Glimpses of the Past
People, Places, and Things in Letchworth Park History


Evolution of the Park Administration

William Pryor Letchworth created the Park by the terms of his Last Will and Testament. The first Act of the State Legislature in 1907 provided for acceptance of his gift which involved his presentation of a signed Deed of Gift in December of 1906. Prior to that he had done a great deal of soul searching to decide what he would do with his estate. His aim, as usual, was to benefit the public. Part of that search led him to the group called The American Scenic & Historic Preservation Society and to meetings with representatives of the group who helped him plan for the terms of his Will. There were nineteen parks, reservations or historic sites created before 1906 and all were supervised by committees of the American Scenic & Historic Preservation Society and this evidence of public trust and benefit led Mr Letchworth to trust the Society also. Washington’s Headquarters, Niagara Reservation, and Watkins Glen were well known facilities in the custody of the Society prior to Letchworth Park.

The Letchworth Park Committee of the Society was responsible for management of the public use of the park, planning development of the property and employment of the staff of workers. The first Committee appointed by the society were Charles M Dow of Jamestown, L. H . Bailey of Cornell University, Robert Fryer of Buffalo, Francis Whiting Halsey of New York, Thomas Kingsford of Oswego, Henry M Leipziger of New York, Ogden P Letchworth of Buffalo, N Taylor Phillips of New York and Col. Henry Sackett of New York. These committees reported to the parent society and the reports were combined into the Annual Reports of the Society to the Legislature and the public. The reports form the basis of our knowledge of the early work on the park.

This responsibility continued over the years until about 1924 when the Legislature created the State Council of Parks. The objective was to coordinate the administration of the forty one different properties owned by the State that possessed scenic, historic, scientific or practical values.

It was recognized that to supersede the agencies already administering many of the properties would estrange sympathy and support. Some of the properties had been acquired by the State through the public spirited efforts of those who administered them, such as the American Scenic & Historic Preservation Society, and who were making great sacrifices of time, strength and often of money in performing their duties. This possible adverse situation was met by retaining the services of the various organizations in the State that were operating Parks and Historic Sites as the body of the Council and thus Dr Kunz, President of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, was a member of the Council along with other Park agencies. Dr. Kunz served as Executive Secretary. Guidance was from the State Conservation Commissioner. This is the first time direct influence of a State agency is seen. The Council Chairman was Robert Moses, President of the Long Island State Park Commission who is a famous proponent of Parks and Parkways. At that time Franklin D Roosevelt was on the Council as Chairman of the Taconic State Park Commission.

This body began to exert more political influence so more State funding was provided. At this time the Conservation Law was amended to allowed for the Society to act as an agent of the State to acquire property with State funds appropriated for that purpose and in 1925 the expansion of Letchworth Park was begun by the Society.

The next political move was formation of the Park Commissions, governed by the Council of Parks as a unit in the Conservation Department with the title Bureau of Parks. This was facilitated by the Society resolution that resigned their connection with Letchworth Park which was to take effect when the State formed an agency to manage and further develop State Parks. It was 1930 when that occurred and by then F D R was Governor. The new organization governed by the Council consisted of Park Commissions that replaced the Committees of the Society. The first such Commission was called the Genesee State Park Commission and those appointed were: Mrs Herbert Wadsworth, J. E. Nash, E. H. Letchworth, Wolcott J Humphrey, Leroy Snyder, James McGill and Peter Doyle.

The Park Commissions were appointed by the Governor and had a great deal of authority until the early 1970’s when the Bureau of Parks was moved to the Executive Department and became the Office of Parks and Recreation. This was necessary because the State Constitution regulated the number of Departments but not the number of “Offices” in the Executive Department. The Commission exists today as an advisory body for the Park Commissioner and the agency is now known by the title we are familiar with: The Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Also see "Documents Related to the Evolution of Letchworth Park"


Tom Breslin

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