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Hey It’s Lilac Time in Lilac Town

Holy smokes this woman is enjoying 'Lilac Time in Rochester'. Over 1,600 bushes... you don't say? (postcard, circa 1965)
Stop everything… do you smell that? No sir, I showered yesterday so it’s not me. That lovely aroma you just caught a whiff of is coming from Highland Park. Oh yeeeyah, since 1898 Springtime in Rochester means more than just flowers. Flowers are for pansy-ass towns. Here in the R-O-C we do LILACS. So grab your old lady and your Kodak—we’re taking a trip to the early days of Rochester’s Lilac Festival…

Here's a bus/trolley pass from 1935 reminding riders to stop and smell the lilacs.

Another bus/trolley pass featuring the lilacs. This one from 1936.

First thing you’re going to need if your venturing out to the Lilac Festival external link at Pinnacle Range is a trolley pass so you can hop on the South Ave trolley line. Fortunately I’ve got a pair from 1935 and ’36—they should still be good. (BTW, RochesterSubway.com has a few more of these trolley passes for sale here if you’re interested.)

After stepping off the streetcar you’ll probably notice the terrain isn’t quite as flat as you’re used to. Highland Park came into existence in 1888 when 20 acres of the Ellwanger & Barry Nursery, along with many rare trees and shrubs, were donated to the city for the park. The property was located on the Pinnacle Range, a three mile long string of steep, irregular hills that had been formed 13,000 years ago during the Ice Age by the receding glacier. Fascinating!

'Rochester at Lilac Time'. A postcard, probably from the 1940's or 50's.Alrighty then, let’s take a stroll down this curvy footpath. My my, how picture-esque these views are. Why it almost seems as though each and every view was carefully planned out. Well that’s because they were. Frederick Law Olmsted external link, the leading landscape architect of his day, was hired to design the park. And at the center of his new masterpiece was to be a viewing pavilion (seen in the background of this 1940’s illustration and in the images below). The Ellwanger & Barry Children’s Pavilion stood forty-six feet heigh sixty-two feet in diameter. Climbing the central staircase to the upper two levels, visitors were rewarded with an unobstructed panoramic view of the entire area.

A crowd at the Ellwanger & Barry Children's Pavilion in Highland Park (1913).Olmsted placed the pavilion strategically at the Pinnacle, the park’s highest point, adjacent to the city reservoir. Funding problems were about to stall construction when George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry donated the $7,000 as a gift to the children of Rochester. And here’s a view in color from our vintage postcard collection

A vintage postcard view of the Highland Park Pavilion (c.1930).
By the way, if you’re looking for the pavilion this weekend (2010), don’t bother. It was closed in 1961 due to lack of maintenance, and demolished in 1963. OKAY, onward, past the pavilion a little further up this hill and… ah yes… there’s the pretty Highland Park Reservoir. This was a bit harder to demolish so they decided to leave it. And we’re glad they did…

A vintage postcard view of the Highland Park Reservoir (1908).

Oh boy oh boy… here comes the parade! How I love a good parade. This one is dedicated to the Lilac Queen and her court. The parade consists mostly of young women and girls wearing costumes and carrying lilacs. But who is this “Lilac Queen”? Good question. Let’s meet her…

A large crowd is gathered in Highland Park near the reservoir to see the parade of the Lilac Queen and her court. The parade consists mostly of young women and girls wearing costumes and carrying lilacs (circa 1930).

All hail... The Lilac Queen. 1930.In 1930 the first Lilac Festival Queen Contest was held and Christine M. Blackwell, an instructor at the YWCA, was crowned and paraded around like the true queen she is. That’s her on the right. The requirements to be Lilac Queen? Simple: personality, poise and charm. In 1932, 7 Lilac Queens were chosen representing national groups & the celebration was extended to Lilac Week. Unfortunately the Lilac Queen contest, lasted only 4 years because the mobs accompanying the pageantry threatened the park shrubs. Oh well. At least we’ve still got the flowers, err, I mean lilacs.

Alright now, get. Go take a break from this blog and go experience the 2010 Lilac Festival. Oh, and if you take any pictures at this year’s event, leave a flickr link in the comments. We’d love to see your photos!

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This entry was posted on Friday, May 14th, 2010 at 12:51 am and is filed under Events, Rochester History, Rochester Images. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “Hey It’s Lilac Time in Lilac Town”

  1. Great article. I lived in Rochester from 1939 to 1970 when IBM transferred me to Florida. In the 30 years that I lived there I never went to Highland Park for Lilac Sunday. It was not until 1973 when we went to Rochester to visit family that I finally made it to the Lilac Festival.

  2. admin says:

    @Patrick, I’ll be heading there tomorrow. Weather is supposed to be perfect. I’ll try to post some pictures here.

  3. Bob says:

    Wine tasting at the festival and music by Guy Forsyth tomorrow!

    Nice part about living a good baseball throw from the park is that my wife and I got to see/smell them this year when they were still in good shape.

  4. admin says:

    Okay, here are the Lilac Festival pictures I promised… But I’m a bit upset with myself for not charging my camera battery before I left the house. Damn thing crapped out on me before I got over to the music stage and the kiddie rides!

    These shots are from Sunday afternoon. Probably the most glorious Sunday afternoon you’ve ever seen I might add. Then again, they’re all pretty glorious here at Camp Ra-cha-cha. Right?

  5. Dan says:

    I was there last weekend and saw that they are collecting money to re-build the children’s pavilion in it’s original location.

  6. Lisa Meyvis says:

    My grandmother always told our family, that her sister, Jennie Molhoek, was the first Lilac Queen. I wonder if she was referring to the girls listed in this article who were crowned in 1932. Does anyone have any information about past Lilac Queen’s names? My brother said he saw our great aunt, Jennie’s name in print one time and it did refer to her as the Lilac Queen…


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