Chadakoin River Essential To History, Growth Of City

Jamestown is here because the Chadakoin River is here.

For hundreds of years the Native Americans of northeastern United States and Canada plied the waters of the region, their travels at times bringing them to what we know as Chautauqua County. The early Europeans who traveled through the region encountered some of them and found evidence of others of an earlier period.

Indeed, as our historical records state, James Prendergast encountered a group of Senecas camped in the vicinity of Barrett, Baker and Steele Streets while searching for a pair of lost horses. He saw the potential in the area – the forests, the rich farmland, the lake and the swiftly flowing river – for a permanent settlement. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history. Others with entrepreneurial skills shared that vision and joined Prendergast in attracting pioneer-spirited young men to the area.

The forest needed to be cleared for a settlement. What do you do with all that valuable wood? You float it down the river. Through the river system, the waters of Chautauqua Lake and the Chadakoin River find their way ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way at that time, many settlements were springing up, needing wood for furniture and household goods. It was also the most expedient way for local carpenters and manufacturers to ship their goods to eager markets in the fast growing communities to the west and south.

The advent of the railroad in 1860 supplanted the river system as the major source of transportation, but the foundation was there. Following the close of the Civil War, the massive influx of European immigrants and the westward movement of the Industrial Revolution found the already established industrial corridor along the river the perfect site for continued industrial development. Beginning in the 1870s into the first decade of the 1900s, inventors and entrepreneurs established industries which became world-wide renowned. A few remain so, even though the industries no longer exist or continue under a different name.

The city of Jamestown must, at some point, recognize this heritage with a museum dedicated to these industries and to the men who founded them.

Jamestown grew enormously during those years with immigrants from England, Sweden, Italy and other countries. Housing for them sprang up all around the central core of the city – the downtown and Brooklyn Square areas. The downtown business district in particular reflected the wonderful Victorian architecture of the period. To Jamestown’s credit, much of that remains. It has been refurbished and put back to use with the encouragement and financial support of the Gebbie Foundation under the leadership John Merino. KUDOS!

It has also inspired others to undertake similar projects and to open their businesses in the core downtown area. The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation has taken a leadership position in this revitalization along with Lee Harkness and the Downtown Jamestown Development Corporation. This area is eligible as a district on the National Register due to the period architecture which has been preserved and to its importance in Jamestown’s history. The time required for the paperwork to make this happen is enormous and a huge undertaking.

The Chadakoin River has not been ignored, however, The Riverwalk has been underway for a number of years, beginning in the hearts and minds of persons with a vision as well as a reverence for their and their community’s heritage and a commitment to the enjoyment and preservation of our natural world. One would hope that, in time, the Riverwalk can be extended from the east to the west boundaries of the city, the full length of the Industrial Corridor, which has played a vital role in Jamestown’s history.

Yes, Jamestown is here because the Chadakoin River is here.

B. Dolores Thompson is Jamestown city historian.