Two days ago I took the CAT fast ferry from Toronto to Rochester and arrived well-rested after a 2.5 hour boat ride in the Port of Rochester, a scenic Rochester suburb called Charlotte. I was greeted by Patti and Carrie from the Rochester Visitors Association who had helped me with my itinerary and were kind enough to show me around.
It had been raining all day and Port Charlotte greeted me with grey skies and deep-hanging clouds. But the first thing I noticed as we drove towards downtown Rochester was the amount of green spaces and parks. We drove through a number of nicely manicured neighbourhoods and Patti showed me some of the amazing parks systems that Rochester has to offer. We drove through Genesee Valley Park, designed by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead who also designed Central Park in New York City.
We then headed to Highland Park where each May the City holds the annual Lilac Festival, when more than 1,200 lilac bushes of different varieties and colours burst into bloom. Driving through beautiful neighbourhoods with large villas and expansive front lawns we made our way to Cobbs Hill Park which is located on a hill and holds a water reservoir with a fountain. The unique thing about Cobbs Hill Park is that there is one spot in this elevated green zone from where you can perfectly see the skyline of Rochester away in the distance, past the lush green neighbourhoods that stretch in front of downtown.
Rochester’s skyline, from the Cobbs Hill Reservoir
After exploring some of the expansive parks of Rochester as well as the beautiful Victorian-era Mt. Hope Cemetery, we slowly made our way downtown on East Avenue, a historic street with extensive mansions. One of Rochester’s famous home-grown entrepreneurs is George Eastman, the founder of the Eastman-Kodak Corporation, which to this day has its headquarters in Rochester. Eastman was a great benefactor to the city and donated the greatest part of his wealth, estimated at $2 billion in today’s dollars, to different medical, cultural and educational institutions throughout the city. We briefly stopped at his home, the Eastman House, an elegant 50-room Colonial Revival Mansion surrounded by formal gardens.
Following the Eastman House, which also contains the International Museum of Photography and Film, we crossed over to University Avenue to the Neighbourhood of the Arts, or also referred to as Artwalk. This is a stretch of road down University Avenue which houses studios, galleries, art and antique retailers in a neighbourhood of post-war apartment buildings, multi-family Victorian mansions and charming cottages.
The award winning Artwalk features sidewalk imprints, artistic benches, tiled light poles, sculptures and bus shelters all the way from the George Eastman House towards the stunning neogothic building of the Memorial Art Gallery. Every September this neighbourhood hosts the Clothesline Art Show.
Art comes alive in the ArtWalk neighbourhood
After Artwalk we headed down Main Street into the downtown area. I got a look at the Eastman Theatre, home of the Eastman School of Music, one of the top music schools in the country. The Eastman Theatre itself is an interesting building, curved and classically styled, it is literally cut off on one side since a neighbour of George Eastman demanded an exorbitant price for his property, and rather than giving in to these demands, Eastman simply decided to stop the building at the property line.
Our next stop was the Browns Race and High Falls Area: one of the city’s newest entertainment districts. Rochester was once known as the Flour City for all the wheat grinding that occurred along its River. Today, the Brown’s Race area is a national register historic district. The area sits above the Genesee River, right next to the thundering High Falls. The Pont de Rennes bridge is a pedestrian bridge, connecting the east and west side of the city, and is named after Rochester’s sister city in France.
The High Falls area
Many of the former industrial buildings have been renovated and are now occupied by ad agencies, tech companies and engineering firms. The streets in the district have cobble-stoned pavement and feature historically styled street lighting. There are a number of entertainment places in the area, including the Triphammer Grill, which has a patio area overlooking the falls. Beside this restaurant is an old water wheel, testimony to this area’s milling history. It’s a very atmospheric place and an example of a successful conversion of an old industrial area into a modern entertainment district.
The Kodak headquarters are not far away from the High Falls area, and our tour continued past a number of the downtown streets. As a true architecture buff, I marveled at how many of Rochester’s historic buildings have been preserved. There are entire blocks that have an intact 19th century street front, some with cast iron architecture. There was no time to explore the architecture in detail, that would have to wait for my second day in town. But needless to say, I knew I had found a city that had preserved a lot of its architectural heritage that would require further exploration.