state park

Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park is a New York state park located 35 miles (56 km) south of Rochester and 60 miles (95 km) east of Buffalo in Livingston and Wyoming Counties. The park is roughly 17 miles (24 km) long, covering 14,350 acres (22.42 square miles or 58.07 km²) of land along the Genesee River. Within the park there are three large waterfalls on the river and perhaps as many as 50 waterfalls found on tributaries that flow into it; the gorge formed by the river, with rock walls rising up to in places and which narrow to across above the middle of the three falls, prompted the area's reputation as the "Grand Canyon of the East".

The park is named after William Pryor Letchworth, whose thousand-acre estate forming the heart of the park was bequeathed to New York in 1906. The park can be entered from the towns of Mount Morris, Perry, Castile, or Portageville.

The three major waterfalls — called the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls — are located in Portage Canyon, the southern section of the park. The Seneca nation called the land around this canyon "Seh-ga-hun-da", the "Vale of the three falls"; the Middle Fall ("Ska-ga-dee") was believed to be so wondrous it made the sun stop at midday.

The only trail bridging the Genesee River across the Portage Canyon is just below the Lower Fall. The Middle Fall is the highest, and the Upper Fall has an active railroad trestle crossing immediately above it, providing an even higher vantage immediately above the fall.

The highest waterfall in New York State is located in the park. It is a spectacular ribbon waterfall that is located on a tributary creek a short distance east of the Inspiration Point Overlook, 0.4 mile (640 m) west of the park visitor center. Known as Inspiration Falls, it has a total drop of 350 feet (107 m). While impressive in its height, it is seasonal and often appears as only a water stain on the cliff. The falls faces to the south-southwest and has a crest that is only one foot (300 mm) wide. Taughannock Falls is generally recognized as the highest waterfall in the state as well as in the northeast.

The bedrock that is exposed in the gorge is Devonian in age, mostly shales, with some layers of limestone and sandstone. The rock was laid down in an ancient inland sea, and many marine fossils can be found. The landform of the section of the Genesee River valley represented by the part is geologically very young, caused by a diversion of the river from the old valley by the last continental glacier, forcing the river to cut a new section of valley.

In 2007, Letchworth was named one of the top 100 campgrounds in the nation.

Gift Cards can also be purchased for camping purposes. Gift cards can be purchased and redeemed at most New York State Parks.

Features and activities

The historic, restored Glen Iris Inn, Letchworth's former home located on the top of a cliff overlooking Middle Falls, offers in-season meals and overnight accommodations. It is open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Other features of the park include pavilions, picnic tables, a playground, pool, cabins, campsites for tents, trailer sites with dumping stations, and horse-riding trails. The park is the present-day site of the grave of Mary Jemison., who is buried on the grounds of a Seneca Council House relocated there by Letchworth and rededicated in 1872.

Activities within the park include hiking, biking, fishing, hunting (turkey and deer when in season); in winter, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, whitewater rafting and kayaking, snow tubing, ice skating, and horse-drawn sleighs.

Park History

William Letchworth first purchased the land near the Portage Falls in 1859 and began work on the Glen Iris Inn. He enlisted the services of the famous landscape artist William Webster to design winding paths and roadways, rustic bridges, glistening "lakes" and a sparkling fountain.

In 1906 he offered the Glen Iris and his thousand acres to the State of New York as a public park. Letchworth State Park was born in 1907. Letchworth made the arrangement to deter commercial businesses from damaging the fragile nature of the gorge and the surrounding woodlands.

Letchworth, having earned "life-residence" at the Glen Iris, died there on December 1, 1910. He was buried in nearby Buffalo, NY at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Flood of 1972

One of the greatest natural disasters in Genesee Valley History took place in June of 1972. Hurricane Agnes came ashore on the panhandle of Florida on June 19th, and moved north through Georgia and the Carolinas. She went back out to sea, recharged her energy and hit Southeastern New York State on June 22nd.

Although Agnes was only a category 1 hurricane, she soon stalled over north-central Pennsylvania. Caught up in a slow moving low pressure system, the storm drifted slowly northeastward into New York State. The area, having already been soaked by showers the week before, could not absorb the six to twelve inch rainfall that fell over Pennsylvania and New York. Known locally as "The Flood of '72", the event would have a tremendous impact on Western New York and Letchworth Park.

Although the Genesee River and Letchworth Park was not hit as hard as the Susquehanna Valley and other areas, the impact of the Flood would be felt in the Park for many years. The Lower Falls Bridge and trail to Sugar Loaf did not officially reopen for several years. To this day visitors can still see some of the natural "scars" left by the flood waters nearly forty years ago.

Old Portage Bridge Fire

The Erie Railroad Company built a wooden trestle bridge over the Genesee River just above the Upper Falls. Construction started on July 1, 1852 and opened August 16, 1852. At the time, it was the longest and tallest wooden bridge in the world.

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, May 5, 1875, the great wooden railroad bridge was destroyed in a tremendous fire. The bridge was a total loss, leaving only the concrete bridge abutments.

Current Portage Bridge

Immediately after the fire, officials of the Erie Railroad Company moved quickly to replace the wooden Portage Bridge with an iron and steel design. Construction began June 8, 1875 and opened for traffic July 31, 1875. The bridge is long and high. It is still in use today.

Popular local rumor contends that this bridge was used for the famous scene in the movie Stand By Me. Although the bridge looks similar, the bridge used in the movie is actually the Lake Britton Bridge in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park which is near Redding, CA.

Mt. Morris Dam

Found at the North end of the park, the construction of the Mount Morris Dam was begun in 1948 by the US Army Corps of Engineers under the Flood Control Act of 1944. The dam was completed in 1954. The Genesee River became wider and deeper upstream for a way as a result, but areas downstream were spared yearly flooding which destroyed valuable farmland. The Mt. Morris Dam is the largest flood control device of its kind (concrete gravity) East of the Mississippi. It is in length and from the riverbed. The dam proved its worth during the Flood of 1972, saving thousands of acres of farmland from flooding.


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