Remembering the days of Kinzua

Before there was a Kinzua Dam, there was a river that meandered through the Kinzua Valley.

It was dotted with little towns that contained the homes of the descendants of early American pioneers. It contained the lands of the native Senecas.

And although that valley sleeps under the waters of the Allegheny Reservoir, it still holds memories for all of those who lived theRE and their descendants.

On July 14, Wildcat Park in Ludlow will be the scene for the annual reunion of the displaced residents of Kinzua. It won’t just be a reunion of former residents, but a chance for the public to hear some of their stories and some of the personal history of the place.

After condemnation of buildings and land, about 700 residents of Kinzua, Corydon, Onoville, Morrison, Quaker Bridge and other hamlets and a similar number of Senecas were forced to relocate in the mid-60S to make way for the Allegheny Reservoir.

Since there was time to gather up those memories in tangible items before the residents were relocated, there is a good photographic record of those now-vanished towns.

Dr. Stan Lantz, an 88-year-old retired archaeologist who has done a great deal of research in the area, will attend to meet people he knew when he was studying in the Kinzua to Steamburg, N.Y., area.

Randy John, Ph.D., curator of the Seneca Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca, will listen to stories from former residents and make appointments to record those stories at a later date.

Diane Brant, a former resident said, “People come to reminisce with each other, and to remember the names of people who have died since the preceeding year. We are getting fewer in number.”

“People will bring photo albums and share photos oand memorries with each other. Some times we use the newspaper articles as a program, and we do a group photo,” she added.

Brant also said that other than the picnic, there isn’t any real structure to the day, “beause often this is the only time we see each other.”

The reuinion committee will provide meat, beverages, plates tableware and serving utensils; and they ask that guests bring their favorite dish, salad or dessert in a quantity everyone can enjoy.

She guessed that 40 or 50 people attended last year, but she is hoping more Kinzua residents will be here this year because of Drs. Lantz and John. Publicity through postcards that have been mailed and a Kinzua Reunion facebook page should help bring in more people as well.

Brant said she knew of several people that either haven’t attended before, or haven’t for many years are planning on coming. She said a family friend, Paula Burgess Washburn, whose family owned the Kinzua Phone Company and now lives in Covington, Ga., will be here for the event for the first time this year.

“The residents’ hearts broke for the Senecas; everyone felt they were treated shamefully. The greater injustice was done to them. At least they stayed together though, where we were dispersed. Our churches and stores weren’t moved, and some friends and neighbors never saw each other again,” she said. “We didn’t just move, we lost our connections.” She noted that she was “really touched when Randy (John) reached out to us to record our memories.”

She added, “When the town was in the process of being moved, people from other communities would drive through and look at us. It felt like we were in a zoo. Once when we were gone for a day, we came back to find someone had dug up all our plants.”

Dr. Lantz spoke of the years he spent in the Kinzua valleys saying, “We did all the principal work for a required archaeological survey from 1962 to 1974. I recorded 48 villages from Kinzua to Salamanca, some of which could only be surveyed when the reservoir levels were down in the fall.”

He said, “There was one point in particular, a Clovis point spearhead that a resident found near the ballfields in Kinzua, dating human occupation to around 12,000 years ago.” Clovis fluted projectile points are named after the city of Clovis, N.M, where examples were first found in 1929 and estimated to be about 13,500 years old.

John is an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation of Indians and a member of the Turtle Clan. He earned the Doctorate of Philosophy in Social Science from Syracuse University in 1989, and is a retired associate professor of Sociology from St. Bonaventure University.

“From the reaction to my presentation on the Kinzua Dam last fall for the Warren Historical Society, I have become interested in writing an article on the Kinzua story for the dislocated non-Indian communities of Kinzua, Corydon, Onoville and Morrison,” John said. “The story is untold and still meaningful as I discovered last fall. My focus involves not only the story but the adjustment process.”

“The Warren Historical Society has graciously offered space to conduct taped interviews for those willing during their public hours. I have been invited to the Kinzua reunion and would like to schedule interviews at the Warren Historical Society,” he added.

Terry Brant, Diane Brant’s ex-husband said, “I went to see Dr. John when he gave his first talk at the courthouse. He talked about his feelings (about the Kinzua Dam and the reservoir) and I realized we were the same. I am part Seneca, and I realized that the people from Kinzua are a clan, too. It was a beautiful place, where people looked after each other,” he added.

He reminisced saying, “Before everyone left, the surveyors worked all day, and we pulled stakes all night. I joined the service because I didn’t want to see the dam being built. It’s still a hard pill to swallow.”

In 2007, the Seneca Nation Council voted to recognize the last Saturday in September as Remember the Removal Day as a reminder and to help prevent similar actions in the future.