The area known as Falls Field, using present day streets, lies between the Genesee River on the west and St. Paul Street on the east and the AMTRAK rails on the south and Cataract Street on the north. The three main falls of the Genesee River in Rochester were attractions since the development of Western New York. They were a stop for travelers going to and coming from Niagara. The best vantage point for the High Falls was the east bank, from the area called Falls Field. The west side of the river was the location of Brown's Race and the many mills that used its water power. These obstructed the view as did the local terrain. The angle of the falls is such one has to get about half way across the gorge to get a good view, with the best views being from the east end of the Platt Street Bridge and along the east bank of the river which is about 100 feet above river level. The height of the falls is currently about 80 feet although many prefer to use the 96 feet mentioned in the 1838 book Sketches of Rochester.
The explanation can be found in https://www.libraryweb.org/~rochhist/v54_1992/v54i4.pdf . Of particular interest is figure 5 on page 30.
Arch Merrill gives a brief history of Falls Field in the Democrat and Chronicle Sunday Magazine, August 3, 1943. He states that as early as 1847 circuses began exhibiting there.
An ad for a circus appeared in the June 16, 1855 Rochester Daily Union:
A circus also appears in a three dimensional view of Rochester 1867 - 1868 by William Henry Robinson.
Note that in 1867, the train station was on the west side of the river. It was moved to the east side in the early 1880's.
Ballou's Pictorial Companion 1855
From the Rochester Daily Union May 30, 1853:
From the Union and Advertiser, January 28, 1861:
From the Union and Advertiser March 13, 1876:
From Arch Merrill's 1943 article:
The heyday of Falls Field was the decade that followed 1876. That was the year John Meinhard came from New York and took over the field. .... Meinhard did not spare expense in developing Falls Field. He fashioned the park after a picnic garden of the homeland. Its restaurant became noted for its cuisine. Of course beer was served in the bar but there never was any disorder at Falls Field in John Meinhards regime.
The Central Station was then at St. Paul and Central Avenue.... Trains halted there long enough for passengers to walk the short distance to Falls Field and view the then famous falls of the Genesee - for five cents a head....
A high board fence surrounded Falls Field and back of the fence on the St. Paul Street side was the menagerie. There were no city zoos then and pleasure seekers reveled in the rows of cages that contained bears, monkeys, American eagles, raccoons and other beasts of the field and birds of the air....
Who remembers the old merry-go-round, the first in Rochester?....It had a roof over it and a revolving floor centered around a high pole. Its motive power was furnished by a horse and driver in the cellar below, who followed a circular path, hour after hour. The carrousel had coaches and horses, that, operated by springs, pranced up and down. There was no music but....there were the traditional brass rings. The charge was five cents for a five minute ride.
In winter there was the ice skating rink, the first indoor rink in the city, in the big hall at the field....The same hall in summer saw dances and other social functions and contained a smaller upstairs hall where political rallies were held and the Boys in Blue, crack Republican marching club, paraded in their shakos, back in the 1880s
There was a bowling hall...
Meinhard planted trees and laid out ornamental gardens, with a fountain. There was a pond that contained alligators and ducks. Benches were laced near the falls where the tossing spray flecked the cheeks of picnickers. Swains and their best girls were fond of the three wooden swings that were suspended from a scaffold-like structure and operated by pedals, would send them, shrieking with excitement, high into the air. The charge again was a nickel.... Meinhard also built an ornamental summer house near the falls that was called the Falls House.
Sunday concerts with singers and orchestras were held. Churches and social groups held picnics.
From the Union and Advertiser October 5, 1883:
From the Union and Advertiser, July 2, 1886:
In the early 1880's the beach at Charlotte began to develop and when the electric trolley began to run there in the 1890's, Falls Field and the Maple Grove at the lower falls were displaced as favorite destinations. The industrial potential of the Falls Field area became important.From the Union and Advertiser July 28, 1886:
The following, taken from plat maps, show changes to the Falls Field area:
The present Genesee Brew House is located on Cataract Street.
Rail lines and new buildings are hindering access to Falls Field.
Falls Field becomes more industrial.
Still more industrialization. This leads Arch Merrill to say in the Democrat and Chronicle Sunday Magazine of August 3, 1943, "So Surrounded by Built-up Rochester As to Be Unapproachable These Days Are the Upper Falls and Picnic Site Where Decades Ago Echoed the Merry Sounds of Laughter and Band Music,"
The opening in 2012 of the very successful Genesee Brew House has revitalized the area.
From a simpler time:
Rochester Public Library Local History Division