A view of Downtown Rochester and High Falls with railroad bridge.
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Location / Directions / Maps

Location: Downtown RochesterMonroe County; New York.

Maps:  Google mapTopographicHistoric 1875 mapInteractive map.

GPS/Locations: Falls: (N 43.16132 / W 77.61336)
Pont de Rennes bridge: (N 43.16275 / W 77.61539)
Viewing platform: (N 43.16238 / W 77.61253)
Terrace Park: (N 43.16124 / W 77.61415)

Directions: From the East: I490 East to Downtown West/Plymouth Avenue exit; left onto Plymouth Avenue; right onto Morrie Silver Way (Platt Street). From the West: I490 West to Clinton Avenue (Exit 16); follow Clinton Avenue through Downtown Rochester past Main Street; turn left onto Andrews Street; right onto State Street; right onto Morrie Silver Way (Platt Street).

Or use Google Directions.

Parking: Park in the High Falls parking garage on State St. or in the lot at the end of Commercial Street (after 6pm or on weekends).

YouTube video



Information / Accessibility / Accommodations

Number of falls: 1

Size/Types: A large waterfall; wider than it is tall. It drops 96 ft classically over a slight overhang. Below is a massive gorge scarred by industrial mills from the past.

Best time to visit: Year-round.

Flow: Consistently high.

Waterway: Genesee River and the historic Brown’s Race.

Time: Allow for 10-30 minutes; more if you want to do the self-guided tour.

Seasons/Hours: You can access this waterfall all day and night; year-round.

Admission: Free to view the falls. Parking in the State St. garage is dependent on time.

Handicap accessibility: Yes, the Pont de Rennes Bridge is accessible.

Pets: Allowed (on leash).

Swimming: Dangerous, due to deep pools, unpredictable currents, and turbid waters. Swimming prohibited.

Accommodations: Benches; paved walkways; viewing platforms; informational signage; visitor center (with museum, art gallery, gift shop, restrooms); the immediate area has a few eateries.

High Falls at Dusk seen from the brewery side of the gorge. Next to the Falls is the Gorsline Building


Once a booming mix of mills and factories, Rochester’s Brown’s Race Neighborhood has gone through drastic changes in the last two decades. The city has invested millions in cleaning up the old brick buildings, attempting to revitalize the area as an entertainment district. Bars and restaurants come and go, with few successfully maintaining a steady business. A massive parking structure was built, as well as a pedestrian bridge that not only allows people to traverse the Genesee Gorge, but also to observe the 96 foot High Falls and the massive Genesee Gorge walls, scarred with the constructions of industry past. Old mills that lined the gorge were refurbished into a Visitor Center, restaurants, shops, and venues, many of which have closed as of this writing (2019).

Now in the shadow of the old Eastman Kodak tower, with little entertainment business remaining open, the High Falls area is still an attraction for those who work downtown. People come to sit on the benches of the Pont de Rennes bridge to eat lunch, read or enjoy the sights and sounds of the Falls. A crowd usually gathers in summer prior to a ballgame at the adjacent Frontier Field, or to enjoy the occasional event at the wheel pit near the Gorsline Building. The High Falls area is currently in transition yet again. Labeled as an “historic district,” plans are in the general direction of residential and office space, although there are no major developments planned as of this writing (2019). In 2013, the group Greentopia conceptualized a round of falls access improvements that included a “Garden Aerial” pedestrian bridge directly over the falls. A study was conducted by the city to compare this with several other pedestrian access pathways to the falls. Nothing ever came of it, and the Garden Aerial website is now defunct.

Rochester has developed the area to allow visitors to view the falls from all angles and learn about the history of Brown’s Race as well. Brown’s Race is a channel built to divert water to parallel the river on the east rim of the gorge. Mills stationed along the gorge tapped the race to power their mills. The race exists today and even powers an adjacent electric power plant. Unfortunately, due to the presence of this utility, the small park adjacent to the falls at the bottom of the gorge is off limits to visitors.

Over the last decade since I first started writing about the High Falls District, not much has changed other than businesses coming and going (mostly going) from the historic brick buildings. Of note, the massive yellow eyesore that was the RG&E Beebe coal-powered energy plan that hugged the west gorge was razed in 2014. It was shut down since 1999 and in bad shape. Today a single smokestack is all that remains.

A closeup of High Falls with the water smoothed out by a slow shutter speed.
Rochester's High Falls with a rainbow in front of it.
Rochester's High falls during sunset with the Kodak building and some of downtown Rochester visible.
A closeup of part of Rochester's High Falls showing the adjacent cliff, scarred with tunnels from mill races

The Future: High Falls State Park

After over 100 year of being dominated by industrial development and power generation, the High Falls area, particularly the land within the gorge itself, may finally become publicly accessible as a New York State Park. After the ROC the Riverway’s completion of Phase 1 plans to develop the riverfront (which started in 2018), Phase 2 was announced in March of 2022, and included plans to develop the space below the falls into a State Park.

The 40 acre green space may feature picnic facilities, walking and bicycle trails, viewing platforms, pavilions, an outdoor amphitheater, restrooms, new pedestrian bridges, an elevator down into the gorge, and improvements to the visitors center, Pont De Rennes bridge and Brown’s Race. See maps and renders below for visualizations of the current plan.

What will it take to get this all together? First, it will take a budget, which is off to a great start with a $6 million grant from the state. Next, the state will need to acquire all the necessary parcels of land in and around the gorge. Former industrial sites will then need to be cleaned up and made safe (which, really, should happen regardless of the park plans). Infrastructure will need to be rehabilitated for construction to operate. All in all, this could take upwards of 10 years. It’s a ways off and there is still a chance this could be cancelled or changed drastically, but all signs point to serious commitment at the City, County, and State levels.

YouTube video

Bird's eye view render of the proposed High Falls State Park in Rochester New York
A map of the proposed High Falls State Park in Rochester, with park features
A photorealistic render showing people of all types viewing Rochester's High Falls from an observation deck.
A photorealistic render showing people of all types playing along the Genesee riverbank in the high falls gorge.
A photorealistic render of a proposed High Falls State Park, showing people along the Genesee riverbank
A view of Rochester's High Falls from below.

Hiking / Walking Trails

A quick view of High Falls

Difficulty: Easy

Markings: Paved walkways.

Distance: No more than 2500 ft to the furthest viewing platform.

Walking across the Pont de Rennes Pedestrian Bridge is easily the best way to see the gorge and falls. There are a few benches and several historical markers along the bridge. You can continue across the bridge and proceed to the right (southeast) to the viewing platform on the east side of the falls, or you can return and walk down Browns Race, past the Triphammer Forge, and to the Terrace Park viewing platform on the west side of the falls (at the end of Commercial St).

Self-Guided Tour

Difficulty: Easy

Markings: Paved walkways.

Distance: About a mile of walking around the district. There’s no recommended route. Just go your own way and explore.

The self-guided tour is outlined below.

Map: Interactive.

A windows overtaken by nature from the Gleason Works old mill at High Falls
A Blue Heron just above the brink of Rochester's High Falls

Rochester High Falls Interactive Map

Historic High Falls District Self-guided Tour

Kodak Tower from High Falls, Rochester

Kodak Office Tower

343 State Street: The 16-story Kodak Office Tower was built in 1914; three more floors, roof and cupola were added in 1930. Today, Kodak Office Tower is encased in additions, with numerous other Kodak facilities located throughout Rochester.The Kodak Office Tower is located in what was originally Frankfort, a 200-acre tract laid out in 1812 by Matthew and Francis Brown. From 1815-16 they created the area’s first power canal, Brown’s Race. In 1817 the newly incorporated Village of Rochesterville was founded by combining Frankfort and Colonel Rochester’s adjacent 100 acre tract. Francis Brown became the first president of the Village Board, while Matthew Brown, in 1821, became the first chairman of the Board of Supervisors of the newly formed Monroe County.

Kodak founder, George Eastman, was a bank clerk and amateur photographer when he set up a home workshop to manufacture a practical dry plate ready to sell to photographers. His original factory was farther south on State Street; he moved to this location in 1882. Eastman’s Dry Plate and Film Company, which operated here in a four-story building, was organized in 1884.

The Kodak company obtained its name from the first simple roll film cameras produced by Eastman Dry Plate Company, known as  “Kodak” in its product line. The cameras proved such an enormous success that the word Kodak was incorporated into the company name. George Eastman registered the trademark Kodak on September 4, 1888. (Wikipedia).

298 State Street at High Falls, Rochester

298 State Street

The building was occupied by various manufacturing companies until the Rochester Button Company purchased the building in 1925 as part of its expansion. The building has been renovated and is now occupied by commercial tenants.

Button Factory at High Falls, Rochester

Button Factory

At 294 and 300 State Street, c. 1900, diagonally across the street from Kodak Tower, you will find the former Rochester ButtonCompany. This early 20th-century company once was reputedly the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of buttons. At that time, buttons were made from “vegetable ivory,” processed nuts imported from Mexico, South America and Africa.

Hurther Brothers Building at High Falls, Rochester

Huther Brothers Saw Manufacturing Company

234 Mill Street: Warren B. and Angus E. Huther founded Huther Brothers Saw Manufacturing Company in this building in 1880. Huther Brothers Saw Manufacturing Company developed and patented the Dado set, and other types of wood grooving cutters. Incorporating in 1906 as Huther Brothers, Inc., the company was outgrowing its space and moved soon thereafter to 1290 University Avenue. Huther Brothers continued manufacturing saws, groovers, and other types of cutters for nearly eighty years. With the advent of plastics and others types of durable materials, the manufacture of wood products declined. As an example, Fisher Price toys were originally made from wood, and Fisher Price was a good customer of Huther’s until molded plastics grew into favor.

Huther Brothers began making other industrial cutting tools in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. The current president, George W. Huther III, a fourth generation member of the Huther family, continues directing the operation manufacturing industrial knives for most every industry. Those include corrugated paperboard and packaging, food, rubber, textiles, paper, insulation, plastics, and so on. Huther Brothers, Inc. is well known for their quality products worldwide. (Huther Brothers Inc.)

After decades of neglect the building was fully renovated in 1991 and currently provides unique office and residential spaces.

Perry Machine Company at High Falls, Rochester

224 Mill Street

Built in 1851 and modified in the 1870s, this brick and heavy timber building was one of Rochester’s original flour mills, powered by the High Falls Brown’s Waterway. Later occupied by the Rochester Barrel Machine Works, in 1888 it was the largest factory in America making machinery to manufacture barrels. It also served as a pepper processing plant for French’s Mustard.

In 1906 it became the Parry Machine Company. In those early days Samuel Parry held weekly luncheons with George Eastman to review new ideas, inventions, and work on patents.

A complete renovation was undertaken in 2006, restoring solid wood floors and beams, retaining many of the suspended hoists and pulleys, and exposing brick interior walls. A variety of unique spaces are currently enjoyed by its commercial and residential tenants.

Parazin Building at High Falls, Rochester

Parazin Building

208 Mill Street: Built in 1826, this building was the main location of the Seyle Fire Engine Company. Rochester’s first fire engines were built here, and the company also supplied fire engines for other cities across New York State. A cast-iron shaft transferred power from the adjacent Triphammer Building. In 1867 Junius Judson, inventor of the steam governor used in locomotives and ships, purchased the building to manufacture these and other of his inventions. Its construction is typical for Brown’s Race in its initial days: the lower two floors of the building are coursed stone rubble, and the upper two stories are random ashlar stone, with loading doors and hoist and pulleys. Later occupied by a number of industries, it became known as the Parazin Building. A renovation began in 2008 to convert the building into a mix of commercial and residential spaces.

WXXI building at High Falls

WXXI Building

278-282 State Street: Located on this site (c. 1876-1883) was a foundry owned by Martin Briggs and his son, Hamlet S. Briggs, where they manufactured safes, ornamental fences, garden benches, and illuminated sidewalk tiles.

Upstairs was the Briggs Opera House, operated as a hobby by the Briggs. An amateur theatre troupe, ”The Twinklestars,” was known to have performed there regularly. Hamlet Briggs was reputedly a forger and disappeared in 1888 with a large sum of money.

Designed by noted local architect Frank Grosso, the WXXI building was built in the mid-1970s as home to their public broadcasting studios.

High Falls Parking building

High Falls Parking Garage

205 Mill Street: Charles Fitzsimmons established a marble business in the late 1850s and occupied the entire south end of the block that now houses the High Falls Parking Garage.  Buildings in the complex included industrial lofts occupied by a variety of small industries and apartments. In 1946 it became a storage facility for Eagle Specialty, a restaurant equipment supply company.

The Henry Wray & Sons Foundry, specializing in brass and composition castings, occupied another large section of the block. The foundry produced both practical and novel items, ranging from  faucets, hinges, doorknobs and bookends, to a fire pump (first patented under the name Wray & Kellogg), which later became American Brake Shoe) and letterdrops for the newly invented Cutler Mail Chute.

The modern parking complex was constructed in 1993.

198 Mill Street at High Falls, Rochester

198 Mill Street

The High Falls district was the nucleus of industrial development in Rochester during the late 1800s, and William Kidd was one of the city’s well-known entrepreneurs. Among other establishments, he owned the adjacent Kidd Iron Works, a carpet factory, and the Rochester Furnace & Machine Shop. In 1860 Kidd was elected president of Rochester Savings Bank. He also presided over several railway companies, a brick and tile company, and a New York City bank. This is now a parking lot.

194 Mill Street at High Falls, Rochester

194 Mill Street

Originally part of the Kidd Iron Works and the W. Kidd estate, this 1880s structure was home to the Richard Whalen & Co. tobacco manufacturer at the turn of the century. The company created their own tobacco blends, including “Whalen Scrap”, “Billy Boy”, “Blue Bird”, and “Genesee Long Cut”. A fire destroyed most of the factory in 1918.

In 1940 the property was sold to Lafler Engraving Co., which owned the property until the area’s recent redevelopment. This small factory building recalls the origins, development, and transformation of industry in the City of Rochester during the period 1815 to 1910.

192 Mill Street - High Falls

192 Mill Street

192 Mill Street, erected in the early 1880s for the J. K Hunt Paper Box Company which manufactured “paper boxes of every description”, this six-floor building has a unique arched brick and steel construction, designed to be both fire and earthquake-proof.

Beginning in 1926, the printing company Canfield & Tack became its major occupant, remaining until 1988. Floyd Williams, who was Canfield & Tack’s lockup man in the mid-1940s, is said to haunt the southwest corner of the third floor. He had left his lunch pail and sweater there on the day he died, and for years people reported his belongings moved about by themselves as he came back to “visit”.

In 1999 the building was transformed into premium office space, celebrating its industrial heritage by keeping the unique brick arches exposed and the loft-like space open and flexible.

61 Commercial Street

61 Commercial Street

Built between 1889-1891 when streetcars were the mode of public transportation, this building was the powerhouse for the Rochester Railway Company – likely the origin of the building’s nickname, the “Old Trolley Barn” – and later the garage of the Rochester Transit Corp. and Caldwell Mfg. Co., manufacturer of window hardware.

In the early 2000s, the building was renovated, preserving such architectural features as exposed interior brick walls and extensive wood trusses throughout the second floor suites. A nightclub named Jillian’s opened on the premises after the renovation and was replaced by another within 5 years. That too did not last.

Kidd Iron Works at High Falls, Rochester

Kidd Iron Works

64 Commercial Street: The Kidd Iron Works (c. late 1870s) supplied railroad car wheels, stationary engines, tools and other necessities for operating the mills and the industry that supplied them. William Gleason, a shareholder and superintendent, bought the iron works from William Kidd. He developed and patented the first practical bevel-gear planer, which allows power to be transmitted around corners. The gears brought him international recognition. His son, James, began working in the company at age 14 and became an inventor, receiving 36 patents related to machine-tool design. Gleason Works later moved to University Avenue. Replacing the iron works was Johnson Shoe “manufactory”, Caldwell Mfg., and finally Kodak in 1985.

Gorsline Building at High Falls, Rochester

Gorsline Building

4 Commercial Street: The Rochester Steam Gauge and Lantern Works was located in a seven-story building on the same site where this building stands today, directly on the brink of the falls. It was destroyed by a fire in November 1888, a tragedy that took the lives of 41 workers trapped on the upper floors. Part of the first and second floors remained standing, and William Gorsline reconstructed his new factory building on that granite and stone foundation. The Williams & Hoyt shoe factory was next to use the river’s water to power its plant; others followed throughout the years until it was largely abandoned in the mid-20th century.

The building, formerly known as the Gorsline Building, was renovated in the 1990s into premium office space, and renamed the High Falls Building for its magnificent views of the Genesee River’s Upper Falls. The stonework on the lower portion of the building is evidence of the sawmill that previously occupied the site.

Terrace Park and High Falls Viewing Platform

Terrace Park & Wheel Pit

A portion of the original Gorsline Building is now a terrace park for viewing the falls and river gorge. Don’t miss three landmarks seen only from this location: the eastern view of the lip of High Falls, the original wheel pit of Rochester’s early saw mill, and The Leap, a small balcony near the spot where waterfall daredevil Sam Patch took his last jump. More than half of Rochester watched as Sam took his fatal plunge on Friday the 13th of November, 1829.

The elevator here leads to office space.

J & H Screw Company at High Falls, Rochester

J & H Screw Company Building

25 Brown’s Race: In 1875 this shed-roofed, brick building served as the forge shop of the Kidd Iron Works that straddled Brown’s Race. The building is one of many intact buildings and structures that have not been altered since their period of significance. Later known as the J & H Screw Company Building, it is integral in recalling the origins, development, and transformation of industry in the city of Rochester during the period of 1815-1910. In 2004, the building was converted to contemporary office space. The deteriorated structure was rebuilt from the inside out, maintaining the original shell.

Triphammer Forge at High Falls, Rochester
A large wood reproduction of a water mill on display at Rochester's High Falls

Triphammer Forge

4 Commercial Street: A unique archaeological park, the Triphammer Forge site provides a good view of the layers of history found in Browns Race. The Triphammer Building burned in 1977. As the rubble was being cleared, a long-forgotten basement room was uncovered that housed the building’s massive (25-foot) water wheel, constructed of wood and iron.

The Triphammer Building was built as a forge in 1816 and occupied by the William Cobb Scythe and Tool factory. A large, heavy hammer-the triphammer-was raised by waterpower and dropped to forge wrought-iron tools. In 1830 the building was advertised for sale as having a furnace with the greatest blast in the state and two triphammers.

In the 1830s, Lewis Selye bought the Triphammer Building. Previously, in 1826, he had constructed the building at 208 Mill Street that extends between Browns Race and Mill Street. In these buildings the Selye Fire Engine Company built Rochester’s first fire engines and supplied fire engines for federal fortifications and other sites across New York State. A cast-iron shaft transferred power from the Triphammer Building to the Mill Street plant.

In the 1860s the Triphammer Building and 208 Mill Street were purchased by Junius Judson, inventor of the steam governor used in locomotives and ships. Judson expanded the Triphammer building another 75 feet toward the gorge edge. The wall with the large arch is part of this addition. The shaft of Judson’s water turbine was found in this addition. Appropriately, he also manufactured triphammers at this site. Judson’s son eventually became the first president of Rochester Gas & Electric.

As electricity and steam replaced water power in the 1890’s,  Browns Race lost its strategic advantage for industrial uses. For example, the vacant lot south of the Triphammer site was once the location of the Gleason Works, internationally noted makers of beveled gears. No longer needing the falls for water power, Gleason moved to its current location on University Avenue in 1905 after fire destroyed its Browns Race plant.

Brown's Race Market building in Rochester's High Falls district

Brown’s Race Market

60 Brown’s Race: Adjacent to the waterworks building is the Browns Race Market, developed in 1992 out of former Rochester Gas & Electric maintenance buildings. It currently houses banquet facilities. The back deck provides a great view of the river gorge.

Rochester Water Works - Center at High Falls

Center At High Falls / Rochester Water Works

74-78 Brown’s Race: The Rochester Water Works, a High Victorian Gothic building with a distinctive cast-iron cornice, was designed by architect J. Foster Warner. It was built for the city of Rochester in 1873, with the goal of providing a high pressure water system for the city. During that time period, the downtown area was plagued by fires that destroyed buildings because firemen’s equipment could not reach upper stories. The water works fed 105 hydrants with high pressure water, greatly enhancing the city’s ability to fight fires. It also once provided hydraulic power for downtown elevators, including those in the Powers Building.

Renamed the Center at High Falls in the 90s, the building once housed an urban cultural park, including an interactive exhibit, visitor center, museum, gift shop, and art gallery. Most recently I have no idea what’s in there. It seems to be all shut down.

81 Brown’s Race at High Falls, Rochester

81 Brown’s Race

81 Brown’s Race: Built c. 1906 as part of the Dan Sohn Machine Co., it later became an office for the adjacent J. G. Davis Co. Granite Mills. Completely renovated in the late 1980s as home to an architectural firm, it was further updated in the 1990s to become unique and accessible retail space.

Granite Mills Park at High Falls, Rochester

Granite Mills Park

82 Brown’s Race: The Granite Mills Building was constructed on this site in 1835. The building was a five-story structure above grade, with three sub-basements at different levels. The original building contained a four-foot diameter penstock that powered manufacturing operations within the building. The pen stock traveled from Brown’s Race through the lower basements and emptied at the base of the gorge. Portions of the penstock are still visible behind the sub-basement at the base of the gorge. One of the early mills located within the Brown’s Race area, it was in existence until it burned in 1960.

Granite Mills Park was created in 1993 for the enjoyment of the High Falls community and its visitors.

Beebe Station - High Falls

Former site of the RG&E Beebe Power Station

100 Platt Street: In 1889, Rochester was the third city in the country to have a steam heating system, ending much of the smoke nuisance that plagued downtown. Citizen’s Light and Power Co.’s combined steam and hydroelectric power plant was established in 1892 on Brown’s Race and Mill Street. In 1904 Citizen’s merged with RG&E. As the many mills and machine shops fell into disuse in the 1900s, RG&E gradually acquired this land and expanded its operations, making use of the water from Brown’s Race as well as from the Genesee River.

The Beebe Station, named for RG&E chairman Alexander Beebe, was formally dedicated in 1959. It was decommissioned in the 190s and razed around 2014.

Phoenix Building at High Falls, Rochester

Phoenix Mill Building

104 Platt Street: Once the site of the Harford Mill (1808), a small gristmill owned by Matthew and Francis Brown, the building burned down in 1818. They immediately rebuilt it, and as if rising from the ashes of the old mill, it became known as the Phoenix Mill. A plaque inside proclaims that its north wall of stone is the oldest extant wall in the High Falls area.

The mill building was much larger than the current structure, extending across Platt Street. Today only the northern third of the building stands, the rest was demolished to make way for the Platt Street Bridge in 1890.

A number of small industries occupied the building throughout the 1900s, and it gradually fell into disrepair until the 1990s, when it rose again as a restaurant and bar. Jimmy Mac’s Bar and Grill, a High Falls favorite, closed in 2009.

236 Mill Street at High Falls, Rochester

236 Mill Street

The main building of the Dan Sohn Machine Co., of which machinist Jacob Hauser was proprietor, stood on this site (c. 1906). It was connected with the one-story machine shop at the corner of Brown’s Race and was in harmony with other late 19th century industrial shops in the area. The building has since been removed, but the property was owned by the Hauser family until 1983. It currently serves as a small parking lot for 234 Mill St.

240 Mill Street

240 Mill Street

This was the site of Francis Peacock’s dyeing business until 1842, when it became Daniel Leary’s establishment. The building was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1849. By the early 20th century, Leary’s Dye House and cleaning business filled this end of the block. They provided express service and served merchants and private customers locally and in other states. The Leary name is still associated with Rochester dry cleaners today. The site is currently a parking lot for the High Falls Business Center at 5 Mill St.

250 Mill Street - High Falls

250 Mill Street

Built in 1865 as an industrial building, this structure housed the David R. Barton Edge Tool Factory, of which W W and R. L. Mack were proprietors, as early as 1866. Barton manufactured carpenter’s planes and other hand tools for woodworking that were sold worldwide. The Second Empire mansard roof was originally slated; it was replaced after a fire in the mid-19th century. In the 1970s the Rochester Button Company, whose main building was across the street, had a woodworking shop here. Barry Merritt, a goldsmith and jewelry designer, established the Gallery of Contemporary Metalsmithing here. In the 1990s it was renovated into contemporary office space and is home to a variety of small businesses.

High Falls Rennes Bridge

Pont De Rennes Pedestrian Bridge

The Pont de Rennes pedestrian bridge and park were created in 1982 from what was the Platt Street bridge (1891), an 858-foot-long, truss bridge. The bridge is named for a Rochester Sister City in France. This is the best viewing site of the High Falls. Looking out over the gorge, you can see rock formations of shale, limestone and sandstone, with bands of iron ore. These sedimentary rocks, formed by the accumulation of deposits that came from what is now the Hudson Valley, are over 400 million years old. Soils from the then Alpine-like mountains were washed into a shallow sea. The sediment compressed and cemented to form layers of rock. The red sandstone, locally called “Medina sandstone,” provided an excellent building material and is often found on Rochester sidewalks, curbs and older buildings.

281 Mill Street (Rochester Marshmallow Company Building) at High Falls

281 Mill Street

Former factory of The Rochester Marshmallow Company, founded in 1895 by Joseph B. Demerath. It was then used by the Rochester Plumbing Supply Company.

Genesee Brewery at High Falls

High Falls Brewery

The North American Brewing Company, initially established in 1878 as the Genesee Brewing Company, is located along the east bank of the gorge. The company stopped manufacture during prohibition but was reorganized by a former brewmaster, Louis A. Wehle, in 1933. Several former breweries are now part of the Genesee complex. The High Falls Brewing company crafts the following brands: Dundee Ales & Lagers, Cream Ale, Genesee, Imperial, Steinlager, Toohey’s, Thwaites, Seagram’s Escapes, and  Seagram’s Smooth.

In 2012, the brewery opened up a bar and grill onsite.

Thanks to the City of Rochester and the Historical Society for the virtual tour details.

A panoramic view of the Genesee High Falls Brewery


The City of Rochester grew around the unique feature of four waterfalls and their potential to generate hydro-power. The High Falls of the Genesee River, with a drop of 96 ft, was recognized as early as 1807 for  having the potential to generate enough hydro-power to support a settlement of note.

The early settlement of Frankfort, now part of the city, was located on the west high bank of the Genesee River. This area became the engine that powered the industrial growth of the city of Rochester.

The first mill built here in 1807 and powered by the High Falls was “ill constructed using a crude tub-wheel and had only one run-of-stone.” The tub wheel was a modified round tub that held blades mounted to a drive-shaft. Falling water pushed the blades and turned the drive shaft. The drive shaft was attached to gears and pulleys that powered mills and factories. The tub wheel was a simple but inefficient way to derive energy from falling water. A run-of-stone is the term used to describe two millstones that are used to grind grain into flour. One millstone was placed on top of and in contact with a lower stone. One stone turned so that the grain was ground between the two stones.

Matthew and Francis Brown, two brothers from Rome, New York, realized that the area around the falls offered great industrial potential. In 1812, they purchased 200 acres on the high bank and the settlement of Frankfort was established. The Brown brothers constructed a water race 1,300 feet long and 30 feet wide in 1,500 days at the cost of $3,872. This man-made canal allowed the water of the Genesee River to flow along the top of the high bank and supply water to water wheels of the mills and factories built there over the next 100 years. Frankfort was incorporated into the Village of Rochesterville in 1817.

Production on Brown’s Race was not limited to flour; the energy derived from water power also provided power to numerous factories producing edge tools, fire engines, shoes, distilleries, foundries and many other items. In 1879, the power capability of Brown’s Race was 3,670 horsepower. At the turn of the century, Rochester was still sending out over 500,000 barrels of flour annually. With the rise of steam engines and the advent of electricity, companies were able to move away from the High Falls area. Today, the race is still in use providing power to a hydro-electric plant, one of three operating in the city of Rochester and located on the flats below the high bank.

Thanks to the City of Rochester and the Historical Society for the history summary, and helping us all enjoy Rochester.

The Falls Field Tragedy

The Falls Field tragedy involves the murder of Charles W. Littles by his brother-in-law, Marion Ira Stout, and his wife, Sarah Littles. In 1857, after his release from a Pennsylvania jail, Stout learned that his sister, Sarah, was being abused by her alcoholic husband, Charles. Together, Stout and Sarah devised a plan to murder Charles. They lured him to a field at High Falls (near the present day Genesee Brewery) , where Stout attacked Charles with a hammer and pushed his body over the falls. However, the body landed on a ledge, and when they tried to move it, they injured themselves and left behind evidence linking them to the crime. They were both tried and convicted; Stout was hanged, and Sarah was sent to prison. Accounts and details of the crimes were documented in the 1858 book The Falls Field tragedy! : the confession of Sarah E. Littles.

A 1875 map of the mills and factories of the High Falls District of Rochester. NY.
A vintage postcard of Rochester's High Falls
Uniform rows of windows reflecting the sky on a brick factory building in the High Falls district.

Rochester Falls Media

High Falls Audio


High Falls Video

YouTube video

High Falls District Photos

Interesting Stuff

Brown’s Race

Stemming from the Genesee River and cutting right through the High Falls district is the historic Brown’s Race. It was used to power the many mills along the gorge. The various tunnels on the gorge wall were cut as outlets for mills. The water would pass through these tunnels from the race, spinning a wheel that operated the mill and emptying into the bottom of the gorge. Today, the RG&E substation uses the race to generate electricity.

Daredevil Sam Patch

Sam Patch was a famous daredevil in the 1820’s who is most noted as being the first surviving daredevil over Niagara Falls. In 1829 he came to Rochester to tackle the High Falls. He successfully made the jump his first two times. The first was a practice run and the second was in front of what he considered a disappointing crowd. An advertising campaign lauded his second High Falls jump as his last [in Rochester], but ironically turned out to be his very last. Witnesses claim something must have gone wrong as his feet did not straighten and hit the water first and his body slammed into the water below. Despite speculation that he was hiding, waiting for a triumphant return, this November 9th jump was his last. His body was found frozen in the ice in Charlotte the following spring.

A book cover for "the Wonderful Leaps of Sam Patch"

Photography Tips


  • There are two locations to photograph the falls from: the Pont de Rennes bridge and the viewing platform on the eastern side of the falls. There a several more spots to capture the rest of the gorge from. Walk the area and get a feel for the various angles.


  • Be mindful of mist when shooting from the viewing platform on the eastern side. Bring a soft but absorbent lens cleaning cloth and wipe your lens frequently.

Golden Hour

  • At sunset, golden light will bathe the falls. This is an excellent time to shoot the gorge in any direction.


  • Despite using a tripod, the Pont de Rennes Bridge will sway in the wind and vibrate a tiny bit when people walk on it. It is best to use long shutter speeds when pedestrian traffic is minimal.


  • To add another element to the shot, wait for a train to pass by on the tracks just above the falls. When shooting with a moving train in the background, use a faster shutter speed.


  • If you climb atop the cement barrier at the Terrace Park on the western side of the falls, you can photograph the brink of the falls through the chain-link fence.


  • A lot of the buildings standing along Brown’s Race used to be mills or factories that depended on the falls for power. Although they are reconditioned, they still maintain much of the brick and mortar of the past. Don’t focus completely on the falls, explore and photograph Rochester’s historic architecture.

Silky Water Effect

  • To get that smooth cotton-candy look to the falls, you need to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter on your lens. The ND filter will block some of the light from entering the lens without altering the color, and thus allow your shutter to stay open longer. This blurs the water and creates a soft white gloss to the foamy areas of the falls.  Check out the article for the all the details.

More tips

  • See the Articles for more photography tips.
A view of Rochester's High Falls just before sunset.

Who to Contact

City of Rochester
Bureau of Recreation
400 Dewey Avenue
Rochester, NY 14613
(585) 428-6755

Fishing Access Site
NYSDEC Region 8
6274 East Avon-Lima Rd.
Avon, NY 14414-9519
Phone (585) 226-2466
[email protected]

Genesee River Alliance
Genesee Land Trust
Phone: 585-256-2130
[email protected]

A view of Downtown Rochester and High Falls with railroad bridge.