Story and photos by Lauren Chamberlain
How would you paint your hometown? How would you build the story of the place that shaped you so a stranger could understand? I want to pay homage to the many parts of Rochester by highlighting and reflecting on its history and unique qualities. The Flower City can be identified with numerous hidden gems. Just a stone’s throw from the famous gravesite of Susan B. Anthony lies one of Rochester’s paramount landmarks and most distinctive sites: Warner Castle and the Sunken Garden in Highland Park.
The property’s initial focus was Warner Castle, established in 1854 and owned by Horatio Gates Warner (1801-1876). Warner, an attorney, businessman and newspaper editor, was a prominent member of early Rochester society. He designed his home to resemble the castles of Clan Douglas, which he was inspired by on a previous trip to Scotland. After his death, Warner Castle had many owners, yet maintained its grandeur.
Acclaimed landscape architect Alling DeForest, who is also known for constructing the Eastman estates in Rochester, designed the Sunken Garden in the 1930s. Currently, both the Warner Castle and the Sunken Garden are under the care of the Landmark Society of Western New York.
Walking into this area within Highland Park feels like stepping into the past. I have always loved anything that bridges the divide between the past and present.
On a beautiful day this past May, I took a trip to Warner Castle and the surrounding grounds. I am always amazed at the groundwork and landscaping each year. I work in a local greenhouse and florist shop, so I am no stranger to beautiful flowers. The garden’s array of annuals and perennials that adorn the grassy walkway down to the rest of the area is sublime. Every time I walk up to the landmark, I feel as if I am walking into a real-world fairy tale. The castle and garden create a peaceful and majestic experience that feels tranquil. You can go and walk, take pictures or simply sit and enjoy the scenery.
While it is not a huge area to explore, Warner Castle and the Sunken Garden are undoubtedly worthwhile to visit. There is something so alluring about this little green utopia surrounded by the busy, modern city life; it’s amazing to think that this small piece of Rochester’s history remains as technology and urbanization grow around it.
Warner Castle and the Sunken Garden allow for current and future generations to connect with the architectural and horticultural past of Rochester. Both sites act as a reminder to reconnect with history as well as a calming space to explore nature when the pressure of city life becomes too overwhelming. So, while this landmark barely scratches the surface of all Rochester is, it is certainly a powerful start.