The High Falls Area

As we walk onto the Platt Street bridge we may consider the question, why are we here? A good answer is water. The Genesee River allowed the building of mill races which supplied the water which would power Rochester's industry. Many of the early mills were flour mills.

Water in the form of the Erie Canal allowed the products of Rochester's mills to be shipped to the east coast as well as west of the Appalachian Mountains It also brought trade goods and raw materials from the same areas.

Geologists tell us that the Genesee River originally followed the course of present day Irondequoit Creek and emptied into Irondequoit Bay. During the last ice age this route was blocked and a glacial moraine formed on Rochester's south side. Today we call the remains of this moraine, the Pinnacle Hills. A large lake called Lake Scottsville, formed on the south side of the moraine. About 10,000 years ago the lake broke through the moraine in the vicinity of the University of Rochester and began carving the present course of the Genesee River. Information on the geology and industry of the Genesee gorge can be found in two issues of Rochester History.

The presence of a river bisecting Rochester has been a help and a problem. Many bridges are required and north of the Upper or High Falls they must be high bridges. The gorge below the High Falls is about 100 feet deep and nearly 200 feet deep at the Lower Falls.

The Genesee River is navigable from Lake Ontario to the Lower Falls. In 1817 a group of businessmen established the village of Carthage at the Lower Falls. The idea was to use a mill race at the Lower Falls for manufacturing and establish a center of population there. Shipping was carried out from a port on the east side of the Genesee River below where the Seneca Towers are today. To do this they realized they needed to build a high bridge across the river or people would go to the original main street bridge, built between 1810 and 1812, to cross the river. At the time this was the only bridge between Rochester and the current site of Avon. In 1819 they opened a wooden arch bridge which was not successful. Carthage became part of the City of Rochester in 1834. The City built a suspension bridge which opened in 1856 and also was not successful. A reliable bridge opened in 1890. The stories of the bridges can be found in an issue of Rochester History.

Newspaper clipping of the Ruins of Carthage Bridge and the Lower Falls of the Genesee

In the High Falls area the first bridge built was the Vincent Place bridge of 1873.

Image of Bausch and Lomb from the west

View from the west. The large building is Bausch and Lomb.

Image of view south towards High Falls

The view is looking south toward High Falls and downtown. The foreground is the flats on the NE side of the bridge. This was the area referred to by Henry O'Reilly in his 1838 book Sketches of Rochester as the third water-power.

Newspaper clip: The third water-power Image entitled:  Views on the Genesee in Rochester.  The Third Water-Power and adjoining tract, between the Lower and Middle Falls.

Today we call the middle or main falls the upper or high falls.

Image entitled:  Genesee High Falls from Vincent Place Image entitled:  Vincent Place Bridge, Full Lenght View above

$5.00 Fine for Driving across this Bridge Faster than a Walk

The Platt Street Bridge opened August 19, 1891.

1925 Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, RMSC

Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, RMSC

Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, RMSC

Image of newspaper clip: Platt Street Bridge.  Completion of the handsome new crossing over the river. Image of falls and adjacent pile of rubble

Rochester Public Library Local History Division

Note the pile of rubble on the right. What do you think it was?

Image of falls and sawmill

Parson's sawmill was built on the site of Sam Patch's Leap of November 13, 1829.

Rochester Daily Advertiser October 29, 1929 2-5

Image of newspaper clip: Another Leap! Sam Patch against the World!

Rochester Daily Advertiser Nov. 7 1829 2-1

Image of newspaper clip: Rochester: Saturday Morning, Nov. 7, Sam Patch

Sam Patch announces second leap. Rochester Daily Advertiser, Nov. 12 1829 2-3.

Sam will leap at 2:00 and the bear at 3:00.

Image of newspaper clip: Sam Patch has announced his intention to make a second jump

Sam Patch ad. November 12, 1829 2-5

Image of newspaper clip: Higher Yet! Sam's Last Jump

Shocking event. Rochester Daily Advertiser November 14, 1829 2-2

Image of newspaper clip:

Body found. Rochester Daily Advertiser March 18, 1930 2-1

Image of newspaper clip: Regarding finding Sam Patch's body

Sam Patch found. Rochester Republican March 23, 1830 2-3

Image of newspaper clip: Corpse found

A transcription of an 1833 article by an English traveler contained information on Sam's leap.


With some account of Sam Patch's last step


One the morning of the day Sam agreed to jump down the perpendicular rock of the Genesee Falls (exactly where Galt makes Hoskin's "Skow" topple over, himself and Todd clinging to the branch) there was not a hotel bar in all the town but witnessed a double activity in the serving out of julep, sling, toddy and negus; great was the coil of betting and disputing whether he would do it or not. The rock is certainly 90 to 100 feet high. and at this spot, between the greater and lesser branch of the cataract, it is covered with a green carpet, and shadowed almost to the verge by very picturesque and pretty trees; the few left of the identical old foresters of "Zerubables" days of exploration. On this very verge the knowing ones had erected a scaffolding of at least 20 high, as Sam said a few feet more or less in the leap down was "no odds." Sam was poor and couldn't muster many dollars to risk on his own head; but a few he did muster - borrowed, for all his own had long made part of the pelt of the various tavern-keepers all along that line, from the Great Mohawk Falls to the big Niagara; in short, Sam was given to drinking, and led a sort of vagabond life, such as one may well imagine a young fellow would fall into, who got his living thru the summer, by diving into the various gulfs and rapids for the amusement of the fun-hunting ladies and gemmen of the various parts of the Union. I mentioned in my last Sam's greatest feat was jumping off a scaffolding just below Goat Island/ at Niagara, some 120 feet into the foaming eddy below. The summer before (1829) Sam, had he stuck to his axe and plough, was to have married a neighbor's daughter; and on this day he had some conversation with his brother about it. Giving him a nudge at the bar. Giving him a nudge at the bar, they walked out under the stoop (piazza) to say a word or two in the case; Sam felt queasy; he was out of order; he was not so sanguine as he always had been. To remedy this, he had already drank so many drams among those who backed him, that he was by this time in a staggering condition, and his brother, who appears to have been more considerate, begged him to forfeit, as he was in no condition to jump that day; but that ambition which sways us just as much in little as great things, to evil or to good, made this ill-fated obstinate as a mule; jump he would, and after giving his watch to his brother, to hold, or to keep if he should rise no more, back they went to the bar; and just then the grand procession of all the town, man, woman and child, headed by the more noisy "fancy" of the place, took their way, cheering as they went along, down to the place. It created a sort of mixed sensation, between a horserace and an execution ! for the leap if he did take it (which many at the moment doubted) was the most ugly he had yet adventured.

They saw poor Sam was very drunk; but like all drunken men in moments of great excitement, he staggered less and walked down with his brother, in the midst of all the hubbub, in the very spirit of bravado. At the foot of the scaffolding he stripped off his clothes: and tying a handkerchief around his waist, clambered up and stood a moment on the upper scantling, thwart which fumed the raging gulf below. And now was all hushed in breathless anxiety! His brother to the last held him by the hand and urged him not, but he would not be advised. Waving his hand as a signal to look out, he sprang off feet foremost as he always went, and as is best in leaps of this kind - the feet close together, and arms by the sides - head erect. As he descended those who were on the left bank close to the many mill-races, said he appeared bent up; and so gave him over at once - for falling on the waters below from such a height must have been like falling on solid rock, striking with any flat surface of the body, and so it turned out; he was never seen again; indeed if I mistake not; was never found at all, though they had several boats below the falls waiting to pick him up in the nearest circling eddy. The fact was the leap was too hazardous, he had drank himself out of that steady coolness fit for such danger, and losing that upright position as he went down, was quite enough to kill him. I have never heard the mood the betting people went home in; doubtless it was various, - those who won might feel as our sporting men do who win, though the losing jockey very possibly has broke his neck, which is not their business. So ended Sam Patch! Most of the taverns and canal -boats have a picture of him in his last act.

Rochester's worst fire in terms of lives lost occurred at High Falls on November 9, 1888.

Steam Gauge and Lantern Works

Newspaper clip: Dire Disaster.  Destruction of the Steam Gauge and Lantern Works.

A description of the fire is given in a University of Rochester student paper.

One of Rochester's most sensational murders took place at High Falls on December 19, 1857. The perpetrator, Ira Stout, was hanged October 22, 1858. Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony were drawn into events as opponents of capital punishment.

Rochester Daily Democrat October 6, 1858 2-5

Newspaper clip: Public Meeting - Imprisonment vs. Capital Punishment. Newspaper clip: The meeting of Thursday Night regarding Frederick Douglass' meeting on capital punishment.

The gorge at High Falls became very industrialized and a source of electricity and manufactured gas. The tall building on the upper right center is Kodak Office built in 1912.

Image of Rochester City Hall Photo Lab

Two maps, one from the east side of the river and one from the west, shows the extent of the utilities in the gorge area.

1935 Plat Map

Note the gasometers in the flats to the north of the Bausch Memorial Bridge. The first bridge on this site was the Vincent Place bridge OF 873.

1935 Plat Map

Note the buildings on the west side of the river, below Brown Street.

An 1875 plat map shows gasometers near the intersection of St. Paul, Franklin and River on the east side near the present day intersection of St. Paul and the Inner Loop as well as the NE corner of Front and Andrews.

1875 plat map

1875 Plat Map

The Rochester Subway site has a tour through the demolished RG&E Beebee plant.

The following three pictures of deer under the Platt Street were taken at the end of September 2011.

Image of 3 doe swimming in river

Three doe swimming from the island to the west bank.

Image of 2 male deer sparring Image of small herd of deer