Rochester’s History

Rochester - High Falls

Rochester – High Falls

Rochester is a city in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, and is known as the “Flour City” and the “Flower City.” It began as a small village around a flour mill. When the Erie Canal was built through Rochester, the city became a major trade center for grain shipped from the Midwest to the East, as well as the supplies that were shipped back to the Midwest. It’s strategic location on the Genesee river allowed for the construction of numerous flour mills in the city.

On November 8, , a 100 acre (ca. 40 ) tract in Western New York along the Genesee River was purchased by Colonel Nathaniel Rochester, Major Charles Carroll, and Colonel William Fitzhugh, all of Hagerstown, Maryland. The site was chosen because of three cataracts on the Genesee, offering great potential for water power. Beginning in 1811, and with a population of 15, the three founders surveyed the land and laid out streets and tracts. In 1817, the Brown brothers and other landowners joined their lands with the Hundred Acre Tract to form the village of Rochesterville.

Erie Canal as it was built in 1842, replacing the original construction from 1823. In the 1920s, the Broad Street Bridge was erected on top of it.  By 1821, Rochesterville was the seat of Monroe County. In 1823, Rochesterville consisted of 1,012 acres (4 km2) and 2,500 residents, and the Village of Rochesterville became known as Rochester. Also in 1823, the Erie Canal aqueduct over the Genesee River was completed, and the Erie Canal east to the Hudson River was opened.

Later, after the advent of railroads, the presence of the canal in the center city became bothersome, and it was re-routed south of Rochester. By 1830, Rochester’s population was 9,200 and in 1834, it was re-chartered as a city.

Highland Park - Lilac Festival

Highland Park – Lilac Festival

Rochester was first known as “The Young Lion of the West”, and then as the “Flour City”. By 1838, the city was the largest flour-producing city in the United States. Having doubled its population in only ten years, Rochester became America’s first “boomtown.”

In 1847, Frederick Douglass founded the abolitionist newspaper The North Star in Rochester. Douglass, a former slave and an antislavery speaker and writer, gained a circulation of over 4,000 readers in the United States, Europe and the Caribbean. The North Star served as a forum for abolitionist views.

Thanks to the philanthropy of George Eastman, the industrialist who lived in Rochester and founded several world-renowned institutions, Rochester is home to the Eastman Kodak Co., the Eastman School of Music, and the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.

Rochester has a history of progressivism. Large numbers of freed slaves lived in the city and Frederick Douglass’s paper, The North Star was printed there. Susan B. Anthony hailed from Rochester and her influence helped lead the University of Rochester to accept women in 1900.

Since World War II, Rochester saw a decline in population but has also seen periods of urban renewal funded by industry, such as Xerox. In the 60’s and 70’s, the city became known as the leading Jazz town in upstate New York. Today, the city holds its annual International Jazz Festival every June.

In the early 20th century, Rochester became a center of the garment industry, particularly men’s fashions. It was home of enterprises such as Fashion Park and Hickey-Freeman. It was home to the pioneer automobile company Cunningham, produced by carriage maker James Cunningham and Sons.

Park lands

Highland Park - Reservoir Fountain

Highland Park – Reservoir Fountain – ©Matthew D. Wilson 2007

The city’s Victorian era Mt. Hope Cemetery includes the final resting place of Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and George Baldwin Selden. Other scenic cemeteries are Holy Sepulchre and its neighbor the Riverside Cemetery. Rochester is also known for its parks, including the Highland Park, Cobb’s Hill ParkDurand-Eastman ParkGenesee Valley Park, Maplewood Park, Edgerton Park, Seneca Park and Ontario Beach Park. Lamberton Conservatory from 1911 in the Highland Park.

The city has 13 full-time recreation centers, 19 swimming programs, 3 artificial ice rinks, 66 softball/baseball fields, 47 tennis courts, 5 football fields, 7 soccer fields, and 43 outdoor basketball courts. As a legacy of its time as “The Flower City”, Rochester hosts a Lilac Festival for ten days every May, when nearly 400 varieties of lilacs bloom, and 100,000 visitors arrive.


Rochester has a number of festivals, many of which occur in late spring and throughout the summer. These include the Rochester International Jazz Festival, established in 2002; the Corn Hill Festival (arts, crafts, and food in this Third Ward neighborhood); the Rochester-High Falls International Film Festival; Clothesline Art Festival (artists from the region display their works on the grounds of the Memorial Art Gallery); Park Avenue Merchants FestivalLilac Festival at Highland Park; St. Patrick’s Day parade (March); Rose Festival at Maplewood Park; Irish festival (September); two Greek festivals – one on East Avenue (in June) and one on South Avenue (in Auguest); Gay Pride Festival (July); Puerto Rican Festival (August); Rochester Music Festival; and the Cold Rush Winter Celebration (celebrating winter sports in the Rochester area). During the summer, and especially on the Fourth of July, downtown after dark is lit with fireworks and a laser show at the High Falls venue.

Geography and climate

High Falls during the summer.  The city is east of Buffalo, west of Syracuse and sits on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. The Genesee River bisects the city.  According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 37.1 square miles (96.1 km²), of which, 35.8 square miles (92.7 km²) of it is land and 1.3 square miles (3.4 km²) of it (3.42%) is water.  Rochester’s geography comes from the ice sheets during the Pleistocene epoch. The retreating ice sheets reached a standstill at what is now the southern border of the city, melting at the same rate as they were advancing, depositing sediment along the southern edge of the ice mass. This created a line of hills, including (from west to east) Mt. Hope, the hills of Highland Park, Pinnacle Hill, and Cobb’s Hill. Because the sediment of these hills was deposited into a preglacial lake they are stratified and classified as a “kame delta.” A brief retreat and re-advance of the ice sheet onto the delta piled unstratified (moraine) material there, creating a rare hybrid structure called a “kame moraine.”

The ice sheets also left behind Lake Ontario (one of the five fresh-water Great Lakes), the Genesee River with its waterfalls and gorges, Irondequoit Bay, Sodus Bay, Braddock’s Bay, Mendon Ponds, numerous local streams and ponds, the Ridge, and the nearby Finger Lakes. The principal source of water is Hemlock Lake, which, with its watershed, is owned by the city. Other water sources are Canadice Lakeand Lake Ontario. The 30-year annual average snowfall is 95.0 inches (241 cm), making Rochester the snowiest large city in the U.S. The mean July temperature is 71.3℉ (21.8℃).  Rochester  has four distinct seasons, Autumn features brilliant foliage colors, and summer sees comfortable temperatures that usually stay in the low to mid 80s (upper 20s Celsius). Precipitation is plentiful year round.

Rochester is home to a large number of cultural institutions considering its population. These include the world-renowned Garth Fagan Dance, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester Contemporary Art Center, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Strong – National Museum of Play, the A|V Room, the Strasenburgh Planetarium, and numerous arts organizations. Rochester’s Geva Theatre Center is the city’s largest professional theatre.

Rochester is also home to Wet Planet Beverages, producer of Jolt Cola and other beverages. High Falls Brewing Company, maker of the Genesee beers and JW Dundee’s brand (Honey Brown) also calls Rochester home. Arbor Mist wines are produced in nearby Canandaigua, NY by owner Constellation Brands.  National frozen food manufacturer Birds Eye is headquartered in suburban Rochester. Heluva Good Cheeses and Seneca Foods are in nearby Wayne County. The Ragú brand of pasta sauce was originally produced in Rochester, and the Francesco Rinaldi pasta sauce is manufactured in Rochester. Barilla has a food manufacturing plant in nearby Livingston County, in the Village of Avon.

Other local franchises include: Bill Gray’s (a hamburger/hot dog joint that lays claim to having “The World’s Greatest Cheeseburger”), Country Sweet (known for their chicken wings and BBQ sauce), Boss Sauce, described as a “tantalizing sweet, spicy-hot gourmet after-sauce,” was born from the restaurant Eddie’s Chicken Coop, Tom Wahl’sDibella’s, Great Northern Pizza Kitchen, Zebb’s, Don’s Original, and Abbott’s Frozen CustardDinosaur Bar-b-que, which originated in Syracuse, also operates their second franchise downtown in the former Lehigh Valley Railroad station on the Genesee River.

Little Theatre

Little Theatre


The Little Theatre on East Avenue, Rochester has several districts containing bars and nightspots but the primary area is the East End District in the southeast part of downtown. Restaurants, bistros, and nightclubs can also be found in the St. Paul Quarter, Monroe Avenue (and Upper Monroe), as well as Park Avenue. The South Wedge neighborhood boasts a wine bar, a British-style pub, an Irish pub, a honky-tonk cajun bar-b-que joint and numerous other restaurants and bars.

Area Attractions

University of Rochester Medical School
Eastman Kodak Company
Frontier Field
Blue Cross Arena
Eastman Theatre / Rochester Philharmonic
George Eastman House
Memorial Art Gallery
Susan B Anthony House
Mt. Hope Cemetery
Lake Ontario Shore
Finger Lakes Wine Region
William E. Simon School of Business Administration