The lands along the Genesee river were first occupied by the Seneca tribe, who called the area Sehgahunda, meaning "the vale of three falls." During the early 1800's, pioneers began to settle in the area, which was then the western frontier. But once the land was connected to the outside world by canal and railroad, progress took its toll. Two of the waterfalls were harnassed by mills and the surrounding forrests were cut for lumber.
The gorge may never have regained its natural splendor were it not for the efforts of one man. William Pryor Letchworth, Buffalo industrialist, philanthropist and abolitionist, discovered the area in the 1850's. In 1859 he bought land around the middle falls and began a conservation effort to restore the lands to their natural beauty. Eventually he owned 1000 acres, together with a handsome house which he called the Glen Iris Estate.
Letchworth willed his house and lands to the state of New York to be preserved as a park. Today, Letchworth State Park is about 14,000 acres. Letchworth's house is now the Glen Iris Inn, a fine dining restaurant and hotel open to visitors from Good Friday until the end of October.
Learn more about Letchworth State Park History.