Sonnenberg Gardens is an exceptional example of the lavish wealth and philanthropy of the Gilded Age. Like the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, Sonnenberg was a summer home for Frederick, the founder of First National Bank (now City Bank) and his wife, Mary, who grew up in Canandaigua and whose father was Governor of New York State.
I found it fascinating that Mary and her traveling party had tickets to sail home to the United States on the RMS Titanic April 14, 1912. She changed her plans and decided to stay in Europe a bit longer.
Getting Around Sonnenberg Gardens
Once you’ve parked and come through admissions, the park is free to explore. You could either view the map as a literal step-by-step guide or wander aimlessly and see what you can discover on your own. The main roads through the 50-acre property are paved and easily walkable. Some of the places you can explore, like the Tea Garden and the Rock Garden, are accessed by windy, uneven footpaths. There are also trams available that can take you anywhere in the park, but are especially useful getting from the entrance to the mansion and back. The drivers are excited to share details and stories as you drive along.
40 Public Gardens
Inside Sonnenberg Gardens Mansion
You can explore two of the three floors in the mansion. Unlike other historic homes where most of the space is roped off, you are pretty free to explore every detail up close. With the exception of a few notes to please not touch or sit, you could almost make yourself at home! These are just a few pictures I fell in love with while wandering around:
Looking out over the Italian Garden
There is a bedroom porch on the second floor that offers a perfect view of the gardens below.
The Italian Garden (1903)
The Rose Garden (1906)
The Old-Fashioned Garden (1906)
The Blue & White Garden (1912)
The Japanese Garden & Tea House (1906)
The Sub-Rosa (1907)
The Greenhouse Conservatory Complex (1915)
The glass conservatory is an example of Lord & Burnham’s extraordinary work. Their portfolio includes the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, where they were contracted by Frederick Law Olmsted during the development of Cazenovia and South Parks.
The Rock Garden (1920)
Spend a Day in the
Finger Lakes Region
Finger Lakes Wine Center
The 1911 stained glass Tiffany-style window was crafted by the Pike Stained Glass Studio in Rochester, NY. William Pike, founded the company in Rochester in 1908, after working for Louis Comfort Tiffany in New York City. Enjoy a wine tasting, for a small fee, in their tasting cellar located near the parking lot. Learn more