In 1943, the writer Arch Merrill documented his journey along the length of the Genesee Valley from its origins in Pennsylvania to Rochester, New York in a collection of essays called A River Ramble. His book opens the door on a land that has special charm - a timeless American landscape of rolling green hills, centuries-old farms and forests; of small villages, dramatic waterfalls, glacier-carved gorges, and, a mighty river - the Genesee - that runs through it. While the Genesee Valley has seen change, it remains, as it did for Arch Merrill, a place to pause, a place to ponder, a place to relax...a place where history comes alive.
The name “Genesee” came from the Seneca Native Americans and means “beautiful or pleasant valley.” Aptly named, the Genesee Valley extends out from the Genesee River as it flows northward from its Pennsylvania origins to Rochester, New York. Carved by glaciers during the last Ice Age, the Valley was home to the Iroquois Five Nations and was once considered America’s first frontier by early European settlers. The river valley’s rich soils and hydropower transformed the region into New York’s agricultural powerhouse and fueled Rochester’s development as a major mill town and center of commerce in the 19th Century. The Valley’s accessible wilderness was a popular hunting destination for sportsmen from all over the world, including high-profile figures like Theodore Roosevelt.
At the heart of the Genesee Valley is Letchworth State Park founded in 1907 by philanthropist William Pryor Letchworth. Letchworth’s 14,427-acres of protected wilderness follows the course of the Genesee River as it flows north for 20 miles, cutting through a dramatic 600 ft deep gorge featuring magnificent waterfalls and breathtaking scenery that earned the Park the moniker “Grand Canyon of the East.” The Park was voted the #1 State Park in the U.S. in 2015 and New York State’s #1 attraction in 2017. Letchworth draws nearly 1 million visitors from all over the world each year.
Today remnants of the Valley’s industrial legacy can still be seen in the historic main street districts and sprawling farms throughout the region, as well as timeless traditions like the Genesee Valley Hunt, one of the oldest fox hunts in the country. Recreation corridors like the Genesee Valley Greenway, which once served as the old Genesee Canal and Pennsylvania Railroad Rochester Branch (1882-1963) are now helping transform the region into an outdoor recreation destination.