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A Walking Tour of
Highland Park

by Ruth Uhrenholdt

More Photos of Highland Park

Highland Park, just outside the center of the city of Rochester, is remarkable for its beautiful plants, shrubs, trees and its terrain: hills, valleys and  plains.  Its relative small size would seem to make for an easy walk, but meandering along paths to the section of rhododendrons or up to the pond north of Highland Bowl or a walk to the Vietnam Memorial is definitely invigorating for young and old alike.  It is, however, worth every step and there are plenty of benches along the way to rest and enjoy the scenery around you.

A good place to start your walk in Highland Park is from Mt. Hope Cemetery.  In its beginnings Mt. Hope Cemetery served both as a burial ground and a garden park.  The terrain is similar in both places.  The cemetery and park's geological features were formed by a glacier that covered this area 12,000 to 14,000 years ago.  Some of the ridges in the cemetery and park are eskers, formed by rock and rubble from flowing rivers as the glacier receded.  Kettles, the dips in the terrain, were formed by icebergs that floated in glacial lakes.  Gravel and debris surrounded these icebergs so that when the ice melted and the lake disappeared, a deep hole was formed.

Another reason to start here is the fact that George Ellwanger is buried here.  In 1888 Ellwanger, along with his partner, Patrick Barry, donated 20 acres of their large nursery (650 acres at its prime) for the establishment of a park just east of Mt. Hope Cemetery.  His family plot with its sculpture of St. John is located just up the rise on what the cemetery refers to as  "East Avenue," located inside the cemetery from the north gate entrance.  From here you see Warner Castle, and perhaps you can imagine what the landscape looked like in 1888: just a few houses on Mt. Hope and adjacent streets, with nothing but the grounds of the nursery and wide open fields to the east.

Now walk south on Mt. Hope to the entrance of Warner Castle.  Horatio Gates Warner built this home in 1854.  His design was inspired by the Douglas Clan ancestral castle which Warner visited in Scotland.  It now houses the Rochester Civic Garden Center. Stopping here could take an hour all by itself.  Tours of the house for its architectural history are available; a botanical library, a gift shop, an art exhibit and special gardens outside the castle makes this a must visit for horticultural enthusiasts.  The Garden Center is open to the public Tuesday - Thursday, 9:30 AM - 3:30 PM and Saturday, 9:30 AM - 12:30 PM.

From the Garden Center or Castle take a walk down Reservoir Drive. Note the natural amphitheater, the Highland Bowl, on your left.  Many special performances and events are held here.  A statue of Frederick Douglass overlooks the scene; this block or area around Highland Bowl is known as "Frederick Douglass Square".  This is very appropriate because of the importance of Douglass in the history of Rochester and also because his home was just down the street where the James Duffy Elementary School driveway is now located.

A walk north on South Avenue reveals an area of the park not often seen by casual visitors.  A small pond, used as an ice skating rink in winter and a natural setting to observe plant and animal life in summer or just a place to pause and reflect, beckons you in to take a look around. Beyond this are a couple of baseball fields for the casual game or for league play.

Now return to the ridge (South Avenue just across from Highland Bowl) of the park where the tulips bloom in the spring and annuals reside in the summer.  Just beyond these beds is Lamberton Conservatory, named for former Park Commissioner A. B. Lamberton and a feature of Highland Park since 1911.  Inside this climate controlled building are exhibits of tropical and exotic plants.  Before leaving the Conservatory, pick up the "Highland Park Guide" to the plant collections in the park.  This will help you interpret all that you see and what to look for depending on the time of the year.

Lamberton Conservatory

Outside the Conservatory, to the east, a large depression in the landscape is a reminder of the park's glacial past.  But the most noticeable feature of this part of the park is the Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to sections of the city of Rochester.

To the south and east are many well-marked walkways, inviting visitors into the arboretum or "tree garden."  Originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, this section grew from its original 20 to 150 acres with the acquisition of additional land nearly 20 years ago.

Enjoy the witch hazels in March, the forsythias and magnolias in April, the flowering pear and crabapple trees and the tulips, azaleas, and pansy bed in May, the rhododendrons in June, the hydrangeas in July, and the annual bedding plants in August.  Besides these are the horse chestnut collection, the Woodland Garden, the Japanese maple collection, the Rock Garden and of course the lilac collection for which the park is famous.

As you stroll the park towards Highland Avenue, you'll discover plenty of information about the subject of horticulture from the Monroe County Cooperative Extension, 249 Highland Avenue, at the base of the park near the intersection of Highland and South Avenues. Following the trail near the Extension leads to the lovely Arches Pavilion with a patio, fountain and benches.

Up a gently sloping rise and taking full advantage of the topography of this area, is the Vietnam Memorial. It invites a slow, reflective walk to see the individual markers and narrative of important aspects of this period in our history.

Open land extends further south to the Al Sigl Center and to Elmwood Avenue.  The Park owns land running south from Highland Avenue along Goodman where a greenhouse stands.  Many of the annuals planted in the park are grown here.  Much of the park's maintenance is done by county workers from offices across the street from the greenhouse.

The Sunken Garden

You've had a chance to see much.  Take note of all those little nooks and crannies and secret places you would like to go back to - perhaps in a different season.  Relax there in the summer time under the shady trees; enjoy a brisk walk in autumn to delight in the fall colors; come to cross-country ski or skate on the pond in the winter; and yes, stroll in Highland Park in the spring to relish the rebirth of the many flowering trees and shrubs, including the lilacs and the Lilac Festival.

Appreciation goes to Richard Reisem for the informative narrative in his book, Mount Hope, America's First Municipal Victorian Cemetery and for his personal knowledge and love of this area that he so willingly and enthusiastically imparted to me.

The Monroe County Parks Office was also helpful in clarifying several aspects of the plan of the park.


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