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Cattaraugus County, NY Provides Unique Opportunity to Explore Outdoors, Sculpture, Seneca Culture

While you can expect to see any number of interesting sights driving along rural New York state roads, one of the most startling has got to be the surreal steel structures that tower above the grassy fields alongside Rohr Hill Road in Ashland Hollow, NY.

These massive sculptures, which range from a woman in mid-stride to something resembling a large bird, a giraffe and other, more abstract pieces, are part of Griffis Sculpture Park, a 400-acre preserve featuring 250 large-scale artworks situated throughout the landscape. Created in the 1960s by Larry Griffis Jr., the park is beloved by art admirers and nature-lovers alike.

After serving in World War II, Griffis opened a hosiery factory in the area, but never lost his love of creating. After his father gave him an ultimatum to choose either the factory or art, Griffis packed up his wife and six children and moved to Rome, Italy to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. Upon his return, he established the sculpture park in Cattaraugus County, which contains many of his pieces as well as those of other local artists; he is also the founder of the Essex Art Center in Buffalo, NY.

The park takes great advantage of the forested outdoors, tucking sculptures in among trees, alongside ponds, and even lying about in fields. A paved path from the Mill Valley Road entrance in East Otto, NY leads through the park, but hikers are also welcome to wander throughout the area on its miles of trails. Guided tours are also available.

Enjoying natural beauty is easy in this county, which is located in western New York’s scenic uplands. A 3-1/2 hour drive from Pittsburgh, it is home to Allegany State Park, the largest park in New York State and the third largest park in the U.S.

Another wonderful hiking area is Rock City Park, which has been an area attraction since 1890. Home to the world’s largest exposure of quartz conglomerate, the trail leading from the gift shop starts on top of a two-story rock that provides stunning views of the surrounding countryside. A staircase leads to a paved path that goes under and through rocks, caves and massive boulders that were formed during the Pennsylvania Period, about 320 million years ago.

It’s hard to describe how small you feel wandering among these majestic landmarks, though the names of some of the areas—including Fat Man’s Squeeze and Profanity Pass—might give you some idea. Highlights on the walk include a 1935 drilling rig, which was used until 1962 during oil lease operations in Rock City Park, and Balancing Rock, where a 2,000 ton boulder sits perched atop another rock.

For the best view, stop at the overlook at Signal Rock—which is believed to have been used by members of the Seneca Nation as a way to signal those further away—to enjoy a 35-mile view covering more than 1,000 square miles.

Cattaraugus County is one of five sovereign territories of the Seneca Nation, and their unique story and aboriginal ties to the land are showcased at the Onohsagwe:dé Cultural Center and the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca, NY. The museum, which opened in 2018, is dedicated to the prehistory, history and contemporary culture of the Iroquois, with special emphasis on the Seneca.

Some of the more intriguing aspects of the museum include the Creation Story, which shares the story of Sky Woman and how Turtle Island—otherwise known as Mother Earth or North America—came about, and a preserved and assembled Seneca log cabin that visitors can explore. Many traditional craft items, including artwork, antler carvings, basketry, and the largest beadwork collection on the East Coast are also on display.

One truly unique item is the 227-year-old peace pipe-tomahawk that was given to Seneca Chief Cornplanter by George Washington in 1792 as a gift during talks for the Treaty of Canadaigua. The pipe had been stolen from the New York State Museum and was missing for 70 years before it was anonymously returned.

The work of numerous modern-day Seneca artisans can be seen in the Seneca Allegany Resort and Casino, located a short distance from the museum. The 11-story, AAA Four Diamond hotel not only features a casino and upscale amenities, but numerous sculptures, murals and more, some of which are based on stories passed down through generations.

For those looking for more modern-day folk tales, the city of Olean has an interesting history. A major stop on bootlegging routes during Prohibition because of its location as a backroad route between Chicago and New York, it was nicknamed “Little Chicago” for the number of rum runners—including Al Capone—who visited the area.

Stop into Four Mile Brewing Company to enjoy a Polynomial Pale Ale or an Allegany IPA in the historic landmark building that originally housed Olean Brewing Company—opened in 1907, it kept its doors open for 13 years before being shuttered by Prohibition. The building went through a number of iterations, including housing a lumber company and a kitchen and bath center, before part of a $500,000 downtown revitalization grant designed to bring back Main Street allowed the building to reopen as a brewery—the first such business to open in Olean in 70 years.

For more information on Cattaraugus County and places to see, visit

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