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Cemeteries Flooded by the Kinzua Dam

The dam and reservoir are located in Warren and McKean counties, Pennsylvania, and Cattaraugus County, New York. In Pennsylvania, the Allegheny Reservoir is completely surrounded by the Allegheny National Forest. In New York it is surrounded by the Allegany State Park and the Allegany Indian Reservation of the Seneca Nation.

Kinzua, “fish on a spear” in the Seneca-Iroquois language, is renowned for its recreational opportunities. The sparkling lake is surrounded by lush forest. The area offers a wide range of activities, such as boating, canoeing, water-skiing, swimming, camping, fishing, sightseeing, scenic drives, hiking, cross country skiing, snowmobiling and much more.

Dam Construction and a Broken Treaty

Although the dam’s construction had been proposed as early as 1908, it wasn’t until the early 1960s that the Corps received authorization from Congress to build the dam and reservoir. In 1965 the Corps of Engineers completed Kinzu.

Prior to its being built, the Seneca Nation sought an injunction to prevent construction citing the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794 between the United States and the Iroquois, which guaranteed Seneca rights to the land. The treaty, signed by both George Washington's representative and Chief Cornplanter, guaranteed that the United States would never take the Seneca's land. This treaty states:

Now the United States acknowledges all the land within the aforementioned boundaries, to be the property of the Seneca Nation, and the United States will never claim the same, nor disturb the Seneca Nation.

The United States confiscated the Seneca's land by right of eminent domain. Although the descendants of Cornplanter lost their suit in federal court, Congress compensated the Seneca Nation with $15 million for direct and indirect damages and to fund a rehabilitation program.

With the dam completed, the rising water inundated all the habitable land of Cornplanter's Grant, the last tribal lands in Pennsylvania, along with about 10,000 acres of the Seneca's Allegany Reservation in New York. It also destroyed the Seneca’s spiritual center, the Cold Spring Longhouse, and forced the relocation of 130 Native American families. Numerous family grave sites and cemeteries were also relocated.

Numerous cemeteries were relocated during the construction of Kinzua Dam and Allegheny Reservoir in the early 1960s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District.

Remains in Kinzua Cemetery, which contained approximately 1,336 graves, and Morrison Run Cemetery, which contained approximately 62 graves (another record said 89), were relocated to Willow Dale Cemetery in Bradford, Pennsylvania. According to Pittsburgh District records, 1467 remains were removed from both cemeteries. "Re-interment of 40 of the remains was made in alternative cemeteries." (Those alternative cemeteries were not identified.)

Other cemeteries which were relocated were Riverview, Corydon and Cornplanter. The Cornplanter Cemetery and the Cornplanter Monument were relocated to the Riverview-Corydon Cemetery.

Three smaller cemeteries were identified in district records as: Greenwood (451 graves); Stryker (21); and Moore (13). The three cemeteries were located in Cattaraugus County, New York. Almost all of the remains (483) were re-interred in a new addition to the existing Steamburg Cemetery, Cattaraugus County, New York. The other remains were interred in "certain other alternative cemeteries" which were not named in the Corps’ Pittsburgh District records.

In addition, to the previously named cemeteries, the following family and community cemeteries located in the Seneca Nation on the Allegany Indian Reservation in Cattaraugus County, New York were relocated. Most of the re-internment sites were either at the Hillside Haven Cemetery (1757 graves) or Memorial Heights in Red House, New York (1294). The following are the cemeteries listed in district records that were located on Seneca Nation lands: Alfred Jones Cemetery, Blacksnake Cemetery, Christobel Pierce Cemetery, Clark Residence Cemetery, Cooper Family Cemetery, Crouse-Patterson Cemetery, Halftown Cemetery, Henry Redeye Cemetery, Jacob Logan Cemetery, Jerome Snow Cemetery, Jimerson Family Cemetery, Old Town Cemetery, Onoville Cemetery, Oscar Nephew Cemetery, Phillip Fatty Cemetery, Quaker Bridge Community Cemetery, Red House Cemetery, Shongo Cemetery, Watt Cemetery

I would like to thank Pittsburgh District Corps of Engineers’ retiree George Plesko for making available his records and maps on the Kinzua cemetery re-interments. -Liane Freedman

 

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