February 9, 2016

Portage Trail

The following information was taken from The Portage Trail handbook.

The Portage Trail
A Historic Indian Portage from 
Lake Erie To Lake Chautauqua

Developed For Hiking
And Sponsored By

Chautauqua County Council
Boy Scouts Of America
Mayville, New York

Research- Exploration and Description By
Herbert F. Hern, 1971

History of the Portage Trail
Chautauqua County, NY

The old Portage Trail is one of the most historic ten miles in American History and it played a large part in the settlement of western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley. It was roughly nine miles long, running from Barcelona Harbor to Mayville. Originally it was an Indian portage between Lake Erie and Lake Chautauqua long before the white man came to this country.

The first known white man to travel over the Old Indian portage was Etienne Brule, a French voyager, who in 1615 reported to the French rulers in Canada that this was the best route to establishing an Empire westward over the continent. In 1630 the French explorer La Salle passed over the trail and on down to the Ohio River. Chaussegras De Lery, who was a member of the French Expedition of Baron De Longueuil, which was sent in the spring of 1739 to find the best, short route to the Ohio Valleu from Lake Erie, mapped and measured the trail and was largely responsible for the later building of “The Old French Road” over the Indian Portage. The trail is definitely associated with the French and Indian War which enlarged eventually into the Seven Year War involving several European nations and led to the determination of the extent of the British Empire in America. It also decided in Britains favor the issue of whether America should be French or English.

The Longueuil expedition traveled over the portage to Lake Chautauqua to a point which is now Mayville and paddled down the lake to a spot which is now Jamestown and then portaged past some rapids thru Jamestown to Conewango Creek. At this point, we should probably note that Barcelona was called “Camp Chatakoin”, Lake Chautauqua was “Lake Chatakoin” and the Conewango was called “Kanavangon.” An old French map of 1740 by Sieur de Mandeville shows the portage to “Hiatackoun” (Lake Chautauqua).

In a letter from Marquis de Beaucharnois, the FRench ruler of Canada, to the minister of the Colonies in France he describes the Longueuil expedition from LaChine (Montreal) to Lake Erie, then along the south shore to a portage, four leagues long to Lake St. Croix (Chautauqua) to explore the possibility of a short water route to the Oyo River (Ohio). So we see that Lake Chautauqua has had many names including a Seneca Indian name of “Ga-Jah-da-quah” meaning “place where big fish were taken out.” This word was later smoothed out by the French explorers to “Tchadakoin.” We find here and there several meanings of the word including “The Lake High Up” and “Bag of Water Tied in the Middle” any of which would adequately describe the lake but we like the one about “Lake where big fish (muskellunge) were taken out.” As far back as any records go, Lake Chautauqua has been known world wide for Muskalunge.

In 1749 Captain Bienville deCeleron led an expedition of 720 men to cut out a trail and mark a passageway to the Ohio River. At strategic places along the route, he buried lead plates inscribed to chow the French claim to all territory to the Ohio. He spent five days cutting and widening the trail over the portage and then, with his expedition, traveled down the lake exploring several areas, including Long Point, Greenhurst and Celeron, where several artifacts have been found. The first lead plate known to be buried by Celeron was at a spot where the Conewango River joins the Allegheny at Warren, Pa. In an imposing ceremony he “proclaimed Louis XV, Lord of all this Region” and buried the plate to so declare.

Owing to British penetration from the East to an area where Pittsburgh now stands which led to hostilities between French and English, the French decided to build a road over the portage trail for transporting military supplies. In 1753 a French military engineer, Hugh Pean, with 200 men built the “Old French Road” over the existing trail which led to the establishment of Fort Du Quesne (At Pittsburgh) in 1754. The French intended to join its stronghold in Canada with those in Louisiana.

Military camps were established at Chatakoin (Barcelon) and Lake Chatakoin (Chautauqua). A warehouse for storing supplies was built at Mayville as well as a boat yard for building pirogues, a large canoe-like boat, for transporting supplies to Fort Du Quesne. In July 1754, De Lery and Celeron were among the French who fought the British at Fort Du Quesne and according to De Lery’s Journal, the British surrendered and were given safe passage out of the area with thier horses and supplies. Among the British officers who signed the capitulation was “G. Washington, Captain.”

In 1755 Engineer Pean was sent by the French in Canada to build a fort at “Camp Chatakoin” (Barcelona) but the building of the fort was stopped by a French officer Sieur Marn and it was moved to Presque Isle (Erie) because of an easier portage south. This resulted in the abandonment of Camp Chatakoin as well as the warehouse and boatyard at Lake Chatakoin (Mayville). Thus ended the French activity along the Portage Trail after 100 years of exploration and use.

One of the earliest settlers along the portage was Rufus Button who cleared land and built a cabin where in 1812 his son, Ira Button, was born. In 1823 the Buttons built an Inn along the Old French Road, half-way between Barcelona and Mayville where travelers over the hill between the lakes could stop and rest their horses and refresh themselves. The Inn was known as “Buttons Inn.”

There are legends of suicide and murder connected with the Inn, but mostly it was a place of merriment enjoyed by countless travelers for many years. Because of the legends and a book by Albion Tourgee entitled “Buttons Inn” it has become a well known historic site along the trail.

In 1799 a young adventurer, William Peacock, hiked over the Portage Trail and was so pleased with the area he later came back as Land Agent and Surveyor for the Holland Land Company. He built and opened an office in Mayville in 1805, purchased a large tract of land and about 1820 built a beautiful home known as the Peacock Mansion which became a well known hotel and dining room from 1920 to 1971, when it was demolished to build a parking lot. Mr. Peacock later became an Associate Judge and a signor of the Petition to the State for the establishment of Chautauqua County.

He was the first Treasurer of the County and one of the committee appointed to build the first Court House. William Peacock was a part owner of the first steamboat to sail on Chautauqua Lake and successful in many other business ventures. Having no children he was very generous to the community, giving a large tract of land for a cemetery and more for parks, recreation and churches. He entertained in his home more dignitaries including William H. Seward and Daniel Webster, who were Secretaries of State under President Lincoln and President Harrison, respectively, both of whom traveled over the Portage Trail. Through Judge Peacock’s efforts, Mayville became a thriving business center by 1845 and led to its establishment as the County Seat. In 1845 the Village of Portland, which is now Barcelona, was an important trading center and a Government Port of Entry for furs, logs and merchandise enroute from Canada to Pittsburgh over the Portage Trail. In 1827 the Barcelona Inn was built at the junction of Route 5 and the Portage Road and served as a haven for weary travelers for many years. In 1965 it was destroyed by fire.

It later ceased to be of need and was sold in 1859 to the Patterson family of Westfield and is now owned by G. Patterson Crandall, a descendent. It is the oldest standing lighthouse on the Great Lakes and it still has a tiny gas flame constantly lit – through the courtesy of the Iroquois Gas Company.

In 1802 the first permanent settler in Westfield, James McMahan, cleared 10 acres and built a home just west of Gale Street on Route 20. In 1807 he built a Grist Mill at Barcelona from which two of the grinding stones form a part of the historic marker at Gale and West Main Streets in Westfield. At this site in 1802, Edward McHenry built a tavern and in August that same year became the father of the first known white child born in Chautauqua County. In 1803, Mr. McHenry was the first known white man to die in the county, having drown in Lake Erie in a boating accident. The first courts in the county were held in the tavern which also served as a Town Hall. The first Post Office in the county was opened in Westfield in 1806 with James McMahan as Postmaster. The second county post office was opened in Mayville in 1812 with James Prendergast as Postmaster, who was the first merchant to open a General Store in Mayville in 1811. Mail was brought into the county by horseback until a stage line was established from Buffalo to Erie in 1826.

William H. Seward came to Westfield as an Agent for the Holland Land Company in 1836 and leased the beautiful Mc Clurg Mansion, which is one of the oldest known houses in the county. James McClurg, who built the house in 1819, brought carpenters and bricklayers from Pittsburgh over the Portage Trail to spend almost two years making the bricks, forming woodwork and building the beautiful mansion. The mansion is now a historical museum of Chautauqua County.

While in Westfield William Seward was elected Governor of New York State and later was Secretary of State under Presidents Lincoln and Andrew Johnson and was responsible for the Alaska Purchase – popularly called the “Seward’s Folly” – at that time. While living in the McClurg house, Seward had a beautiful home built on the present Welch property but being elected Governor before its completion he never lived in it. It was moved in 1969 up the hill halfway to Mayville on Route 17 overlooking Lake Erie.

Another well known pioneer to the area was Donald MacKenzie, who came to Mayville to visit William Peacock about 1826. He had just retired as Governor of Northwest Territories and an explorer in Western Canada. He was so impressed with the village that he built a beautiful home in 1830, near where the Mayville school now stands, the land for which he gave to the community. A historic marker at the school notes his history. He assisted Secretary of State Daniel Webster to settle a boundary dispute between Canada and United States, west of Lake Superior.

The first church built in the county was the Presbyterian Church in Westfield in 1821. The building still stands at 9 Pearl Street, now being used as a dwelling. The oldest church building in the area is the Episcopal Church of Westfield, on the Village Green, built in 1831 and used for worship continuously since that time.

Also along the trail about 1000 feet southwest of Gale Street at the bend, is the site of an early Seneca Indian village where many artifacts have been found, some of which are on display at the Museum in the McClurg Mansion.

Until the advent of the railroad in the county in the 1850’s, the Portage Trail was an important link between the Great Lakes, Western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley. It ceased to be a line of communication for transporting of merchandise as the railroads pushed westward, after which it became an important highway for travelers between communities from Westfield to Jamestown. Today it is the western terminus of New York Route 17.


Indian History: “New York State Historical Bulletin on Western N. Y.”

French History: “De Lery’s Journal”

Portage Trail History: “The Old Portage Road” by H. C. Taylor

Local and County History: “History of Chautauqua County” by A. W. Young, “Pioneers of Chautuqua County” by Obid Edson, “Buttons Inn” by Albion Tourgee

All of the above are available at the Westfield Library.

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