Maplewood Park and Rose Garden, Rochester NY

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This afternoon I happened to be driving past the Maplewood Rose Garden in Rochester, NY (part of Maplewood Park), and noticed that there was a festival going on in that area. So I decided to stop and walk through, snap some pictures, and then come home and blog about the history of this particular location.

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Designed in 1888 by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Maplewood Park (also sometimes known as an extension of Seneca Park) runs parallel with the Genesee River and overlooks the Genesee River Gorge. Maplewood served as a piece of landscape architecture that would highlight the natural sublime beauty of the gorge – Olmsted was known for utilizing pre-existing natural elements within his designs. You can learn much more about Olmstedian park design and landscape architecture here, in my Master’s thesis,’Romanticism and Ruralism: Changing 19th Century American Perceptions of the Natural World.’

View a map of Maplewood Park below.

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As you walk down towards the Gorge below Maplewood Park, you come across the place that once marked the end of Rochester’s Underground Railroad – Kelsey’s Landing.

“This location is the furthest south ships could travel towards Rochester from the Great Lakes before reaching the impassable Lower Falls. Buell Avenue was cut along the gorge and allowed wagons to reach the docks and warehouse. A grain elevator was constructed to haul large amounts of cargo up the 160 ft high cliffs. A hotel, called the “Glen House,” was built above the gorge, near where the marker now stands at Maplewood Park. The rise of Kelsey’s Landing as an official shipping port of Rochester led to the bankruptcy of the landing at Carthage (across the river) and eventually the demise of its surrounding settlement.

Ships would carry cargo and passengers to and from Detroit and ports in Canada. After the Fugitive Slave Act passed, the port helped harbor escaped slaves, who would then board cargo steam ships bound for Canada.

Kelsey’s Landing reign as the dominant port of Rochester ended with the construction of the rail system less than a decade after it was firmly established. The new railway connected downtown Rochester with Charlotte, which established its own larger port at the mouth of the Genesee at Lake Ontario.” (source)

In this area near the gorge below the park sit some ruins of past structures, notably those of the a hydraulic elevator that once lead up to the Glen House, seated at the top of the gorge nearby where the sign for Kelsey’s Landing now sits.

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“The Glen House, built in 1870, was a popular resort hotel on the west side of the Genesee gorge just north of the Lower Falls. Guests arrived by land via a unique hydraulic elevator system from the top of the gorge, or came here on the side-wheelers that made daily trips up the river from Charlotte. The Glen House was destroyed by fire on May 14, 1894.” (source)

Maplewood Park certainly constitutes several interesting eras in Rochesterian history, notably the Underground Railroad and its association with Rochester’s abolitionist history, and the Victorian and Reform Park Movements in which Olmsted was integral in the building of Rochester’s municipal park system. Maplewood is definitely worth a walk-through, especially around this time of summer when all of the roses are beautifully in bloom!

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Further Reading:

Frederick Law Olmsted Webpage
– Maplewood Rose Garden – Rochester History
 Maplewood Park Wiki
 ‘Romanticism and Ruralism’
 Kelsey’s Landing
 Kelsey’s Landing on Historic NY
– Maplewood Historic District
 Volunteer to be a Gorge Guide

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