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History of the Zoar Valley MUA Unit

The Zoar Valley Unit has a rich history. Two sites with archeological evidence of early human use have been documented on private property near the Unit. Since much of the area has been disturbed by farming and other activities, it is not known whether the Unit was occupied by early Native Americans. However, the presence of archeologic findings on nearby parcels indicates the Unit may have been used or inhabited by early people. The surrounding area including the Unit was deeded to the Holland Land Company in the early 1800s. It was surveyed, subdivided and sold in the 1820s. Historic records from 1842 reveal farming was practiced along both sides of Cattaraugus Creek near what is now Forty Road. A cheese factory was located near the intersection of Forty and Wickham Roads, now private property.

The shale of the Unit has apparently been mined. There are reports of two lime kilns in the Unit area, one near Overlook Point which has not been located, and the other near the Forty Bridge on the South Branch of Cattaraugus Creek. These lime kilns were probably operated in the early 1800s.

At least two sawmills were located in the area. Reports indicate that logs and produce were moved along Cattaraugus Creek. Trees of saw log quality near the river, or that could be easily pulled to the river, would have been cut.

Oil and gas wells were drilled on the property in the late 1890s. One of these abandoned wells was recently plugged near Overlook Point by a contractor to DEC.

Around 1865 the Atlantic and Great Western railroad was planned to cross the Unit near North Otto Road. The approaches to the bridge were built and most of the grade work was done up to Collins Center before the project was abandoned. Small parts of the grade still remain. The rest was converted back to farmland.

For many years a Boy Scout Camp existed on the north side of the confluence of the Cattaraugus Creek and its South Branch. A cable car was used to cross the main branch. The foundations of the camp buildings remain visible today.

The current Valentine Flats area, at the confluence of Cattaraugus Creek with its South Branch, was first deeded by the Holland Land Company to Elisha Derby (pronounce "Darby") in 1837. The land became known as "Darby Flats." According to old maps, his house was located just below Overlook Point. In 1900, the land was sold to Ernest and Caroline Valentine and later became known as "Valentine Flats."

In 1926, the Valentine property was deeded to Niagara, Lockport and Ontario Power Company. The power company purchased land from the Valentine Flats and downstream to Overlook Point, to build a hydroelectric power dam. Test borings were made in the area just above Overlook Point to determine if the rock would hold a dam. The brittleness of the shale, however, made dam building impractical. The Valentine family stayed on the farm as tenants for a time. After the house was no longer occupied, the field in the Flats area was rented out for bean farming.

In 1952, Mr. Herbert Darling purchased land, including the Valentine Flats area, from theNiagara Mohawk Power Corporation, the successor to Niagara, Lockport and Ontario Power Company. Mr. Darling gifted 1425 acres to the State of New York in 1961 and 1962. This marks the beginning of the New York State ownership and stewardship of the Valentine Flats area. Other parcels were added later using Bond Act funds.

The Valentine Flats area has always been a popular recreation area for hiking, swimming, fishing, camping and picnicking. Irresponsible behavior on the part of some campers led to the State's ban on overnight camping and motor vehicles in 1971. The Valentine Flats and the Forty Road areas still remain popular spots for outdoor recreation. Public access to the Valentine Flats area is limited by the fact that the Forty Bridge was closed and removed, the road to the Flats was abandoned, and by erosion along the access road from the parking lot. In April 1968, a black walnut plantation was established in the Valentine Flats area. About 7,300 black walnut trees were planted on approximately 12 acres in the center of the Flats. Many of the other upland areas used as fields and pasture were planted with conifer trees by the DEC. There is also an experimental American Chestnut plantation on the Unit. Many areas once used as pasture have reverted to hardwood stands. Evidence of the old farms, fields, fences, roads, and final resting places of those who were here before is still visible throughout the Unit.

This page last updated October 23, 2008


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