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Learn the legends at
Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park, land of legends


Letchworth's legends echo in the thunder of the falls. Their voices whisper in the canyon winds.

by Ray Minnick

The legend of Mon-a-sha-sha is haunting, tragic and beautiful. It is the story of a young Seneca bride who perished, with her child, in the great cataract known today as the Letchworth Gorge. Their spirits are said to live today in the elusive white deer of Letchworth State Park, a 17-mile stretch of grey-green canyon. Vivid green in springtime, radiant red in autumn, this "vale of the three falls" is aptly called The Grand Canyon of the East. A million people visit Letchworth annually. Most come to view the scenic splendor, or to picnic, hike or camp. Others are drawn by the history, the romance and the legends of the falls, for in them flows the true spirit of Letchworth Park-its mood, character and emotions.

Two of the canyon's living legends were Mary Jemison and William Pryor Letchworth.

Mary Jemison, the White Woman of the Genesee, was captured by Indians from her Pennsylvania home at age 15 and brought to the Genesee Country.
Here, she married, raised her children and lived to age 90 among her adopted Seneca people.

Her cabin on the Gardeau Flats, just north of the falls, was her home for many years. A cabin she built for her daughter, Nancy, along with the Caneadea Seneca Council House have been moved to Letchworth Park and are open to visitors.

Like many modern initiates to the gorge's splendor, William P. Letchworth fell in love with the land around the canyon on his first visit and wished to make it his home. First, he acquired 100 acres and began a lifetime of restoring the cut-over forest and building the estate he called Glen Iris, now a restaurant and inn. His holdings had increased to 1,000 acres when, in 1859, he deeded his property to the State of New York as a park.

Letchworth Park's many legends echo in the thunder of the falls. Their voices whisper in the canyon winds. They are the voices of Red Jacket and Cornplanter. Of ghost towns like St. Helena and Gibsonville. They are heard in the voices of men who built impossible canals, towering bridges and mighty dams.

If you go: Letchworth State Park, located 20 miles south of Rochester. Entrances in the towns of Portageville, Castile, Perry and Mount Morris. 585-493-3600.

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