1. The Triphammer Wheel
at the High Falls Center: Water from
the Genesee River was diverted by Brown's Race around the High Falls. It spilled
over this water wheel which powered a tool-making operation. Nearby mills
2. Broad Street Bridge:
This beautiful Roman Arch bridge was originally constructed
to take the Erie Canal over the Genesee River. The close proximity of the
canal to the flour mills allowed Rochester to grow exponentially in the mid-1800s.
2. Lower Falls are located about three miles north
of downtown Rochester. Water is partially diverted from the river to generate
electricity. It is the last drop before the river reaches Lake Ontario.
3. Highland Park is
the home to the Lilac Festival in May. It sits on a glacial moraine
that stretches east-west across Rochester.
4. Charlotte Lighthouse sits on a bluff overlooking the Port of
Rochester. It is now a museum open to the public.
5. Geneseo is a college town located in the middle
section of the Genesee Country. Pictured above is the Bear.
6. Glen Iris Inn
was originally the home of William Pryor Letchworth, the founder of
the state park. The Middle Falls are nearby.
7. Mary Jemison Statue: Captured by Native Americans
in Pennsylvania, Mary was adopted by the Senecas. She lived much of her life
in present-day Letchworth State Park, and is now buried there.
9. Genesee Locks: The old Genesee Canal had to climb
the barrier of the Letchworth Gorge. Near Oakland there are the remains of
five locks that accomplished that feat.
10. Upper Genesee River (near Belfast): If you follow
the river south on Route 19 you pass through many small towns and farms. The
river here is usually shallow, but it is prone to flooding. Eventually you
will reach the Pennsylvania state line, where the Genesee River originates.
Geography of Water Power
There is only one river that completely crosses New York State,
and that is the Genesee. It rises in
the hills of northern Pennsylvania and flows north about 180 miles
until it empties into Lake Ontario. Along the way it travels through
some of the most productive farm country in the state. It tumbles over
six waterfalls - three in the city of Rochester, and three in
the incredible Letchworth State Park.
As is the case with most of New York, this region was extensively
glaciated during the last Ice Age. The Genesee Valley was modified
by the action of glacial erosion and deposition. Most of the valley was
deepened and widened by the ice invasion. When the glaciers receded,
they left behind deep deposits of sediments with very fertile soil. The
river tried to reestablish its old route, but it was diverted in two
places. One was near Avon, forcing the river into a new course farther
west. (The old Genesee went through the Irondeqouit Valley, but the
new river flows directly through
the city of Rochester. Part of the old course is now flooded over by Lake
Ontario, and is known as Irondequoit Bay).
The second diversion was at Portageville. A huge moraine
prevented the river from re-entering its old valley, and the river carved
a gorge around the detour. This canyon is found in Letchworth State Park.
The river is not important as a water highway. Much of the river is unnavigable,
and it is often too shallow for boats even where there are no rapids or
falls. After the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, citizens of the valley
demanded that a lateral canal be built along the Genesee River, connecting
Rochester with the Allegheny River and Pennsylvania. This Genesee Valley
Canal was constructed, but it was not commercially successful, since
it had to fight geography, whereas the Erie complemented it. By the 1870s,
the canal was abandoned to be replaced by railroads.
The real significance of the Genesee has nothing to do with transportation,
but with water power. It was the falls in Rochester that turned a backwater
village into a major flour-milling boomtown. It was the periodic flooding
of the middle Genesee that produced the high fertility so important for
wheat farming. And it was the awesome erosive force of the river in Letchworth
that inspired western New Yorkers to preserve a special landscape.
WHAT YOU MUST SEE:
1. The Rochester Area: Rochester is the
third largest city in the state. Two hundred years ago, it was wilderness,
but the water power of the falls of the Genesee brought settlers into
the area. Your first stop should be the High
Falls Visitor Center, located on Platt Street north of downtown.
(There are many signs directing you there).
Not only will you see the 90-foot falls, but you will also
see the buildings that held the mills that gave Rochester its nickname,
"The Flour City." Next to the mills there is a water wheel from the old
Triphammer forge (pictured on the right). And in front of the buildings
there is a restored mill race, that took the water around the falls, forced
it to spill over the wheels and back into the river. Make sure you go inside
the Visitor Center. It has a great (free) exhibit area with more information
about the falls and the city's history. During the summer months, there are
laser shows in the gorge. Get information from the desk at the Visitor Center.
2. The two other falls are little more difficult to get to. The Lower Falls are about two miles north,
at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Driving Park Avenue. You can see
the falls from the bridge, or you can walk down the upstream path
and see them more closely. If you continue on this path, you will also
be able to view the Middle
Falls. However, for the best close-up view of the Lower Falls
go over the bridge to the east side of the river, and then down Seth Green
Drive. This is a favorite local fishing spot, and the sedimentary rock
formations are especially colorful here.
Return downtown and turn on to Broad Street. You will soon
be on a bridge. Park on the bridge. This modern roadway sits on top of
the old Erie Canal Aqueduct. It is over 800 feet long, and it carried
the canal over the raging rapids of the Genesee. Today the canal
goes around Rochester, not through it. There is a plan to fill the old
aqueduct with water and make it into an urban park.
High Falls with its flour mills and the Erie Canal are only a short
distance apart. What role did the close proximity of these two locations,
one natural and one man-made, have to do with the growth of Rochester
in the 19th century?
3. Turn right on South Avenue. About two miles south of downtown Rochester,
you cross an east-west trending hill, a glacial moraine. This
irregular wall of rock and dirt was dumped there by the receding glaciers
around 9000 years ago. The best places to see this moraine is Cobbs
Hill Park (Monroe Ave.), Highland Park (home to Rochester's famous
and Mt. Hope Cemetery. This Victorian cemetery is a fascinating place to
visit. Tours are often available. Many of Rochester's most celebrated citizens
are buried here, including Susan B. Anthony and Frederick
Douglass. She, of course, was the co-leader of the Women's Suffrage
Movement, and he was a former slave who became the great abolitionist
speaker and newpaper editor. The paper, the North Star, was published
Why did both of these champions of human rights
choose to live in Rochester? Why didn't they settle in New York or
Boston? What have you learned about the geography of this region that
might give you a clue?
4. Go back to Lake Avenue. Follow it all the way to the end. You
are now in Charlotte (pronounced
shar-LOT) at the mouth of the Genesee River
at Lake Ontario. It was once a busy industrial port, but now it mostly
caters to pleasure craft. This is the home of Ontario Beach,
and the Port of Rochester, and now it is the host for the Spirit
of Rochester (a fast ferry) to Toronto across
In season, this is a nice place to swim, but the beach, unfortunately,
closes frequently due to high bacterial counts in the lake. (This is
the drawback of being located at the mouth of a major river).
original owner of the fast ferry had to shut down during the summer of 2004.
Recently, the City of Rochester purchased the boat in an auction, and service
should resume in the spring of 2005. Is this a good move for the city? What
benefits (if any) will it bring this community?
One spot you want to visit is the lighthouse, sitting on a
bluff overlooking the harbor. There is a nice museum inside, and the
view from the top is striking. Make sure you get to see the harbor view!
downtown of Rochester is several miles upstream, not here at the harbor,
as you might expect. Why is Charlotte a satellite community within the
city of Rochester and not its hub?
HINT: Where are the falls, and what do they
have to do with the answer to this geographic question?
THE MIDDLE SECTION:
As you travel south of Rochester, you
gradually leave the urban sprawl and the scene becomes mostly rural.
No signs of waterfalls or gorges here. This is the old valley widened into
a glacial trough (a U-shaped valley). Today the farmers grow mostly corn
and feed for their animals, but in the 19th century, wheat was king.
Why were these farms important to the city of Rochester to the north in the
Main Street, Geneseo, NY
5. Travel through the picturesque villages of Avon (pronounced AAAH-von) and Geneseo, which predates Rochester. Geneseo
is a college town today, one of the satellites of the State University
of New York (SUNY). Check out the businesses downtown. What evidences
do you see that they depend on college students for their survival?
Don't forget to visit the statue of the Bear in the
town center. It proves that you are a true geographer!
Take Route 20A south out of Geneseo. You will notice the deep
glacial trough ahead that holds the Genesee River.
Why is the town built on the ridge
overlooking the valley? Why not in the valley itself?
The road takes you down into the valley. It is perhaps the
flattest place in this part of New York. Farms stretch in all directions.
You pass through Cuylerville, the
site of the infamous Torture Tree, where two Revolutionary soldiers
were executed by the Senecas during the Clinton-Sullivan campaign.
The purpose of their venture into the Genesee Country was to destroy the
farms of the Seneca people, who sided with the British. Even in the 18th
century, this was an agricultural center.
Move on through Leicester
(pronounced Lester) and toward Mount Morris,
the home of the Pledge of the Alliange (or, at least, its author).
Just before entering Mount Morris, turn into the entrance for Letchworth
6. As was indicated earlier, this is a new section of the river.
In other words, it is post-glacial, about 9000 years old, which is
very young, geologically speaking. The park is seventeen miles long,
and there are many places you need to stop to appreciate its splendor.
One is the Mt. Morris
Dam, which is used mostly for flood control. During Hurricane
Agnes in 1971, the dam held back the waters, preventing disastrous
flooding downstream. Next is the view of the Hogback,
a bend in the river around steep cliffs. This is often called the Highbanks
Gorge. Farther south, or upstream (remember the Genesee flows north),
you will pass through the remains of Gibsonville, one of two ghost
towns in the park.
Why did farm towns like Gibsonville
struggle to survive and finally fail?
7. The middle of the park, or the Gardeau section, was the home for
many years to Mary Jemison, the
White Woman of the Genesee. She was captured in
Pennsylvania by Native Americans, and she eventually married into the Seneca
Nation. After the Revolution, the Senecas had to cede much of their land
to the state, but she managed to hold on to a large plot near this location
for herself. (Mary is buried in the southern part of the park, next to
the memorial statue, high up on a hill).
Next stops are at Tea Table Rock
and Wolf Creek Glen. Wolf Creek is a
tributary of the Genesee that falls through a series of cascades before
joining the Big River. The scenery here is spectacular. As the road
winds southward, you can stop for many great views of the gorge. It is
here where the river most resembles an eastern facsimile of the Grand Canyon.
8. Finally, you come to the Falls: Lower, Middle, Upper. Each is
awesome in its own way. The Lower Falls
blasts through a flume. The Upper
Falls passes underneath a magnificent railroad tressle.
But the king is the Middle Falls (pictured
at the top of the page), which is not only the largest, but also the
home of Glen Iris, now an inn, but
once the home to the park's founder, William Pryor Letchworth.
He is one of the great personalities that Upstate New York produced during
the 19th century. He became a successful businessman in Buffalo, and he
first saw the gorge from a train as it passed over the tressle. Letchworth
soon returned and bought up most of the land around the falls. His efforts
at conservation became a model for the rest of the state. He willed his
land to the state, which created the state park in 1903.
park was not wilderness when Letchworth first arrived here. As you walk
around the inn and the trails by the river, what evidence do you see
that the forests are secondary growth?
Spend some time visiting the little museum across the parking lot
from the Glen Iris Inn. Look for pictures of the falls before it was
protected as a park. Notice dam and mills from the mid-1800's. Mr. Letchworth
supervised their removal. While in the museum, ask to see the short
film about the flood from Hurricane Agnes in 1971. Very impressive!
before Letchworth's arrival, this settlement wasn't very large. Why didn't
a city or even a village spring up here by the banks of this mighty
waterfall? (What is lacking here that is found in Rochester?)
9. A short drive south takes you out of the park. You enter the small
village of Portageville. If you
drive up the hill (Rte. 436), you climb up a moraine. This barrier left
by the retreating glaciers is reponsible for the creation of the Letchworth
Gorge. There is a section of the park on this side of the river with
an easy trail that follows the abandoned channel of the Genesee Canal.
This old lateral canal connected Olean (near the Pennsylvania border)
to Rochester. The trail hugs the cliff far above the river.
was a canal built here in the first place? Why did it fail after only
a couple decades of service? What physical geographic fact proved to be
the canal's downfall?
If you drive farther down Rte. 436, you enter the little town
of Oakland, and you will see the
remains of five locks of the old canal. You can park your car
and walk through most of them. During the operation of the canal, the
locks lifted the packets from the old valley of the Genesee to
the new one and beyond. It was quite an engineering feat for its time.
At this point you can travel back towards Rochester on Route
436. You will see great views of the old Genesee Valley off to your
right. When you get to Mt. Morris, you will climb down into this valley.
From here you can travel east to the Finger
Lakes, or westward toward the Niagara
10. Another option is to return to Portageville and follow Routes 19A/19
south along the upper Genesee River. If you wish, you can foolow its
course to its origins near Gold, PA, just south of the state line. How does
this section of the valley compare to the Middle Section around Geneseo
or Avon? What seems to be the economic base for this region?
How do rivers influence the patterns of human settlement? Why do cities
form in some locations and not in others? And how does human activity
affect the physical landscape of a river valley, for better or for worse?
After completing the tour of the Genesee Valley, visit
adjacent regions: Seaway, Niagara Frontier, and the Finger Lakes.
Click on the links below to go to those web pages: