Every city has certain people, places, and things that help to define it. Deep-dish pizza is Chicago. The Golden GateBridge is San Francisco. Harry Connick Jr. is New Orleans. The list goes on. While Rochester may not be a booming metropolis like those previous examples, it has its own signature, and certain details that are unmistakably Rochester.
It would be impossible to list all of the things that are quintessentially Rochester in this limited space, but here is a starter list of some people, places, and things that make Rochester so special. If you have some more "definitively Rochester" items to add to the list, post them on this article under the Guides section at rochestercitynewspaper.com.
[ PEOPLE ] She might not be "definitively Rochester" just yet, but she's getting there. Kristen Wiigis a rising star on the national comedy scene, and she got her start in the Greater Rochester area. Wiig was born in nearby Canandaigua and graduated from BrightonHigh School. In 2005 she joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live," and quickly became one of the more popular members of the troupe, appearing in more sketches than any other cast member in the 2008-09 season. She has had supporting roles in a bunch of successful films, including "Knocked Up," "Adventureland," "Whip It!" and "Extract," and she recently signed on for her first leading role. Wiig has received all kinds of critical praise, including an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, and being named one of the Top 25 Funniest Women in Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly in 2009. Other Hollywood notables that got their start in the Greater Rochester area include Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robert Forster, and Taye Diggs.
[ PLACES ] Seabreeze is an old-school, medium-sized amusement park located near the shore of Lake Ontario, close to Irondequoit Bay. And when we say "old-school," we mean old school: Seabreeze was opened in the late 1800's, and is reportedly the fourth-oldest amusement park in the country. While it has certainly been updated over the past century to include some great modern rides, including a sizable water park, it retains its throwback charm in the face of mega-parks like the Six Flags chains. Among the more than 70 rides in the park is one that is quintessentially Rochester: the Jack Rabbit, a 2150-foot wooden rollercoaster originally opened in 1920. One of our editors' grandmothers rode the rollercoaster after moving here from Italy back in the 1920's, and as she pointed out, it's pretty cool that her granddaughter can take that same 75-foot plunge today.
[ THINGS ] Grocery store Wegmans got its start in Rochester back in 1916, originally named the Rochester Fruit & Vegetable Company and founded by John Wegman. Since then it has expanded greatly, and now the chain includes 75 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland, with a dozen stores in the Rochester area alone. Rochesterians are fiercely loyal to Wegmans, and with reason: it's not your average supermarket. Depending on the store you visit, you can find massive prepared-food cafes, sophisticated patisseries, tea shops, or burrito bars. The store puts out a glossy quarterly recipe magazine, recently opened its second sit-down restaurant concept in the area, has expanded into the liquor-store business, and is frequently listed in the Top 10 of Fortune Magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For."
[ PEOPLE ] Susan B. Anthony may not have been born in Rochester, but she sure made her mark here. On November 18, 1872, Anthony cast her ballot in the 1872 presidential election, voting right down the Republican Party line. One small problem: at the time it was illegal for women to vote. Anthony was arrested and brought to trial (at the Ontario County Courthouse in Canandaigua) and found guilty (her sentence was a fine that she would never pay). Instead she became internationally known for her role in the women's suffrage movement, including co-founding the National Women's Suffrage Association. Anthony died in 1906, 14 years before the 19th Amendment would be passed, giving women the right to vote. But she remains a powerful historical figure, and she's well remembered in Rochester. The area of town where she lived during her political heyday has been renamed the SusanB.AnthonyDistrict, and the house where she lived on Madison Street is now the Susan B. Anthony House museum.
[ PLACES ] He's best known for New York City's Central Park, but legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted also put his signature on several green spaces in the Rochester area during the 19th century. His local parks -- Highland Park, GeneseeValleyPark, and SenecaPark -- remain home to some of the most striking natural scenes in the area. Although Olmstead's original designs for the Rochester park system didn't quite pan out (Olmsted had planned additional parks, and for all of them to be connected by a ring of grand parkways), each of the extant parks offer very different experiences. Of particular note is Highland Park, off Highland Avenue, which is an outdoor arboretum filled with all manner of beautiful, unusual plants, and is especially known for its hundreds of lilacs, which are feted in the park every May during the week-long festival that bears their name.
[ THINGS ] The GeneseeRiverarguably made Rochester what it is today. Starting out as spring on a farm in Pennsylvania, the Mighty Genesee cuts right through the city, and in the old days its rushing waters powered the mills that made Rochester originally known as the FlourCity, as well as other river-side businesses. The Genesee is an anomaly, in that its waters run north, eventually emptying into LakeOntario. It also is responsible for some of Rochester's most striking views, including the High Falls district (how many other cities can boast a waterfall within city limits?), and the river gorge. Several different boat tours of the Genesee are offered during the warmer months. If you want to get to know Rochester, any of these are a great way to see how it all started.
[ PEOPLE ] A world-renowned choreographer, Garth Fagan has called Rochester home since 1970. This is where he founded the Bottom of the Bucket BUT... dance troupe, which would eventually be renamed Garth Fagan Dance, and gain rave reviews for its blend of contemporary, ballet, and Afro-Caribbean styles. Fagan himself received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1998, and won a Tony Award in 1998 for choreographing the Broadway adaptation of Disney's "The Lion King." While Garth Fagan Dance continues to perform all over the world, Fagan keeps the company based locally, and it puts on two concert series of original work every year at the NazarethCollegeArtsCenter. The troupe also teaches contemporary dance classes for adults and children from its studio on Chestnut Street, and Fagan remains a powerful and respected force in the local arts community.
[ THINGS ] If Rochester has a signature dish, it is the Garbage Plate. Originally introduced by local hots spot Nick Tahou, the traditional Garbage Plate features home fries, macaroni salad, baked beans, or French fries topped with the fried meat of your choice (typically hamburgers or hot dogs) and then covered in spicy mustand, chopped onions, and hot sauce. It is not for the faint of heart or small of stomach. While Nick Tahou trademarked the actual Garbage Plate name, almost all of the many, many area hots restaurants (basically greasier versions of a greasy spoon) have their own take on the dish, each with its own derivative of the trashy name. To make it a truly Rochesterian dish, select a Zweigle's white hot as your meat. These white pork hot dogs are another local delicacy, and you're not likely to find them outside of Western New York (at least, not referred to as white hots).
[ PEOPLE ] Frederick Douglass moved to Rochester in 1843, and a few years later the former slave launched his anti-slavery newspaper The North Star here. Douglass became one of the nation's most prominent abolitionists, and was renowned for his writings and charismatic speeches; he even brought the National Negro Convention to Rochester in 1853. Although he left Rochester in 1872, after his death in 1895 his body was returned to the city, and he is buried in Mt.HopeCemetery. While not all of his local contemporaries embraced Douglass's work at the time, he has become one of Rochester's favorite adopted sons. A statue of Douglass was erected in Highland Park in 1897, making him the first black person in America to have a statue in his honor.
[ PLACES ] Mt. Hope Cemetery is a 197-acre municipal cemetery opened in 1838; it now holds more than 350,000 graves, including the resting places of some of the area's most notable former residents. Several things makeMt. Hope a defining Rochester landmark. First, as a Victorian-era cemetery, it is full of some absolutely stunning memorials. Some of the older gravestones, sculptures, and mausoleums are incredibly ornate and come in a wide range of styles, from Greek Revival to Italianate to faux-Egyptian. Second, while Rochester itself is largely flat, Mt.Hope is the rare cemetery built on a complicated, hilly plot of land. This adds visual interest, and makes for a great hike. In fact, the Friends of Mt. Hope Cemetery put on a variety of guided tours throughout the year, including the very cool nighttime luminaria tour around Halloween. It's macabre, to be sure, but once you get past that, Mt.Hope is one of the most impressive sites in the area.
[ PLACES ] You can't talk about Rochester without eventually discussing George Eastman, the founder of film company Eastman Kodak, and one of Rochester's great philanthropists. Although he died in 1932, his name and impact can still be found all over the area, most notably with the George Eastman House photography museum, and with the Eastman Theatre, one of the city's grandest venues, home to both the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and the headliners for our annual Rochester International Jazz Festival. But perhaps the greatest part of the George Eastman legacy is the Eastman School of Music. An arm of the University of Rochester, ESM is a world-renowned music school that trains the next generation of great performers in a variety of styles and genres. During regular classes, its home on Gibbs Street and the surrounding East End is packed with enthusiastic young musicians toting around instruments, lending a very cosmopolitan air to the area. Because of the school Rochester is a hotbed of incredible classical music, in particular. ESM puts on an absurd number of concerts throughout the year, many of them free. Don't miss out on the opportunity to see world-class music for peanuts (or less).