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Historic site in gorge wiped out

BeeLines

September 28, 2011
By Marybelle Beigh, Current Westfield Historian
Have you ever had one of those weeks when something you thought you knew or remembered was questioned, or turned upside-down, or surprised you with a totally new perspective? Recently this happened to the Westfield Historian and the “Falzguy” after an invigorating and informative day-long hike into a part of Big Chautauqua Gorge that was new to the former, but familiar to the latter. This hike was to explore a “New Falls” that had been photographed and the pictures sent to the Falzguy earlier this summer; the new falls were said to be about a mile or so downstream from the Taylor Road fishing access trail into the gorge.

One of my first projects as Westfield Town Historian was to research information for the Town of Westfield regarding Taylor Road and the bridge that crossed Big Chautauqua Creek connecting Westfield’s Taylor Road on the west side of the creek to Chautauqua township’s Bloomer Road on the east side. A forgotten Town of Westfield map from 1924, showing the location, dimensions and construction materials for all the bridges on township roads, was discovered at that time. In addition, Chautauqua County GIS maps were examined online to determine ownership of the parcels and Taylor Road right-of-way for the project. Archived Town Board meeting records were examined for information about when, if ever, the Taylor Road right-of-way had been officially abandoned with the land reverting to the owners.

While researching for the bridge, a Dibble’s Dabbles was located with a photo showing what the late Billie Dibble, former Westfield Historian, speculated might be the Taylor Road Bridge across Chautauqua Creek. (Please refer to the Dibble’s Dabbles story published in this edition.) The article indicates that the story-caption on the back of that photo states that it was a bridge in Barry Gulf, while a photo that was not reproduced was said to be of the bridge in Taylor Gulf.

Devon A. Taylor, Mayville Historian and Town of Chautauqua Historian, wrote and published a heavily illustrated book in 1995, “Chautauqua Gorge – History, Legends and People.” In the preface, he writes, “The information contained in this book is the result of over five years of research and hiking.” On page 32 of the book is a photo of the Camel’s Back formation, a shale ridge that is described in the chapter, Westfield Waterworks. This chapter, in addition to a history of Westfield’s waterworks, details the geologic and man-made points of interest starting at the South Gale Street Bridge including: some dam and old pipeline remains; the 200-plus stairs coming down from the waterworks land on Mt. Baldy Road, Hog’s Back, Cobb’s Woods, Bly Creek, Camel’s Back or the Devil’s Razor; remains of the 1890’s dam and pipelines; and portions of old road-beds along the creek that were used by waterworks workers to maintain the dams and pipelines (pages 28-36).

Upper Dam to Summerdale, starting on page 44 where there is a photo of a glacial formation, describes the area of Chautauqua Gorge where the Westfield Historian and the Falzguy did the hike mentioned in the first paragraph of this story. Evidences of the forces of water and ice changing the course of the creek were encountered, followed by some more dam remains of a former sawmill and rails, and feeder creeks, including Mulholland Creek. A short distance upstream from where that creek enters Big Chautauqua Creek, “is a formation which used to look very much like Camel’s Back. It is composed entirely of clay, rock, and gravel left by the last glacier… This will not last due to the nature of the material it is composed of.”

Devon Taylor continues the hiking tour description above the glacial formation, or Camel’s Back look-alike ridge, through an approximately one-mile designated nudist area with waterfalls and swimming holes, to where, “just after the nude area are entrances coming in from both sides. These used to be part of a road that crossed the creek in the area known as Taylor or Clackner Gulf. A bridge used to cross the creek but it was removed during World War Two… The trail down from Bloomer Road, on the east side, is in very poor shape… The end of Taylor Road, which enters the creek bed from the west side, was closed to the public in 1994.”

More recently, with Chautauqua creeks being designated public fishing areas, the trail from the parking area at the end of Taylor Road down to the creek bed is now a public fishing access trail, but the land on either side is private and posted to bar hikers, hunters, and ATVs. There are some properly maintained ATV trails along the creek that may be also used by hikers and fishing persons. The Taylor Road trail was the route used on the recent hike by the Westfield Historian and the Falzguy.

Aug. 29 was a sunny but cool Monday, and several rapids and small waterfalls were observed on the hike downstream from the trail. Only five other people were encountered — two on an ATV, one lone male hike, and a father and daughter hiking. None were nudists. Just beyond the designated nudist area — signs are painted on rocks to warn hikers and ATV riders — the creek widened out at the edge of what the Falzguy identified as the new falls, and he pointed out the upper end of where the ridge had formerly been and the spot opposite where it had ended, but all that remained was the creek flowing over rocks and gravel straight across what had been the previous loop of the stream around the glacial ridge.

Please refer to the photo maps of the area of the hike. The focus of the maps is the area where a glacial fill ridge on the Big Chautauqua Creek had stood for centuries since the last Ice Age, causing a big loop around it for the path of the creek, until this past winter and spring when the snow, ice and raging creek waters finally broke through the ridge, utterly wiping it out, making a new path for the creek and producing the new waterfall just upstream.

After explaining that the upper area of the gorge was put to use with dams as a power source for various sawmills and tanneries in the early and mid 1800s, Taylor’s book goes on to describe the area upstream from Taylor Road and Bloomer Road to where Hannum Road enters Chautauqua Creek. “A park at the end of the road allows for easy access to the gorge… the bridge that crossed the creek here was also removed during World War Two… roads leading down to the former Hannum bridge were changed several times on the Town of Westfield side.” One of these road branches, “ran to another sawmill in an area once known as Berry’s gulf.” George Berry was the name of the landowner according to Taylor. Perhaps this is the Barry’s Gulf named in the Dibble’s Dabbles photo of a bridge with a 1918 car stuck on it.

Marybelle Beigh is the current Public Historian for the Town and Village of Westfield. Her office is located at 3 East Main Street in Westfield, N.Y, 14787 — inside Parkview Ice Cream Parlor. Her scheduled office hours are Monday through Friday 9 to 11 a.m.; other hours by appointment.

Beigh can be reached at westfieldhistorian@fairpoint.net or by calling 326-2457 (office), 326-6171 (home) or 397-9254 (cell).

Article Photos

Photo courtesy Google Earth
This image shows the Chautauqua Gorge where a glacial fill ridge on the Big Chautauqua Creek had stood for centuries since the last Ice Age and the big loop by the creek around the fill before it was washed out.

 
 

 

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