Rochester is one of just four cities nationwide that boasts an entire park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of the landscape architecture profession. Olmsted designed Highland, Genesee Valley and Seneca Parks for Rochester. Olmsted and the firm that continued his work after his retirement also designed several parkways and small neighborhood parks.

In 1888, Rochester’s Board of Park Commissioners selected Frederick Law Olmsted to design a network of parks and parkways for the city. The commissioners envisioned a system that would begin with the development of elegant, park-like boulevards, but Olmsted encouraged them to concentrate instead on setting aside generous amounts of open space as the city’s first major public parks. He proposed a system focused on the city’s great natural asset – the dramatic Genesee River in all its glorious variety.

Olmsted’s three major parks in Rochester each represented different landscape styles. Highland Park was created on land donated to the city by horticulturists George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry; in recognition of their gift, the design called for an arboretum of various plants and shrubs that would preserve the dazzling views from the top of the hill. Genesee Valley Park, designed in Olmsted’s classic “pastoral” style, features gently rolling terrain along the river south of downtown. Seneca Park, meanwhile, is an excellent example of Olmsted’s "picturesque" style, with rugged terrain meant to inspire wonder and awe.

When Olmsted suggested setting aside the land for Highland, Genesee Valley and Seneca Parks, some thought it unnecessary to set aside so much land so far from the center of the city, in relatively undeveloped areas where open land was plentiful. As Olmsted expected, the parks were not on the fringes for very long, as the city quickly grew to surround them. Today, Rochester’s three large Olmsted parks provide tranquility and beauty right in the city, while smaller parks and parkways are focal points of their neighborhoods.

Source: Seneca Park Walking Tour; Landmark Society of Western NY

 

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