A history conference in the Rochester area was on our calendar and as always, became a great excuse to do some additional sightseeing. My husband and I packed our car the night before and then joined the early morning commuters on the highway. Our pre-sunrise departure allowed us to arrive just as The George Eastman Museum was opening its doors for the day.
George Eastman was the pioneer of photography and motion picture film and founder of the Eastman Kodak Company. The photography museum is the world’s oldest and contains several million objects that preserve the history of photography and cinema. Photographers and film buffs will find plenty to keep them entertained.
If you don’t share an interest in photography though, you need not be stuck waiting and wandering camera and film related exhibits. Leave the photographers behind and meet a docent for a George Eastman’s mansion and/or garden tour or just wander the house and grounds on your own. Our rainy September morning was not the ideal time to view the estate gardens. But the mansion tour alone was worth the price of admission.
My husband and I were less interested in the museum and more interested in the history and architecture of the Colonial Revival mansion and the story of George Eastman. We joined the first mansion tour of the day were led down a hallway which connects the museum and home. One of the first things we were told was “this is a photography museum. We encourage you to take all the photos you like.” It was a welcome change from the “no photos” policy found in many museums and historic homes.
Our docent was well informed and brought Eastman to life as we toured from room to opulent room viewing his preserved treasures and hearing his life story. Eastman began construction of the 35,000 square foot home in 1902 and it took 3 years to complete. He wanted a self-sufficient estate and therefore the property included a working farm, stables and barns along with his decorative formal gardens and greenhouses. The house tour lasted less than an hour. It only covered the first floor and was just long enough to leave us wanting more which is what all good tours should do. The tour gave us plenty of information without being overly long or tedious. Following the organized tour, visitors were given the freedom to wander and spend as much time as we wanted revisiting the first floor and exploring rooms on the second floor.
In season, or at least on a less rainy day, the gardens would have also demanded a walking tour. As it was, we got only a glimpse of them through the windows. We did manage to walk along one outdoor path and even in the early days of autumn, this garden walk was filled with beautiful anemones in full bloom.
In the hallway between the museum and mansion, are the gift shop and café. It’s a convenient place to meet back up with family and friends if you’ve opted for different activities. The gift shop had a collection of books to further your reading on Eastman and/or photography interests. It also carried some very nice stationary items like note cards and memo pads, tote bags and nicer-than-the-typical-gift-shop knick knacks.
In the café the menu was not extensive but it was interesting. Accompanied by a side of horseradish, a small salad and potato chips, our roast beef sandwich was made fresh to order and it was delicious. For my husband and I, sharing one meal gave us the perfect sized lunch. We both cleaned our plates and had no leftovers to worry about. When we told the woman taking our order that we wanted to share, she even had the kitchen divided the meal for us onto two plates. We later went back to the counter and bought one of their giant sized fresh baked oatmeal raisin cookies. Yum!
After lunch, we slipped into a tiny theater next to the café and spent a few minutes watching one of the old-time Warner Bros. cartoons that were playing back to back on a loop. Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, and Bugs Bunny were entertaining both children and adults.
Time: With so much to see and do, a person could easily spend an entire day touring the museum, mansion and gardens. Our visit to the George Eastman estate that included only the mansion tour plus time for lunch lasted approximately two hours.
Parking: Free and easy in the on-site lot. From there, walk around the building following signs to the main entrance.
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., Closed Mondays, Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Admission: $15 for adults, $13 seniors (65+), $5 students (with I.D.), $5 children 5 – 17, children age 4 and under are free.
Address: 900 East Ave, Rochester, NY 14607-2298
Website: https://www.eastman.org Be sure to check their website for other events and activities.