Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Century of Washington Grove

The neighborhood park which has been the focus of some restoration efforts over the last few years is described in the following piece. It's written by "A Friend of Washington Grove," not by me:

Celebrating Washington Grove's Double Anniversary

One hundred years ago, Rochester's City Council approved legislation authorizing purchase of the “Cobb’s Hill Woods” as the next component of its rapidly developing parks system. Most of the money raised to purchase the land from the Beckwith Farm came from private individuals who saw the inherent benefit of preserving this treasure. It was the culmination of decades of dedicated efforts to preserve this ancient woodland and its pristine glacial landscape. And 2012 is a double anniversary because 80 years ago this year the Cobb's Hill Woods was rededicated as "Washington Memorial Grove." Here's a little history to enjoy.

In the late 1800s, this popular tract had long been enjoyed by nearby residents and passersby. The woods were already popular for nature hikes, picnics, birding, gathering nuts, and hunting. It was even a longtime hangout for hobos and homeless families. The hill is the site of a centuries old Iroquois portage trail and some of its current trails could be from that pre-colonial era.

But as the city’s population grew so did the demand for the high quality sand and gravel that was available in the glacial soils of Cobb’s Hill. Increasingly, edges around the entire hill was being quarried, dug away and carted to points throughout the City to satisfy the community’s increasing construction needs.

In the early 1900s, the desire to preserve open land for parks met the need to create a second reservoir to serve the burgeoning population and new industry. As a consequence, the beautiful Cobb's Hill Park and reservoir were opened in 1908 and became an immediate success and tourist attraction.

But those public lands did not include what we know today as Washington Grove. The woods were still privately owned by the Beckwith family whose farmhouse still stands at the corner of Castlebar and Winton Roads. Park advocates and preservationists continued to seek protection for the Pinnacle Range, especially the "dingle dell" woodlands on the east side of Cobb's Hill.

In 1911, the City of Rochester commissioned the Frederick Law Olmstead firm to aid in an assessment for a City Plan. The result of that effort was a parks plan that envisioned one long contiguous park from Mt. Hope Cemetery all the across the Pinnacle Hills ending at the Beckwith farmlands at Winton Road. Though most of this land never became a park, in 1912, the City, with the help of private individuals, was able to purchase the “Cobbs Hill Woods” and today we enjoy this great woodland because of the hard work of individuals and a shared community vision.

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