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Exploring Rochester - rochester's preserved history can be educational & fun for your family By Marianne Benjamin

The Rochester area is rich in history. Thanks to the efforts of area residents – past and present – who have cherished our neighborhoods, cities, parks and buildings, we have preserved some precious resources to share with our children. "Many people think that preservation is just a movement to save old buildings – but it is much more than that," says Caitlin Meives, Preservation Planner of The Landmark Society of Western New York. "Preservation involves fostering interest in the architectural heritage of our region and promoting reinvestment in older neighborhoods and buildings. It means adapting older buildings and structures (like bridges) to new uses, preserving landscapes and open space, and constructing new buildings that complement the old."

History is a major part of any school curriculum but how can parents help children understand and appreciate the history, architecture and resources we have around us? And how can you make it fun?

There are many local attractions – some of them free – that are both enjoyable and educational. It's guaranteed that they will become favorite stops for your family. Here is a small sampling of destinations and activities that you can share with your children.

Tour a Historic Building

You don't have to take your kids to Williamsburg, Virginia to experience late colonial living. The Stone-Tolan House Historic Site at 2370 East Avenue in Rochester is actually the oldest place in the county and its 200 year history has been thoughtfully preserved. Originally a farm and tavern run by owners Orringh and Elizabeth Stone, it served as both home and work. Local citizens planned for the government of the new town of Brighton in the tavern room and travelers took shelter from the wilderness of 19th century New York within its walls.

Currently owned and operated by The Landmark Society of Western New York, the house has never been moved and is firmly rooted on the original site. The East Avenue neighborhood is now comfortable suburban splendor but Mr. Stone's tavern stands where it always has, witness to the changes and reminder of our rural roots.

The Stone-Tolan House represents the private and the public activities of a household and rural tavern on the frontier in Brighton between 1790 and 1820. Visitors can tour the tavern room, kitchen, parlor-bedroom, summer kitchen, orchard herb and kitchen gardens, smokehouse, and privy.

Visit a Park

Rochester is one of a handful of American cities that have a park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American Landscape Architecture and a leader of the American park movement. In the late 1800's, city leaders had a vision for a grand park system for Rochester, starting with Highland Park. They hired Olmsted, who helped them choose locations along the Genesee River for what became Genesee Valley Park, Seneca Park and Maplewood Park. Olmsted designed each of the four parks to show off its unique scenery, with graceful drives and walkways for visitors to experience the landscape.

Highland Park, with its famous lilac collection, has hills, valleys, and scenic outlooks. Genesee Valley Park has rolling meadows with tall trees, and views of the broad river valley. Seneca Park and Maplewood Park are on the deep river gorge with its native forest. They each have a picturesque pond and picnic groves. Today these parks remain exceptional examples of Olmsted's design. Seneca, Maplewood and Highland parks are all listed on the national Register of Historic Places.

"Visits to the Rochester Olmsted Parks are trips through the ideal landscapes of the turn of the 20th century," says JoAnn Beck, Senior Landscape Architect with the City of Rochester. "They are open and free for all to visit. Come to experience natural beauty in many forms and to enjoy activity in fresh air and sunshine. They are designed to promote our health, lift our spirits and inspire our imaginations." For self-guided walking tours through the historic parks, and other information, visit the websites for Monroe County Parks (www.monroecounty. gov/parks-index.php) and the City of Rochester parks (

Stroll Through a Neighborhood

The 35 streets of Rochester's oldest residential neighborhood, Corn Hill, are bordered by I-490 to the north, Ford Street to the west and the Genesee River/Erie Canal to the east and south. Built during the 1820s and 30s, many called the neighborhood "The Ruffled Shirt Ward" because of the prosperity of its residents and the substantial homes and mansions found there. Since the 1970s the neighborhood has been popularly and widely known as historic "Corn Hill."

Today Corn Hill is a vibrant urban village in the heart of Rochester. The neighborhood boasts historic architecture along well-kept streets and amidst inviting parks. But the neighborhood struggled to get to this point, declining in the post- World War II years as the general population shifted from the city to the suburbs.

In the 1960s, urban renewal claimed many historic homes, including those inhabited by Rochester's first mayor and other early leaders. The structures were demolished when I-490 was built through a portion of the neighborhood. More land was cleared to make way for the Civic Center and other roadway additions.

Landmark Society architectural surveys of surviving homes in 1964 helped persuade the government to include conservation in its urban renewal plans. Residents worked to revive the neighborhood and formed The Corn Hill Neighbors Association to promote and protect the area.

Beginning in the 1980s, new residences, designed to be compatible with the neighborhood's historic streetscapes, began to fill in areas cleared during the era of urban renewal. Many local businesses also moved in, including restaurants, shops and professional and medical services.

Today's Corn Hill neighborhood is within walking distance of downtown Rochester's main business district and its many attractions, including the Blue Cross Arena at the Community War Memorial as well as the seasonal Mary Jemison boat tours. A stroll through the neighborhood is a wonderful opportunity to teach children about architecture, urban renewal, and Rochester's history.

The biggest attraction in the neighborhood is the annual Corn Hill Arts Festival, a juried art show of fine arts and crafts which attracts more than 250,000 people. The festival is recognized as one of the top 200 festivals in the country by Sunshine Artist Magazine. An array of food and musical entertainment and a children's area are also part of the festival. This year the festival is July 7-8.

Research Your Personal Story

Families wishing to find out more about their Rochester roots can do so at the Rochester Historical Society, located in the Rundel Library on South Avenue in Rochester. Researching your history together as a family can be a great afternoon or rainy day activity. Show your children how Rochester has changed and evolved since you and their ancestors grew up here.

The Rochester Historical Society (RHS) has a wide variety of resources to help you research your Rochester roots. Unique to RHS is the Rochester Pioneer Registry, which consists of genealogical files of over 8,400 descendants of Rochester's first inhabitants. In addition, the Society has Rochester City Directories published from 1827 to 1986. City Directories are rich historical and genealogical resources. Down the hall is the Public Library's Local History Division which has more genealogical material that you can browse.

Although you may walk in and receive assistance during business hours Tuesday through Thursday, 10 am through 3 pm, it is recommended to call ahead at 428-8470 so materials can be gathered in advance of your visit.

Whether you are in awe of historical architecture, a lover of green space, or interested in your ancestors, Rochester is truly the place to be!

Marianne Benjamin is a contributing writer to Rochester Area & Genesee Valley Parent Magazine. She is a public relations consultant who lives in the Rochester, NY area.

Lisa Barbero is an artist living and working in Rochester, NY. Find her online at