Andy Robinson of Swain Talks about his Father David Robinson's Research on Pre-Pioneer Stone Formations in Western New York

(from an article in The Spectator, September 30, 2007 written by Jen Carpenter.)

Andy Robinson of Swain looks at rock formation in Grove he believes was built before the Seneca tribe's arrival. (The Spectator)
Photo from The Spectator, 9/30/2007.

Swain-- There may be more to that pile of rocks than meets the eye. 

Andy Robinson of Swain admits he is no expert on Indian rock formations, but his father, the late David Robinson, did extensive research on the subject. 

David Robinson was a published author in the New England Antiquities Research Association journal and studied the outlaw fort at Canisteo and the old war trail extensively.

Andy Robinson said he thinks his father should be recognized for  the work he did.

I wish he was alive to tell you more about it," he said.

Andy Robinson said his father started out being interested in arrowheads when his father was a civil engineer during World War I and would find them while working. Robinson said his father also spent a lot of time in England, especially at Stonehenge.

In the summer/fall 1995 edition of the NEARA Journal, David Robinson wrote about the outlaw fort, which was built in 1642 and was destroyed in 1764.

Part of the article focused on the old war route, which David Robinson says was a river route which Indians form Canada used to reach the Susquehanna River, Chesapeake Bay, an the Atlantic through two portages.

"One portage was around the three major water falls on the north-flowing Genesee River in Rochester," he wrote, " and another, just before the south-flowing Canisteo River, was reached near Arkport."

David Robinson wrote there were no reported waterfalls or serious rapids from Arkport to the Atlantic Ocean. He said the arks of the 1800s measuring two to three feet and transporting 4,000 bushels of grain, could only travel from Arkport to the Atlantic in March when the water were high.

David Robinson said the Canisteo River was part of the old war route, and was probably used for thousands of years.

"There is an indication in large, laid up stone structures that appear to be route markers, the the pre-Seneca, or Hopewell Culture people--who built large earth mounds along the upper Genesee-- traveled to the old war route, going near Canaseraga, New York, 15 miles north of Canisteo," he wrote. "These are the only such stone structures known to have existed in Allegany County. The largest of these is beehive shaped, about 8 feet tall and 12 feet thick a the base. The sides of the outer wall have fallen away in places, and the interior also appears to be built of laid up stones."

David Robinson said that 30 miles down river from the Village of Canisteo, there were many large rock towers, which were possibly manmade, and photographed before being destroyed in 1881.

"There are dozens of smaller ones still existing that were obviously laid up by people," he wrote.

At least five formations can still be found today off Isaman Hill in the Town of Grove.

"Why is it here?" Andy Robinson asked. "I don't know."

David Robinson at the Swain rock formation.

David Robinson at the Swain rock formation.

From The Spectator, 9/30/2007.

Andy Robinson noted there were other formations, which people tore down in search of treasure. Robinson said he suspects no white man would have taken the time to lay the stones as neat as those in the piles.

"(The formations) have deteriorated over the years," he said. "It's like a signature, 'We were here.' "

Andy Robinson said he estimates the formations were placed prior to the Seneca's arrival on the land. He said the land was never farmland, and the rocks were probably native. 

"Some of those are pretty big," he said. "They wouldn't have carried them in."

There are also two stone springs near the rock formation, one larger than the other. Andy Robinson thinks these may also have been built by the Indians, and were possibly their primary source of water.

David Robinson wrote the Delaware name for that village was Assinisink, which means stone upon stone. He said that north of the Canisteo River, near Ganosgago, which is now Dansville, two Hopewell burial sites have been found. He noted the Seneca had stated the people who preceded them were not Indians, based on Hopewell graves they had seen, yet they felt a kinship with them, probably because they occupied the same territory.

David Robinson also wrote about the composition of the outlaw fort. He said no evidence has been presented as to who built the fort, but believes it was the Swedes or the Finnish. He said the log cabins that composed the fort were located along the south bank of the Canisteo River for about a mile, about where Depot Street crosses the river today.

"Sixty substantial 'log barracks' were erected along the Canisteo River" he wrote, "starting possibly in 1642--only four years after the Swede's arrival -- deep inside Indian territory where only occasional Jesuits are known to have been. At some time an additional 66 very similar barracks were erected down river of Canisteo at the location of today's Corning and Athens, Pa."

David Robinson noted the first white man to canoe down the Canisteo River was Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary, in 1635. He said the first written account of the outlaw settlement was by Frenchman Sieur de Villier, who stated the fort was inhabited in 1690 by white criminals, runaway slaves and Indian outcasts.

David Robinson wrote that by 1750, the inhabitants of the fort were mostly Indians, and the fort was called the Canisteo Castle in later years. He said the use of the old war route from Tioga Point, now Athens, Pa., to the Allegany River became forbidden. He said other areas may have been included in the forbidden trail.

"But the disputed part of the route is not important to the story of Canisteo Castle," he wrote, "since no one doubts that from Tioga to Assinisink the use of the trail was forbidden, under the threat of being burned at the stake, to all white men and to any Indians not considered to be friends of the Seneca."

David Robinson wrote that in 1764, the log houses were destroyed by a small Mohawk Indian force at the insistence of a British governor. He said the French were the first to attempt to destroy the fort in 1690.

Before he passed away in 2001 at the age of 80, David Robinson was doing research and compiling information on Bluff Point. When the site was excavated, he found several Indian arrowhead, which his son still has today.

Andy Robinson said his father works on the NEARA article for 10 years.

"It took him years to write that article," he said. "His research was pretty impeccable."

Andy Robinson said if anyone has information on other possible Indian stone formations to call him at (585) 545-8180.