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Genesee  River  History

Canoe and Kayak into the History of

the New York  Scenic Genesee River

Source of Genesee River


Genesee River begins on the Pennsylvania Triple Continental divide

Potter CountyPennsylvania features many amazing sites, but few are as geologically significant as the Triple Continental Divide in .

Route 6Located near Gold, PA, north of , this area is the start of three major waterways: the Allegheny River, the Genesee River, and Pine Creek. According to signage that appears near the divide, this is the only Triple Continental Divide in the country east of the Mississippi River.

Three Tiny Springs
Three tiny springs eventually become small brooks, then large streams, which become whole rivers that go to one of three seas, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the North Atlantic Ocean.

Allegheny River
One of the headwaters mountain springs forms the Allegheny River. The Allegheny passes through Coudersport, winding its way briefly through southern New York State then through the Kinzua Dam, through a portion of Pennsylvania Wilds Allegheny National Forest, then south to Pittsburgh before joining the Ohio River, where it joins the Mississippi River and ends up in the Gulf of Mexico.

Pine Creek
Pine Creek Valley and PA Grand CanyonWest Branch of the SusquehannaAnother spring on the mountain forms Pine Creek (formerly known as Tiadaghton) in the Pennsylvania Wilds  landscape, which goes to the , then to the Susquehanna River, and  into Chesapeake Bay, before ending up in the Atlantic Ocean.

Genesee River Flows North
The third spring travels north and forms the Genesee River, which flows up through New York state to Lake Ontario then to the St. Lawrence Seaway before heading out into the North Atlantic Ocean.


Original Peoples of Genesee River Valley


Genesee is a corruption of Chin-u- shio, the indigenous Seneca tribe's name for the river valley, originally Čunehstí • yu. • meaning "a beautiful open valley"The Genesee River is a river flowing northward through the state of New York  in the United States.


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By canoe, Native Americans could travel south through the Allegheny and Ohio River systems and north to Canada through the Great Lakes.  Native villages could be found all along the Genesee, including important settlements near the present-day villages of Avon, Geneseo, and the hamlet of Cuylerville.  After the American Revolution, land quickly changed hands due to the war and treaties, which displaced the Native population of western New York.  However, the land still bears the marks of Native American settlement.

Iroquois Nation
Historically, the Genesee river's gorge formed a  clearly demarcated border between the lands of the Five Nations of the Iroquois, whose range extended east and the related tribes of the  Erie people along the west side of the gorge. 

Early settlers included the Algonquin, who were later taken over by the Seneca. The Seneca, who joined the League of the Iroquois, were known as the “Keepers of the Western Door” and controlled trade in all directions. 

The  Seneca nation traditionally lived between the Genesee River and Canandaigua Lake.

The dating of an oral tradition mentioning a solar eclipse yields 1142 AD as the year for the Seneca joining the  Iroquois (Haudenosaunee).  

Some recent  archaeological evidence indicates their territory eventually extended to the  Allegheny River in present-day northwestern Pennsylvania, particularly after the Iroquois destroyed both the Erie and Wenrohronon nations in the 17th century, who were native to the area. 

The Seneca were by far the most populous of the Haudenosaunee nations, numbering about four thousand by the seventeenth century.

The Seneca struggled against both the French and British to retain possession of the area, but once Revolutionary settlers returned home with stories of the good soil available here, settlement began in earnest.

The Wars
By the end of the Beaver Wars and the American Revolution, the lands in all of upstate New York into the Ohio Country  were controlled by the Iroquois Confederation, but were also effectively depopulated, the tribes weakened in the Revolution. Subsequently, with most Iroquois having fled to Canada, the remnant tribal groups were in no position to further impede white settlers, so most of New York state west of the Genesee River became part of the Holland Purchase  after the American Revolution

William Pryor Letchworth

William  Letchworth
The park is named after William Pryor Letchworth, who as a young industrialist, fell in love with the canyon and land around it. 

In 1898, the very existence of his beloved Glen Iris home was threatened. The Genesee River Company was formed, which desired to tap the Genesee River as a source of power and profit. A dam would be built just south of the Portage Bridge, and the water used to generate electricity. Although Letchworth had planned to turn his Glen Iris residence  into an orphanage, he knew that it would not be protected. 

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, saving the lands of the Glen Iris Estate forever. 

Following the origin of Letchworth State Park in 1907, an increasing larger part of the gorge and surrounding area has been added — the park now totals 14,350 acres.    •

Letchworth State Park

Known as the "Grand Canyon of the East," it  is one of the most scenically magnificent areas in the eastern U.S. The Genesee River roars through the gorge over three major waterfalls between cliffs--as high as 600 feet in some places--surrounded by lush forests. Hikers can choose among 66 miles of hiking trails. Trails are also available for horseback riding, biking, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing. 

The Falls
Three large waterfalls occur within the canyon, but tens of additional falls occur along the river and along its tributaries in the park. The highest of these, Inspiration Falls, has a total drop of 350 feet, making it the highest waterfall in New York. 

History of Letchworth Park
Prior to 1797, the lands including Letchworth gorge belonged to the Seneca people, who called it Sehgahunda (“the vale of three falls”). In the early 1800s,White pioneers began to settle along the gorge after which two villages rose. Tourism became significant in the late 1800s.

Letchworth Park Falls
Fredrick Douglassass
Fredrick Douglass statue

Fredrick Douglass

Frederick Douglass is a famed abolitionist, human rights advocate, speaker, editor, and author. He moved to Rochester around 1843, where he embarked on a second career as a newspaper publisher. On December 3, 1847 his four-page weekly newspaper, the North Star started rolling off the presses. As an anti-slavery publication, published by an ex-slave, its initial reception was cold.  Over time, however, Rochestarians came to support the paper.

Abolition of Slavery
North Star later merged with the  Liberty Party Paper to form Frederick Douglass's Paper . He made his Rochester l home on Alexander Street  , and then later South Ave.  His efforts helped to make Rochester a focal point in the struggle for the abolition of slavery.


Sadly, following an unexplained fire that destroyed his home in 1872, he broke his ties with Rochester and moved to Washington.

One of his most famous speeches, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?, was written and delivered, in response to being invited to speak at one of Rochester's Fourth of July celebrations.


Two years after his death he was honored with a statue, and was the first black person to have a statue raised to him in the U.S.A. That statue still stands in the Suzan B. Anthony Square.   •

Susan B. Anthony

Susan Brownell Anthony (February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906) was an American reformer and women’s rights activist. Susan B. Anthony worked for many reforms, including suffrage, temperance, and abolition., but is best known for her leadership in the woman suffrage movement.

Born in Adams, Massachusetts, Anthony was raised in a Quaker family that valued social justice. In 1845, she and her family moved to Rochester, NY, where she began work as a teacher and became involved in the temperance and abolition movements.

Frustrated by the limitations placed on her because of her sex, Anthony attended her first women’s rights convention in 1852 and soon began a statewide campaign to gain women the right to vote.


Woman Suffrage
After the Civil War, Anthony co-founded the National Woman Suffrage Association with her friend and fellow suffragist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In 1890, the organization merged with the American Woman Suffrage Association to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Anthony served as president of NAWSA from 1892-1900, temporarily bringing the group’s headquarters to her Rochester home at 17 Madison Street.


Anthony continued to travel and lecture on behalf of women’s rights until her death in her Madison Street home on March 13, 1906. The 19th Amendment, which grants women the right to vote, was finally added to the United States Constitution in 1920. The amendment was named after Susan B. Anthony in recognition of her lifelong dedication to sexual equality.   •

Susan B. Anthony Rochester, New York
Susan B. Anthony Coin

The Treaty of Big Tree

The Treaty of Big Tree was a formal treaty signed in 1797 between the Seneca Nation  and the United States in which the Seneca relinquished their rights to nearly all of their traditional homeland in New York State — nearly 3.5 million acres. In the 1788  Phelps and Gorham Purchase, the Iroquois had previously sold rights to their land between Seneca Lake  and the Genesee River. The Treaty of Big Tree signed away their rights to all their territory west of the Genesee River except ten small tracts of land for $100,000 and other consideration (roughly equivalent to $1,793,000 in 2018).


The delegates for both parties met from August 20, 1797 until September 16, 1797 at the residence of William Wadsworth, an early pioneer of the area and captain of the local militia.  In what is now Geneseo, New York was the site of the conference.

In attendance were nearly three thousand Seneca and other prominent members of the Six Nations of the Iroquois . Representing them were their hoyaneh chiefs:  Cornplanter, Red Jacket, Young King, Little Billy, Farmer's Brother, Handsome Lake, Tall Chief,  Little Beard, clan mothers Mary Jemison and others.  Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth, Commissioner, and others were assigned by President George Washington to represent the United States government.

This treaty is substantial as it opened up the rest of the territory west of the Genesee River  for settlement and established ten reservations, perpetual annuities and hunting and fishing rights for the Seneca in Western New York.

May Jamisen - Dehgewanus
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Chief cornplanter - John Abeel
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