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Rochester’s Park System: a model for the world

August 7th, 2013

One of the pedestrian bridges in Genesee Valley Park. This was not originally part of Olmsted's plan. [PHOTO: Rochester Public Library, Local History Division]
If you’re a RocSubway reader and you love learning about Rochester as much as I do, you might want to check out 585 Magazine. It’s a pretty slick new bimonthly packed with tasty local bits on every topic imaginable. Plus, you might catch an occasional story on local places & history written by yours truly. In the current issue I attempt explore Rochester’s incredible, Olmsted-designed park system – in 800 words or less! Completely impossible, but I tried.

First, head over to 585 Mag and check out the story external link. Then come back here for fun extras, including Olmsted’s original plan drawings of Highland, Seneca, and Genesee Valley Parks, AND audio from my interview with JoAnn Beck, cochair of the Landmark Society’s Olmsted subcommittee…

Listen To The Interview

[audio:http://www.rochestersubway.com/audio/rochester-olmsted-parks-interview-joann-beck.mp3|autostart=no]
JoAnn Beck talks about these drawings, Olmsted, and the genius behind the design of Rochester’s park system.

See Olmsted’s Plan Drawings

(Click the images below for a much larger view!)

Original plan drawing of Highland Park by Frederick Law Olmsted & Co.ABOVE: The original plan drawing of Highland Park by F.L. Olmsted & Co. Note the location of the now missing Children’s Pavilion. It’s that circular bullseye immediately northeast of the reservoir. The pavilion is the missing jewel atop Highland Park, destroyed in the 1960s. The Highland Park Conservancy is now fundraising external link with the hope of one day rebuilding it.

Original plan drawing of Seneca Park by Frederick Law Olmsted & Co.ABOVE: Olmsted’s plan drawing for Seneca Park. Notice how Seneca Park stretched all the way from Driving Park, north, past where the Keeler Expressway (NY 104) runs through it today. No high-rise towers. No Seneca Park Zoo. Just uninterrupted scenic parkland. Also note, the tree-lined boulevard that shoots upward toward Lake Ave. It’s labeled “Paine St.” Today it’s Seneca Parkway, and it was designed by Olmsted to be part of a parkway system to connect all of Rochester’s parks. Seneca Parkway was the only segment that was actually built.

Original plan drawing of Genesee Valley Park by Frederick Law Olmsted & Co.ABOVE: Olmsted’s plan drawing for Genesee Valley Park. You’ll notice the great Meadow, Deer Park, Ball Fields; even a Gymnastic Ground. What you won’t see are any golf courses, the Erie Canal, or those elegant pedestrian bridges which would all be added later (to the dismay of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.).

• • •

Now you’ve read the story external link, heard the interview, seen the drawings… what are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy your parks external link!

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 7th, 2013 at 12:03 am and is filed under Interviews, Rochester Destinations, Rochester History, Rochester Images, Transit + Infrastructure, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

7 Responses to “Rochester’s Park System: a model for the world”

  1. Erik Stoneham says:

    Mike,
    I all ready read your article in 585 a month ago or so. It caught my eye and forced my decision to get a subscription to 585. I am always telling people how lucky we are to have these parks as they were designed by a great visionary.
    I am pulling for the children’s gazebo to be rebuilt. That would be a huge draw to the park, especially during the Lilac Festival.
    Another great story and thank you

  2. Jason Haremza says:

    Where are these original drawings? FLO National Historic Site? City? Central Library? Historical Society?

    They’re gorgeous. I would hang them on my wall.

  3. @Jason, the drawings were discovered by Tim O’Connell (probably around the time the parks moved to County control). They were displayed for a time in City Hall, then photographed (film), eventually digitized, and now the original drawings are in a vault somewhere under climate control. I forget where exactly but I’m sure I could dig that up in my notes.

    I wanted to share them here because I think they are fascinating, and quite frankly, a treasure. As far as I know this web page is the only place the public can view them… though I could be wrong.

    Please be sure to click on the images to zoom in on the detail. Your web browser might scale them to fit the window so click on them again to make sure you’re seeing the full size.

    Oh, and listen to the interview with JoAnn Beck (above) if you haven’t already. She says the drawings are huge. She acquired a disk with the digitized files and sent me copies. Personally, I think the quality of the digital versions is terrible and should be redone.

  4. pat m says:

    I’m with Jason haremza. If these could be reproduced on a smaller scale, and its true what you say and they are huge. I would be willing to buy one for myself.as long as the proceeds go to the conservancy of course.

  5. Maybe you guys are on to something here. Hmmm…

  6. john gormley says:

    The bridge in the opening photo crossed the Canal, the Genesee River is in the background, and Red Creek emptied into the canal close by. Thatwhole area was popular fo catching Bullheads and rock bass.


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