A Walking Tour of
by Ruth Uhrenholdt
More Photos of 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
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
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
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
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.