Rochester Highlights

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 Rochester Highlights 
   • Superlatives
   • Basic Facts
   • Culture
   • Farming
   • Geography
   • History
   • Industry
   • Religion
   • Schools
   • Sports
   • Weather
   • Whimsy

 Exploring Rochester

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Author: Bill Fugate
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.

Superlatives
Basic Facts
Culture
Farming/Food
Geography
History
Industry
Religion
Schools
Sports
Weather
Whimsy

 

 

Superlatives

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 waterfall.  The Genesee River plunges spectacularly into a wide gorge at the northern edge of downtown. 

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Basic Facts

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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Culture

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 Wendell Castle.

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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Geography

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 Letchworth.

Unexpectedly for an inland area, local geography is largely defined by water.  Rochester is:

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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History

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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Industry

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 combined.

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 to Xerox.

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 nationwide expansion.

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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Religion

The religious communities here are surprisingly diverse and have displayed a great deal of initiative:

  • Antoinette 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 began in 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 million members.
     
  • 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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Schools

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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Sports

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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Weather

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 summer. 

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 Chicago. 

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Whimsy

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 here.)

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