You sometimes hear people say, "There is nothing to do in Rochester; nothing ever happens here."
I beg to disagree. After careful research, my wife and I chose to move here in the late 1980s
because of its attractive features, and we find it a great place to live. There are far more interesting
things to do here than any person can possibly do, and you can get to almost anyplace in 20 minutes.
Here are the highlights of Rochester as I see them.
Rochester is "The Most Helpful City." In 1990, researchers conducted a national study
to see how often people would volunteer to help strangers who "accidentally" dropped a package
or otherwise needed assistance. They found that people in Rochester were the most
helpful in the country. A similar study was conducted in 1940 and Rochester ranked
number one then also.
Rochester consistently gives more money per capita to the United Way than any city its size,
more than three times the national average. The community has more than 250 volunteer
organizations. Lawyers here provide more free services to the needy than anywhere else
in the state.
In 2001, Rochestarians donated more organs per capita than any other city in the U. S.
During the decade of 1990s, Rochesterians earned more patents per capita than any
other city in the country. Kodak produced the most, followed by Xerox.
Rochester produces more than $1 billion in manufactured export goods per month, again mostly
from Kodak and Xerox. That is more per capita than anywhere else in the country.
Rochester ranked fourth in the world on the 2003 World Knowledge Competiveness Index
compiled by Robert Huggins Associates, a British think tank. (San Francisco, Austin and
Boston were the top three.) The index is based on the capacity to create, "new ideas,
thoughts, processes and products, and to translate these into economic value."
Wegman's, a grocery chain headquartered here, is a pace-setter for the industry. A 1994
article in the Wall Street Journal quotes a national consultant for the grocery industry as
saying, "We consider them the best chain in the country, maybe the world."
East Avenue is one of the grandest boulevards in the country. Among its collection of
more than fifty well-preserved mansions is the
home of George
Eastman, founder of Kodak.
Downtown Rochester has a beautiful 96-foot
The Genesee River plunges spectacularly into a wide gorge at the northern edge of
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The Rochester metropolitan area, which includes Monroe
and surrounding counties, has just over a million people, about a quarter of whom live in
the city of Rochester itself.
In the 2000 census, Monroe County's population
was 79% Caucasian, 14% African American, 5% Hispanic, and 2% Asian American.
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Music is big in Rochester, especially classical music:
Rochester has 10 community orchestras and 20 community choral groups. By comparison with
more typical cities of our size, Columbus, Ohio has 6 of each, while Oklahoma City has 1
orchestra and 2 choral groups.
Jazz, blues, pop, rock, and acoustic music are also available, of course, with about 30
choices of live music on a typical Friday or Saturday night.
One of the most widely known cultural institutions in Rochester is
Garth Fagan Dance, which
develops its dances here before performing them world-wide. Fagan was the choreographer
for the Broadway version of The Lion King.
In addition to standard movie houses, cinema fans are well served by:
- The Little Theater, which has five screens
featuring independent and foreign films.
- The Dryden Theater, which shows
several films each week from its vast archives. Most films are preceded by a brief
scholarly introduction and silent films are usually accompanied by live piano music. The Dryden is
part of the world-class Eastman Museum of Photography and Film.
There are several good choices for live theater:
Rochester is home to BOA Editions, one the nation's
leading publishers of poetry.
There are several artists here with national reputations, including
Al Paley and
The largest concentration of artists here is found on the eastern edge of downtown in the
Neighborhood of the Arts.
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Farming and Food Processing
Farming is a major industry in the Rochester area, which has excellent farmland in the flat areas near Lake Ontario
and also the rolling hills to the south. Farmers here are supplied by a supply and distribution center
in Calendonia that is the largest in the Eastern U.S.
Hardly anyone here is aware of it, but the Rochester area is the headquarters for several top food and beverage companies:
- Constellation Brands, in Fairport is the world’s largest wine company, with annual sales approaching $3 billion.
- Birds Eye in Penfield is the world’s largest frozen food producer, with sales of more than $1 billion.
- Seneca Foods in Wayne County is the world’s largest canned vegetable producer, with sales of $1 billion.
- Empire Beef, off Scottsville Road, is the nation’s third largest meat distributor, with sales of more than $500 million.
The area near the lake contains seemingly endless orchards. Even peaches are grown commercially there,
with a production of about 12 million pounds per year. The peach orchards closely hug the shoreline
because the lake protects trees against freezing if a cold snap strikes during budding season.
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The Rochester area is in the western part of New York state
on the southern shore of Lake Ontario.
The land near the lake is mostly flat and sometimes swampy. As you head south, first
hills and then mountains begin to appear.
The Genesee River, as it travels north to the lake, creates two gorges, one beginning at the
Upper Falls, between downtown Rochester and the lake, and a spectacular one at
Unexpectedly for an inland area, local geography is largely defined by water. Rochester
This gorgeous relief map shows the
Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes and the break in the mountains through which the Erie canal
travels from east to west. Compare it with this
map of the Erie Canal. Note Niagara Falls on the short river that connects the two Great
Lakes on the left.
The nearest metropolis is Toronto, which is only a
three-hour drive (and a really neat city to visit). Within roughly a six-hour driving
range are, going clockwise, Ottawa, Montreal, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington,
Pittsburg and Cleveland.
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The area was originally settled by the Senecas, who built a community called Ganondagon
with 150 longhouses. Ganondagon was destroyed
by a French armed force in 1687.
It is now a state historic site near Victor.
Rochester itself was first settled in 1789. The community centered around the Upper
Falls, which provided water power for various types of mills.
Before the Civil War, Rochester was a station on the
Underground Railroad, an informal organization of volunteers who helped slaves escape to freedom.
In the 1800's, Rochester was home to two historic figures who were also close friends:
- Susan B. Anthony, who led the national
struggle for women's right to vote
- Frederick Douglas, an escaped slave who
published a newspaper here that played a major role in the fight against slavery
Here are some images from the earlier days of Rochester:
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Rochester's first big industry was flour milling. Farmers floated wheat down the Genesee River on rafts
and had it ground into flour at the Upper Falls,
which supplied water power for the mills. The flour was shipped via the
Erie Canal to cities on the eastern seaboard. Check
out this link for more on the history of the Erie canal.
In later years, Rochester developed a thriving nursery industry, shipping fruit trees and
shrubs along the Erie Canal to the expanding Midwest. By 1856, Rochester nurseries
employed over a thousand people and shipped more fruit trees than the rest of the country
Western Union was founded in Rochester
in 1851. It was originally called "The New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company."
By 1900, Rochester had become a major clothing center, and is still home to
Hickey-Freeman. For a while the city had the
odd distinction of being one of the world's biggest manufacturers of buttons.
Kodak has been by far the largest single influence on the
Rochester ever since 1880's, when George Eastman developed a way of taking photographs with
film instead of glass plates. That invention enabled Eastman to create Kodak Park, the
largest industrial complex in the Northeast.
Another key local player was the Haloid Corporation, which valiantly struggled on the edge of
bankruptcy for years before perfecting a technique for dry-printing, or xerography
("xer" comes from the Greek word for "dry"). After it succeeded, it changed its name
The Rochester Times-Union was the first large newspaper in the Gannett chain, which today
publishes more than a hundred dailies and whose flagship paper is USA Today. The
story began when Frank Gannett bought newspapers in Elmira and Ithaca. Later he
relocated to Rochester, merged two local papers into the Times-Union, and began a relentless
Partly due to spin-offs from Kodak and Xerox, Rochester is home to many companies in the
optics and printing industry. Lately it has also been developing a telecom industry,
with nearly 100 companies active in some aspect of that business.
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The religious communities here are surprisingly diverse and have displayed a great deal of
Brown Blackwell, the nation's first ordained woman mininster, was
ordained by the Congregational Church of South Butler in 1853.
- Rochester's annual Union Thankgiving Service is the oldest in the country. It
began in 1874 when the First Universalist
Church, the First Unitarian Church,
and Temple B'rith Kodesh celebrated Thanksgiving together.
- The Mormon church
Palmyra, a few miles east of Rochester. The Book of Mormon was published
there in 1830 by Joseph Smith, a local resident. The church, which has a new
temple in Palmyra, now has more than 10
- The Rochester Zen Center was one of the first in the
country. Founded by Philip Kapleau, author of The Three Pillars of Zen, it
took on a training role, spawning affiliated Zen Centers in many other areas, including
Chicago, Atlanta, Montreal, Mexico City, Stockholm and Helsinki.
- The Hindu Temple of Rochester was
the first in this part of the country.
- Temple Beth El was a founding member
of Conservative Judaism, one of the three main branches of Judaism in the U.S. The
Jewish community in general has a strong self-identity, with a greater percentage (65%)
of Jews in the Rochester area affiliated with Jewish organizations than in any of the
other 22 communities involved in a recent national study.
- The Downtown United Presbyterian Church plays a national
role as an advocate for gays and lesbians within that denomination.
- The Spiritus Christi congregation is a strong
advocate among Catholics for admitting women into the priesthood.
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The Rochester area has some of the best public schools in the country. Among high
schools, Brighton consistently places near the top in national rankings, while Wilson
Magnet, Pittsford Mendon, Pittsford Sutherland, and Irondequoit always rank somewhere
in the top 100 (the rankings vary greatly from year to year).
Rochester is also home to several institutions of higher learning, including:
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Rochester has several minor league teams:
Soccer is big here. The adult league, the oldest
continuously operating league in the country, has over 80 teams, while the youth league has
about 450 teams.
Golf is a big deal here also, with its
own weekly newspaper and about 90 local courses.
Oak Hill is
rated as one of the nation's top ten.
The area is great for hikers:
- The Crescent Trail is a 26-mile network of
trails in the eastern suburbs.
- The Erie Canal Trail follows
the Erie Canal most of the distance from the Hudson Valley to Buffalo. (Click on any section of
the map at this link to see the completed parts of the trail, which appears as a green line.)
- The Genesee Valley Greenway travels from
Rochester to the southern edge of the state where it connects to the
Finger Lakes Trail.
With lots of rivers, lakes and canals, the area is also popular with boaters.
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Nearby Lake Ontario plays a major role in Rochester weather. Acting as a heat-sink, it
tends to shield the area from extremely cold days in winter and extremely hot days in the
The Great Lakes generate "lake effect" snow because they loses heat slowly in the autumn.
When the cold winds of winter blow across the relatively warm lakes, they pick up moisture and
drop it as light, fluffy snow in areas near the shore.
Rochester recently bumped Buffalo out of first place
for the dubious honor of being the snowiest major city in the country. (Buffalo gets in
the news more often because it has more spectacular storms. It is located at
the eastern tip of Lake Erie, so when cold winds happen to blow exactly down the length of
the warm lake, massive amounts of lake effect snow can land on Buffalo in just a few hours.)
You need to spend a winter in this region to understand just how fast roads can be cleared
after a large snowfall. It takes a truly heavy snowfall to bring things to a halt here.
People sometimes presume that if Rochester is unusually snowy, it must be unusually cold.
Not really, it's just that we get a lot of precipitation in the winter. Our winters are
plenty cold, mind you, but no colder than, say, Chicago; we have an average of five days below
zero while Chicago averages seven.
People sometimes think that the humid Rochester winter makes the temperature feel colder
than it actually is. Actually the reverse is true: increased humidity makes us feel
warmer not colder, which is one of the reasons we install humidifiers in our furnaces.
Summers here are wonderful, with an average high temperature in July of 80 degrees. The
temperature goes above 90 for an average of only two days here, compared to 21 days in
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Phelps, a cabbage-farming community east of Rochester, is home to the Sauerkraut Festival,
complete with a Sauerkraut Queen. Phelps also has a rare
two-story outhouse, which can
be admired at the Phelps Historical Society building at 66 Main Street.
Rochester is on the edge of a cultural divide: people in Rochester and to the west tend to
say "pop," while people in Syracuse and to the east say "soda."
Jello was developed in Leroy, just outside Rochester, which was the home of Jello production
for many years. The marshmallow casting machine was also invented in this area.
For many years, Rochester supplied the world with Shinola, which proves that we at least know
something. (If you don't get this little joke, try looking up Shinola
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