While you may not have heard of George Eastman, I can almost guarantee that you’ve heard of the company that he started in Rochester, New York: the Eastman Kodak Company. And, if you want to learn about this company and the history of photography in general, the George Eastman Museum is a great spot to visit.
Eastman lived in Rochester for nearly his entire life and started the Eastman Kodak company in the city in the 1880s. Kodak would go on to become the world’s foremost camera company for a century and still employs many people in the Rochester area.
Today, his home in eastern Rochester, just down the road from the Rochester Museum and Science Center, houses the George Eastman Museum.
The museum was opened in 1949 and is the oldest museum in the world dedicated to photography. It also features one of the oldest film archives in the world with works spanning the entire history of the medium.
The George Eastman Museum covers many different topics but can be divided into three main parts: a photography museum, a Kodak museum, and a museum about George Eastman.
Since I love both photography and history, I knew that this was a museum that I needed to check out when looking for the best things to do in Rochester.
The museum features a large and modern exhibit space that is located behind and connected to Eastman’s home. Visits start in the modern section added onto the back of the mansion.
In this space, you’ll find the main galleries that highlight the Eastman Museum’s amazing collection of photography and film. These include photographs that date back to the very earliest days of photography up through to the present day.
As a photographer myself, it was fascinating to see these photographs, along with the text beside them that often explained the technique or unique tools that were used to achieve the results.
Given the museum’s connection to the Eastman Kodak Company, it probably won’t come as a surprise that there was a lot of information about the history of photography and how it has evolved over the years. I especially loved the many older models of cameras that were on display (both from Kodak and other companies).
If you have even a passing interest in photography, you are sure to love this portion of the museum.
The second part of the museum is located within Eastman’s historic home, which was completed in 1905. This is a beautiful property, both inside and out, and it’s obvious that Eastman had fantastic taste in decorations and furnishings.
Visitors take a self-guided tour through the space and see many rooms throughout the property, including the very impressive conservatory, which has to be seen to be believed.
Other rooms on the tour include several of the bedrooms, the living room, dining room, and Eastman’s sitting room, where he passed away in 1932. Seeing his eclectic and lavish furnishings set against the home’s amazing architecture is quite fascinating.
Throughout both portions of the museum, you can listen to narration on the spaces via an audio guide that can be accessed on your phone. Because of this, it’s a good idea to bring headphones with you so you can comfortably listen to the narration. If you’d rather, each audio tour stop also has a text transcript that you can read.
This guide is very well done and offers the chance to learn more about the spaces that you are most interested in throughout the entire museum. Don’t miss this added feature during your visit as it really brought the space to life for me.
In addition to displays about Eastman’s life and how he lived in the home, his house also includes a children’s discovery area and various displaycases that showcase the history of Eastman’s business ventures.
While walking through the home, you’ll likely notice the beautiful outdoor spaces through the windows. These gardens are worth taking a few minutes to stroll through prior to leaving the museum. The wisteria is especially impressive and is sure to be beautiful in the springtime.
Overall, the George Eastman Museum is a fantastic place to visit when exploring this corner of the Finger Lakes. Whether you love photography, history, or just learning about one of the most influential men in the history of Upstate New York, this is definitely a great place to add to your Rochester itinerary.
George Eastman Museum
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: 10am-5pm
Cost: Adults: $20, Children: $7
Address: 900 East Ave