Letchworth State Park
Backstory and Context
Letchworth State Park is named after William Pryor Letchworth. In his thirties, hard work took a toll on his body and he decided he wanted out of the city. In 1859, he bought some land near Portage Falls and built the now famous Glen Iris Estate on the Genesee Valley canal. He slowly began to add the Council House from the former Canada Reservation. Next came Mary Jemison Seneca's cabin and finally added the Genesee Valley Museum. In 1872, a Council Fire was held for the rededication of the Council House. "For years I have devoted my whole thought, strength, and energy to one thing -business, and have made myself master of that which I undertook to perform. I mean now to cultivate most assiduously the social ties which I have neglected so long fearing they may have become so weakened as to have no influence on my soul." (William Pryor Letchworth) After His death, all his property and buildings were changed and preserved in the state park we see today.
William Letchworth's home is now a 16 room Inn, the Glen Iris Inn. He chose the name Glen Iris because the Indians had named the area "An-de-is-ha-kwa" which means "the place where the sun lingers". According to Indian lore, when the sun passes over the Glen it stopped longer there any other part of the valley. Inspired by the rainbows it created, Letchworth chose Iris which is a synonym for rainbow, thus came Glen Iris. Today, rooms range from $110-$245 a night depending on single, double, or a suite. There is also an onsite restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with picnic lunches to go, as well. They have a large room for meetings and a wedding area. They will cater for any event at the park.
One of the most beautiful features of the Genesee River are the three falls within the park. The one near Glen Iris Inn is the Middle Falls, an impressive 107-foot drop. The falls are beautifully lit up at night. The Upper Falls, a 71-foot drop, is just upstream from the Middle falls and can be seen from a railroad bridge. Two miles downstream from the Middle Falls is the Lower Falls with a 107-foot drop. You get the added benefit of seeing one of the minor falls, Deh-ga-ya-soh Falls, dropping down the gorge on the less frequented side of the park. It has a great view, but there are no railings on this side and a steep drop of 200 feet over the cliff. One of the most popular ways to see the gorge and falls is by hot hair air balloon.
The park is open daily 6 am to 11 pm year-round, charging a fee per car or bus. Whatever you take into the park, you take back out with you when you leave. There are so many activities at the park for the entire family. A favorite is hot air balloon rides. There are many trails to hike, or nature walk, some up to 20 miles long. Some of these same trails turn into ski runs for skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and snow hiking during the winter months. Many people go to fish, hunt, and white water rafting. Fishing is a favorite past time, as well. Camping is also available from April through October. There are lodges and cabins to rent that have a pool share. There are playing fields and playgrounds. Last but not least, they have museums and a gift shop to close out your exciting day. You can never be bored at Letchworth State Park! Little did William Pryor Letchworth realize how important his estate would become to New York and also to history.
As stated in the Introduction excerpt, Letchworth State Park is partly known for its Seneca Indian Council House. Located on the Council House property is the Jemison Cabin and Statue, pictured above. The statue portrays Mary carrying her son on her back as she made the journey to this location. A remarkable woman, Mrs. Mary Jemison was referred to as “The White Woman of the Genesee”. See “Pennsylvania Historical Marker: Mary Jemison” image for additional biographical information.
With her son, Mary Jemison accompanied her Seneca brother to Genishau where the Seneca Indians lived along the Genesee River. Upon arriving in the Genesee Valley, at current-day Letchworth State Park, she was greeted by members of her Seneca family. She planned to meet her husband, Delaware Indian, Sheninjee, in Genishau; however, he fell ill and died during his travels. At Genesee, Mary remarried an Indian chief named Hiokatoo, with whom she had four daughters and two sons.
In A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, Mary recounts the Seneca’s alliance with the French during the French and Indian War. She recalled British prisoners being ceremoniously executed in November of 1759 at Little Beard’s Town, a nearby Seneca settlement. She specifically remembered her Seneca mother adamantly forbidding her and her sister to attend the event. Her mother empathized the executions were no different than the kidnapping and murders Mary’s family had suffered.
Following the French and Indian War, Mary’s tribe lived peacefully. Mary described, “No people can live more happy than the Indians did in times of peace" (Seaver). This peace was disturbed during the American Revolutionary War, in which the Seneca fought alongside the British. During this time, Mary housed two British officers, Colonels Butler and Brandt. In addition, she witnessed the destruction of Genesee Flats by General Sullivan’s army in 1779. The settlement was burned, animals killed, and trees destroyed. Following this, Mary lived in the Gardow flats with two runaway slaves, whom she helped cultivate the land.
In 1797, the Chiefs of the Six Nations granted Mary several hundred acres of land along the Genesee River known as the Gardow Tract. She lived most of her life here comfortably, leasing land for people to farm.
Cook, Tom. Mary Jemison or Dehgewanus: "The White Woman of the Genesee", Letchworth Park History. Accessed April 27th 2020. http://www.letchworthparkhistory.com/jem.html.
"Letchworth State Park Information." Letchworth State Park Information. Allwebco Design & Hosting. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
Seaver, James E.. A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison.
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
The Historical Marker Database: Photograph by Craig Swain