Western New York's Southern Tier


(This 962nd Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on August 30, 2009.)



Stone Marker 10 yards north of the southwest corner of New York State


This past month I have made several trips to explore the Southern Tier south of Buffalo and each time I have visited that area I have realized how blessed we are to be so near this beautiful region of New York State.


From southern Erie and Genesee Counties south through Wyoming, Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua Counties to the Pennsylvania line this picturesque country is made up of rolling, glacially-molded hills covered by open farm fields, meandering tree-lined streams and increasingly extensive second growth forests. Except for Olean, Jamestown and Wellsville the towns are mostly small to miniscule, the kind of communities where you know just about everyone in town. Many of the villages - with names like Haskell Flats, Ohi, Maples, Clymer and Kings Corners - are simply clusters of a few homes, best noticed when you drive through by a brief reduction in speed limit.


There are, of course, central features of the region, most notably Chautauqua Lake and Allegany and Letchworth State Parks, but I find myself equally attracted to the undefined countryside. One way to visit the area is to hike sections of the Conservation or Finger Lakes Trails or the southern section of the Genesee Valley Greenway trail.


But my recent visits had specific purposes.


Some years ago I rode my scooter to the southwest corner of the state where it is sliced off by the section of Pennsylvania that gives that state access to Lake Erie. When I reported that visit in an earlier column, a reader asked me why I didn't notice the monument that marked the corner. I decided to return to find that monument.


Riding down Stateline Road I came to a highway sign that indicated I was entering Pennsylvania, but again I could see no monument. Fortunately a man was standing in the driveway of a home just east of that sign. Before I could even introduce myself, he said, "I know what you're going to ask. Where is the state corner monument?" When I confirmed his guess, he took me across the road, parted the shrubbery and pointed. There it was, a few yards away.


"That's not the corner," my new friend told me, "it will tell you that it is ten yards north of the corner, placed farther back to avoid vandalism. If you can find it, there is a lower stone marker at the actual corner." I thanked my beneficiary, worked my way into the undergrowth, found both and photographed them.



Marker at the real southwest corner


My other trip was to find and photograph some of the Indian Trail Trees about which I wrote an earlier column and for which Lee and Donna Ryan have supplied coordinates on their website, www.indiantrailtree.com.


Most of the trees the Ryans recorded were in the townships of Almond and Birdsall. I was able to find four of the sites there by comparing their locations with my own GPS device. One of them was in the median of Route 86 in a woodlot south of a sign marking the route's highest elevation. How fortunate that the expressway construction avoided this historic tree.


On the way back north I wanted to find another of these trees located between Mount Morris and Nunda. The directions suggested that it was well back from the highway on private property. Fortunately, I found the home of the property owner, Ed Haefner, and stopped by to gain permission to seek out the tree.


No one could have been more hospitable than Haefner. He proposed to drive me back to see the tree after he finished a couple of chores. Once he let his horses out to pasture, he had me climb on the back of his 4x4 and off we went across a meadow and down a series of trails.


At one point he stopped to show me the stonework of an old Genesee Valley canal lock.



Ed Haefner at his old Genesee Canal lock


And then we reached the tree. It was a mammoth oak at least 400 years old. That would date it from before the Plymouth Colony was established and even longer before any European had reached this area.



Ed Haefner trims undergrowth from around his Indian Trail Tree


A local Indian told Haefner that the tree pointed to a nearby burial mound. I can imagine no better signpost.


Now I am looking for another excuse to ride south.