The Highland Park Neighborhood, from the roots of Ellwanger & Barry…
The area encompassing the Highland Park Neighborhood is rich in history. While on the outskirts of the original settlements that made up Rochester and relatively young from an architectural point of view, this area figured prominently in putting Rochester on the national map.
The ridge that runs through and defines the southern end of the neighborhood, where Highland Park is located, dates back to the last ice age. For a detailed geological history of the EBNA area, please see this “Geology of the EBNA Neighborhood” by HPNA member and University of Rochester geology professor Bill Chaisson.
Native Americans passed through the neighborhood and in the nearby Mount Hope Cemetery a major confluence of trails existed. From early maps, one major route traveled from Mount Hope near the Sylvan Waters along Highland Avenue. Another traveled over the hill crossing what is now Highland Park, near the Lily Pond and School #12 and continued in the direction of downtown. (MAP showing Indian Trails)
Ellwanger and Barry
The neighborhood’s names’ sake comes from the nurserymen George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry. In the early 1840’s they started what would later become the world’s largest nursery. The Ellwanger and Barry nursery business was one of many in Rochester that sprouted up after the Erie Canal opened, taking advantage of the transportation that waterway provided and taking advantage of the rich soils and the temperature moderating influence of Lake Ontario. In 1839 the two Europeans started their nursery with a purchase of a 7 acre tract of farm land. The original business name was Mount Hope Garden and Nurseries. Thanks to the European and American training in horticulture, Ellwanger and Barry quickly established themselves as expert nurserymen.
Their business flourished and in 1880 grew to world renown. The size of the nursery grew to 650 acres. To give an idea of the scope of their nursery, consider these figures: there was 30,000 sq-ft of green houses, more than 1 million trees and shrubs under cultivation, and employed 250 people. Consider the following: In the above-named department (of 350 acres), the following items are particularly worthy of notice: A fine eight-acre block of dwarf and standard cherries, containing 120,000 trees, two years from the bud; 12 acres of dwarf and standard pears, in about equal quantities, two years from the bud, containing 130,000 trees of beautiful growth; another block of 20,000 plum trees from last spring’s grafts, on three acres; 6 acres of currants, chiefly White Grape, Cherry, and Victoria, 200,000 plants; 4 acres of Houghton’s Gooseberry, 70,000; 3 acres of New Rochelle and Dorchester blackberries, 100,000 plants; and 1,000,000 hardy grapes on 3 acres.” (text from Henry O’Reilly, Rochester’s first historian).
The significance on agriculture in this county appears great as the nursery shipped its products, especially fruit trees, around the county as far as California. Even Giant Sequoia saplings were raised here. Patrick Barry once said that California’s fruit industry got it’s start from Ellwanger and Barry’s stock. The NY State apple industry got much of its start from the efforts of Ellwanger and Barry.
Development of the Neighborhood
As Rochester grew, however, it became clear that more money could be made by selling the land for development than could be from agriculture. This started in 1856 with their property on Cypress and Linden streets. On this were built cottages for sale to their employees. Oakland Street was developed in the 1870’s. Tract by tract Ellwanger and Barry slowly developed their gardens, building and marketing the houses themselves. As land was developed, they kept buying land further south and transferring plantings. By 1916 most of what is now the Ellwanger Barry neighborhood had been built and the last of the nurseryland developed. On the last tract now sits an apartment complex on Manor Parkway.
In 1918, the Ellwanger and Barry Nursery closed its books. George Ellwanger died in 1906. His partner, Patrick Barry, had passed away in 1890.
Ellwanger and Barry represent the two main immigrant groups of the day, the German and the Irish, both fleeing harsh economic conditions in their respective homelands.
During the heyday of the nursery business, in 1888, George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry offered a large tract of land for Rochester’s first park. This land would form the core of what would become Highland Park.
One of Rochester’s most famous sons, Frederick Douglass, built and lived in a house on a knoll near what is now the intersection of South Avenue and Alpine. In 1872, the house burned to the ground.
R. Janezic, March 01 Updated Jan 02
University of Rochester History Website for the “Flour City”http://www.history.rochester.edu/flowercity/