New York's Letchworth State Park: A Short History
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New York's Letchworth State Park: A Short History

New York State’s least known crown jewel, Letchworth State Park is nicknamed “the Grand Canyon of the East” for a reason. Letchworth lies just one hour (about 35 miles) south of Rochester.

New York State’s least known crown jewel, Letchworth State Park is nicknamed “the Grand Canyon of the East” for a reason. Letchworth lies just one hour (about 35 miles) south of Rochester. This 14,350 acre State Park has the ability to leave you awe-inspired; with its 600 foot over looks, never ending views of the gorge and the Genesee River flowing south to north before dumping into Lake Ontario, and the surreal beauty of the local landscape. Visiting Letchworth will indulge the instinctive adventurer in you, leaving you wanting more after exploring off the beaten path. Whether you’re a day trekker or a seasoned traveler, Letchworth offers exciting miles of hiking, mountain biking, along with backcountry, and river trekking. 

Seneca Indian villages first appeared along the banks of “Sehgahunda” or “valley of the three falls” during the 1600’s. By the 1790’s the white settlers ever increasing presence, along with the successful Sullivan expedition sent by Gen. George Washington to destroy the Iroquois’ homeland, began to take its toll. In 1797, the Seneca’s’ sold much of what is now western New York to the state in the Treaty of Big Tree for the price of $100,000. In 1859, business man from Buffalo New York, William Pryor Letchworth purchased the standing house and 200 acres of what is now Letchworth State Park, later accompanied by 14,150 additional acres. Letchworth was intrigued by the natural beauty and history of the Seneca Indians, and also the story of the famous captor Mary Jemison or “Dehgewanus” as the Seneca’s called her, which means “two falling voices.” As a retreat from the city life; he would build his estate, the Glenn Iris Inn, overlooking the middle falls; inspired by the view of a rainbow he named the estate after the Greek goddess of rainbows.

Letchworth is the home of New York State’s highest waterfall, inspiration point, an astonishing 350 foot. The overwhelming view of the middle falls is so grand; the Seneca’s believed the sun to have stopped at mid day. The Portage Bridge, the world’s largest wooden bridge, built in 1852, used 300 acres of timber. After it burnt down in 1875, it was replaced by the now standing steel bridge within the year. The Glenn Iris Inn is a great spectacle, mainly a nice restaurant; you need reservations, and dress attire. Letchworth is also home of the largest concrete gravity fed dam east of the Mississippi, the Mount Morris Dam. Construction on the dam started in 1948 by the US Army Corps of Engineers at a cost of $25 million dollars. Completed in 1952, the dam provides protection to downtown Rochester, farmlands, and Lake Ontario.

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