Pieces of the Past
Artifacts, Documents, and Primary Sources
from Letchworth Park History

Glen Iris Memorial Trees

One piece of Letchworth Park's past is still living today - the Park's Memorial Trees. Below you will find descriptions of the trees and where to find them. If you click on the name of the tree, you will be taken to images of the tree. Please use your back button to return to this page. Remember, some of these trees are getting old, so it is important to visit them soon - even trees do not live forever!


 William Pryor Letchworth treated his guests very well. Access to his property being one of the great perks of a visit to “Glen Iris“ . For his special guests ,at the proper time of year, he bestowed an additional honor -- that of the planting of a tree to serve as a “Memory” of their time at Glen Iris. These special honorarium trees have become a long lasting visible reminder of those people that Mr Letchworth desired to recognize. We recently visited the Glen Iris and found what might have been the tree that prompted Mr Letchworth to adopt this tradition. It is called the Webster Silver Maple. It seems logical that the work that William Webster did as landscape planner for the estate design would prompt Mr Letchworth to continue this as a tradition for his other noteworthy guests so we can assume the tradition began in 1868 when Mr Letchworth and Mr Webster planted the Webster Maple. (2015 - Sadly, this historic tree lost major branches in a storm. For a while sections of the trunk remained, but have now been removed.)

As the tradition carried forward we can see trees today in the immediate vicinity of Glen Iris.

Ginkgo which was a gift from Philip C Garrett the President of the Public Board of Charities for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was planted in 1893. He and Mr Letchworth were kindred spirits in their concern for the disadvantaged of society. When standing on the porch of Glen Iris facing the falls this tree is to the right and the first large tree you will see across the lawn.

Tulip Poplar was a birthday present to Mr Letchworth on May 26th 1892 from his sister and brother in law William and Hannah Howland. From the front porch of Glen Iris when facing the falls the Tulip poplar is to the right out on the big lawn area beyond the Ginkgo.

Kentucky Coffee Tree planted by George W Clinton, son of the New York Governor sometime in the 1870's.When standing on the porch of Glen Iris facing the gorge the Kentucky Coffee tree is to the left just beyond the stone wall.(2013 - This fall on a visit to the Glen Iris, we noticed that the Kentucky Coffee Tree has been removed. As noted below, the tree has been failing for several decades.)

White Oak planted in 1877 honors Martin Brewer Anderson who worked closely with Mr Letchworth on the New York Board of Charities and was the first president of the University of Rochester. The white oak is the large tree close to the road as you start up Eagle Hill from Glen Iris. (2018 - The tree was removed after sections of it fell on the lawn.)

All of these specimens are over one hundred years old and for the most part are healthy but do show some signs of their age and the severe conditions they are growing in. Over twenty years ago we were concerned that the Kentucky Coffee tree was about to die. Another in that category is the Norway Spruce just off the circular driveway at Glen Iris. The decision was made to plant another Norway Spruce nearby so that a replacement would exist when the old veteran, probably planted by Mr Letchworth, died and needed to be removed. At that time a nursery stock plant about five feet tall and balled and burlaped was planted and it is a beautiful specimen these twenty plus years later and the old vet still holds on.(Update 2013 - sadly, the old Norway Spruce did die and has been removed.)

The tradition carried on kind of hit and miss over the years and the public eventually sought the privilege. A ruling from the Albany office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation made during the years of 1978 to 1992 gave the Park Manager the responsibility of designating the site of tree plantings as memorials with the caveat that no markers could accompany the tree. It was to be a private thing for the group or family that wanted to plant a memorial tree. Thus there are memorial trees planted by families or groups along the stone wall by the road to Upper Falls and along the circular drive in the north end of the park that leads to the Mount Morris Dam Overlook and others as well that are not covered here. There are also trees at Pinewood Lodge and on the Council Grounds that are not covered here. For those special people that the Parks agency wanted to honor there was no such rule. Hence we can see a flowering crab and stone with plaque across from the Museum to honor the dedicated service of Wolcott J Humphrey and his son Wolcott J Humphrey II to the Genesee Park Region , and a buckeye with stone and plaque to honor the dedication and service of Orin Lehman, former Parks Commissioner.


The view of Glen Iris seen below can be thought of as a splendid multiple memorial of trees we certainly attribute to William Pryor Letchworth and serves to remind us of his life and the multitude of good works that he left as a legacy. In the terms of his Seneca Indian brothers, Hai-wa-ye-is-ta which translates the man who always does right.

Tom Breslin



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all rights reserved by Tom Cook and Tom Breslin 2010