Today’s featured waterfall for Waterfall Wednesday is High Falls. Like many of the waterfalls during my recent hiking and painting project of 50 New York Waterfalls, this was a waterfall that I had not visited prior to the project. (I’m actually also struggling to remember a time that I had been to Rochester prior to this summer.)
High Falls is located along the Genesee River in Rochester, New York. The Genesee River flows from Northern Pennsylvania north through Letchworth State Park and up through Rochester to Lake Ontario. The best way to view the river and High Falls is from the Pont de Rennes Bridge, a pedestrian bridge and park that crosses the river. There’s two ways to get to this view. You can park in the parking garage on Mill Steet and walk to the corner of Mill Street and Platt Street or you can park near the Genesee Brew House on the opposite side of the river (both are a short walk).
High Falls is 96 feet tall and drops from a slight overhang. The waterfall is wider than it is tall and hints of its past mill life can be seen around it. On the day that I visited I could see a rainbow at the base of the waterfall – I imagine that happens often on sunny days. The waterfall is considered an urban waterfall as it is located right downtown in the city of Rochester.
A Little History
In the 1700’s during the French Indian War, Captain Thomas Davies of the English Royal Regiment of Artillery took a break from his duties to sketch what would become High Falls. His drawing was called “A South East View of the Great Cataract on the Casconchiagon or Little Seneca’s River, on Lake Ontario” and is the first known depiction of High Falls. Casconchiagon was the Seneca name for the Genesee River and means “river of many falls”.
The first gristmill was built by Charles Harford at this location in 1807 (just prior to the town of Rochesterville being established by Nathaniel Rochester).
The mill and surrounding land was sold short years later to Matthew and Francis Brown. The brothers recognized the potential of the waterfall and further developed the area. They constructed a water race 1300 feet long, 30 feet wide, and capable of generating 3670 horsepower.
In the 1830s-1850s Rochester rose to prominence as America’s “Flour City”. The mills that were linked to Brown’s Race could churn out around 500,000 barrels of wheat flour a year. Brown’s race supplied water to the water wheel of the mills and factories built there for over 100 years. The race still exists today and powers an adjacent power plant.
In 1829, High Falls was the site of Sam Patch’s (“The Jersey Jumper”) last jump. America’s first professional daredevil successfully jumped from Niagara Falls twice in October 1829.
On November 6th he was scheduled to jump from High Falls. During this stunt, he first threw a pet bear cub over the falls and when the cub survived he jumped from the falls, successfully.
On November 13th, Sam Patch decided to repeat the stunt but to increase the distance by building a platform that raised the jump to 125 feet. This daredevil leaped from the platform plunging into the water below but did not resurface . His body was found further down along the Genesee River four months later.
Painting High Falls
High Falls was one of the more difficult waterfalls to paint due to its urban backdrop. It was also one of the last waterfalls that I painted during my project of 50 waterfall paintings in 60 days. After finishing the painting, I actually came back to it after I finished the next couple of waterfalls and completely redid the background. The most interesting part of the painting to me is the ruins of buildings in the bottom right side of the piece. The way the highlights and shadows outlined the irregular shapes reminds me of cliff dwellings.
Have you visited High Falls in person? Do you have a favorite thing to do in the Rochester area?
Resources & Further Learning
City of Rochester Historic Walking Tour
City of Rochester High Falls Center and Interpretive Museum
Sam Patch, American Daredevil