Travel thoughts by Kim | Orleans Hub

By Kim Pritt, Contributor Published on July 23, 2022 at 3:00 p.m.

The view from the mansion over one of the property’s nine gardens.

Let’s go on an adventure together… in the gardens of Sonnenberg!

On Thursday, July 14, I had the pleasure of visiting a local treasure – Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua, NY. This was a day trip organized by Mitzy Peglow of Orleans Travel for the Busy Buddies group I belong to. A comfortable coach took our group from the Tops parking lot to our destination in Canandaigua – the Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park for the day. It was such a beautiful day – I had a great time! I love doing day trips by bus. It gives me the opportunity to experience new things in our area without having to drive and find my way around. Perfect!

Sonnenberg Gardens is a 50 acre estate located at the north end of Lake Canandaigua in the beautiful Finger Lakes – originally a 300 acre farm. The property, open to the public from late spring to mid-autumn, was the summer residence of Frederick Ferris Thompson and his wife Mary Clark Thompson. Frederick was a prominent New York banker – one of the co-founders of what is now known as Citibank and JPMorgan Chase Bank. Mary was the daughter of former New York Governor Myron Holley Clark. The couple’s primary residence was in New York, but they chose Mary’s hometown of Canandaigua for their summer home. In 1887 they built a 40-bedroom Queen Anne-style mansion in place of the old farmhouse. Today the property is managed by a non-profit organization which was established in the early 1970s to restore the mansion and gardens. They have a year-round staff of six, approximately 170 seasonal volunteers, and operate solely on funds raised through admissions, events, memberships/donations, and gift and wine sales. They receive no local, state or federal funding. Considering all of this and other facts of the property’s history, I think they are doing a terrific job.

It is the entrance to a complex of greenhouses dedicated to various specific floral varieties, such as orchids, succulents, etc. Other greenhouses are also located around the property.

We were left to explore the gardens and mansion on our own. It was a beautiful day to walk around the property and enjoy the splendor and opulence of Golden Age living. When I think of a summer house, I think of a small cottage on the lake…they built a 40 room mansion with bedrooms with full bathrooms and large walk-in closets/dressing rooms in each. The mansion is simply stunning and full of beautiful original furniture and items that belonged to the Thompsons. While the gardens could do with a bit more care, it’s easy to imagine how stunning the property must have been in Thompson’s time.

The property consists of the mansion, nine gardens of different styles – including a beautiful Japanese garden, several greenhouses, a cafe that serves light lunches, a gift shop, and the Finger Lakes Wine Center where they offer wine tastings.

Lunch was a highlight of the day. We were given a choice of three wraps – vegetarian, smoked turkey or chicken Caesar. I chose the smoked turkey and was very happy with it. Instead of the usual tortillas, they used delicate pancakes to wrap the meat, lettuce, red onion and roasted red pepper mayo and it was amazing – what a wonderful idea. The meal started with a cold melon and berry soup made with yoghurt and absolutely amazing – I think everyone left wanting more of this soup – I know I made it! We finished lunch with delicious cookies or brownies. So good!

After lunch, we gathered for a wine tasting at the Finger Lakes Wine Center. We were treated to six different wines to taste. Four were Sonnenberg wines which they only sell on the property – you won’t find them anywhere else and they are very good. The other two were from other wineries in the Finger Lakes region – a Hot Pepper wine which really surprised me and a watermelon wine which was the perfect end to the wine tastings. I enjoyed all six wines.

After the wine tasting some went back to wander the grounds and explore the gardens they had missed before lunch and others sat down to chat and enjoy such a beautiful day. The bus left to go home around 3.30pm and we were back in Albion around 4.45pm. It was such a great day – everyone had a great time.

Highly recommend visiting Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua – a real local treasure, of course, and so easy to get to – not far at all!

Took TONS of photos and did some good research on the history of Sonnenberg Gardens and the couple who built them – the Thompsons. Check out my blog post for all the photos and the story…and then go see it for yourself: https://thinksbykim.com/2022/07/20/2022-sonnenberg-gardens-day-trip-adventure/

Good adventure !

This beautiful stained glass window is the first thing you see when you arrive at the bottom of the steps leading to the old root cellar which is now a beautiful tasting room for the Finger Lakes Wine Center.

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