Oak Hill Country Club, which actually began in 1901 at another site, boasts a course designed for its present location in 1926 by Donald Ross. Ranked today among America's top 30 courses, Oak Hill has hosted numerous major golf tournaments including the world's premier golf event-the Ryder Cup Matches.
Considered one of the most popular tournaments on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour, the "Wegmans Rochester International" is played annually at Locust Hill Country Club. Over the years this event has attracted virtually all of the world's most-famous women golfers, who enjoy the challenge of the course and enthusiasm of the fans.
Rochester has also produced a number of well-known professional golfers with perhaps the most legendary being Walter Hagen, captain of America's first Ryder Cup team. Known for his swashbuckling style of play, Hagen won eleven major international titles during his career