At first, Rochester’s downtown seems much like any other. Encircled by I-490, it centers on Main Street, flanked with a mix of historic buildings and modern glass-sheathed skyscrapers.
At the corner of Main Street and Clinton Avenue sprawls the 1962 Midtown Plaza, the oldest downtown shopping mall in the country; at the corner of Main Street and South Avenue stand the Rochester Riverside Convention Center.
The graceful Eastman Theatre, with its rounded facade, is tucked onto Gibbs Street near Main Street, while the stunning art deco Times Square Building towers one block off Main Street at the intersection of Exchange Boulevard and Broad Street.
But walk a few blocks north of Main Street to Brown’s Race, and you’ll see why this is no ordinary downtown. An enormous gaping gorge rips right through the heart of the city.
Brown’s Race and the Center at High Falls
Brown’s Race sits at the edge of wide, semi-circular High Falls—96 feet high. Cupping the falls to both sides, but especially to the east, are jagged brown walls streaked with dull red. A pedestrian bridge crosses the river just south of the falls.
Brown’s Race is made up of four interconnected brick buildings that once contained water-powered mills. The word “race” refers to the diverted raceways that once harnessed the power of the falls. Brown’s Race was extensively renovated in the early 1990s and now features shops, restaurants, and one of New York’s Heritage Area Visitor Centers (60 Brown’s Race, at Platt St. and the Genesee River, 585/325-2030, www.centerathighfalls.org, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Tues.–Fri., noon–5 p.m. Sat.–Sun., free admission)—loosely delineated historic districts united by a common theme. The theme in Rochester is the natural environment, but the center’s many exhibits cover virtually every aspect of the city’s history.
At dusk May–September, the center presents a free laser light show projected onto a 500-foot section of the gorge. The show tells the story of a Seneca spirit said to inhabit the river, and the tale of Sam Patch, a daredevil who lost his life going over the falls in 1829.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition