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Play in the Past: Experience the History of Rochester, NY

The City of Rochester, NY is named for Colonel Nathaniel Rochester, a Revolutionary War soldier and wealthy landowner who set out from Maryland in search of acquiring land in the “New Frontier” in 1800. It’s a place of history and of change – not just from the influence that Nathaniel Rochester had, but also that of President James Monroe, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and the women’s suffrage movement – to start. 

Pack your bags and take to the roads for an unforgettable trip in a destination full of surprises. Let us help you plan – learn how your family can play in the past below and use this itinerary as your inspiration and your guide. 

DAY ONE

In 2020, the country celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, granting women the right to participate in federal elections. Rochester was home to one of the most notable advocates for earning this right - famous suffragist Susan B. Anthony. Anthony spent 40 of her most politically active years in Rochester and the city is where her legacy is still preserved today. The year 2020 also commemorated Susan B. Anthony’s 200th birthday and the 75th anniversary of her namesake museum and house. 

  • Start your historical adventure off right with a visit to the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, located at 17 Madison Street in Rochester. Take a docent-led tour and learn the full story of Rochester’s great revolutionary, who made amazing strides towards the women’s rights movement. Step into the front parlor where Anthony was arrested for voting in 1872, then tour the many rooms that served as the headquarters for the National American Woman Suffrage Association when she served as the organization’s president. Anthony lived in the home for 40 years until her death in 1906. 

  • After your visit to the home, take a short walk down Madison Street to Susan B. Anthony Square, where you will find a statue of Susan B. Anthony & Frederick Douglass entitled Let’s Have Tea. The work portrays the close friendship between the two, both early champions of social justice and civil rights. Douglass also called the City of Rochester home from 1847-1872. 

  • Fill hungry bellies and eager minds with lunch at the 1872 Café, located just around the block from the Susan B. Anthony Museum and House. Here, you can visit a replica ballot box commemorating the spot where Susan B. Anthony cast her illegal vote for Ulysses S. Grant in the 1872 Presidential Election. The café serves up soups, salads, sandwiches, pizza, wings and more, along with drip coffee and other specialty drinks. 

  • After lunch, walk the outdoor Heritage Trail, a 1.25-mile self-guided trail that explores 15 points of historical significance between the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House and the Erie Canal Aqueduct Bridge. Plaques tell the story of the legacy of Nathaniel Rochester, the power of the Genesee River, transportation and commerce in Rochester, activism and more.   

  • Swing by Nathaniel Square Park for another notable statue featuring Rochester’s own founder and namesake. This statue depicts Nathaniel Rochester sitting on a bench, at the intersection of South Avenue and Alexander Street in the South Wedge neighborhood. 

  • From there, take a short drive to Mount Hope Cemetery to see the final resting place of Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and Nathaniel Rochester, as well as other notable Rochesterians. During major elections, the gravesite of Anthony is truly one to behold, with many locals stopping to leave their “I Voted” stickers in honor of her life’s work and activism.

  • Dine at one of these local recommendations: 

    • Grappa Italian Nouveau offers a modern approach to traditional Italian cuisine. Wind down the day with a glass of wine as you enjoy seasonal arancini specials, pork osso bucco and veal parmesan, pasta favorites, hand-tossed pizzas and more. 

    • The Cub Room brings a stylish and fresh take to more traditional American fare. The dining atmosphere is one to remember, with a trendy environment reminiscent of a 1920s speak easy and prohibition era, while the menu changes seasonally with local and regionally sourced ingredients. 

    • The Playhouse/Swillburger is a take on the American burger joint. Housed in a renovated church, visitors will find themselves surrounded by vintage arcade games such as Pacman, Duck Hunt, Skee-ball, and classic pinball machines along with craft libations at their in-house bar. 

Detour! After dinner, take a drive down to the Canandaigua Court House in Canandaigua, NY where Susan B. Anthony’s trial took place and where her $100 fine is still listed as outstanding. The court house lies just a few miles from the shores of Canandaigua Lake, where beautiful sunset views await. 

DAY TWO

When it opened in 1825, the historic Erie Canal was deemed the greatest engineering marvel in the world. It connected the great lakes to the Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson River and spanned 363 miles, at about 40 feet wide, four feet deep. At a cost of just over $7,000,000 to build, the canal had an immediate impact on daily life, having cut travel time in half and cutting shipping rates by 94%. Improvements were made from 1905-1918 and are reminiscent of the canal you see today at 125 feet wide and 12 feet deep, with 35 locks. 

  • Enjoy breakfast along the Erie Canal at Simply Crepes, a great option for the family looking to try a new twist on some old favorites. Tapping into its French-inspired roots, the restaurant is known for “homespun” and “handcrafted” dishes on a menu that rotates seasonally. Enjoy savory breakfast crepes stuffed with eggs, bacon, sausage and ham or sweet options drizzled in pure maple syrup and brown sugar. Their Mimosa Flight is a must for mom and dad, too. 

  • After breakfast, walk the canal path or rent bikes to enjoy the route at a faster pace. The canal offers beauty in every season, with little boutique shops and restaurants dotting the path as you go. 

  • Then, grab tickets to enjoy a 90-minute cruise along the Erie Canal with The Sam Patch Tour Boat, a replica packet boat that offers public tours. Learn the history of New York State’s legendary canal, considered to be the eighth wonder of the world by some. Kids will love the quintessential canal experience of passing through Lock 32, a century old lock that brings you in through its massive 40-ton gates and floats you gently upward as the lock fills. 

  • Next, plan a visit to Ganondagan State Historic Site to learn about the Seneca and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) culture. Explore interactive exhibits at the Seneca Art & Culture Center, a full-size Seneca bark longhouse, and interpreted scenic trails on nearly 600 acres. Once the site of a large 17th-century Seneca town, Ganondagan is a vibrant, year-round destination that will be both fun and educational for the whole family. In the summer, they host an Indigenous Music & Arts Festival that is a can’t-miss experience.

  • Adventure further into the nearby Finger Lakes Region for dinner at Belhurst Castle & Winery, a place known for its charm, unique architecture and stunning lake views. Located right on the shores of Seneca Lake, the building has a history of its own to enjoy and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Enjoy a wine tasting and short walk around the grounds upon arrival. Then, choose your preference for dinner: 

  • Stonecutters is a great choice for families, with pub-style food and craft beverages (and sodas!) at the sunken bar overlooking Seneca Lake. 

  • Edgar’s Restaurant in the Castle offers a more formal dining experience, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

DAY THREE

George Eastman was an entrepreneur, philanthropist and pioneer of popular photography and motion picture film who left a lasting impact on the City of Rochester. He first formed the Eastman Dry Plate Company in 1881, later the Eastman Kodak Company (1892) and with a series of innovations, was able to create easy-to-use cameras making photography available to the masses. 

  • On your last day in Rochester, don’t miss a chance to tour the George Eastman Museum, the world’s oldest photography museum which tells the story of Eastman and the Eastman Kodak Company. The mansion and gardens bring to life the place where this visionary founder lived for nearly 30 years, with artifacts and antiques from his life on display. One of only two National Historic Landmarks in Greater Rochester, the museum holds an unparalleled collection of photography, cinema and photographic and cinematographic technology, along with rotating exhibits and galleries to enjoy. 

  • Before you break for lunch, head over to the historic Brown’s Race district and view Rochester’s High Falls, a 96-foot waterfall of the Genesee River in downtown Rochester. In the 19th century, High Falls and the Genesee River powered Rochester's earliest industrial area during the Flour City era. 

  • Next, head a block over to Park Avenue and enjoy brunch or an early lunch at Jines Restaurant. A Rochester staple for over 40 years, Jines offers an extensive menu of both savory and sweet – including over 20 varieties of waffles, pancakes and stuffed French toast as well as Eggs, Crab Cake or Lox Benedict. 

  • From lunch, head southwest of the city for an afternoon at the Genesee Country Village & Museum. As the largest living history museum in New York state, GCV&M invites you to step back into the 19th-century with costumed interpreters, demonstrations, farm animals and a working brewery, blacksmith shop, pottery, tin shop and more. Special events take place throughout the year, including an annual Halloween lantern-lit event. The Village comes complete with a gift shop, selling some of the best homemade fudge in the area (fan favorites include peanut butter, chocolate, raspberry, praline, maple and other seasonal flavors). 

In Center Village, you can see the relocated building that stood as George Eastman’s childhood home, a one-and-a-half story Greek Revival dwelling from Waterville, NY. 

  • End the evening with dinner at Farmer’s Creekside Tavern & Inn. Built in the 1820s, the building was one of the first structures in LeRoy and housed several businesses and homes before a fire nearly claimed it in 2004. Now restored, it offers contemporary waterfront dining and has won several awards for its casual and gourmet menu offerings – which change seasonally and feature entrees such Blue Crab Cakes, Chickpea Gnocchi, Korean BBQ Short Ribs and more. 

ACCOMMODATIONS

Kick up your feet and stay a while with these local accommodations, fit for the whole family!

  • High ceilings and marble floors grace the Hilton Garden Inn Rochester Downtown, which was once the former home of the National Clothing Company, established in 1924. But more than charm, this Hilton has all the right amenities for a family vacation – a heated pool, arboretum, fitness center, in-room wifi and complimentary transportation to and from the airport. 

  • Right in the midst of the action, The Strathallan puts your family downtown and nearby all of the best Rochester attractions. Check out their current packages and you may find museum tickets, pizza party deals and more included in your overnight stay. The Strathallan also features a heated pool, fitness center, spa, in-house restaurant and free and convenient parking for guests. 

  • For a homier feel, consider a stay at the historic B&B at the Ellwanger Estate in the heart of Rochester’s Mount Hope Cultural District. Enjoy four uniquely furnished rooms, natural woodworking and soft lit decor, complete with an outdoor garden and restored veranda. While the home will certainly take you back to a simpler time, it has all the recent amenities, including wifi, nightstand charging stations and a Tesla charger. 

VIEW & PRINT YOUR PLAY IN THE PAST GUIDE

Rochester Family - Play In The Past