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The Genesee River

The Genesee River is the lifeline of Rochester and was also a lifeline of the Iroquois people who lived in our region long before the city was established on the high falls of the river in the early 1800s.   

The Genesee is special and important. From its source atop a hill in Potter County, Pennsylvania to its end at Lake Ontario within the City of Rochester, the Genesee River flows 160 miles north and drops 2,250 feet through a full range of rural, suburban, and urban communities.

The Haudenosaunee called the river "Ge-ne-see," meaning "pleasant banks." These pleasant banks shift to imposing (but beautiful) waterfalls and gorges in Letchworth State Park, and in the City of Rochester: High Falls (97 feet), Middle Falls, and Lower Falls. Having three impressive waterfalls within its borders makes Rochester aquatically unique!

In the early 1800s European explorers infiltrating the wild western frontier that is now western New York found the high falls of the Genesee and quickly saw a waterpower bonanza. Mills sprang up on the falls and in a remarkably short time Rochester became a milling and then an industrial powerhouse: the "Flour City," the "Young Lion of the West." In 1825, the Erie Canal was completed, and crossed the Genesee River on a fascinating aqueduct right downtown. (This aqueduct remains, the Broad Street Bridge built atop it.) Rochester grew as an industrial and corporate juggernaut to the middle of the 20th century, unfortunately degrading the Genesee in the process.

Today, after four decades of economic and urban challenges, Rochester is advancing a very real revitalization. This includes a re-focus on the Genesee River as an economic and ecological lifeline. Recreational assets such as the Genesee Riverway Trail, Genesee Valley Park (where the river and Erie Canal now cross in a fascinating four-way water intersection), Port of Rochester, Seth Green Park (where salmon run from the lake each fall), and Turning Point Park offer people from all walks of life access to the river, the stunning gorge, and very real nature. At Brooks Landing, Corn Hill Landing, University of Rochester, High Falls, and the Frederick Douglass Susan B. Anthony Bridge, sensitive development projects have brought activity handsomely and harmoniously back to the river. 

 This development, and the entire city, owes thanks to the Mount Morris Dam that spans the river about 40 miles south of the city. Before the dam was built in the 1940s, the Genesee would "run crazy," flooding the city violently, and regularly.  

Today, more and more are experiencing and appreciating the Genesee River. Whether by hiking, biking, paddling, or dining by the water, Rochesterians and people from around the world are soaking in the beauty and benefits of our waterway. The Lower Gorge Series immerses people in the history and ecology of the Gorge; River Romance is a creative cornucopia of activities and events annually that celebrate and educate about the Genesee.   

There would be no Rochester if there was no Genesee River. We should be informed, inspired, and humbled by it as we move into Rochester's auspicious future.