The preservation of the natural beauty of the Genesee Valley was one of Mr. Letchworth's goals in life. This letter, written by Edward Hunt to George Williams before Mr. Letchworth came to the Valley shows that he wasn't the first to consider conserving the wildness of Portage.
Edward Hunt was a member of a pioneer family in the town of Portage, which includes the land east of the river from the Glen Iris. His brother was Washington Hunt, Governor of New York State at the time the letter was written. A West Point graduate, Edward would perish in the Civil War, leaving behind a young widow by the name of Helen Hunt. Helen would later marry Henry Jackson, and become a famous western author of the late 19th century.
George William had come to the Genesee Valley in 1816 as a young pioneer. He became an agent on the Cottinger and later a land speculator in his own right. At the time of the letter, he was a prosperous farmer and owned much of the land east of the River, including the modern day Parade Grounds. He also owned much of the land around the Lower Falls, which explains why Hunt wrote to him.
It should be noted that though Hunt was certainly interested in preserving the ancient forests and natural beauty, his motives were different from those of the man who would eventually preserve the Portage Falls, William Pryor Letchworth.
Boston, 75 State Str
April 4, 1851
Col. Geo. Williams:
I will take the liberty of freely stating to you certain ideas, which have lately frequently passed through my mind, concerning some matters in which you have a direct interest. I suppose it is now certain that the Hornellsville & Attica R.R. will soon be completed, and that the grand ravines of the Genesee will in two years be echoing the scream of the locomotive. A constant current of travel will then set in through your town, hitherto so secluded from the observation of the great world without. The effect will soon be to attract to the Genesee Falls an unprecedented degree of attention. They will be accessible in 12 hours from N. York, and will be a convenient halting place for summer excursions to Niagara and the Lakes.
Now considering the remarkable beauty and interest of the scenery of the Genesee in Portage, it seems to me clear that it must soon be among the places of habitual summer resort, and not among the least attractive. In view of this prospect, permit me to please the cause of good taste, with special reference to the Lower Falls. Fortunately they have thus far to a great extent, escaped the barbarous mutilations which have so nearly obliterated the natural beauty of the Middle Falls. And the earnest petition of good taste, cannot fail to be in every cultivated mind, that the natural beauties of the Lower Falls may never been invaded by the ruthless hand of man. Let no trace of human hands enter that scene of beauty, except such as may be required for facilitation the inspection of its visitors.
Especially and emphatically let no tree be cut from the river banks on either side above or below, within the general view. You have always showed such good taste in preserving trees by the roadsides and in your fields, that I feel confident of your entire agreement with me in this respect. Should those banks be stripped of trees, the beauty and interest of those falls would almost be destroyed. The roads approaching them should be for a long distant forest roads. Nor should the ugly board palaces of man be allowed to intrude at all into the precincts so evidently marked by Nature for eternal conservation to beauty. The Middle Falls, are now nearly hopeless in this respect, but the Upper and Lower Falls still have natural beauty to be preserved. I believe you are their proprietor, and rejoice that there is so good a security against their being barbarized.
I come now to another point. When the R. Road is completed, a good hotel placed as conveniently as possible for visitors to the Falls, will be a decided desideratum. I suppose the Portageville station will be east of the river. If so, a hotel located somewhere near the site of Hornby Lodge could be easily connected by an omnibus with the R.R. Station. A location commanding a full view of the upper and Middle Falls would be the best, and a road for carriages to near the Lower Falls could be opened at small expense. I think a house to accommodate 100 persons would be well filled through the summer months. Such an enterprise would be much more likely to succeed by being on a liberal scale than on a meaner one. There would b e sundry expenses of road making, preparing grounds etc. which would be indispensable on any scale, and would be least relatively on the moderately large scale of building. The establishment of such a house would induce hundreds to stop who would not otherwise think of it. Once known as a place of resort it would, under proper management, grow more and more attractive. The drives in Portage are man of them decidedly pleasant, which with the fine scenery would induce many city family's to spend weeks of their summer at a good Hotel established near Hornby Lodge.
There is one suggestion which I would make relative to the Lower Falls. To facilitate access on the east side some simple stairs down to the level of the Table Rock are needed. And a light rustic foot bridge thrown across from the main shore to the sugar loaf, with one from the sugar loaf to the angle of the Table Rock would afford a simple and sufficient means of visiting the whole locality. I think a very trifling expense would erect these two bridges. On from the sugar loaf to the Table Rock would afford a new and particularity fine view of the whole Fall.
The ideas which I have now thrown out, you will take at their true worth - I of course intend them but as suggestions, which if you find of value you will use as you please. Though now so long absent from Portage, I do not lose the interest with which early associations and pleasant memories invest it. Its good name and good estate are, and I trust long will be subjects of honest interest with me. Nature has bestowed on her so ample a dower of magnificent scenery, that we are all called upon to prevent vandalism from mutilating, and ignorance or sluggishness from obscuring her fair possessions. That scenery can never be known as it deserves, with out the Hotel I have suggested. Individual enterprise or a stock association will soon be called upon to carry our this ides. I know you will not blame me for writing to you as I now have done, for you will too well understand my reasons and motives. With assurances of continued esteem,
Very truly yours etc.