Great Genesee Road

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United States Gotoarrow.png Migration Gotoarrow.png Trails and Roads Gotoarrow.png New York Gotoarrow.png Great Genesee Road

The Great Genesee Road, also known as Mohawk Trail, Iroquois Trail, Great Indian Trail, and Seneca Turnpike, was built starting in 1794 by New York State to connect Fort Schuyler (now Utica, New York) on the Mohawk Trail and Mohawk River with Canawaugus (now Caledonia), Livingston County, New York on the Genesee River. In 1798 the legislature authorized a road extension to Buffalo, New York on Lake Erie. The original Indian path also went to Fort Niagara on the border with Canada.[1]
Great Genesee Road.png
Each end of the Great Genesee Road connected to other important migration pathways. The length of the road from Utica to Buffalo was 205 miles (330 km).

Historical Background

As westward expansion began after the American Revolution, the only central New York pathways west of Fort Schuyler (Utica, New York) were rivers and a footpath which was a western fork of the Mohawk Trail or Iroquois Trail that went to Fort Niagara. The land companies which began developing large tracts of land for settlement started clamoring for the state to make better roads for their customers.[1]

In 1794 the state legislature authorized the Great Genesee Road from Fort Schuyler to Canawaugus to help settlers reach the New Military Tract. This eight county tract was set aside to allow 500 acres of bounty land to pay each New York Revolutionary War veteran for his service. The new state road followed the route of a fork of the old Mohawk Trail. In 1797 a weekly stagecoach began service between Utica and Gevena on the Seneca/Ontario county line. Each leg of the round trip took three days.[2] A state road extension to Buffalo was authorized four years later.[1]

However, the road construction was spotty and in places incomplete. In 1800 the legislature chartered the Seneca Road Company to charge tolls (originally six cents per mile) for improving the road. The road was macadamized to reduce pot holes. High-quality, privately-maintained, toll roads were called turnpikes. This one was completed in 1808[3] and was called the "Seneca Turnpike," 157 miles (253 km) from Utica to Canandaigua, longest such road in New York. In 1805 the western extension to Buffalo was changed from a public road to a private turnpike. This "Ontario and Genesee Turnpike" was completed in 1813.[3] In 1806 the Seneca Road Company began developing a more northerly alternate route to the Seneca Turnpike (Great Genesee Road) through Syracuse. In time this became the more popular route west.[1]

The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 reduced traffic on the turnpikes. Also, in the 1840s railroads began to compete for traffic. Reduced revenue on the turnpikes made the road companies unprofitable. By 1852 the Seneca Road Company was dissolved and the company's turnpikes became public roads again.[1]


The counties along this migration route (east to west) were as follows:[4]

On the west side of New York the original Mohawk Trail footpath apparently followed a more northerly line toward Fort Niagara in

Connecting trails. The Great Genesee Road linked to other trails at each end.[5]

The migration pathways connected at the east end in Utica included:

The migration pathways connected at the west end in Buffalo included:

Modern parallels. The modern road that roughly matches the Great Genesee Road and its extension to Buffalo is New York State Route 5 from Utica to Buffalo.

Settlers and Records

Early settlers in central New York most likely traveled there via Albany. Albany was a hub of pathways from New York City, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Quebec. Probably the largest group to settle were New Englanders, many from Vermont. But people from almost every part of the eastern seaboard and Europe also were common in the area.

No complete list of settlers who used the Great Genesee Road is known to exist. Nevertheless, local and county histories along that trail may reveal pioneer settlers who arrived 1794 to 1850, and therefore who were the most likely candidates to have traveled the Great Genesee Road or Seneca Turnpike.

For partial lists of early settlers who may have used the Great Genesee Road, see histories like:

Onondaga County

Cayuga County

Seneca County

External Links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Wikipedia contributors, "New York State Route 5" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 28 June 2011).
  2. "The Way West Through Northern Seneca County," (accessed 29 June 2011).
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Seneca Turnpike" in Clinton Historical Society at (accessed 29 June 2011).
  4. Compare the more northerly route to Fort Niagara in Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), 849, WorldCat entry, FHL Book 973 D27e 2002 with the more southerly route to Buffalo described in Wikipedia contributors, "New York State Route 5" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 28 June 2011).
  5. Handybook, 847-54.