May 2024

High Falls State Park

A Brief History

The Genesee River and High Falls are part of the traditional territory of the Onodowa’ga’ or

"the people of the Great Hill", known as the Seneca people. They are one of the Six Nations

that make up the sovereign Haudenossunee Confederacy and have stewarded this land throughout the generations.

Upon European settlement, High Falls provided the establishment of the Village of Frankfort and the City of Rochester in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. The river and falls offered extensive opportunity for power generation and industrial development. Much of that industry supported the region's vast agricultural resources with the manufacturing of edge tools and milling of wood and grain products. High Falls history includes the names of Cobb (William and Gideon), Brown (Mathew and Francis), Thayer, Selye, Judson, Gleason, Wehle and many more.

The Erie Canal (built 1817-1825) was located just a few blocks west of High Falls. Around the same time, Mathew and Francis Brown formed the company that dug Brown’s Race and sold lots (with water rights) along the west bank of the gorge. The Triphammer Forge was constructed by Gideon Cobb who lured his brother William to Rochester to manufacture edge tools (i.e., axes, scythes). The building was later owned (1845) by Junius Judson (photo on right) who manufactured his steam governor. Judson added onto the building in the late 1880’s and converted power from a waterwheel to a turbine. Judson and his son, John Lee Judson started the Edison Electric Illuminating Company around this same time (late 1880’s). Their Edison Electric building was located in the bottom of the gorge below the Triphammer Forge and original Gleason Works. Hydro power was generated by water diverted through a penstock from Brown’s Race.

There were several gas and electric companies located north of the falls and by 1910 they had consolidated into Rochester Gas & Electric. For more than 100 years, energy production dominated the High Falls area (west side and east side, north of Bausch Street) with coal fired electricity (Beebee Station) and hydro power. Gas production also occurred in the lower river gorge, where environmental remediation occurs currently. By the mid 1900’s most manufacturing was gone and Brown’s Race was filled in (except the section from the Genesee River to Commercial Street, which remains visible today).

The High Falls / Brown’s Race Historic District was established in the early 1990’s. Under the NYS Urban Cultural Park program, the district improvements included the Visitor’s Center & Museum in the Waterworks Building, the redevelopment of 60 Brown’s Race, along with street, Granite Mills Park and infrastructure improvements including a simulated raceway.


The Triphammer Forge, which burned in 1977, was restored including a replica of the waterwheel discovered after the 1977 fire.

Source: Triphammer Forge Archaeological Documentation & Historic Resource Survey, Brown’s Race Historic District, Rochester, New York, William M. Price, May 1993

The High Falls district opened in 1992 under the Thomas Ryan (Mayor) administration. The programs and events included the ‘River of Light’ laser and light show with images projected onto the gorge wall and telling the city’s history with the voice of ‘Chester the Bear’. The show included illuminating the water falls. RG&E and Eastman Kodak provided funding and technical expertise in designing the laser-light show. Through the 1990’s and 2000’s, the Ryan and William Johnson administrations managed High Falls with City Departments as well as Joseph Floriano from the Riverside Convention Center and the Cordish Companies, an entertainment operations contractor from the mid-Atlantic. Faced with budget constraints over the years, many of the High Falls features and events have been discontinued. The ‘River of Light’ show ended in 2015.



Greentopia was founded by Michael Phillipson and Lewis Stess in 2011 when they began to envision the next chapter for the High Falls district on both sides of the river. Their concept, called ‘Garden Aerial’, proposed exciting ideas for an Eco District which included a walk / trail encircling the High Falls, including a span across the river just above the High Falls. Garden Aerial also envisioned a winter garden at High Falls Terrace Park and multi-level gardens on the Ponte de Rennes pedestrian bridge.

Lisa Baron (Greentopia founding board member) continues to promote urban green spaces to inspire positive change in the lives of Rochester residents. Significant to this mission is driving awareness and public engagement of the creative planning, design and operations of a new High Falls State Park. Greentopia, along with the Genesee Land Trust conducted an online survey to understand the features residents want to see included in the park. Many of those features are illustrated in the early concept renderings prepared to promote the park idea.


This proposed park is considered phase 2 of the overall ROC the Riverway initiative. Governor Hochul, Empire State Development and the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation have embraced the project and are providing the initial funding for planning and design. The consultant selection process is underway with a design team anticipated by mid-May.


Public Engagement Events

Much has changed with industry and the neighborhood around High Falls and the Genesee River gorge. RG&E has new ownership and most energy production has left High Falls. Kodak has a reduced presence as an employer in the area. Genesee Brewery is a thriving business with a Brew House attracting visitors to High Falls. The constant is the High Falls and Genesee River. Is a restored natural environment with publicly accessible recreation activities the next big initiative?

Greentopia and the Community Design Center Rochester (CDCR) are teaming to host the first, of many, public engagement events in early May. The CDCR will host a Community Conversation this First Friday, May 3rd from 4:30 - 8:00 pm in the Design Gallery at the Hungerford Building, 1115 East Main Street.

The High Falls State Park Design Workshop will be held Saturday, May 4th from 8:30 am - 4:30pm at the MCC Downtown Campus. Parking and food are free to all who attend. Attendees will tour focus areas on both sides of the river, then discuss ideas for park features, seasonal programs and events, neighborhood improvements, user experience, along with management strategies.

All are welcome to both events. If you would like to join the discussion please register at Hope to see you there.

More information for both of these events is below.


Seneca Park Zoo Environmental Innovations Awards

On March 28th Lisa Baron of Greentopia received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Seneca Park Zoo Environmental Innovations Awards. Lisa was recognized for Greentopia’s efforts to protect Rochester’s urban green spaces, expand access to parks and open space and reimagine the role of High Falls and the Genesee River in support of Rochester’s future. Congratulations to

Lisa and all of the 2024 award winners!

More info


WXXI Connections with Evan Dawson

On Wednesday, April 17th Evan Dawson hosted a conversation about High Falls State Park on his Connections talk show. Lisa Baron (Greentopia) and Bill Price (CDCR) were guests and discussed the proposed state park and the opportunities for the City and Finger Lakes region. Urban state parks are unique and will require input and commitment from a wide variety of stakeholders. The upcoming High Falls State Park Design Workshop (May 4th, MCC Downtown) was discussed as this will be the first of many public engagement efforts to define the needs and desires of our neighborhood residents and business owners.

Listen Here

In Other News

Our friends at Hinge Neighbors have been making great progress with the Marketview Mews Project (Bohrer Alley Reactivation)!

So far, there have had 5 community meetings and two site walks with City of Rochester Police, the Northeast Service Center and Department of Environmental Services. Pathstone has been a partner in this project as well. 

Pathstone has trimmed the trees on their properties, the City of Rochester has trimmed trees and a cleanup day was held with 23 volunteers from the neighborhood and across the city. Bags of debris have been picked up and solar light testing has begun. The new lights have achieved the first goal of lighting up the alley. As more motion activated solar lights are installed, Hinge and the neighbors will observe the feeling of safety in the alley. 

The community garden on 46 Weld Street has been approved and flowers and fruit trees are beginning to be planted. 

If anyone has extra hosta or other plants that you are thinning out or just want to replace, please bring them to the new garden! Contact


You are invited to attend a design workshop!


If you live or work in the area surrounding the newly proposed High Falls State Park, we want to hear from you! All residents, business owners, institutions, property owners or anyone who is interested in preserving and enhancing the quality of life in this area are invited to participate.


Design Workshops are all about YOU and YOUR neighborhood. Join your neighbors, community leaders, city officials and design professionals to share your ideas and make a change!


Event Details

 Where: MCC Downtown Campus, High Falls Room

When: May 4, 2024 from 8:30am - 4:30pm

Learn More + Register

Children under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian at all times to participate.

This event is presented by:

Continuing Education Credits available courtesy of our CES Sponsors AIA Rochester and APA NY.

First Friday’s Community Conversation


Join us in our Design Gallery

THIS FRIDAY, May 3 from 4:30pm to 8:00pm

Hungerford Building, 1115 E Main St, Door 3B.

May Topic:  The High Falls State Park Design Workshop

The transformation of the High Falls gorge will provide opportunities to reconnect Downtown Rochester and several Rochester neighborhoods, restore more pedestrian and bike friendly street and trail connections; create new active and passive green spaces; and foster opportunities for equitable economic and community development.

Light refreshments provided.



 Help us Spring Clean with our first Book Sale!

During this event, we will have great design books available with a donation in our gallery.

Out & About

Check out what our friends are up to!

Grab your bike, your friends and family and join Reconnect Rochester for a community ride and rally on May 3 to show support for building the safe, seamless, high comfort Bike Spine Network outlined in Rochester's Active Transportation Plan. Meet up will be at Genesee Valley Park (@2pm) and ride to the steps of City Hall for a rally (@3pm) with public officials and bike community leaders.

Learn More + Register

CDCR is supported, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.