May 24, 2007
Lisa Burns, Guest Editorial for Livingston County News
"Man who always does right"
May 26th is William Pryor Letchworth Day in Livingston County
If there was ever a man to honor or a day in which to honor a man, this is the day. May 26th is also Mr. Letchworth's birthday and should be celebrated with proclamations, parades, fireworks and moments of silence; however, in everything I've been able to read about this truly remarkable man even a day named for him and of no notice whatsoever would have been too much for him.
Yet somehow and in some small way we should take the time to recognize this man and acknowledge what he has done for our community. Without his insight and generosity we would not be able to call one of the most awe-inspiring natural landscapes in the Northeast United States, Letchworth State Park, our own. In fact, thanks in large part to Mr. Letchworth tourism is a viable and very lucrative business in Livingston County.
Without doubt Mr. Letchworth's original intentions were far more humanitarian and environmentally conscience than to envision tourism as an economic generator for our community. He was however, as a member of our tourism advisory council pointed out to me , a "tourist" when he first laid eyes on the land he later purchased. He would travel extensively in his line of work and would always be scouting for land. On one such trip via train over the Portage High Bridge a newsboy touted an attraction, "the grandest view on the Western continent." He was referring to the view of the Middle Falls and Genesee River Gorge and once Mr. Letchworth saw this vista he knew he had found a home. Additionally and befitting Mr. Letchworth's personality as an avid conservationist he saw a responsibility to keep the natural beauty of the land intact. It had been seriously devastated due to lumbering. As he knew and later wrote, "I must aid nature in her struggling efforts."
He visited as a tourist, became a land owner and made a home. He set upon and was successful in bringing Mary Jemison, the "White Woman of the Genesee," back to her home and provided a lasting monument in her honor, he championed for the poor and help establish Craig Colony for epileptics in Sonyea. Then, with a remarkable gift of 1000 acres of land, gave his home and that of every native Indian and pioneer settler before him who lived and struggled on the land a lasting legacy.
Approximately one million people visit Letchworth State Park every year. When they do they eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores, fuel their vehicles and stay overnight in our fine Bed & Breakfasts, Hotels, Cottages and Campgrounds. They enjoy outdoor recreation of all sorts, learn about our proud heritage and spread the word to friends and family. We have and will continue to benefit in many ways from one man's dedication, conviction and vision.
Our recognition of this great man only begins with naming a day in his honor. Learning from him, recognizing historical preservation and respect for our natural beauty is a lesson he continues to teach and by following, we continue to honor his name.
A contemporary of Mr. Letchworth once stated, "All his life he was bettering something that needed bettering." The Seneca Indians named Mr. Letchworth "Hai-wa-ye-is-tah" which means "man who always does right." When the Livingston County Board of Supervisors proclaimed May 26th as William Pryor Letchworth Day they did the right thing for a great visionary, steward of this beautiful region of New York State and tourism ambassador.
Countless vacationers venture into Livingston County annually. Let's be on the lookout for the next "tourist" who has a "vision" for our community. Great things could happen.
Lisa Burns is the Tourism Director for Livingston County