Olmsted Designed Parks - Highland Park

Rochester’s Olmsted Designed Parks

Each April 26 we celebrate the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., and the gift of Olmsted designed parks left in our care.

The City of Rochester website says it best: “Rochester is fortunate to be one of a handful of American cities that have a park system designed by the most revered landscape architect in American history.” Fortunate indeed!

A celebration of Frederick Law Olmsted’s life would not be complete without a celebration of those who hired him in the first place–the Rochester Park Commission, established in 1888. You’ll find a statue of Edward Mott Moore, the Father of Rochester’s Park System, in Genesee Valley Park

Olmsted’s “park-as-arboretum” design philosophies inspired Bernard Slavin’s landscape design of Durand-Eastman.

One could argue that he also influenced Lawrence Halprin‘s design of Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park at Manhattan Square as well, having a much smaller influence than ‘modern’ 1970’s techniques.

Olmsted designed parks

Olmsted designed parks: Water Trails Around Rochester NY Genesee River through Genesee Valley Park
Genesee Valley

Genesee Valley Park

Originally named South Park.

The Erie Canal still ran its course through the City of Rochester when Olmsted Sr. deigned GVP between 1888–1893. It was John C. Olmsted who, in 1918, designed the beautiful stone bridges we enjoy today. Olmsted’s Sheep Meadow became a golf course in 1899, one of the first public golf courses in the country.

Seneca Park pedestrian bridge autumn
Pedestrian bridge

Seneca Park and Maplewood Park

Originally named North Park: Seneca East & Seneca West.

Frederick Law Olmsted also designed Seneca Parkway, with the central park-like mall, to connect them.

The developments in 1888 came after the area’s establishment of the Driving Park Race Track in 1875 (yes, Driving Park was actually a driving park!) Learn more

Olmsted designed parks: Highland Park
Highland Park

Highland Park

Olmsted actually wanted nothing to do with designing Highland Park. It did not have the natural water elements that typified his landscapes. The parks department, however, said it came with the job they were offering so he reluctantly accepted the assignment.

We have Ellwanger & Barry to thank for the donation of the land, and of the trees & shrubs grown at their world-renowned nursery on Mount Hope Ave. They were also major contributors to the construction of the Children’s Pavillion, torn down in 1963. 

The Highland Park Conservancy has plans to rebuild the pavillion by 2022 in time to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Frederick Law Olmsted’s birth.

Susan B Anthony Frederick Douglass Lets Have Tea
Anthony Square

Smaller Olmsted Designed Parks in the City of Rochester

The Olmsted Firm, managed by the sons, designed 25 projects in Rochester.

Susan B Anthony Square, originally named Madison Square.

Washington Square

Brown Square

Jones Square

Lundsford Circle, originally named Plymouth Park.

Schiller Park, originally named Franklin Square.

Cobbs Hill Pinnacle Hill summer
Cobb’s Hill

Cobb’s Hill Reservoir

The Reservoir’s walkways, iron fence, steps and overlooks were designed by the Olmsted firm. The firm is directly responsible for recommending that the vistas and view of the city remain unobstructed.

University of Rochester Arboretum

Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. was responsible for the design of the University of Rochester’s “River Walk” of oak trees along the Genesee River. From an article about the University’s recognition as a top tree campus:

“With more than 1,400 trees of 116 different species, the University’s arboretum and grounds include the trees and shrubbery on the River Campus, Eastman School of Music campus, the Memorial Art Gallery, Medical Center campus, and Mt. Hope campus.”

For more information about the University of Rochester arboretum:

Learn More About Olmsted Designed Parks Around Rochester


Rochester Parks System – Highland Park Conservancy

“Rochester is one of just four cities nationwide that boasts an entire park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of the landscape architecture profession. 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.”

National Association for Olmsted Parks

“In 1865, Olmsted returned to New York to join Vaux in completing their work on Central Park and designing Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Over the next thirty years, ending with his retirement in 1895, Olmsted created examples of the many kinds of designs by which the profession of landscape architecture (a term he and Vaux first used) could improve the quality of life in America.”

125 Years of Rochester’s Parks

“Just a few years into the vast project of establishing the park system, the park commissioners reported that ‘our citizens have come to have a strong personal and civic pride in our public pleasure grounds. Nothing possessed by the municipality is so especially owned and occupied by the people as the parks.'”

A Town Square

“Here in Rochester, two of Burnham’s colleagues, Arnold Brunner and Frederick Law Olmsted the younger, authored “A City Plan for Rochester” in 1911. Sponsored by the Rochester Civic Improvement Committee, the plan is squarely situated in the City Beautiful Movement begun by Burnham.”

The Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted

“Olmsted felt that the river was the city’s most valuable natural asset and needed to both preserved and celebrated.”

If you are using Google Maps on your mobile device, add this map as a layer.

13 Places in the City to Enjoy the Genesee River

At Genesee Valley Park, the Genesee River begins her journey through the city, racing over a dam and three waterfalls before emptying into Lake Ontario.

Read more

The Flower City: Exploring Rochester’s Extraordinary Flowers and Trees

Rochester became a global center for flower and tree nurseries in the mid-1800s, fostering our identity as The Flower City.

Read more

Rochester Area Parks

There are over 200 Rochester area parks (New York State Parks, Monroe County Parks, Town Parks, and City Parks) within a 2-hour drive.

Read more

Which are your favorite Olmsted designed parks?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments. Your insight and experience is invaluable!


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COVID-19 NOTE: Some of the information you find in our articles may currently be inaccurate due to closures and cancellations.

Please follow the most current recommendations from the CDC and New York State for spending time away from your home. The great outdoors can provide a well needed respite & escape during stressful times. Please move quickly through parking lots, trail heads, and scenic areas. If crowded, choose a different park, trail, or time to visit. Please day trip responsibly.