Pieces of the Past
Artifacts, Documents, and Primary Sources
from Letchworth Park History

Gleanings from the Annual Report

of the ASHP Society for 1907

The reports of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society were intended to inform society members and the public of their activities of a given year. The reports are always submitted to the Legislature. This particular year includes their proud announcement that one of their committees will be responsible for the care and development of Letchworth State Park. The report recounts the efforts of members of the Society who have been in touch with William Pryor Letchworth to discuss and further his efforts to protect his Glen Iris estate from the unknown when he was no longer alive to do so himself. He was impressed by the Society’s work at Niagara Falls and Watkins Glen and this led him to meet with Society members. One of the prime movers in the effort to make the estate a public Park was Charles M Dow of Jamestown New York.

The section of the report that deals with Letchworth Park consists of Appendices that cover 110 pages, and begins with the description of Mr Letchworth as written by the Secretary of the Society, Mr Edward Hagaman Hall. The tribute by Mr Hall is the first item on our website and is an eloquent description of Mr Letchworth’s character.

Mr Hall goes on to recount the Letchworth genealogy back to about 1066 and the Saxon reign over England; concluding with a description of Mr Letchworth’s youth, development in the business world, and the cultural facets of life in the Buffalo area. He also tells of the many works of Mr Letchworth on behalf of the unfortunate of society.

The balance of the report then goes into detail describing the grounds, the farms, the geology is also presented in great detail that describes the formation of the gorge over the eons. The connection of the property to the Native American involvement and that of Mary Jemison is also described so the work done by Mr Letchworth on the Council Grounds is alluded to in fact. The last part of the report is a complete presentation of the “Last Indian Council of the Genesee” as written by David Gray.

We would also like to present some other bits of information gleaned from the report such as a portion is devoted to pointing out the similarity between Mr Letchworth and Mr Andrew H Green. Mr Green was a founder of the Society and he and his family donated the land for Central Park in New York City. Both men are credited with unusual civic pride and responsibility.

George W. Rafter, Engineer of Rochesterer was an employee of the State when he surveyed, at State expense, for the dam at Portageville. His plan was embodied in the Report of the New York State Engineer and Surveyor of 1896 and has caused a lot of heartache for Mr Letchworth and society members. It is interesting to note that he was one of the persons who incorporated the Genesee River company that worked to create the dam that was opposed by Mr Letchworth and the Society.

The height of the various water falls are often noted in the literature and brochures of the park as Upper Fall is 71 feet, Middle Fall is 107 feet. A footnote in this 1907 report finally ends speculation about the source. Those heights are from “U S Topographic map” The survey was done by Prof James Hall in 1843 so you see the numbers have lasted

This report recalls that Mr S B Ruggles of New York City, aware of the plan to construct the Genesee Valley Canal on the edge of the gorge, observed that “a magnificent piece of scenery was to be spoiled by a magnificent piece of engineering”. Ruggles summoned Thomas Cole and that was the motivation for the famous Cole painting of the gorge done in 1841. No other facts about Ruggles are presented except that he was the founder of Gramercy Park.

A feature described that is new to me is “a delicious perpetual spring called the Shongo Spring” The location is given as 200 feet up the left (west) bank opposite Table Rock. James Shongo is called the Indian doctor and is grandson of Mary Jemison. Shongo was a key figure in the restoration of the Council House by Mr Letchworth.

We could settle an old argument about the geologic feature known by either Cathedral Rock or Sugar Loaf. A footnote on the page that describes the rock and Table Rock tells us that Mr Letchworth preferred Cathedral Rock.

We were happy to obtain access to the Society reports by way of the many cooperating Library systems in New York and hope to add additional facts from other reports in the future.


Tom Breslin


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