I should be ashamed, really. I’m in my 3rd year here at RIT and I’ve hardly explored Rochester at all. I even had my own car last year, yet the only real excursions I’ve made downtown have been to the train station. It’s a shame, really, because Rochester has a lot to offer. A couple weeks ago, my exploring did pick up a little bit, though. Smack in the middle of downtown Rochester is High Falls.
At about 96 feet tall, the High Falls waterfall isn’t the tallest waterfall you’ll ever see. In an almost-ironic twist, it’s actually about 14 feet shorter than the Lower Falls located about 2 miles further down the Genesee River. But what it lacks in height, High Falls makes up for in importance.
In the late 1700’s / early 1800’s, the High Falls served as the power source for flour mills. Initially, there was a single mill built by Ebenezer Allen. In 1811, Colonel Nathaniel Rochester purchased the site and built additional mills. Before long, Rochester’s flour output grew to such a scale that for a while Rochester was known as “The Flour City”. Today, however, the falls are used to produce hydroelectric power.
Another fascinating bit of history here involves 19th century daredevil Sam Patch, famous for being the first known person to jump from Niagara Falls and live. After surviving Niagara, he performed many other jumps from various high places, including the High Falls. He actually jumped from High Falls twice. On November 13th, 1829, Sam made his second leap, but did not live to tell the tale. Sam is buried in Charlotte Cemetery, located on River Street.
For a safer way to enjoy the falls, you can take a walk along the Pont De Rennes bridge. It offers an excellent view of the falls, benches for sitting, and is simply a nice area. The bridge was built in the 1980’s as part of an attempt to redevelop the High Falls area as an entertainment district, but the effort ultimately failed. In the past few years, though, it’s seen a rebound as an office and residential neighborhood.
I’ve only been once, but I certainly would love to go back. It’s almost odd, a large waterfall in the middle of a city, but it’s largely where the city of Rochester formed. I am more curious about the Lower Falls, but rumor has it they’re much harder to get to. Still, my short excursion to High Falls proved that I have been missing out on the city and it’s worth investigating.
If you’re ever in the area, I encourage you to visit High Falls and really poke around the city. I’m starting to wish I poked a lot sooner.