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

"The Early History of Big Bend"

Today we know "Big Bend" as the area on the east side of the Genesee River across from the Castile Entrance and Archery Field. Also called "Great Bend," its main feature is the large promontory that overlooks the deepest part of the Letchworth Gorge. Historically, Big Bend was more than a geological feature - it was a small but lively community complete with farms, a school, and its own identity. Some material on the community can be found in Mildred Lee Hill Anderson's Genesee Echoes. An interesting article found below ran in the Nunda News of November 9, 1934 which added important information to an earlier account found here. We have added a few footnotes to the article. An 1872 map of the area is found here.

Early History of Big Bend

“The Big Bend, a little settlement beside the Genesee River, five miles north of Nunda and three miles south of Portage Bridge, (1) has been a farming community for many years. In 1881 the Lewis brothers, Horatio, Herman and Harris, moved their saw mill to the Big Bend from the Lower Falls, at which place they located in 1878. The only residents left there before the mill came were the late John Chase family (father of Clarence and Marion Chase of Nunda), the George Shores family, the Wallace family and Amos Dailey.

The mill increased the population and left some of its men as farmers. The Big Bend is a beautiful spot, the soil being rich and of different qualities, clay, sand and red sand, on which beans, melons, and potatos were easily grown and, in fact, the CCC camp (Camp 23) is raising garden produce and hogs today for their own consumption. At one time there was a peach and chestnut orchard there.

A small schoolhouse was built to replace the old frame house where the three R’s were taught each year. Some of the teachers were the late Mrs. Amanda Newville, Mrs. Georgia Kysor, the late Mrs. Mary George, Miss Marion Chase, Mrs Lena B Powell Flynn, and Mrs Nellie Andrus Smith.

The flat is a little above the river, where was and still is a swimming pool,(2) and around the flat hills forming a basin. There used to be three ways of getting out of Big Bend: By the Rogers hill to Lewis’ Crossing,(3) where great quantities of lumber where shipped; by the Black hill, the steepest, but impassable today, and by the ford across the Genesee River to St. Helena, but the ford is not built up now. (4) The ford was beside the late John Cashe house and he owned a boat in which one might ford to St. Helena. Until the CCC camp came, there was only one resident, on the Herman Piper farm, but today there is not an original building left as they were razed and the lumber sold. The camp is located on the late Arthur Chase farm. They have improved the roads, the Robers hill, and the roads leading to it from Wilner’s corner, have changed the road in front of the schoolhouse on the late T.J. Powell farm to a straighter line and have made a wide road the Mrs. Emma Walker farm where the house stood, and goes back to meet the ford. They have also built a footbridge across the Lower Bridge. At the Walker farm one can look across the river to Prospect Point.

1) The area is actually north of the Portage Bridge.
2) This must mean a natural swimming hole in the river - the Lower Falls Pool was more than a dozen years in the future.
3) This was also known as "Lewis' Switch". It was a small siding along the Pennsylvania RR.
4) The ford dates back into pioneer times. This was also the place where the Seneca and early travelers would put in their canoes after taking the portage from Portageville around the three falls. The road leading from the Parade Grounds to Big Bend was once called the "Carrying Road".


Also see Images 103, 106 and 133.




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