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

This interesting description of the Portage area was found in the September 2, 1876 issue of the Nunda News . We have included the entire article, with the original structure, spelling and grammar. We have added a few of our own notes after the article.


"The Switzerland of the Empire State ­ Portage Scenery as Described by a Visitor


 Portageville, Aug 23 1876

To the Editor of the News,

"Having tarried here for half a month and had the benefit of your weekly publication, and meantime, possessing an ever-ready diamond point, whose impulse has been quickened by this sojourn in the Switzerland of the Empire State, till countless folios are now ready for destructiveness to feed upon ­ who knows but a few of these glancings might be acceptable to fill a vacant corner in your enterprising paper.

What has not Nature that other word for God here portrayed to the admiring eye?

Here is the landscape, varied, beautiful, rustic, extending as far as the Eye can reach, and transcendently charming ­ here is every variety of scenery, from towering mountain to sunken ravines, all studded with a luxuriant growth, varying from the century grown oak, to the diminutive pine, spruce, hickory, chestnut, beech, birch and maple, all partake of the honor of beautifying these rocky hills, whose base is hundreds of feet below as well as these lovely valleys, which the hand of man has presumed to appropriate to his comparatively simple improvement ­ here too is a meandering stream of crystal water, adorned by frequent cataract while feeding a canal of some business ­ but where, O where is the artist's workmanship invented, modeled and executed by the image of Him, who hath so lavishly offered charm and charm, to allure men to active diligence and enobling toil? Where we ask has man evinced by his industry upon this glorious handiwork of the Divine ­ by agriculture, architecture, or manufactory, a full appreciation of these untold benefits? Ah! Yes, the remedy is at hand. While we deplore much apparent, or seeming absence of a spirit of enterprise, in the use of these provisions with which this land is ladened, there looms up before our delighted vision " The Bridge" wonderful in its spiral construction, indisputedly strong in its muscular ability, and incomprehensible to the untrained eye. ­ Also the hotels, established and flourishing; the Cascade House, with its grand and commodious accomodations for the rich and aristocratic; and the more unpretentious Ingham House, of rare merit in a rural district. The quiet and unassuming host and hostess, by their vigilance and unwearied efforts, supply the public with a home unsurpassed by neatness, system, and gratitude.

A three mile drive from P - brought us to Letchworth's place, a prima facie view of which at once enamores, entrances and enthralls and bespeaks a flow of rapture to the soul. We were accosted by the affable proprietor of this earth's elysian, whose sans souci address soon removed inherent restraint and gave us freedom to wander over this remarkable domain. The dwelling, not a magnificent edifice, but an inviting home-like domicile - in situate on an eminence, encircled by woodbine and ivy, overlooking the fascinating falls, and surrounded by spacious and attractive grounds. The "Swiss Cottage" built as we learn from an original draft brought by Mr. L from Switzerland, nestled in its remote alcoves, seemed a unique object of interest and instruction to one who has always been denied a view of the Switzer's home, over the deep, three thousand mile afar. There is the "Council House" of aboriginal structure and ancestral reminiscence, and the school house of modern erection, and imperative scholastic demand and many other objects of historical association and rural interest to which our limited time forbade an introduction.

We left the serenity of these falls and their surroundings, with far more hesitancy that we ever bade adieu to the tremendous torment of Niagara, and we could but send a aspiration heaven ward, this philantropist of our age, who is doing so much pro bono publico, might live long, to witness the redundant harvest, which acceeds from enobling, elevating, and spiritualizing his race ­ and to the lover of nature and rusticity combined, we would bespeak a visit to the paradisaical seclusion. ­ Visitor"

Source: Nunda News, Nunda NY September 2, 1876, p2


Translations of the foreign phrases found in the article....

prima facie - "at first glance"

sans souci - "carefree, easy going"

pro bono publico - "for the common good"

Here are some things we found interesting in the article.....

-The unidentified visitor mentions two hotels. The one for the "rich and aristocratic" is the Cascade House. The second is for the common folk - is called the Ingham House. This probably refers to the Genesee Falls Hotel which still stands in nearby Portageville. This Hotel was owned and operated by Joseph Ingham and his wife Mary and had been completed in 1872 after a fire destroyed the first hotel. There was, however, another hotel closer to the Cascade House. A building one time known as the "Emerald House" stood across the tracks from the Cascade House - it was said to be frequented by railroad workers and other working class people. It had the reputation of being more lively than the Cascade House.

- Note his meeting with Mr. Letchworth. His use of "sans souci" describes a side of Letchworth we don't often see - carefree and easy going. Of course, this was probable just a reaction to the traveler's relief to find that he was welcome on the Glen Iris grounds - remember it was a private estate. His choice of words to describe their conversation certainly does reinforce our impressions of Mr. Letchworth's hospitality toward those he found strolling on his grounds.

- Let's take note of some features of the Glen Iris Estate and environs that would catch the eye of a visitor in 1876. In addition to the natural features - the gorge, forests, streams, the writer makes mention of the Genesee Valley Canal and the Portage bridge. (This, in 1876, would be the Iron Bridge, barely a year old). There is the Glen Iris and its grounds, the "Swiss Cottage" (probably Lauterbrunnen), the new school house, just completed that year, and the Council House on the Council Grounds. What would be the things you would describe after your visit to the modern Park?

- Also notice that a description of the "Portage Scenery" also includes a description of the man behind it. Even today, especially during this celebration of the Park's Centennial, it is difficult to separate Letchworth Park from the individual who made it all possible-William Pryor Letchworth.


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