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Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Seneca Park (Photo by Paul Ericson)

City Oases


Some cities are just lucky, and Rochester is one of them: The Flower City is one of only five for which famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed a whole system of parks.

"Olmsted changed how we saw our public open space and what we expected when we went to a park," says JoAnn Beck, senior landscape architect for the city. "These spaces bring value and commitment to the community. It's something that an emerging city could not acquire at any price."

And like no other system in his repertoire, Olmsted's parks in Rochester are distinct from one another. Genesee Valley has a pastoral quality, Highland is picturesque and Seneca is grand.

Highland, Seneca and parts of Maplewood are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Olmsted selected land that is rolling and meadowlike, with the Genesee River meandering through. Here you'll find the classic English landscape adapted to the new world. "This is more like the landscape you see in Prospect Park and Central Park, with the big, expansive views," Beck says.

Beck recommends: Picturesque footbridges, added by Olmsted's sons, offer views of the Erie Canal.


The horticultural displays that Highland is famed for-including its world-class collection of lilacs-were the city's priority, not Olmsted's, but he blended them into his vision with his signature finesse. Sharing this responsibility is something he likely would have shunned earlier in his career. The result is a nationally respected arboretum.

Beck recommends: A paved path winds lazily through rhododendron valley, where masses of century-old bushes burst with blooms in early summer. Lamberton Conservatory, built by Lord & Burnham, was added after the park was developed but sited in consultation with Olmsted's firm. "It's a little jewel," Beck says.


Seneca retains key Olmsted touches. Its 297 acres are the epitome of natural elegance and drama, with towering trees, deep river gorge and winding roads and paths. Deep in this park, surrounded by forest, it's hard to imagine you are in the city.

Beck recommends: The pedestrian bridge over the Genesee River offers extraordinary views of the gorge. And on the long drive into the park, vistas unfold as Olmsted intended.


Maplewood is a point of pride for neighbors. Its annual Rose Weekend in June draws thousands to the 5,000-bloom rose garden. A paved trail leads to gorgeous close-up views of the Middle and Lower Falls.

Beck recommends: Check out the river trail. A sign marks Kelsey's Landing, where former slaves seeking freedom boarded ships for Canada. Through the trees, see if you can glimpse the remains of the Glen House, a popular establishment around the turn of the 20th century.

© Rochester Business Journal


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