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

We were fortunate enough to be contacted by a relative of Mr O'Donnell who was willing to share with us James's memories of his Grandfather, Neil O'Donnell as related in an oral history to his son John in 1986. The following is a paraphrasing of these memories - we feel it makes interesting reading for anyone interested in the area at that time.

Special thanks to the O'Donnell family for allowing us to use this material!


Recollections of James F. O'Donnell

Neil came to the Portage area about 1863 so he was a contemporary of Mr Letchworth. Neil and his wife operated a pretty profitable hotel business taking care of the excursion passengers on the line of the Erie Railroad and which included a small saloon. The business was called the Genesee Falls House. Across the tracks was another old hotel called the Cascade House located about 4 or 5 hundred yards from Neil's place. ( here he indicates it was built by Colonel George Williams and we do not know that to be fact) It had been built for a higher class of excursioners and vacationers. Neil arranged for the Railroad to build a dancehall, bandstand, shooting gallery and some rudimentary facilities of one kind or another which became extremely popular. People could cross the bridge and down a set of about 150 steps down to the Genesee River and into Letchworth Park.

Letchworth park is named for a rich man of English descent who greatly embellished the area of the three falls. Very beautiful falls and a very beautiful wooded area along the river. He had a lot of work done on the roads, built stone walls along the roads so that it became a very fine picnic area. Neil stated that the hotel in Portageville in those days was known as Joyce's Hotel.

Neil came to the Portage area and worked for the railroad. He became a section boss and apparently was a supervisor of a portion of track that he needed to patrol. He acquired the hotel from a cousin named Jim Lavelle. Neil was married to Ellen Brogan around 1875 and they had two sons, James and John Edward (father of the James F O'Donnell who we are quoting). Ellen died about 1916 and is buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Portageville as is Neil who died about 1930.. The hotel continued to be operated after Neil retired by his son James until about the time of Prohibition.




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