Letchworth State Park today is 17 miles of natural beauty and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state.
It wasn’t always that way.
The acres surrounding the Genesee River as it drops down three waterfalls between spectacular canyon walls once were home to a wide range of human activity. Forests were stripped of trees, and a logging operation perched at the brink of Middle Falls. Homes could be found on both sides of the gorge, and villages dotted the river bottom where farms thrived despite the occasional flood. A canal, and later a railroad, ran along one side.
The story of Letchworth today, and also that of yesterday, comes to life through a photographic journey in the latest offering from Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America Series. Authored by Thomas A. Breslin, Thomas C. Cook, Russell, A. Judkins and Thomas C. Richens, “Letchworth State Park” gathers 128 pages of photos and artistic images taking readers on a journey through the gorge area’s most natural state when the first Native Americans roamed the land through recent human development and finally to restoration due to the efforts of William Pryor Letchworth.
According to Cook, a resident of Nunda and history teacher at Keshequa Central School, planning for the work began last year as the park celebrated its 100th anniversary and continued through 2007. But really, “Letchworth State Park” has roots dating back to 1978 when Cook formed the park’s history program. Working summers with former park manager Breslin, the park history effort grew into development of a Website, letchworthparkhistory.com in 2000, where many photos found in the book also can be viewed.
The real challenge, Cook said, was going through thousands of images to find those that best tell the Letchworth story.
The authors began meeting to review items in their personal collections and those found in park archives, local historical societies and individuals, and then outlined chapters. From there, the four determined what images might be available that they didn’t have but were necessary to help tell the story. As a result, the book includes several images that have never been seen by the public.
“It was really a group effort. Each of us brought our own expertise and experiences to the project,” Cook said. “Tom Breslin and I had the most experience with the park, Russ Judkins is a professional anthropologist, and Tom Richens had previously worked on an Arcadia publication. Although we had individual chapters and some differences in style and approaches can be found between the chapters, I believe the images and captions reflect the perspectives of all five of us.”
The fifth, uncredited author, Cook said, is Leonora Brown, interpretive programs assistant at Letchworth whose work in selecting photos and reviewing and editing chapters was “instrumental,” Cook said.
“Letchworth State Park” now can be found at Barnes and noble and Amazon.com, and should be available soon inside the park and at local bookstores.