Mt Hope-Highland Historic District
The Mt. Hope-Highland Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
On the east side of Rochester's Genesee River the Mt. Hope-Highland Historic District stretches over 200 acres to include a number of landmark buildings set in or near two of the city's most important landscaped open spaces — Highland Park and the early section of the Mt. Hope Cemetery.
The main artery of this essentially residential Mt. Hope-Highland Historic District is Mt. Hope Avenue, which sets the tone of the area with its series of large and prominent mid-nineteenth century houses set back from the tree shaded street. Small cul-de-sacs of modest houses are found on McLean Street, Menlo Place and along Joseph C. Wilson Boulevard. The earliest indication of a planned residential subdivision at relatively low cost is the row of four decorative "Gothic" cottages at the north end of Mt. Hope Avenue (#548, #558, #560, #566). Built several years after the publication of A.J. Downing's The Architecture of Country Houses, the 1 1/2 story, L-shaped houses are elaborate versions of his design #2 "A Small Bracketed Cottage" estimated to cost $512.
In addition to these cottages the following structures along Mt. Hope Avenue merit special mention for their contributing effect on the Mt. Hope-Highland Historic District as a whole. Beginning at the north end the 1845 brick Wolcott House, which is the oldest known building in the Mt. Hope-Highland Historic District, faces the newest buildings completed in 1972 to house the Church Home. This new brick and concrete nursing home complex was designed by Waasdorp, Northrup and Kaelber and is built on the century-old property of the Episcopal Church Home where the preceding buildings stood.
#551 Mt. Hope Avenue is a two story frame house with tracery trim in the gables, built in 1868 with the more recent addition of a front porch.
#561 Mt. Hope Avenue is a large frame house built in 1890 with a central gable and front porch supported by paired columns.
Set back from the street like its neighbors to the left and right, #575 Mt. Hope Avenue is a brick, two and a half story house with stone lintels and a small second story porch.
#593 Mt. Hope Avenue is a two and a half story stone building, originally built as a maternity hospital in the third quarter of the nineteenth century and now a nursing home. Throughout the years it has maintained the character of a family house.
#701 Mt. Hope Avenue, a small board and batten house, was built between 1840 and 1850. It has a two story central section and two one story wings, and an uninterrupted porch runs the length of the front (west) facade.
#609, #630, #625, #668, #692, and #685 Mt. Hope Avenue are all historically associated with the Ellwanger and Barry nursery business, which dominated the Mt. Hope area from the mid-nineteenth century on. The Ellwanger homes are on the west side of the street (#609 — a brick, 2 1/2 story, Gothic-derived house with a steeply pitched gable roof, designed by James Culter and built in 1876, and #625 — a rambling, stucco house with half-timbered gables built around and obscuring a 1839 Federal house under the direction of the father-son architectural team, A.J. and Foster Warner). The Barry Homes face those of the Ellwangers on the east side of the street (#692, the Patrick Barry House, a brick "villa" with limestone trim built by Gervase Wheeler in 1857, #630, the Peter Barry House, a red brick, gambrel roofed house built in 1906 and designed by J. Foster Warner).
The Ellwanger and Barry Nursery Office (#668) stands between the two Barry houses in a parklike setting surrounded by scattered mature trees including a particularly notable purple beech. This stone building with lancet windows, diamond panes, a crenellated tower, and an oriel window facing south is the ultimate in romantic office architecture as designed by A.J. Davis in 1854-5.
Warner Castle, now the Rochester Garden Center was also built in 1854 set back from Mt. Hope Avenue. It is a two story version of a Scottish castle with a central hexagonal tower. Much of the fine interior woodwork throughout the twenty-two room building survives as does the gatehouse at the road and the landscaped gardens behind the house.
Three relatively smaller shingle style houses abut the northern edge of the Warner Castle property and were influenced, if not actually designed, by Claude Bragdon who lived in #3.
The Victorian aura permeates the hilly terrain of the Mt. Hope Cemetery. An imposing rough stone gatehouse complete with a bell tower presides over the main entrance which leads to the little Gothic chapel designed by A.J. Warner in 1863. A more recent crematorium is attached. An ornate hexagonal "Moorish" gazebo stands nearby. Steep roads stone-paved curve throughout the designated section of the cemetery opening up views of secluded private lots surrounded by wrought-iron fences, and sequestered mausoleums. A huge brick gambrel roofed structure on the northern edge of the cemetery was built to house the horses and equipment for funerals and is still in use as a workshop and garage.
The Genesee River which bounds the Mt. Hope-Highland Historic District on the northwest is a part of the Barge Canal in this area. A feeder to the old Erie Canal ran just west of the Joseph C. Wilson Boulevard, and an abandoned rail line now lies along the bed.
Many of the horticultural specimens throughout Highland Park date back to its days as the Mt. Hope Nursery. A greenhouse, the Lamberton Conservatory, built in 1911 and a recently constructed band shell, the Highland Park Bowl, are the most prominent structures amid acres of rolling park land. The twentieth century residences surrounding the park on the northeast and southeast do not show any relationship to the park they face so they have not been included. The Theological Seminary on a hilltop east of the park may be nominated to the National Register in the future as a district on its own merits.
The Mt. Hope-Highland Historic District, the exclusive domain of the Ellwanger and Barry Botanic Gardens and the Mt. Hope Cemetery throughout the mid and late nineteenth century retains its elegant and spacious character of park land. The Mt. Hope-Highland Historic District is punctuated with notable architect-designed buildings combined with more tightly-knit early twentieth century subdivision along the district's fringes.
Historically, when first settled, this section of fine silt loan deposited by the glacier between the hills of Mount Hope and Pinnacle at the southern edge of Rochester was used as farm land. The canal feeder was built along the Genesee River in the 1820's and just south of the city line. In 1838 Mt. Hope Cemetery was laid out on the hilly fifty acres lying between Mt. Hope Avenue and the River.
The next year, German-born George Ellwanger and his Irish partner, Patrick Barry began to acquire land which ultimately reached several hundred acres and became the Mt. Hope Botanic Gardens, at one time said to be the largest nursery in the world. Ellwanger and Barry specialized in fruit trees and shrubs grafted on hard roots suitable for the climate of the northern U.S., and their nursery stock was sold far and wide on a rapidly growing frontier.
Since most of the designated Mt. Hope-Highland Historic District was formerly part of the Botanic Gardens (including Menlo Place, Highland Park and both sides of Mt. Hope Avenue from around Cypress Street to the Cemetery and Warner Castle), it was the business sense, the civic interests and above all the taste of these two nurserymen, Barry and Ellwanger which had a determining effect on the area. In 1854, Barry and Ellwanger set a standard of architectural distinction along Mt. Hope Avenue by commissioning the foremost "Gothic Revival" architect of the day, A.J. Davis, to design a business office which still stands in the heart of the Mt. Hope-Highland Historic District. The nursery office turned out to be "quite unlike any office building that we know of," as Wayne Andrews wrote recently, "it could be taken for a gate lodge of a Tudor castle."
During the same year further down Mt. Hope Avenue, Warner Castle was under construction for a prominent Rochester publisher, Horatio G. Warner. This romantic crenellated stronghold overlooking the southern boundary of Barry and Ellwanger's nursery was designed by the promising local architect, A.J. Warner, and it was modelled after Castle Douglas in Scotland, the setting of one of Sir Walter Scott's last novels, Castle Dangerous, published in 1832.
In the subsequent decades the Mt. Hope area blossomed with architectural gems which were mostly "Gothic" in spirit: the four decorative cottages built for employees of Barry and Ellwanger between 1855 and 1868, the Patrick Barry house, a brick villa designed by Gervase Wheeler in 1857, James Cutler's Ellwanger House built in 1876, the little cemetery chapel by A.J. Warner in 1863 and the cemetery gatehouse completed in 1875. Nowhere along Mt. Hope Avenue was the mystical Gothic trend of the mid-nineteenth century more exploited than in the cemetery. In addition to the gatehouse and the A.J. Warner chapel embellished with finials and battlements, a gazebo, a fountain and a pond known as "sylvan waters" set the stage for the extravagant mausoleums and monuments of Rochester's great families during this Robber Baron Era. This "Victorian way of death" has significant bearing on the values and attitudes of the period, and this older section of the cemetery with its landscaped hilly terrain further contributing to an elaborately mournful ambience no longer emphasized in modern cemetery design is included in the Mt. Hope-Highland Historic District for its role in the social history of the city during the second half of the nineteenth century.
The tradition of the Barry and Ellwanger families' hiring fashionable architects continued throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The father-son team A.J. Warner and J. Foster Warner made half timbered additions and alterations to the Hawks-Ellwanger House and as late as 1906 J. Foster Warner was commissioned to design a house for Peter Barry beside the old nursery office.
The nucleus of Highland Park was formed from a gift of twenty acres from Ellwanger and Barry to the city in 1887. The only section of this land that was not absorbed into park land was Menlo Place where twenty-one houses, built mainly in the first two decades of the twentieth century, line a tree-shaded dead end street. The four shingled houses on Castle Park, also a selective subdivision, bear the mark of another noted Rochester architect, Claude Bragdon. Bragdon built number 3 Castle Park for his bride in 1902 on a site which capitalizes on the view over the Warner Castle grounds to the south and Highland Park to the north and west.
An area of unusually rich historical and aesthetic continuity the Mt. Hope-Highland Historic District is a superb combination of the distinguished architecture of Davis, Downing, Gervase Wheeler, James Cutler, A.J. Warner and Claude Bragdon still preserved in their nineteenth century landscaped environment.
A.J. Downing, The Architecture of Country Houses, Appleton & Co., NY: 1850 p.78-83.
Wayne Andrews "American Gothic," American Heritage: October 1971, p.31.
Andrews, Wayne, "American Gothic," American Heritage, October 1971.
Downing, A.J., The Architecture of Country Houses, D. Appleton & Co.: New York: 1850.
Card, Marian, "The Ellwanger and Barry Office," Genesee County Scrapbook Vol. IV, Rochester, Rochester Historical Society: 1953.
McIntosh, History of Monroe County 1788-1877. Philadelphia, Everts, Ensign, Everts: 1877.
McKelvey, Blake, Rochester: Water Power City 1855-1890. Cambridge, Harvard University Press: 1945.
McKelvey, Blake, Rochester: Water Power City 1855-1890. Cambridge, Harvard University Press: 1944.
University Record "U.R. Buildings made City Landmarks" Vol. XI no.1 January 1971.
Rochester City Maps - 1839-Cornell; 1851-Smith & Callan; 1875-Beers; 1888-E. Robinson.
† Brooke, C.E., N. Y. State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Mt. Hope-Highland Historic District, nomination document, 1973, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.