Rochester, NY sits on the Genesee River in Upstate New York, about halfway between Buffalo and Syracuse along I-90. Northern suburbs rest on Lake Ontario. Rochester has long been known as the “Flower City.” From where did this moniker come?
George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry
Back in Rochester’s early days, a man named George Ellwanger stumbled upon the infant city of Rochester, as he traveled the Erie Canal from Long Island to Ohio. He had just come over from Europe, and was on his way to learn English while staying with his Ohio relatives. On his brief visit, he noted that the area seemed prime for developing agricultural opportunities. He returned to the area in 1835, quickly taking over the Rochester Seed Store and Horticultural Repository, thanks to his agricultural background.
One of his partners was another immigrant, Patrick Barry. Barry had also come over to the New World from Europe, and quickly found himself working in the agricultural industry in Rochester. Together, the men developed the Mount Hope Garden and Nurseries. The men were quickly recognized for having the best dahlias and cut flowers in the area. The men quickly became known throughout Upstate New York for their plants, which became more hardy due to their location on Lake Ontario, and were also available over a week in advance of those from Albany. The men used some of their money to purchase land from local farms, to eventually expand the city.
Later, they pushed to create locally prolific fruit trees in orchards. Orchards were already popular in the area, in part thanks to the efforts of Johnny Appleseed and the local Native American tribes. The success of these two men in propelling Rochester in the horticultural industry led to the nickname, “Flower City.” Their legacy has led to numerous greenhouses and nurseries over the years, and a strong love for flowers. The Ellwanger estate also maintains the Ellwanger garden, on the grounds of his homestead, now a local bed and breakfast.
Rochester Flower Festivals
To celebrate those early days of being on top of the horticultural industry, Rochester, NY hosts several flower-based festivals each year. Probably the most famous is the annual Lilac Festival, which attracts visitors from all over the world. Ellwanger donated the land, and many of the initial plants, for the fesitval’s home, as Highland Park. Every May, for ten days, visitors can view over 500 lilac varieties, on over 1200 bushes planted in the park. This free festival boasts artisans, nationally recognized and local acts, a wide variety of food vendors, and plenty of family-friendly entertainment.
Peony Weekend is celebrated at the Ellwanger estate in June. The garden is opened up for visitors, to experience the majesty of these fragrant bushes.
The Maplewood Rose Festival takes place every June, at the peak of rose season. Visitors to the Maplewood Rose Garden can view over 5000 varieties of roses, while attending horticulture workshops. Also find children’s activities, food and artisan vendors, and live music.
Equally notable to the annual festivals are the gardens at the George Eastman house. George Eastman was the father of Kodak, and built his estate in the middle of the city. He also maintained breathtaking gardens. The original homestead is now a museum dedicated to photography. A project is underway to restore the gardens to their original glory. Visitors can wander the grounds or have a tour.
The Flour City?
Rochester also enjoyed a period of time known as the “Flour City.” The nickname with the homonym actually came about prior to “Flower City,” in the early 1800s. In those days, Rochester was the largest flour-producing city in America. Both are correct, and both are a part of Rochesterian pride.
Ellwanger Estate http://ellwangerestate.com/blog/
George Eastman House Gardens http://www.eastmanhouse.org/visit/todo/gardens.php
Lilac Festival website http://www.lilacfestival.com/
Maplewood Rose Festival http://www.maplewood.org/rose.htm
McKelvey, Blake. “The Flower City: Center of Nurseries and Fruit Orchards.” [March 1999] The Rochester Historical Society Publications. Retrieved 10-24-10 from http://www.history.rochester.edu/flowercity/