A look back at the 125 years of the Rochester Lilac Festival

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The year 1898 was big for Rochester.

Presidential candidate Teddy Roosevelt made a campaign stop here, we got a football team, the Rochester Jefferson’s, and what we now know as the Lilac Festival began.

This year marks the 125th Anniversary of Rochester’s spring celebration.

“It was an evolutionary process and people go wow this is really special,” Producer of the Lilac Festival Jeff Springut said.

In 1892 – John Dunbar planted some lilacs in Highland Park.

Six years later – those seeds sprouted into the Lilac Festival.

“It has grown over the years to where now there are 1100 bushes and 800 varieties of lilacs in the hills just across the purple cross walk,” Springut said.

Springut says when people first started coming to Highland Park each May to take in the flowers, the celebration had a different name.

“When I was growing up here in Rochester, we used to come out to the park on Lilac Sunday- It was a one day event and that was in the mid 50s,” Springut said.

In the 1970s it turned into more of the festival that we know today with vendors and activities.

Springut says the festival’s evolution was not a spontaneous event. As the bushes got planted, people wanted to celebrate the flowers in our flower city.

“It’s a beautiful spot. It’s one of the things that makes Rochester so special,” Springut said.

And the festival organizers are far from finished. New varieties of lilacs continue to be planted every year and the festival continues to grow.

“I think the Lilac Festival will keep going, why not?” Springut said.

There are three full days of the Lilac Festival left- make sure to check them out from 10:30 a.m. till 8:30 p.m.