Monroe County is about as diverse a community as you can find: a mid-size city, rural areas with orchards and farm markets, suburbs with 20th-century tract houses and shopping malls, and quaint, Victorian villages. The Genesee River and the Erie Canal bisect the county, more or less vertically and diagonally, so geology and history are a constant presence, shaping everything from traffic patterns to architecture and public festivals.
The county is literally a community of dozens of communities: 19 towns, nine villages, a combo town-village, and the City of Rochester (which has its own, numerous, defined neighborhoods). Given the number, there might be a good bit of similarity among all these places, but each has its own identity. Some draw it from their heritage, others from their location and their surroundings (parks, universities, manufacturing plants, farmland). And to many of the residents, the individuality of their particular hometown or neighborhood is a source of fierce pride.
You can get a taste of the diversity by sampling six of the local communities, from the historic and changing High Falls neighborhood to the multifaceted suburb of Perinton. City has been working on this profile project for the past several years. For additional community profiles, check the links at the bottom of this article.
The north part of Chili is well-developed, particularly the Chili Avenue corridor, which is lined with houses and strip plazas. The area around Chili Avenue and Paul Road has a particularly dense collection of plazas, stores, and restaurants, many of them national chains.
But south of Chili and Paul, the town has more of a rural feel. The landscape opens up and development gives way to farms, fields, and woodlots. Farming is still a prominent industry in Chili, and the amount of agricultural land in the town is comparable to the amount of residential property.
Chili has a lot of wetlands, but it also has a lot of parkland and preserved open space; the two often overlap. The county's Black Creek Park covers 1,500 acres in the town's southwest corner and is largely undeveloped. Trails take visitors through some of the wetland areas, and also through drier wooded areas.
The Genesee Land Trust has two preserves in Chili. One is the Reed Road Bird Refuge, a 131-acre wooded wetland with no trails. The other is the 275-acre Brookdale Preserve, which has a half-mile trail and, according to the Land Trust's website, an exceptional variety of frogs. The preserve is bordered by the Genesee Valley Greenway, a regional trail which runs through the town near its eastern border.
The town also has an 18-hole disc golf course located in Widener Park on Chili-Scottsville Road.
Chili is home to Roberts Wesleyan College, which is located in the northwest corner of the town. The college's Cultural Life Center hosts a variety of musical and theatrical performances each year, many of which are open to the public. Sometimes the performers are students, other times they are touring groups. The Roberts Wesleyan College Community Orchestra is made up of students and musicians from across the area, and it performs several times a year. (JM)
Perinton is a suburban community full of housing tracts, with some historic homes mixed in (as well as the quirky "mushroom house" near the entrance to Powder Mills Park). It has a dense commercial area at the intersection of routes 31 and 250, and a strip of office complexes along Route 96.
But Perinton is also a canal community. The hamlet of Bushnell's Basin — it has a Pittsford mailing address but the hamlet is largely within Perinton — was first developed as a base of operations for canal construction, and then became a stopping point for canal travelers. The Village of Fairport, which is also in the town, was one of many Erie Canal boomtowns. Present-day Fairport has a busy, shop- and restaurant-filled downtown that draws on that canal heritage.
The canal now serves more of a recreation and tourism function, and there are several parks along the canal throughout the town. Some provide access to the canal trail, while others have boat launches.
Like many of Monroe County's suburbs, Perinton has an agricultural heritage. Several large farms still operate within the town and some farmland is permanently protected under a town-wide open-space preservation program. The town also boasts a winery: Casa Larga Vineyards is located at the crest of a steep incline on Turk Hill Road.
Perinton's rolling landscape gives the town some pleasant scenery, and the town offers a network of foot trails to explore. The Crescent Trail Association has developed its own trail system, which ties into town parks and neighborhoods. It also connects to other trails, like the Erie Canalway Trail and the RS&E Trolley Trail.
In the late 1990's, Perinton was named a Trail Town USA by the American Hiking Society and the National Parks Service.
Most of Powder Mills Park is located in Perinton. The park offers hiking trails and public fishing at Irondequoit Creek, and is home to the Riedman Fish Hatchery.
Perinton is also home to Lollypop Farm, which operates an animal shelter, farm animal petting area, and nature trail on its 134-acre property. (JM)
Scottsville's outer section is lined with houses built in the 1950's and 1960's, which helps establish its residential character and small-community charm. The Wheatland-Chili School District is also in the village, although one of its buildings protrudes past the municipal boundary.
The village is surrounded by farmland and undeveloped tracts, which creates a rural, natural setting. Oatka Creek, a Genesee River tributary, cuts through the southeast corner of the village. And the Genesee Valley Greenway follows the village's eastern border and connects with Canawaugus Park, which lies along the Oatka in the southeast corner of Scottsville.
As one of the earliest settlements west of the Genesee, Scottsville has a unique place in the region's history. In its earliest days, the village was at the heart of Northampton, the massive tract that was eventually divided up into various towns, including Parma, Sweden, and Chili.
A state historic marker in Scottsville's downtown commemorates the organization of Northampton in 1797. But the village's namesake, Isaac Scott, laid the foundation for Scottsville earlier than that. He purchased 150 acres of land, covering most of what is now the village, in 1790.
A historic district recognized by the National Register of Historic Places extends along Rochester Street on the village's east side. Many of the buildings toward the village's south edge near Main Street date back to the early 1900's.
The Scottsville Free Library at 28 Main Street was built in 1892, and was first used as a community hall for meetings and theatrical performances. It's also on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Oatka Creek served as a natural power source for the village's early settlers, who built a mill race to power the mills that were one of the village's first industries. Now, the village is home to several modern industries, including Cooper Vision and a heating equipment manufacturer. The latter is located in a historic mill building. (JM)
The section of Rochester known as the Southwest Area Neighborhood — or SWAN — is rich in history. A bustling combination of small businesses and homes in the early 1800's, SWAN may have been one of the city's earliest mixed-use districts. The area stretches from Samuel McCree Way on its northern border, west to Genesee Street, south to Cottage Street, and east to Reynolds Street.
A tavern at the intersection of Genesee Street and what was Buffalo Street (now West Main Street) became the legendary Bull's Head Tavern, a stopover for cattlemen and farmers. In the mid-1800's, the area became home to St. Mary's, the city's first hospital (now Unity Health).
The Bull's Head shopping district, which still exists today, was once a bustling scene. But by the mid-1900's, the area had begun its decline, and it was dotted with vacant houses and shuttered businesses.
More recently, however, SWAN has been on an upswing. The SWAN Association, according to the city's website, was founded by Willie Lightfoot Sr., a community activist and Monroe County legislator who died in 2001.
With Lightfoot's guidance, SWAN began a slow, but steady transformation. The city has replaced many vacant properties with community vegetable and flower gardens. And Project Green — a city plan to bring nature into more than three dozen neighborhoods — has converted neglected lots into green space.
The area is also home to an architectural gem, says Cynthia Howk, architectural research coordinator for the Landmark Society of Western New York.
"The Trinity Emmanuel Presbyterian Church is one of the city's best examples of the Arts and Crafts movement," Howk says. "The interior is quite interesting." The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The revitalization of Jefferson Avenue, which involved new streetscapes, lighting, and sidewalks, drew support from the city, the University of Rochester, the Urban League, and Representative Louise Slaughter. With the emergence of the nearby Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood and the continued vitality of the 19th Ward neighborhood, SWAN and West Main Street are again positioned as one of the city's most important corridors. (TM)
The Culver University East neighborhood, or CUE, is one of the most recognizable sections of Rochester. This relatively small neighborhood, comprised mostly of Culver Road, East Avenue, and University Avenue, is an unusual blend of some of city's most lavish homes and commercial properties.
East Avenue prior to the Civil War was a dirt road leading from downtown to Pittsford, says Cynthia Howk, architectural coordinator for the Landmark Society of Western New York. The once chestnut tree-lined street became home to Rochester's second generation of wealthy industrialists. Many of the homes on East Avenue are mansions on large lots belonging to Rochester's one-time power elite, such as George Eastman and Hiram Sibley.
East Avenue, like Buffalo's Delaware Avenue and New York City's Fifth Avenue, represents Rochester's gilded age, and is one of the city's historic preservation districts.
But by the mid- to late 20th century, some of the mansions no longer belonged to the families who built them. Some were converted to luxury apartments and, more recently, condominiums. And a change in zoning allowed for the construction of apartment towers and townhomes.
While East Avenue is CUE's centerpiece, University Avenue is also home to commercial and light industries, with companies like Harris RF Communications and global gear company, Gleason. Many factories and warehouses that no longer served their original use, and were often vacant, have since been repurposed for offices, restaurants, and service businesses.
Much of CUE's popularity, says realtor Sib Petix, owner of the Petix Group, is the neighborhood's close proximity to Art Walk, the museums, and Park Avenue shops and restaurants. Petix often takes visitors who are being recruited by the University of Rochester on tours of the CUE, and young professionals are especially attracted to the area, he says.
But CUE is also home to old Rochester families, says City Council member Elaine Spaull, who represents the area.
"There are a lot of longtime residents, business owners, and renters in this area," she says. "Most of these people could live anywhere they want and they choose to be here, which tells you something. They are respectful and polite with a gentleness about them. Some neighborhood meetings can get raucous, but that would never, ever happen in a CUE meeting."
Without question, the biggest news for CUE is the new Wegmans store currently under construction on East Avenue. The older store closed in February and, as of press time, is in the process of being demolished. The new store is slated to open in May 2013.
While there are some concerns about the potential for more truck traffic with the larger store, most people in her district are looking forward to the new Wegmans, Spaull says. (TM)
The High Falls neighborhood and Browns Race historic district do not constitute one of Rochester's largest neighborhoods, but the city's early fortunes began here. The Genesee River and the falls provided the perfect setting for Matthew and Francis Brown to build a riverside canal. The harnessed water powered the city's flour mills, which were soon followed by numerous small factories. By the early 1800's, Rochester was on course to become one of the country's first boomtowns.
The High Falls neighborhood extends north to Smith Street, south to the Inner Loop, and west to Oak Street. The Genesee River is the neighborhood's eastern boundary.
After its initial surge, many of the flour mills were no longer needed. And the area's buildings, many of them designed for industry, were abandoned. The area held on with the help of Eastman Kodak's headquarters campus. The company is almost synonymous with Rochester, and for much of the 1900's it was the city's largest employer.
While the High Falls were well-known to most Rochesterians in the 1800's, many people today are seeing them for the first time with the help of the Center at High Falls, which is part of the New York State Heritage Area System.
"They're not on a major roadway," says Cynthia Howk, architectural coordinator for the Landmark Society of Western New York. "Unless you worked at Kodak, you might not even know [the falls] are there. Many people have never seen them, even though we are the city with the tallest waterfalls in its downtown."
The Pont de Rennes pedestrian bridge replaced the former Platt Street bridge, and offers an excellent view of the roughly 96-foot waterfalls and the river gorge. More recently, the city made a concerted effort to revitalize the High Falls area, capitalizing on its historic significance and natural beauty.
After a brief effort to turn the area into an entertainment district, real revitalization began when many of the area's vacant buildings were renovated for use as offices and residential space. Frontier Field continues to attract sports fans to the area, but the biggest attraction to this unusual section of the city is still the beauty of the Genesee River and the rushing water of the falls. (TM)
-Highland Park Neighborhood
-North Winton Village
-Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood