In front of lilacs, (l) Christina Blackwell, 1930 Lilac Queen, with unknown woman, Highland Park, 1930. Photo: Charles Zoller, courtesy of George Eastman House
Rochester, New York's Lilac Festival
On September 29, 1890, thousands of Rochester's
citizens turned out to witness the birth of Highland Park, the
crown jewel of Rochester and Monroe counties' boldly conceived
system of public parks. The official occasion was for the
dedication of a gift, the Ellwanger & Barry Memorial Pavilion,
to the children of Rochester, intended to foster their good health,
and as a memoriam to children who had died in the cholera epics in
preceding decades. (At that time, Ellwanger & Barry was the
world's largest nursery.) The round pavilion had three levels, and
crowned the summit of Highland Park, offering magnificent views of
the surrounding town and countryside. At that time the park,
designed by America's leading landscape architect, Frederick Law
Olmsted, was nearing completion. For the first time in Rochester's
history, people had open public spaces to enjoy. For years, the
pavilion, now gone, was a city landmark.
By 1900, the park's first superintendent, a Scottish
immigrant, John Dunbar, had assembled all of the best lilacs then
in cultivation. They flourished, and thousands of visitors gathered
each spring to admire their flowers. The lilacs' fame extended
beyond Rochester. A day long celebration, Lilac Day, was announced
on the nearest Sunday that coincided with the lilacs' peak bloom.
Later the day was extended to Lilac Week. A Lilac Parade was
introduced that began from downtown to the park's summit. In 1930,
a Lilac Queen was added to the parade, and the park's hours were
extended to the evening with the advent of electric flood lights
that lit the park's fountains and flowers. Lilac Week evolved into
the Lilac Festival, with musical performances, managed by the
Monroe County Parks Department and the Visitor's Bureau.
Every spring, Highland Park's vast collections of
trees, shrubs, and perennials glow for weeks with flowers in every
shape and hue. The most famous of these have been the rhododendrons
and lilacs. Highland Park is on the National Register of Historical
Places, and is designated by the American Association of Landscape
Architects as a Medallion Site.
Documentation includes a 10-page legacy report, 20
slides and eight historic photos.
Originally submitted by: Charles E. Schumer, Senator.
The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.