This Summer, Visit Rochester’s Underrated Museums

By Dennis Lennox
Dennis Lennox
Dennis Lennox
Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Epoch Times. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter and Instagram.
July 4, 2021 Updated: July 4, 2021

Rochester is one of the country’s most underrated cities.

The city (population about 206,000) is in western New York on Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes. New York City is at least six hours away by car.

downtown Rochester
The streets of downtown Rochester, N.Y. (Dennis Lennox)

Rochester, like other Rust Belt cities, has seen its share of challenges in recent decades since the population peaked back in 1950. In some ways, this is a mixed blessing as downtown retains a fair share of old buildings—many on the National Register of Historic Places—that would have been demolished for newer developments had things went differently.

Several notable museums are perhaps the most lasting legacy of Rochester’s rich heritage.

rochester art gallery
The Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, N.Y. (Dennis Lennox)

The big draw is the George Eastman Museum.

Named after George Eastman, who, as founder of Kodak, pioneered photography for the masses, the museum isn’t a company museum. Instead, it includes one of the best collections of all things photography and cinematography. Included in the museum is Eastman’s stately house, which has been restored to its period grandeur.

A few blocks away on University Avenue is Memorial Art Gallery, part of the University of Rochester.

Visitors discover world-class art with works by Rubens, Monet, Rembrandt, van Dyck, Gainsborough, Romney, and others. You expect this kind of collection in a big-city museum, not a smaller museum in, of all places, Rochester. There’s even an impressive gallery of antiquities.

Had it not been for the pandemic, last year would have been much bigger for the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House. That’s because 2020 was the centenary of women getting the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Memorial Art Gallery
A 12th-century Italian baptismal font at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, N.Y. (Dennis Lennox)

The house, located at 17 Madison Street, isn’t just where Susan B. Anthony, the heroine of women’s suffrage, lived. Meticulously restored to how it would have looked during her lifetime, this was where Anthony ran the National American Women Suffrage Association. It was also where she was arrested for voting in the 1872 presidential election.

Last but certainly not least is the Genesee Country Village & Museum, the third-largest open-air, living history museum in the United States.

Spread across 600 acres in rural Monroe County—about 20 miles from downtown—the must-visit attraction features a recreated village with period buildings from throughout New York and costumed interpreters depicting life in the 19th century. While buildings span architectural styles from the 1800s, including federal, Greek revival, and Victorian, the focus seems to be the antebellum era. Think Colonial Williamsburg, but western New York around the time when the famed Erie Canal opened.

Downtown Rochester, N.Y.
Downtown Rochester, N.Y. (Dennis Lennox)

If You Go

Stay at The Del Monte Lodge, part of Marriott’s upscale Renaissance brand. The hotel is located about 15 minutes by car from downtown Rochester in Pittsford, a quaint village on the banks of the Erie Canal. Best of all, it combines the consistency and standards of a chain with the design of boutiques.

Eat at the hotel’s aptly named Erie Grill (ErieGrill.com), which is popular with visitors and locals alike. Nearby alternatives include Richardson’s Canal House (RichardsonsCanalHouse.com), housed within an old tavern from 1818, and Label 7 Napa Eatery & Bar (LabelSeven.com). Both feature outdoor seating with million-dollar views of the canal. Back downtown, try the Brew House (GeneseeBeer.com/brewhouse) at Genesee Brewing Company—New York’s oldest brewery—or the Memorial Art Gallery’s Brown Hound (BrownHoundBistro.com) on Thursday evenings when the museum stays open late.

The George Eastman Museum (Eastman.org) is open Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 pm.

Visiting the Memorial Art Gallery (mag.rochester.edu) requires a timed reservation, due to pandemic protocols. Slots are available every 90 minutes during opening hours, which are Wednesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with Thursday hours extended to 9 p.m.

The National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House (SusanB.org) also requires reservations for its tours, which are offered daily Tuesday through Sunday.

The Genesee Country Village & Museum (gcv.org) is open Wednesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Be advised that some museums are requiring visitors, even those fully vaccinated, to wear a mask even though there is no city or state mask mandate.

Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Epoch Times. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter and Instagram.

The author’s visit was partially hosted by Visit Rochester.

batter
A historic interpreter mixes up batter for johnny cakes to be cooked over a hearth in Hetchler House at Genesee Country Village & Museum. (Courtesy of Genesee Country Village & Museum)
Making Cheese
The traditional process of separating curds from whey is demonstrated at Jones Farm at Genesee Country Village & Museum. (Courtesy of Genesee Country Village & Museum)
women on porch
Interpreters on the porch of a historic home share traditional crafts with visitors at Genesee Country Village & Museum. (Courtesy of Genesee Country Village & Museum)
Epoch Times Photo
One of Genesee Country Village & Museum’s historic potters displays a piece of salt-glazed stoneware recently fired in the museum’s 19th-century kiln. (Courtesy of Genesee Country Village & Museum)
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A costumed interpreter shares the process of turning natural fibers into summer clothing on the porch of MacKay House at Genesee Country Village & Museum. (Courtesy of Genesee Country Village & Museum)
Ferrara-Marking-Crossways
Since that time, the Gallery has undergone three expansion projects–in 1922, 1968 and 1987. The most recent addition connects the original Gallery with Cutler Union, built in the 1930s as the women’s student union of the University of Rochester. (Richard P. Wersinger)
MAG_Pavilion
Visitors enter through the newly renovated Vanden Brul Pavilion, which features a sculpture garden with major works by such artists as Henry Moore and Albert Paley. (Bergmann Associates)
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Two new galleries on the second floor—the Helen H. Berkeley Gallery of Ancient Art and At the Crossroads—opened in December 2009. The Berkeley Gallery (pictured) showcases Greek, Etruscan and Roman works, including pieces never before on view, and unites the Egyptian coffins from the Gill Discovery Center with objects from the former Ancient World gallery. A few steps away, At the Crossroads brings together works from the ancient Middle East and the Islamic world. (J. Adam Fenster)
MAG-littleboy_looking
During fiscal year 2016–17, the Gallery welcomed 265,087 visitors. Of this number, 15,311 schoolchildren and adults enjoyed docent-led tours of the collection. (J. Adam Fenster)
Dennis Lennox
Dennis Lennox
Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Epoch Times. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter and Instagram.