Making up a portion of the City of Rochester’s southern border, the Pinnacle Range is a glacial moraine formed by the retreating Wisconsin Glacier 12,000 years ago.
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 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.”
The Pinnacle Hills
From East to West
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.
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, expressway—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 is one of Rochester’s most popular sledding hills.
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.
Heavily excavated for gravel, especially during the cutting of S. Clinton Ave through the range, Pinnacle Hill is the most rustic. Woodland bike trails dominate the hill bordering Pinnacle Rd. and Field St.
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.”
3. Highland Hill
Looking roughly 28 miles south, you can see the hills and protected lands surrounding our freshwater 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, around the reservoir, through the pinetum, and across South Ave. to Highland Bowl and 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.”
Despite best attempts, an estimated 600 individuals remain buried there today.
The old Colgate Divinity campus shares a similar sweeping southern view to standing at the reservoir to the east.
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, the ground you’re standing on, and residents who influenced the sciences during their time above ground.
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. Leveled to create a golf course that has since relocated, Oak Hill is now the University of Rochester’s riverside campus.
Yes, Oak Hill Country Club was located next to the river from 1901 to 1921 before moving to Pittsford.
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 a perspective of historical events in a 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., 1928. Geologic Story of the Genesee Valley and Western New York. Published by the author. Distributed by Scrantom’s, Inc
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.”
The Genesee River
The ancient river flowed into Irondequoit Bay from its source in Gold, PA.
Because a terminal moraine near Portageville-Nunda-Dansville blocked its pre-glacial path, the river found another way to Lake Ontario along its current course through Letchworth, reconnecting with its original route 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 once followed Irondequoit Creek’s journey from its origin in Honeoye Falls to Irondequoit Bay. A source not far from Honeoye Creek, which flows into the Genesee River.
The Pre-Glacial Course of the Middle Portion of the Genesee River by R. H. Whitbeck
Where are your favorite spots along the Pinnacle Range?
Please share your thoughts and stories with us in the comments. Your insight and experience are invaluable!