Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

May 21, 2021

New York State Announces Expansion to Begin at Historic Finger Lakes Destination

Gateway Project Will Enhance Entrance at Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park

New Visitor Center Planned for Former Armory

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced groundbreaking for a new entrance and gateway at Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park in the Finger Lakes. Construction will realign the entry into the park as the first step in $6.1 million project in the city of Canandaigua, Ontario County, that will also renovate a former U.S. Army Reserve armory into a new Sonnenberg visitors' center, café, and educational space with improved parking.

"This project will improve an important state Historic Park that is part of the vibrant and growing Finger Lakes tourism economy," Governor Cuomo said. "More visitors will be able to better enjoy the beautiful Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park, and the upgrades will reduce its impact on the neighboring streets and enhance the entrance and gateway to this Victorian estate."  

"Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park is a unique asset and is inherently part of the identity of the Canandaigua community," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "Today's start of construction at Sonnenberg is the start of making it a world-class destination that will generate increased economic activity and give small businesses a much-needed boost."  

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul kicked off the construction project, which was enabled by an earlier Parks' purchase of 1.6 acres at Charlotte and Gibson streets and donation of the 3.5-acre armory parcel to Parks by the U.S. Army.

To date, the project is supported by $1 million from two state Community Funding Application (CFA) grants, as well as more than $300,000 from an ongoing fundraising campaign by the not-for-profit Friends of Sonnenberg group that operates the site.

The new entrance and gateway off State Route 21 is expected to be complete in spring 2022, providing more visibility for the site and a direct link to the New York State Thruway. It will provide a bus turnaround, as well as divert traffic from an adjoining residential street. Designed by Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects LLL, project construction work is being done by City Hill Excavating of Penn Yan.

While work on the continued armory renovation will move forward based on available funding, Friends of Sonnenberg staff have moved offices into the building. 

Erik Kulleseid, Commissioner of the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said, "This unique site, with its 19th century Victorian mansion, gardens and greenhouse complex, is one of only two formal gardens owned by State Parks. With the community support of our partners at Friends of Sonnenberg, these improvements will further enhance it as one of the Finger Lake's premier tourist destinations, helping to strengthen the important tourist economy of this region." 

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said, "I've been glad to work with Sonnenberg officials, New York State and local stakeholders to help achieve this vision of expanding and modernizing Sonnenberg Gardens with the acquisition of the former Army Reserve property site.  We can now create a fitting new gateway to welcome visitors and transform a once-vacant federal building site for use as Visitor Admissions Center, space for educational programming, adequate parking, and so much more."

Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chairs Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Duffy and SUNY Geneseo President Denise Battles said, "The welcoming gateway project at Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park in Canandaigua will certainly enhance the visitor experience at this beautiful public garden. This transformative project will additionally work to strengthen tourism in the region, boosting the local economy."

Friends of Sonnenberg Executive Director David Hutchings said, "The  newentrance and the existing building will create new parking, admissions and in the future create a community educational center to grow the vitality and the economics not just for Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion but also the Canandaigua Community and the Finger Lake region.

Canandaigua City Mayor Robert Palumbo said, "Fredrick Ferris and Mary Clark Thompson would be so proud of this new Gateway to Sonnenberg Gardens 158 years after making this their summer home. Mrs. Thompson's desire to have Sonnenberg be a living memorial to her husband will live on, due to the efforts of so many on the Federal, State and local levels.  This new Visitors Center will educate visitors from around the world about the life and philanthropy of Fredrick Ferris and Mary Clark Thompson."

Robin Dropkin, Executive Director of Parks & Trails New York, said, "Parks & Trails New York is pleased to have been able to support the enhancement of SonnenbergGardens and Mansion State Historic Site with a Park and Trail Partnership Grant to the Friends of Sonnenberg. The Friends group is a great example of how private non-profit groups strengthen and sustain our magnificent park system."

Donations made to the Friends of Sonnenberg campaign include Elmira Savings & Loan ($49,000), Canandaigua Rotary Club ($12,000), and Lyons National Bank ($10,000).

Parks & Trails New York also provided a $25,000 grant to support transfer of Sonnenberg property archives into the former armory office.

A state historic site since 2006, Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park is a late-19th century Victorian Estate with a Queen Anne-style mansion, greenhouse complex, and nine historic themed gardens of the world. Located in the heart of New York's Finger Lakes wine region, Sonnenberg (which means "sunny hill" in German) is the former summer home of prominent banker and philanthropist Fredrick Ferris Thompson and his wife, Mary Clark Thompson, a co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and also a benefactor of numerous charities. The couple are interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in Canandaigua.

The announcement at Sonnenberg complements "Finger Lakes Forward," the region's successful Upstate Revitalization Initiative plan, a comprehensive strategy to grow the economy. The state has already invested more than $8.07 billion in the region since 2012 to lay the groundwork for the plan - investing in key industries including photonics, agriculture and food production, and advanced manufacturing.

Now, the region is accelerating Finger Lakes Forward with a $500 million State investment through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, announced by Governor Cuomo in December 2015. The State's $500 million investment will incentivize private business to invest well over $2.5 billion - and the region's plan, as submitted, projects up to 8,200 new jobs. More information is available here.

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 individual parks, historic sites, recreational trails, and boat launches, which were visited by a record 78 million people in 2020. A recent university study found that spending by State Parks and its visitors supports $5 billion in output and sales, 54,000 private-sector jobs and more than $2.8 billion in additional state GDP. For more information on any of these recreation areas, visit, download the free NY State Parks Explorer mobile app or call 518.474.0456. Also, connect with us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.