Genesee Valley Park
City of Rochester, Monroe County
Rochester is just one of four cities nationwide that boasts an entire park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, revered as a visionary landscape architect and best known for his design of New York’s Central Park. Olmsted designed Highland, Genesee Valley, and Seneca Parks for Rochester. Olmsted and the firm that continued his work after his retirement also designed several parkways and small neighborhood parks. In 1888, Rochester’s Board of Park Commissioners (now celebrating their 125th anniversary) selected Olmsted to design a network of parks and parkways for the city. Olmsted encouraged the Commissioners to set aside generous amounts of open space as the city’s first major public parks and proposed a system focused on the city’s great natural asset – the dramatic Genesee River in all its glorious variety. Olmsted’s three major parks in Rochester represented different landscape styles. Genesee Valley Park was designed in Olmsted’s classic “pastoral” style, featuring gently rolling terrain in its 800 acres along the river south of downtown. Here, the winding park road creates a subtle sense of mystery and views of the river, the polo ground, and mature specimen trees that characterize the park.
When the Erie Canal was rerouted from downtown Rochester to cut through the park in the early 20th century, the Olmsted Brothers firm (Olmsted’s son, Frederick, Jr. and stepson, John) redesigned the paths and roads to minimize the disruption to the original circulation system. As part of their design, three identical pedestrian bridges were constructed in 1916 and 1919 to reconnect the park paths severed by the canal. Their graceful design was inspired by the Central Park Bow Bridge, designed by Calvert Vaux, Olmsted’s partner in the design of Central Park. These picturesque bridges are unique historic structures and are the only bridges located on the Erie Canal that are individually eligible for listing in the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
These Erie Canal pedestrian bridges, designed by the renowned Olmsted Brothers firm, are a unique community asset and a highly visible feature in one of our most important historic landscapes, Genesee Valley Park. The park was originally conceived as a major component of the Rochester park system, one of only four park systems in the country that was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, one of America’s most prominent and visionary landscape architects.