Arts at the Gardens

Yes,  Arts at the Gardens was what the little sandwich signs propped up along the city streets this week said.  Being curious as to what this meant, I went home and searched online for Arts at the Gardens .  Surely this would be a wonderful excursion on a beautiful Sunday afternoon!

The arts were the very fine works of many artisans, and covered the gamut of things from jewelry to photography to handmade furniture to paintings. There was an area designated for all of the vendors.

Benjamin accompanied me to Sonnenberg today.  As we drove down the street leading to the Sonnenberg Mansion,  I became a little stressed at the traffic, so we opted to park on a side street and take a healthy little hike. As Ben and I meandered down the street,  I was simply drawn back to another time….the majority of the homes are Victorian “ladies” that have been rather meticulously cared for.

As we neared the gates, we had to dodge traffic; it seems everyone was in a hurry to get inside!  The horse drawn buggy,  framed by beautiful Sycamore trees that lined the streets, seemed strangely in place,  even amongst all of the shining modern automobiles!

Please remember that all of these photos will enlarge if clicked on!


After paying the admission fee. we walked along ponds on the side of the roadway. I, of course, could not resist the ducks, but when Michelle saw the picture, she immediately spotted the little turtles resting on the rocks with the ducks. Ah, the beauty of a telephoto lens!

On we went, ready to explore the 52 acre estate located in the City of Canandaigua.


A tiny brief history about Sonnenberg….It was one of five homes owned by a couple named Frederick Ferris and Mary Clark Thompson.  Frederick was the son of a wealthy New York City banker, and Mary was the daughter of a governor of New York state.  They married in 1847 and often visited the farmhouse that was  Mary’s childhood home in Canandaigua.

In 1887,  the farmhouse was torn down and Sonnenberg (German, meaning Sunny Hill) was built. It was a grand Victorian home complete with 40 rooms. Although the Thompsons had other homes, Sonnenberg was their favorite “summer” home.  They resided otherwise on Madison Avenue in New York City.

In 1899, Frederick passed away, and Mary moved to her beloved Sonnenberg.  Both of the Thompsons were known for their philanthropy, and even after Frederick’s death, Mary continued this tradition,  giving monies to various organizations in the Canandaigua area. She passed away in 1923.

During the Great Depression, Mary’s nephew, who now had possession of the estate, sold the property to the federal government.  They, in turn, built a veterans’ hospital on what was farmland. The home was then made into a residence for hospital employees.


It was in the 1970’s that the Friends of Sonnenberg was formed to try to restore the home and its gardens to its past splendor.  They were given possession of the home, and the gardens began to take on their previous glory.  The home was a labor of love, restoring it to a museum from apartments.

I think it was last year that the state of New York took over  Sonnenberg  after the estate was in jeopardy of going under when the CEO was found to have embezzled much of the foundations’ funds.

Ben and I toured the house, which is breathtaking….this is a view of one of the gardens from a porch near the master bedroom of the mansion.


Upon leaving the mansion to view other areas, we were so impressed with the massive trees that abound on the property. Many of the trees were groomed in such a way that the lower branches sweep on the ground,  forming “rooms” underneath them.  Notice how tiny the van parked nearby appears!


Even though it is evident that much work needs to be done on the grounds, the house remains a resplendent reminder of those glorious Victorian homes of the past!


And, of course, a grand Victorian mansion must have grand porches…..


The grounds abound not only with beautifully themed gardens, but also with fountains and water features of all sorts! This little building is located rather near the house….


It is an example of the owners’ luxurious tastes! It is made from a beautiful white marble and has withstood the test of time quite well. And, here is a view of the backside…


The paths and walkways throughout the estate carry visitors from one rather breathtaking area to the next. I cannot remember when I have been at a place where views in every direction are so stunning. 


The gardens are marvelous.  They are so gorgeous, although Ben made a comment that they might best be observed from an aircraft! The brick tower located to the right top of the picture below is part of the veterans’ hospital. (which is so beautiful as well, but has been slowly closing down)


The tall purple plants below are Russian Sage, and oh my! Their aroma filled the air as we passed by.


Although much work has been done in restoring the estate to its former condition, the sad fact is that there is much work to be done here. Many areas are run down and we saw many of the structures lying on the ground, pieces laid out in the hopes of being rejoined together again.  The pillar below is an example of repairs that must be made.


Another view of the grand mansion.


With its impressive structures located throughout the grounds, it is quite obvious why couples love to have a garden wedding on this location!



The pictures above and below are birds’ eye views of the wonderful rose gardens!


And this “little” (as in much larger than most city homes yards!) area below is the “secret garden”.



I do suppose that every Victorian mansion had greenhouses.  Yes, I did see one greenhouse marked that it was for winter propagation,  and another had a sign declaring it was the “melon house”.

Below was another water detail on the way to the Japanese Gardens.


This is part of the Japanese Gardens. The water details were beautiful, frogs hiding just below the surface of the water, and Water Lilies in bloom! (although I forgot to picture them!)






Not too far away from the Japanese Garden area was a large brick building. Ben told me to come take a look.  My heart wrenched a bit as I viewed a beautiful indoor swimming pool that had fallen to ruin. I could only imagine what it would have been like to have gone swimming there when it was in its prime.

Upon Mr. Thompson’s death, all of his wealth was transferred to his beloved Mary. It was stated his assets totaled $3,000,000. That was in 1899……

6 Responses

  1. What a beautiful building and gardens. You’ve taken some lovely photos. Such a shame about the swimming pool; maybe one day a rich sympathetic benefactor will bring it back to it’s former glory.

  2. Thanks for such beautiful pictures. I feel like I’ve toured a wonderful place! It really is amazing the beautiful places that are slowing falling apart until a group tried to do something about it. Can you imagine all that being only part of your private estate?

  3. Looks like you’re having better weather than us at the moment! Good set of pictures – and maybe they should encourage more horse-drawn transport for the benefit of the gardens as well.

  4. Ruth, if Ben had not been with me, I would have taken far more than the 200 photos I took yesterday. Since the state has taken ownership of the gardens and mansion, I don’t hold my breath as far as glamorous fixes! But, perhaps…who knows…

    Frances, thank you for your kind words! I think more and more folks are taking the initiative to preserve the past. The fact that Canandaigua’s hospital is the F.F. Thompson Hospital is a resounding testament to the couple’s generosity. The least the community could do is keep up the grounds it would seem!

    Bill, our weather has been beautiful with clear skies(with puffy white clouds), no humidity, and temperatures that are pretty agreeable! Tomorrow and Wednesday are supposed to be quite warm…blah! I agree about those horse drawn carriages….not too far from us, there are a good number of Amish who still use the horse and buggy to get around.

    Sorlil, yes, this estate would be the primo spot for a wedding, or even wedding pictures. As I said, I can think of no other place I have visited that rivals Sonnenberg as far as beauty!

Leave a Reply