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A Walking Tour of Historic High Falls

Are you ready for some great entertainment, history and a magical view? Just hop aboard the free EZ Rider Shuttle and hop off at either Stop 3 (green) or 36 (red) at the Center at High Falls, or Stop 2 (green) or 35 (red) at the Empire Brewery. If you're driving, you can park at the award-winning High Falls Garage on Mill Street.

Browns Race is a National Register Historic District and a City Preservation District.

A tour of High Falls and Browns Race features a panoramic view of the Genesee River 96-foot waterfall and spectacular gorge and a visit to an urban cultural park that celebrates Rochester's earliest industrial area, started during the "Flour City" era.

You can start your Browns race tour at State Street and Platt Street, about one-half mile north of the Four Corners (State and Main Streets).

Kodak Office Tower, 343 State Street

The 16-story Kodak Office Tower was built in 1914; three more floors, roof and cupola were added in 1930. Today, Kodak Office Tower is encased in additions, with numerous other Kodak facilities located throughout Rochester.

Kodak Office Tower is located in what originally was Frankfort, a 200-acre tract laid out in 1812 by Matthew and Francis Brown. In 1815-16 they created the area's first power canal,nt.Mwns Race. In 1817 the newly incorporated Village of Rochesterville was founded by combining Frankfort and Colonel Rochester's adjacent 100 acre tract. Francis Brown became first president of the Village Board, while Matthew Brown, in 1821, became the first chairman of the Board of Supervisors of the newly formed Monroe County.

Kodak founder, George Eastman, was a bank clerk and amateur photographer when he set up a home workshop to manufacture a practical dry plate ready to sell to photographers. His original factory was farther south on State Street; he moved to this location in 1882. Eastman's Dry Plate and Film Company, which operated here in a four-story building, was organized in 1884.

Button Factory Building, c. 1900, 294 and 300 State Street

At 294 and 300 State Street, c. 1900, diagonally across the street from Kodak Tower, you will find the former Rochester Button Company. This early 20th-century company once was reputedly the world's largest manufacturer and distributor of buttons. At that time, buttons were made from "vegetable ivory," processed nuts imported from Mexico, South America and Africa.

Spin Caffe

Spin Caffe is a newly renovated hotspot on the Mill Street side of the Button Factory Building.

Keys Piano Bar

Live piano music and dining.

Walk east down Platt Street. The first intersection is Mill Street.

222-230 Mill Street

This is the Samuel R Parry Machine Co. building. Built in 1851 and modified in the 1870s, this building best illustrates industrial buildings of the 19th century. This four-story brick vernacular industrial building features seven bays and projecting cornice with corbelled frieze and has loading doors with hoist and pulley on each floor. Mechanics were employed here in the manufacture of patented machinery for making barrels.

Mill Street illustrates the intensity of industrial activity in the Browns Race area during the latter half of the 19th century. Along this short street are buildings that once housed a tool factory, saw factories, machine works, a tobacco factory, a paper box factory and much more. All of the older buildings on Mill Street (except 208 Mill Street, built in 1826) were built or significantly modified during the 1870s and 1880s. Built of brick or stone, they feature many of the architectural fashions of their era. Several have mansard roofs; many still have their original multipaned windows, as well as elaborate brick frieze bands and cornices.

Continue east along Platt Street.

104 Platt Street

As you approach the Pont de Rennes, the former Platt Street bridge, the Phoenix Mill Building at 104 Platt Street will be on your left. Initially, this site was the Harford Mill (1808), a grist mill on a small stream. Now it is home to Jimmy Mac's Bar and Grill. Discouraged after several years, Charles Harford sold the mill to the Brown brothers and Thomas Mumford. The mill building was improved in 1812, but it burned in 1818. A replacement was constructed immediately, though it now shows the results of several rebuilding cycles occasioned by fire and partial demolition. The building features brick corbels and unusual twelve-light single-sash with thick wood muntins. Exterior walls are stone except for the brick south wall that was constructed after a large portion of the building was removed to build the bridge.

Walk out onto the bridge, and look right (south) toward downtown for one of Rochester's most spectacular sights: the Genesee River Gorge and the High Falls.

The Pont de Rennes Pedestrian Bridge

The Pont de Rennes pedestrian bridge and park were created in 1982 from what was the Platt Street bridge (1891), an 858-foot-long, truss bridge. The bridge is named for a Rochester Sister City in France. This is the best viewing site of the High Falls.

Looking out over the Gorge, you can see rock formations of shale, limestone and sandstone, with bands of iron ore. These sedimentary rocks, formed by the accumulation of deposits that came from what is now the Hudson Valley, are over 400 million years old. Soils from the then Alpine-like mountains were washed into a shallow sea. The sediment compressed and cemented to form layers of rock. The red sandstone, locally called "Medina sandstone," provided an excellent building material and is often found on Rochester sidewalks, curbs and older buildings.

The High Falls of the Genesee River

Starting about 10,000 years ago, deposits from the retreat of the last glacier diverted the Genesee to its present course. From Rochester to Lake Ontario, the river drops about 300 feet. Waterfalls occurred as the river met rock resistant to erosion. This main cataract-the 96-foot High Falls - once called the Upper Falls - was considered one of the wonders of the American wilderness. The 67-foot Lower Falls is about one mile downstream, near Driving Park Avenue. The gorge was created by the upstream migration of these falls.

Rochester schoolchildren know the story of Sam Patch, a 19th century daredevil, who had conquered Niagara Falls, but jumped from High Falls to his death on Friday the thirteenth of November, 1829.

By the early 1800s, the Genesee River was supplying the power, initially via Browns Race, that made Rochester the flour capital of the world. Its commercial accessibility attracted millers, toolmakers and other settlers. At least nine of Rochester's two dozen mills were situated on Browns Race. Rochester remained a flour milling center until the 1880s, when wheat production followed the migration of farmers to the midwest. The last flour was milled at Browns Race in 1927.

Look across the river to the east bank.

The High Falls Brewing Company

The High Falls Brewing Company, initially established in 1878 as the Genesee Brewing Company, is located along the east bank of the gorge. The company stopped manufacture during prohibition but was reorganized by a former brewmaster, Louis A. Wehle, in 1933. Several former breweries are now part of the Genesee complex.

As you retrace your steps and leave the bridge, notice how the backs of the buildings were built onto the gorge walls, where tailraces cut in the rock are also evident. During the milling years, water came from Browns Race, and went through the buildings, powering the waterwheels and turbines of the area's factories and mills.

As you walk off the bridge, the first cross street you will see is Browns Race Street. Turn left and walk south on Browns Race.

Browns Race

Browns Race, the power canal, was constructed in 1815. Today, a street called Browns Race follows the old raceway. Diverting water from a point about 500 feet south of High Falls, the raceway was 1221 feet long (later extended), 30-feet wide and five-and-a-half feet deep. Even before the race was completed, a cotton mill was constructed at a location which was once called Browns Island (north side of Commercial Street and east of the remaining raceway). Spillways funneled water from the race through the mills. Mill lots between the race and the gorge each had the right to a certain amount of water from the race. All buildings on the east side of the race were reached via foot bridges; overhead shafts transmitted power to the west side of the race and to the buildings which fronted on Mill Street. Eventually the race was covered by a wooden plank roadway. In 1991-92 portions of the original Browns Race were uncovered; concrete planks delineate the original width of the raceway.

The Center at High Falls

The first building you will see on your left is the Center at High Falls, formerly The Rochester Water Works, 74-78 Browns Race. This is now home to a New York State Heritage Area Visitor Center, the High Falls Museum and Gift Shop, Art Gallery and the Laser Show since 1992.

Designed by Andrew J. Warner, the High Victorian Gothic building with distinctive cast-iron cornice was built in 1873 to provide high-pressure water for fire fighting in downtown. It also once provided hydraulic power for downtown elevators, including those in the Powers Building.

60 Browns Race Market

Adjacent to the waterworks building is the Browns Race Market, developed in 1992 out of former Rochester Gas & Electric maintenance buildings. It currently houses the Triphammer Grill, Tiki Bob's Cantina, McFadden's Restaurant and Saloon, and banquet facilities. The back deck provides a great view of the river gorge.

Triphammer Forge Site

A unique archaeological park, the Triphammer Forge site provides a good view of the layers of history found in Browns Race. The Triphammer Building burned in 1977. As the rubble was being cleared, a long-forgotten basement room was uncovered that housed the building's massive (25-foot) water wheel, constructed of wood and iron.

The Triphammer Building was built as a forge in 1816 and occupied by the William Cobb Scythe and Tool factory. A large, heavy hammer-the triphammer-was raised by waterpower and dropped to forge wrought-iron tools. In 1830 the building was advertised for sale as having a furnace with the greatest blast in the state and two triphammers.

In the 1830s, Lewis Selye bought the Triphammer Building. Previously, in 1826, he had constructed the building at 208 Mill Street that extends between Browns Race and Mill Street. In these buildings the Selye Fire Engine Company built Rochester's first fire engines and supplied fire engines for federal fortifications and other sites across New York state. A cast-iron shaft transferred power from the Triphammer Building to the Mill Street plant.

In the 1860s the Triphammer Building and 208 Mill Street were purchased by Junius Judson, inventor of the steam governor used in locomotives and ships. Judson expanded the Triphammer building another 75 feet toward the gorge edge. The wall with the large arch is part of this addition. The shaft of Judson's water turbine was found in this addition. Appropriately, he also manufactured triphammers at this site. Judson's son eventually become the first president of Rochester Gas & Electric.

As electricity and steam replaced waterpower in the 1890's and 90's, Browns Race lost its strategic advantage for industrial uses. For example, the vacant lot south of the Triphammer site was once the location of the Gleason Works, internationally noted makers of beveled gears. No longer needing the falls for waterpower, Gleason moved to its current location on University Avenue in 1905 after fire destroyed its Browns Race plant.

Continue south on Browns Race Street to Commercial Street.

Browns Race/Commercial Street

You are now standing on a bridge over the portion of Browns Race that remains as an active race. The race drops from here to the bottom of the river gorge operating a Rochester Gas & Electric hydroelectric station.

Turn left (east) on Commercial Street.

High Falls Festival Site, 4 Commercial Street

The City's Festival Site opened in Spring 2000. The parking area in front of the High Falls Office building and Terrace Park on your left are used to hold open air festivals throughout the warm weather season.

The High Falls Office Building, 4 Commercial Street

The original T-shaped Gorsline building was built in 1888 as a shoe factory. The portion remaining is now the High Falls Office building. The stonework on the lower portion of the building is evidence of the sawmill that previously occupied the site.

Continue to your left.

Terrace Park

A portion of the original Gorsline Building is now a terrace park for viewing the falls and river gorge.

Don't miss three landmarks seen only from this location: the eastern view of the lip of High Falls, the original wheel pit of Rochester's early saw mill, and The Leap, a small balcony near the spot where waterfall daredevil Sam Patch took his last jump. More than half of Rochester watched as Sam took his fatal plunge on Friday the 13th of November, 1829.

Retrace your steps and continue west on Commercial Street.

Iron Works, 64 Commercial Smg nh3>

1880 window sash builder.

Wolf Building, 192 Mill Street

1881 paper box factory.

Jillians, 51-61 Commercial St.

This 1890's building was a power house for the New York Railway company. It now is home to Jillians, a multi-venue restaurant and entertainment facility.

208 Mill Street

Built in 1826, this building was the home of Selye Fire Engine Company, which built Rochester's first fire engines and supplied other cities across New York State.

208 Mill Street best illustrates construction in Browns Race in its initial days. The lower two floors are coursed stone rubble while the upper two stories are random ashlar stone. Loading doors are evident on each floor along with a hoist and pulley and iron tie rods.

High Falls Parking Garage

High Falls parking Garage was built in 1993 in the heart of the district.

Frontier Field

Frontier Field is home of the Rochester Red Wings and the Rochester Rhinos.