Cobbs Hill autumn pinnacle hill

The Pinnacle Range

I started researching the Pinnacle Range along the City of Rochester’s southern border some time ago.

And while I am posting this article in an unfinished state—needing to further explore its history and significance—I wanted to at this time share what the Pinnacle Range is and how you can spend time exploring it.

From an article entitled Retrofitting Rochester: Pinnacle Hill: “This chain was formed by glacial deposits during the last part of the Ice Age, about 12,000 years ago. And it has had a profound impact on Rochester’s history.” They are basically large mounds of sand and gravel.

As Herman Fairchild states in The Pinnacle Hills, or The Rochester Kame-Moraine, “Only two other physiographic features about Rochester can compare with the range for size and interest. These are the Rochester Canyon of the Genesee River, and the Irondequoit Valley, the latter being the ancient or Pre-Glacial channel of the river.”

Map of Rochester NY Pinnacle Range
Google topographic map

The Pinnacle Hills

From East to West

  1. Cobb’s Hill
  2. Pinnacle Hill
  3. Highland Hill
  4. Mount Hope
  5. Oak Hill

Highland Drive connects the first four, but ends at Mount Hope. The University of Rochester campus on Oak Hill lies just beyond Mount Hope Cemetery at the river’s edge.

Cobbs Hill Lake Riley
Cobbs Hill Lake Riley widewaters field
Cobbs Hill Lake Riley eastern wide water
Sledding Cobbs Hill cover
Cobbs Hill Washington Grove path to water towers
Cobbs Hill communication tower reservoir
Cobbs Hill bench cover
Cobb’s Hill

1. Cobb’s Hill

Cobb’s Hill provides one of the best views of the city skyline.

In an article about the Dedication of the Widewaters Field Monument, “…Widewaters—also called Lake Riley—was once a canal boat turn-around in Cobb’s Hill Park near Culver Road.” Check out this photo postcard of the canal running through Cobb’s Hill Park.

Because of the Pinnacle Range, all major infrastructure—Erie Canal, subway, express way—were routed around the range leaving this beautiful area untouched by development.

The trail through Washington Grove winds through a quiet grove of ancient oaks and leads you up to the graffiti-tagged water towers.

Cobbs Hill also hosts Monroe Country’s Public Safety Communications and one of Rochester’s most popular sledding hills.

Cobbs Hill autumn pinnacle hill
Pinnacle Hill
Pinnacle Hill trail
Pinnacle Hill residential
Pinnacle Hill Bike Trails
Pinnacle Hill trail
Pinnacle Hill

2. Pinnacle Hill

Pinnacle Hill is the highest point in Rochester and is home to five of Rochester’s broadcast signal towers plus the aptly named Hillside Children’s Center.

It is also the most rustic. Woodland bike trails dominate the hill bordering Pinnacle Rd. and Field St.

Pinnacle was heavily excavated for gravel, especially during the cutting of S. Clinton Ave through the range.

Pinnacle Hill also hosted St. Patrick’s Church cemetery. From the RocHistory blog,

“There are records showing that some removals to Holy Sepulchre started in 1872. By 1879 the cemetery had become very overgrown. Old newspaper articles say that the last burial in St. Patrick’s was in 1900. Then in 1935 it was decided to remove all the rest of the burials in the cemetery.”

Highland Hill park view
Highland Park stairs
Highland Park guided walking tours
highland park reservoir cover
late april trees highland park
Sledding Hills Around Rochester: Highland Bowl
Pinnacle Range view from Colgate Divinity
View toward Bristol and the eastern Finger Lakes

3. Highland Hill

Looking roughly 28 miles south you can see the hills and protected lands surrounding our fresh water sources at Canadice and Hemlock Lakes. Those waters fill the reservoir here and at Cobb’s Hill, and provide for the city below.

Highland Park is a series of rolling hills and meandering pathways. Follow them through the memorials below Highland Drive up to the reservoir and pinetum, over to Highland Bowl and on to the Sunken Garden.

The Pinnacle Range has been a popular place for early Rochesterians to bury their dead. In a 2020 WXXI News article by Veronica Volk entitled, ‘They’re under our feet’: Highland Park is final resting place for hundreds of unidentified remains, the plaque, located near the other memorials, reads,

“This plaque is dedicated to the men, women, and children whose unmarked graves were discovered here in 1984. They are believed to have been 19th century residents of the Monroe County Almshouse, Insane Asylum, and Penitentiary that occupied this site.”

And while the best attempts have been made, they estimate 600 more remain buried there today.

To the east is the old Colgate Divinity campus sharing a similar sweeping southern view to standing at the reservoir.

Mount Hope Cemetery kettle
Mount Hope Cemetery fossil wall
30 day trips within 30 minutes of Rochester: Mount Hope Cemetery
Mount Hope Cemetery Geologic History
Mount Hope Cemetery

4. Mount Hope

Mount Hope Cemetery is quite different from its fellow Pinnacle Hills.

In a 2004 publication of The Epitaph, author William Chaisson writes that “the continuous use of Mount Hope as a cemetery since 1838 has also preserved an incomparable glacial landscape.”

Take the geology tour to learn about ice age landforms (kames, moraines, kettles), the type of stones that make up gravestones, mausoleums and the ground you’re standing on, and residents who influenced the sciences during their time above ground.

Oak Hill U of R tennis courts cover
Mount Hope Cemetery University Rochester
University of Rochester Oak Hill

5. Oak Hill

You’re not crazy if you are wracking your brain, trying to recall ever noticing a large hill on the river’s edge. Oak Hill was leveled to create a golf course which has since relocated; the land is now the University of Rochester’s riverside campus.

Yes, Oak Hill Country Club was located right next to the river from 1901-1921 before moving to Pittsford.

map HL Fairchild The Pinnacle Hills
Map: H.L. Fairchild – The Pinnacle Hills

More Information on Rochester’s Pinnacle Range

For more in-depth history, check out a few of these resources:

The Epitaph, Vol. 23, Winter 2004

To give perspective of historic events in modern context, I found this paragraph helpful:

“The final retreat from the Pinnacle kame-moraine was associated with a drop in the lake’s level, and the water body in front of the ice sheet became “Glacial Lake Dawson.” The ice – front was then located roughly along the present shoreline of Lake Ontario. The shoreline of Glacial Lake Dawson was below, the ridge on which Mt. Hope Avenue and East and West Henrietta roads are built, This height of land separates the modern Genesee watershed from the Irondequoit Creek drainage. Lake Dawson filled the Irondequoit Creek watershed, but a smaller glacial water body called Glacial Lake Scottsville remained in the Genesee Valley between Rochester and Avon. The dam that created the lake was the Albion-Rochester kame-moraine, which crossed the valley at the present site of the River Campus of the University of Rochester.”

The article also provides further recommended reading. I’ve linked each publication to the Monroe County Library System website.

Fairchild, H. L., 1895. The Kame-Moraine at Rochester, NY. American Geologist, v. 16, pp . 39-51.

Fairchild, H. L., 1923. The Pinnacle Hills, or The Rochester Kame-Moraine. Proceedings of the Rochester Academy of Science, v. 6, pp . 141-194. Or, read it here in this 166 page PDF.

Fairchild. H. L., 1928. Geologic Story of the Genesee Valley and Western New York. Published by the author. Distributed by Scrantom’s, Inc

Additional Reading

New York Drumlins by Herman L. Fairchild

Glacial Geology by James S. Wishart. In his words: “While all of this happened in the past and many have contributed to studies and explanations, the individual who can go see for [her]self will enjoy noting places where these things can be seen.”

Dansville pre-glacial Genesee River valley
pre-glacial Genesee River valley through Dansville/Sparta/Groveland
Canaseraga Creek
Canaseraga Creek
Dansville and Mount Morris Railroad
Dansville and Mount Morris Railroad

The Genesee River

The ancient river flowed into Irondequoit Bay from its source in Gold, PA.

Because of terminal moraine near Portagville-Nunda-Dansville blocking it’s pre-glacial path, the river found another way through to Lake Ontario along it’s current course through Letchworth, reconnecting with it’s original path at Mount Morris.

“This “Valley-Heads” moraine lies just south of Dansville, and crosses the Genesee Valley at Portage, where it is wide and massive. It is this moraine that blocks the ancient valley and has forced the river into the new channel, the Portage Canyon.” [source, p. 154]

There is a spot in the valley just north of the Village of Dansville, where White Bridge Road crosses Canaseraga Creek. It’s interesting to imagine the full Genesee passing through here.

You can drive along I-390 between NY-408 and NY-36 right through the valley.

The Mendon Moraine blocked the river’s course again, where it is thought that it once followed Irondequoit Creek’s journey from its origin in Honeoye Falls to Irondequoit Bay. An origin not far from Honeoye Creek which flows into the Genesee River.

Additional Reading

The Pre-Glacial Course of the Middle Portion of the Genesee River by R. H. Whitbeck

Geologic History of the Rochester Area

These day trips into Rochester’s geologic history, filled with drumlins, fossils and a meromictic lake, will leave you awe-struck.

Read more

Street Art: Exploring Rochester’s Murals & Graffiti

The term street art means different things to different people. Here, we interpret street art to mean any outdoor, free, public wall art. 

Read more

15 of the Best Sledding Hills Around Rochester

The great thing about sledding is that there are no barriers to entry, and Monroe County Parks have the best sledding hills around Rochester!

Read more

Rochester’s Olmsted Designed Parks

Rochester is fortunate to be one of a handful of American cities that have a park system comprised of Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parks.

Read more

Where are your favorite spots along the Pinnacle Range?

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

77 Shares

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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.