Frequently Asked Questions

on Letchworth Park History

Do you have a question on Letchworth Park history that you can't find an answer to? Just ask us and we will try out best to find an answer! Just use the mail links below and we will post your question and our answer!

Tom Cook Tom Breslin

Click on the Topics Below to Read our Response

"Mystery" Gravestone near Camping Contact along Trail 15

Cabins in the Park

Getting to the "Other" Mary Jemison Statue in Pennsylvania

The Fountain at the Glen Iris

Finding books about the Park

Letchworth and Mary Jemison

Making Reservations at the Park

Stone Walls in Letchworth Park

The Slide Area

Connection with Letchworth, England

Site of Mary Jemison's Cabin

Stone House


Do you know the story behind the grave marker located near Trail 15 in the Cabin Contact Area. It reads: Isaac B., son of Martin and Susan Brownell died April 11, 1846 in the 23 years of his age.

Attached is a picture.

(Question and photograph by John Leach)

Tom Cook replies:

I personally had the same questions some years ago when I first came across the gravestone. Here is what I know about it.

The stone "appeared" in the aftermath of the Flood of 72 when clean up was underway in the river gorge at Smokey Hollow. The trail follows the road the bulldozers cut, though an early road once ran down to the Hollow. I was told that workers found the stone somewhere down the road and moved it to its present location to preserve it.

As to the Brownell Family. There are Brownells listed in Perry, which may link to this family. Martin and his wife Susan appear in the 1850 census in Nunda and then disappear. They have a son Samuel. The fact that Martin listed "lumber" as his occupation, suggests that they moved from lumber camp to lumber camp. That may explain their presence in the area. Unfortunately that is about the extent of what I know. Perhaps other researchers can add some addition information!

Thanks again for reminding us of this Letchworth Park "mystery".

Question:  The Parks cabins seem to have been built during different stages, some look to be originally built by the CCC with stone floors.  Then others such as "A-15" look a little newer, and one of our favorites "A-19" looks a bit more modern. Can you share more info about this?"

Tom Breslin replies:

The cabins were indeed constructed by the CCC during that glorious time of tons of "free" labor.   Over the years they have evolved into their present modernized state.   In my experience and, to some extent, opinion the changes were intended to make them more desireable.   Adding electic services with electic stoves and refrigerators was a huge change and that took place before my time.   Also before my time was the creation of cabin area A by the movement of the small and difficult to access cabins in "Old Area B" that lies beyond the picnic area at Lower Falls area.   My recollection was this was in the 50's and might have been done in the guise of "remodeling"   This  amounted to moving a small one room cabin from Old B to A and adding two rooms as wings on the building.  These are the easiest to recognize.  In other situations new cabins were constructed as rectangular buildings.  Somewhere as these projects grew a running water and septic service was added to further enhance the desireability of the cabins.   During my time as Park Manager the need for handicap access was brought into play and cabins that had enough room and a fairly flat landscape were modified.  This began in area A with two cabins.  Then a proto type accessible cabin was designed and built in Niagara Falls by Job Corps enrollees that were in a resident camp situation in the Falls.  This design was adopted and the first new cabins were added in cabin area C .  My understanding is that since I have left the park more cabins have been added and actually winterzed for year round use.  It is also significant that adding electric service also allowed for the addition of heater where the electric service was large enough for the added consumption.  I do not know if there is any way to actually document when and how the changes were made.  I believe reporting of progress might have been done at Commission meetings which are on file but would take a monumental effort to dig out all the detail.   I hope this is helpful and I will answer other questions if I can.


Question: We would like to visit the Statue to Mary Jemison that is in Pennsylvania. How do we find it?

Tom Breslin and Tom Cook reply:

The first thing you have to find is Gettysburg. Once you are there you can use the directions that was sent to us by Steve Hayes. (Thanks Steve!)

Directions to the Ignatius Loyola Church, site of the Mary Jemison Statue, Orrtanna, Pa from the Gettysburg Visitor Center.

1. Start at the Visitor Center Parking Lot on Taneytown Rd (PA 134) and turn left from the parking lot.

2. Go 0.6 miles on Taneytown Rd which becomes Washington Street.

3. Turn left on Chambersburg St (US 30) for 0.2 miles

4. Bear right to follow US 30 - go 7.7 miles

5. Turn right on Cashtown Road - go 0.5 miles

6. Make a left on to New Road, and go 3.3 miles

7. Turn left of Church Rd and go 0.2 miles

8. You will arive at the Church at 1095 Church Rd, Orrtanna, which will be on the left. The Statues is located in front of the rectory, in the the parking lot.

The total distance is about 12.5 miles from the visitor center which would be about a 30 minute drive.

See our "The Other Mary Jemison Statue" for images of the statue you will find using these directions!

Question: My family has recently stayed in the Stone House near Inspiration Point. What is the history of the building?

Tom Breslin and Tom Cook reply:

The Stone House and the history of many other places found in the Park can be found in the "Glimpse of the Past" section of this website. You can see what Glimpses are currently available by going to the glimpse index page.


Question: How does the fountain at the Glen Iris work?

Tom Breslin replies:

The fountain has always been fed by gravity from the time that Mr. Letchworth had it installed. The difference now is that the pond he had created was abandoned because it often went dry. The source now is the Trout Pond that is also the source of water to the hydrants in that are for fire protection. So gravity still prevails - just from a different pond.

Tom Cook adds:

The fountain was probably part of the landscaping design by William Webster (see our "Ornamental Farm" page. That means it has been in operation over one hundred and forty years! The pond that Tom mentions as a source for the water was known as the "Crystal Lake". You can still find it - it in Trail #2 that leads southwest from the Council Grounds. Along the old road you will come across a covered reservoir, and then just beyond, the remains of the "Lake". If you look closely you can see a series of little cascades that Webster designed for the pond overflow - that area was part of the original path system he designed.

Question: Where can I find some of the books listed in your bibliography?

Tom Breslin and Tom Cook Reply:

If you live in Western New York, several of the sources should be available in the local history collections of your local library. You could also try your local used book dealer, bookstore, flea market, or an antique shop.

Burlingham Books in Perry NY buys and sells many out of print books relating to the Park and Genesee Valley and will ship to any location. The Nunda Family Pharmacy in Nunda NY also carries many local history titles. Both stores are close to the Park!

In addition, you may want search the internet. Among the possibilities is "" and a great source for out of print and rare books called "". For example, a recent check of abebooks showed several copies of Mildred Anderson's "Genesee Echoes" at a range of prices.

Happy book hunting!


Question: What is the link between William Pryor Letchworth and Mary Jemison?

Tom Cook Replies:

Although I have heard stories about a deep friendship between Mr. Letchworth and "The White Woman of the Genesee", they are not true. Actually, they never met, for Mary Jemison died on the Buffalo Creek Reservation in 1833 when William was still a boy near Auburn.

It is possible that Mr. Letchworth had heard the Jemison story before he came to Portage in 1859. Seaver's "Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison" had already gone through several editions and was readily available in the Buffalo area where Mr. Letchworth lived. Given his interest in history, literature, and Native Americans, it is likely that he was aware of the story when he bought the land which would become the Glen Iris Estate.

By 1871 Mr. Letchworth had begun to collect artifacts and memories from the early days of the the Valley. The collections became part of his Council House Grounds, which were dedicated along with the old Seneca Council House which he had carefully restored. Among the dignitaries at the dedication was "Buffalo" Tom Jemison, Mary's grandson. This experience undoubtably deepened Letchworth's interest in Dehgewanus.

A few years later Letchworth had the opportunity to actually become part of the Jemison story. When he was approached by Jemison descendants concerned about the future of the Buffalo Creek Cemetery where their Grandmother rested, he agreed to bring Mary Jemison back to her Valley. A solemn ceremony was held in March of 1874, and the "Old White Woman" was brought home to her Valley where she still sleeps today. He later erected a new tombstone over the grave.

His "relationship" with Mary Jemison didn't end there. In 1877 he edited the first of several Letchworth editions of the the Seaver work. Calling the life of Mary Jemison "a history so extraordinary as to seem unreal", he explained in his preface to the 1898 edition that "The fact that this biography is out of print and that much interesting matter is now added to it, is deemed sufficient apology for presenting this edition to the public."

Finally, it should be noted that Mr. Letchworth's last public act and appearance, in November of 1910, was at the dedication of the Jemison statue over her grave. Less than a month later, he would be dead.

We suggest you also see our Glimpse of Mary Jemison

Question: How do I make reservations at the park?

Tom Breslin Replies:

We need to provide an answer to this question and hope everyone will note that we are not officially part of the Park staff any longer but operating a web site in the hopes of educating and entertaining those interested in the history of Letchworth Park and its great benefactor, William Pryor Letchworth.

You can make camping and cabin reservations by telephone contact with a service that the State of New York has contracted to handle that program for their various parks: 1 - 800 - 456 - CAMP (2267)
You can also do so on line at:

If you prefer to start with information from the park you can call the office at 585 493 3600 or by mail to:
Park Manager
1 Letchworth State Park
Castile, NY 14427

The GLEN IRIS INN is the former home of William Pryor Letchworth and the site of beautiful hotel type accommodations and fine dining. The Inn is operated by a contractor hired by the State of New York. The Inn has a web site at so they can be reached by email. (This is a very attractive site with many fine color photos that is worth a visit even if you do not intend to make reservations)

Their phone number is 585 493 2622 and their mailing address is: Glen Iris Inn, 7 Letchworth State Park, Castile, NY 14427

We have other sites relating to the Park in our Letchworth Links page. We also have a special page for those intending to visit the Park called "Exploring Letchworth Park History."

Question: Where was Mary Jemison's cabin? Can we hike to the site of her cabin?

Tom Breslin Replies:

At the present time the extent of our knowledge is that Mary and her daughters had cabins in the area of the park known as "Gardeau flats" and that is about as close as can be described. Park Rules require that visitors stay with marked trails and we do not know of a trail that gets any closer than the old bridge abutment at the St Helena village site.

In the fifth edition of The Life of Mary Jemison by James E Seaver, published by Mr. Letchworth in 1877, there is the following that is given by Seaver: "Her house, in which she lives, is twenty by twenty eight feet, built of square timber, with a shingled roof and a framed stoop." He also describes her fireplaces, barn, and a number of buildings occupied by tenants who work her flats on shares. Then Seaver adds, "Her dwelling is on the west side of the Genesee River, about one hundred rods north of the Great Slide"
(See Tom Cook's discussion of slides in an earlier question.)
The one hundred rods equal 1650 feet, slightly more than a quarter mile.

In footnote 116 of the Twentieth Edition, published by the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society as a Memorial to William Pryor Letchworth we find that researchers were not much more precise when they state, "The site of Mary Jemison's home on Gardeau Flats is about five or five and a half miles in an airline northeast of the Middle Fall at Letchworth Park and about three and a half miles in an air-line east-northeast of Castile. It is on the alluvial flat half a mile wide on the left bank of the Genesee River".
Later in the same footnote, "The site of Mary Jemison's house is occupied by a frame dwelling of recent construction but is said to contain some of its original timbers and tradition points to one post in its framework bearing tomahawk marks. About 80 rods north of the site is still to be seen the picturesque log cabin of Mary Jemison's daughter Betsey. The log cabin of Mary Jemison's daughter Nancy, which formerly stood 80 rods south of Mary Jemison's cabin is now in Letchworth Park near Mary's grave..." The 80 rods being a quarter mile. This edition is from 1918 and because of numerous floods since that time, especially that of 1972, there is no physical evidence to allow an accurate plot of the locations. (Seaver)

For more information on Mary Jemison and links to other pages relating to Gardeau and the White Woman of the Genesee, click here.

Question: What and where is the Slide Area of the Park?

Tom Cook Replies:

There are actually two historical slide areas in the Park, but the one best known is on the east side of the gorge just below the Middle Falls. It is thought that the sliding of the bank in this area began around the time of the building of the Genesee Valley Canal. That particular section of the gorge consists of glacial till rather than the rock walls nearby. The Canal work disrupted the natural drainage, starting the slides. Engineers had to build a wooden aqueduct along that section to hold the canal. The railroad which took its place later had constant trouble with their tracks there. In fact, local folklore has a train engine buried inside the slide. (There was a train derailment there many years ago, but the engine and damaged cars were removed.) Slides continue to take place there, especially after several wet seasons.

The other historical slide area is near Gardeau. In May of 1817 "a portion of land thickly covered with timber, situated at the upper end of the Gardow flats, on the west side of the river, all of a sudden gave way, and with a tremendous crash, slid into the bed of the river..." (Seaver p138) This slide, noted by Mary Jemison, was taken as a bad omen by her son John who soon was murdered. Hikers can still see evidence of this area just south of the overlook.


Question: I am trying to find a link to William Pryor Letchworth with that of a village called Letchworth in Hertsfordshire, England. Was William from that Letchworth area in England?

Tom Breslin's reply:

I quote from a book written by Larned that we consider one our best sources for information on Mr. Letchworth. "The family was of ancient English Stock -- so ancient that its origin, if the tracing was possible would most likely be found in Saxon times. The name, Letchworth, is that of a parish and village in the hundred of Broadwater, county of Hertfordshire England, two mile from the town of Hitchin and northwestward from London about thirty three miles"

Tom Cook adds:

According to Beale's account, the family traced its roots back to the Baron of Laceword, who was killed and stripped of his lands while fighting for the Saxon King Harold in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The family, by then called "Letchworth", petition for a return of their lands, but they were never returned. The Letchworth family came to America before the Revolution, and were well known Quakers in Philadelphia.

Question : Where did all the stone walls come from?

Tom Breslin's reply:

A very good question and one that has been the subject of a lot of discussion. Photos in our gallery show stone walls in the area that came to be known as the Upper Falls area. The walls appear to delineate farm fields and were more practical than decorative because they undoubtedly were to control movement of livestock. Another photo in the gallery shows a stone wall with one of Mr. Letchworth's gate arrangements with the Glen Iris in the background so we are fairly sure he liked the stone walls and they probably were helpful in controlling people on his estate as well as being decorative. Stonewalls are also a method of disposing of excess stone in farm fields. This practical explanation is the one we feel started the whole tradition.

From what I know and have been told the greatest stone wall construction was done at the time of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The availability of natural building materials was one requirement for CCC Camp establishment and there was a wealth of stone. Much was actually quarried at various places in the park. Eventually this became impractical and the rounded river stone was used from the outwash planes of the river. Thus you can find stone that obviously has been cut and stone that is rounded by river action at various places. This was an excellent project for the young men enrolled in this nationwide relief effort and served two very practical purposes in Letchworth. The walls are quite decorative and also serve as a subtle warning of the edge of the gorge.

To some extent the walls are an ongoing project because now and then repairs are needed due to the affects of vandals, accidents or weather. Some sections of wall have become undermined by erosion of the gorge wall and have been replaced. This happened at the Great Bend overlook just north of Castile entrance and the job was done on a contract that was put out for competitive bidding in about 1990. A similar situation along the bank of Wolf Creek was done by Letchworth maintenance forces. The park has a mason on staff who handles repairs and smaller construction projects. Culvert headwalls, for instance, are an example of new construction that utilizes the technique and have been built or rebuilt by park forces and look like they have been there for many years.


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