Bing Optimized Geology & History – Panama Rocks Scenic Park
Panama Rocks Scenic Park

Geology & History

Panama Rocks has been privately owned and operated since 1885 – founded the same year as the oldest state park in the United States! The current owners, Craig and Sandi Weston, purchased the property in 1979. Over the years, the Weston family has worked to restore the historic buildings on the property and to protect the nature in and around the park’s scenic area. We hope that you enjoy your visit to Panama Rocks, and that your good memories last a lifetime!

Below are summaries of the park geology and history, with links to more in depth summaries, as well as historic pictures of Panama Rocks.

Marker and Buggy Pic

Geology: Over 300 million years ago, the Panama Rocks were sea islands of sand and gravel, along the shore of a vast inland sea that extended west toward what is now Utah. These islands were part of the delta of a great river, larger than the Mississippi. Approximately 165 million years ago, there was major geological activity [earthquakes] on what are now the east and west coasts of North America. Block-faulting and uplifting occurred. It is believed that the layer of rock which became the Panama Rocks was raised to its present altitude [1650′] at that time. The present day Panama Rocks formation was most dramatically affected by a glacier in the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago. The weight and pressure of the glacier accelerated widening of fractures in the rock, creating thousands of crevices and alley passageways. The Panama Rocks are reputed to be one of the most extensive formations of glacier-cut, ocean-quartz conglomerate in the world. Click here for more information.

History: Mound Builder arrowheads that date to the period of 3000-5000 years ago, have been found at the park. The Eriez [aka: the “Cat People”] lived throughout this region when French explorers arrived in the 1600’s. During the Iroquois War era [1641-1701], the Iroquois [Seneca, Mohawk, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga] conquered and destroyed the Eriez, who ceased to exist as a tribe. Early French explorers learned of a portage from Lake Erie to Lake Chautauqua. This portage connected the Great Lakes with the Allegheny-Ohio-Mississippi River System. This was an important route connecting the eastern and central parts of the continent. The first European buildings at this location consisted of a log cabin hamlet on the hill above the rock formation. Permanent European settlers arrived later [1810-20]. Around 1800, when Jamestown had only one house at the rapids, Panama¬† was a busy community. The Little Brokenstraw Creek was easily dammed-up¬† and water-powered mills were built to grind grain, cut wood, etc. During its heyday, Panama had 6 mills, 4 blacksmith shops, 2 carriage factories, the largest tannery in NY, an ashery 7 stories high, a fairgrounds and racetrack, a daily newspaper, stores, churches, hotels and taverns. The land that includes the rock formation was part of a farm called the “Rock Farm.” Mr. George Hubbard purchased the property and established the park in 1885. Using oxen to haul a building from across the road, he added to the farmhouse, making it into a summer hotel. He operated a stage coach in order to transport sightseers from the railroad station in Ashville, located seven miles to the east. By the turn-of-the-century, the Panama Rocks had a reputation as a lovers retreat, as there were so many concealed niches in the rocks where lovers could avoid the prying eyes of the public. Click here for more information.


History of Chautauqua County

The Panama Rocks Mystery Medallion

Images of the Past: Panama Rocks (McClurg Museum)

Chautauqua County Historical Society and McClurg Museum

Book: Remembering Panama (2011)

1999 Folk Fair Memorial Page


Photograph Information:

Many of the older pictures and post cards of Panama Rocks were taken by Fred L. Yeager (1872-1930). Mr. Yagear was a photographer who was well known for his real photo postcards of Panama Rocks. His work also includes photos taken in and around his hometown of Columbus, Pennsylvania.

The hand-colored post cards are circa 1908-1915 and published by Albert Wilson of Buffalo, NY. Wilson was a druggist who resided on Crescent Avenue near Delaware Park, and published postcards of Buffalo and Western New York communities. Wilson’s cards were manufactured in Germany, and usually featured original photographic views. Making hand tinted card was very labor intensive and unhealthy. Mostly women artists sat in rows while the postcards were passed down “assembly line” style. Each was responsible for a particular color, and workers would wet the tip of their brush, usually cotton covered, with their lips as they worked, slowly poisoning the artists. The arrival of color photography and the health issues associated with the hand tinted cards resulted in their demise in the 1930’s. WWI brought the supply of postcards from Germany to the United States to an end.