If you are a regular reader of the blog, you know that my husband Tim and I are both bikers, as in cyclists. In the summer, we ride four or five days a week. We have ridden through Cazenovia (Caz) Park several times. The last time, Tim suggested I write about it. I said what I always say, “I’ll put it on the list.” And I did. Full disclosure, my list is now pages long with something like 80 ideas waiting to be written.
A couple of weeks ago, I heard it was peak time to see fall colors in Buffalo. So I struck out for Caz Park to see what I could see. I admit, I am not very familiar with the park except for those bike rides through it on Warren Spahn Way, and a couple of road (running) races. But this day I drove over and parked at the Shelter House to get a closer look. I see things more clearly on foot.
A Bit of History, of Course
Let’s start with a bit of the history of Buffalo’s Parks and Parkway System.
In the mid 1800s, Buffalo was booming. We were growing as fast as a city could at the time. Commerce flourished along the waterfront with shipping, railroads, cattle, grain and all the smaller industries that supported these giants. Buffalo had money, and by 1860, city leaders wanted to create a park similar to Frederick Law Olmsted’s Central Park in New York City. So, they brought Olmsted to Buffalo to design our own Central Park.
After touring the city through its radial streets design, laid out by Joseph Ellicott in 1804, Olmsted declared Buffalo to be “the best planned city, as to streets, public places, and grounds, in the United States, if not in the world.”* He then proceeded to improve upon it, by proposing and creating a park system to compliment the already beautifully designed city we call home. It would become the first park system in the United States, where the parks are connected through a series of parkways, giving the illusion that, when travelling from one to another, you haven’t left the park.
Take a walk down the center of Lincoln, Bidwell or Chapin Parkways to get that feeling. It’s real. Olmsted knew what he was doing. He is perhaps the greatest landscape architect our country has ever seen, even now.
Cazenovia Park and South Park were designed to serve the rapidly growing neighborhood that came to be known as South Buffalo. You know the place. These parks were to become part of the elaborate park system I mentioned just a moment ago.
Caz Park was built between 1892 and 1894, by Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot, including Frederick Law’s son, John. It sits on an 83 acre site roughly bounded by Abbott Road, Cazenovia Street, Potters Road and Seneca Street. Cazenovia Creek ran through the park, and was dammed to create a 20 acre lake near the Cazenovia Street/Abbott Road area. This was news to me. And it made me think. It’s an 83 acre park, so that means the lake took up just about a quarter of the whole park.
Wish I could have seen it. Apparently it was a popular spot for canoeing and boating in summers as well as ice skating in the winter. Which I could totally see. I get that it’s a safety thing, but I wish skating was allowed in the parks again. I suppose we have skating at Rotary Rink and Canalside. Which is fun, but it doesn’t seem quite the same as gliding out onto a lake, or even a creek.
What would we have to do to bring this back? Hmmmm. Not holding my breath.
In 1902, the Shelter House was built to accommodate the boaters and skaters. And for that matter the picnickers too, because this was becoming the place to be evenings and weekends in South Buffalo. The Shelter House was smaller than Olmsted had originally designed it, but where else do you see public restrooms like these, except in an Olmsted park? They’re amazing.
In 1912, funds were available, and the Casino was built. The architectural firm of Esenwein & Johnson was chosen to design it. The firm was well known, and quite popular in Buffalo, having designed many buildings and homes here, including the Temple of Music at the Pan Am Exposition, the Niagara Mohawk Building, the Elephant House at the Buffalo Zoo, the Calumet Building, and more.
The casino was located right along the lake and the lower (basement) level had room for 100 boats and canoes, both private and rentals. There were restrooms, an ice cream shop and a candy counter, with plenty of seating both inside and out on the expansive patios overlooking the lake. The upper floor was used for offices and storage. Must have been something back in the day when the lake was still there, sitting out on the patio sipping a cool lemonade on a hot summer day, watching the boaters. Or hot cocoa in the winter after skating.
The casino is still there, and the views are absolutely lovely today of a meadow with plenty of trees, a playground for kids, baseball diamonds and the creek off in the distance.
What Happened to the Lake?
Because the lake was created by damming the creek, there were all sorts of drainage issues throughout its history. Silt built up often in the (only) 4 -6 feet deep lake, and flooding occurred many times. Over the years, the lake was dredged and redesigned in the hopes that the flooding issue would be rectified, but it was no good.
The lake was eventually removed. I’ll add that I’ve read many different versions of when it was finally removed. I guess there was a small lagoon area that was created during one of the redesigns that was there until 1969 or so, but most of the lake was gone in the 1950s. I won’t quibble about the exact date, because it’s pretty clear that it was completely gone by 1970. It’s sad that they couldn’t make it work, but you can’t fight Mother Nature. She always wins in the end.
On a Personal Note
My Dad recently told me a story about asking his father to drive him out to Caz Park to do some fishing. He was about 12 years old and had heard the fish were biting. He asked to be dropped off and then picked up three hours later. Normally, he’d have ridden his bike, but it was March and was snowy. My father grew up on the East Side, and rode his bike all over Western New York as a 10 or 12 year old, to fish. Including to a lake out in Clarence. And once he rode to Chautauqua Lake without telling his parents where he was going. But that’s another story for another day.
So my Gramps dropped Dad off at Caz Creek in the park. He was absolutely freezing by the time he got picked up, three hours later. Apparently, the casino was closed that day. When I asked if he caught anything, he replied, “Oh yeah, we ate fish for supper that night, but I don’t remember what kind or how many, I just remember how cold I was.” This was a kid who delivered 120 newspapers every morning, and more on the weekends, so he was no stranger to being out in the cold. But that memory sticks out in his mind about Cazenovia Creek to this day.
Today, the park is chock full of amenities. There are baseball diamonds, tennis courts, basketball courts, soccer fields, a playground, a splash pad, a community center, complete with a swimming pool, an indoor ice rink, and a senior center. Oh, and a golf course! There is also a neighborhood library on the grounds, although it’s temporarily closed. And let us not forget the numerous events that would be taking place throughout the year, if it weren’t for covid. (When will I get to write a post that doesn’t include that word?)
And the foot paths. They are used daily by South Buffalonians of all ages. There are always people walking here. With their dogs. Alone. In pairs or small groups. And why not? It’s a beautiful park, with gorgeous, old trees chosen and placed, quite possibly by Olmsted himself. And It’s what I did on this crisp, sunny day at the end of November.
The Shelter House was renamed in 2016 for Robert B. Williams, a former professional baseball player, and longtime Buffalo cop. He also coached and mentored thousands of children while active in the Buffalo Police Athletic League. Very cool.
I am so happy I ‘got to know’ Caz Park. And there is more to see! I’m going to make it a point to get out here in all four seasons to really get to know this park. The foot (bike) paths are just lovely, with lots to see, including wildlife. There are a lot of trees in the park, both old and new. That’s always a good thing. And some of the old ones, boy, are they ever beautiful.
Here’s something I couldn’t help but notice while walking around the park. The park is residential in several areas. Meaning that there are homes that face the park, on Potters Road, Cazenovia Street and more. And guess what? They’re not million dollar mansions like the homes that line Nottingham Terrace, or Rumsey Road. That hits me like a breath of fresh air. They’re great homes to be sure. I might have to return to get some photos on a street or two, and write a post…yes, I think I will. I’ll put it on the list. You know, that list that’s got 89 (I went back and counted) ideas on it, haha!
This park is steeped in history. While walking around, I couldn’t help but wonder about the many, many people who have come before me. What were they like? Did they freeze here in the winter like my Dad did? Did they score the winning goal at a soccer game, or basketball game? Or did their team win the softball championship in 1976?
Or was this the place to come on Sundays in your horse drawn carriage around the turn of the 20th century? With a picnic basket, filled with whatever was popular picnic fare back then? Possibly sitting out on the terrace overlooking the lake?
Who were these Buffalonians? What were they like? Were they happy? Were they kind?
When, oh when, will time travel be a thing? I will be first in line. I’d like to see Buffalo during its heyday. I’d like to see this park in 1915. And not as a woman of Polish/Irish descent who would have worked in service, but as the daughter of very educated parents, who happened to be very successful, and wealthy. Haha!
This place incites daydreams in me. I will definitely be back. And soon. I love walking in the snow…
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*The Best Planned City in the World: Olmsted, Vaux, and the Buffalo Park System (Designing the American Park) Hardcover – June 7, 2013. by Francis R. Kowsky
Several years ago now, I heard a story about a particular house in Arlington Park. The person telling it spoke about the architectural detail, the unique building process and the care that has been taken to keep the structure original. I had no idea where Arlington Park was. Of course I asked a few questions and the next chance I had, I took off to explore. Here’s a photo of that house. To my eye, it’s enchanting. And it sparked a real interest in residential parks.
In the beginning (1856), Arlington Park was designed and laid out as a private park on the estate of James Wadsworth. The estate was accessed from North Street and extended to Allen, bordering on Wadsworth Street. Private parks were quite common among the rich in Buffalo at the time. For us, that’s hard to imagine today, even among the rich.
Wadsworth was wealthy to be sure. He was from Durham, Connecticut, and was a Yale graduate who settled in Buffalo in 1845, to open a law practice. By 1850 he was chosen as the city’s attorney, and by 1851 he was elected Mayor of Buffalo. He served one term, which was one year at the time. He was then named president of Buffalo, Brantford and Goderich Railroad after his mayoral term ended, and also served as a New York State Senator from 1856-58.
Basically, you could say he was successful enough to have a private park on his estate. Wadsworth left Buffalo for New York City in 1859.
The city grew up around the park and through pedestrian use, the park was eventually ruled to be part of public domain in 1884.
Frederick Law Olmsted lived on Arlington Park while he was working in Buffalo designing our Park System. He actually designed the green space in the park, going off of his own notion of what a common city space should be. After experiencing the park, I have to agree with that notion. It is everything a residential park should be! Trees, shrubs, flowers, meandering walkways, pretty light posts. Enough space to throw a frisbee around or have a picnic, but not enough space for a baseball diamond. You get the idea.
Arlington Park is in Allentown just one block off of the busiest end of Allen Street. It’s a small 300’ x 100’ plot of land. But standing in the center of the park, you would never believe the shenanigans that go on one block over. The park is such a haven. It’s quiet (it really is!), it’s picturesque, and the homes. They are nothing short of spectacular!
The story goes that because Olmsted lived here, architects were attracted to building here, and they all tried to outdo each other. Whether it’s true or not, we’ll never know. But you have to admit, it must have been a rare opportunity to be able to build on a park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the greatest landscape architect our country has ever seen. What we do know for sure is, the homes that were built here make living on Arlington Park quite a charming prospect.
They are all different styles and sizes. Some are apartments, some are single family homes. They are all well maintained. They are very close together. Some people think this lends itself to the sense of community here. My husband and I have always joked that the reason we have great parties is because our house is small and people are forced to mingle. There’s something to be said for that.
Same thing applies to this type of city living. There is a sense of community when you know your neighbors. Some neighborhoods have it. Arlington Park definitely does. I’ve wandered through many times, and each time, I get into friendly little conversations with residents and visitors alike. This is truly what a community should be.
There also appears to be an active block club in Arlington Park who keeps the residents in touch, the park in good shape, the flowers planted etc. The overall effect of all of it is serene, appealing and friendly.
If you think about it, Arlington Park is actually a microcosm of what Buffalo truly is. A warm, welcoming, friendly place to live.
As I mentioned in part one of this series, residential parks are a great place to do a bit of urban exploration. Arlington Park is no exception. Take some time this spring and summer to get out and experience it and the surrounding neighborhood. Fair warning, you may find yourself getting into some great conversations with the locals. Enjoy it!
Missed the first of three posts about our residential parks? Read about Day’s Park here.
Look for my third and final post about Buffalo’s residential parks next week. It’s going to be a good one!
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Buffalo is fortunate enough to have three residential parks within its boundaries. They are Day’s Park, Arlington Park and Johnson Park. This post is the first of my three part series on these parks.
I’m going to begin with Day’s Park, simply because it’s the first one I experienced. My husband and I volunteer at Friends of the Night People, and on our way there one Sunday afternoon, years ago, I happened to catch a glimpse of the park while driving by. My husband is a patient man and he pulled over so we could go explore. I remember thinking to myself, this must be a great place to live!
Photo Credit to Day’s Park Facebook Page.
The park is named for Thomas Day. Although designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Day’s Park was not originally part of Olmsted’s plan for Buffalo’s Park System. In 1886 (well into the building of our park system) the responsibility of the Board of Park Commissioners was expanded to include all public green spaces in the city. The Board requested from Olmsted designs for several new small areas, one of which was Day’s Park. He submitted plans for all of them. So, Day’s Park is an Olmsted design. Cool.
But let’s go back to the beginning.
After the burning of Buffalo in 1813, and after several more fires leveled numerous homes in the city, Buffalo’s fire code was changed (sometime around 1820-21) to stipulate that residences could no longer be built entirely of wood.
Thomas Day arrived on the scene in Buffalo in early 1823, and if you think about it, his timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It was just after the fire code changed, and just before the opening of the Erie Canal and all the incredible growth Buffalo underwent immediately following.
Thomas Day, you see, was a brick maker. When he arrived, he opened Buffalo’s first brick kiln. The need for brick was there, and so was the money. Day of course, made a small fortune. Smart man.
Day’s Park entrance from Allen Street.
Like many who possess an entrepreneurial mind, Day’s next step was to invest in real estate. He used his brick money to invest in land just north of the city. He anticipated that the city’s growth would move northward as the city became more and more industrialized. He was right. That’s exactly what happened. Smart move.
Lewis Allen had a farm adjacent to Day’s land just north of the city, and when his herd of cattle grew too large for his own acreage, he used Day’s pasture. He did this by driving his herd west from what is now Main Street. The well trod path to Day’s pasturage became what is now Allen Street, in Allentown. Named for, of course, Lewis Allen.
In 1859 Day donated the green space where Allen’s cattle pastured, to the city as perpetual green space, Day’s Park. Yet another smart move.
He then built the first two homes on the space for his sons. They are Nos. 25 & 33. They were built with Day’s own bricks and both homes are still standing today.
Left to Right, Nos. 25 & 33 Day’s Park. Homes built by Thomas Day.
Interestingly, Olmsted included a fountain in the Days Park plan. In the entire park system he created for Buffalo, this was the only fountain included in any of his plans. Regrettably, the original fountain was removed in 1923. Fountains can be difficult and expensive to maintain over time, so one can only assume this was the reason for the removal.
The park itself was enjoyed and beloved for many years. Unfortunately though, it fell on hard times in the mid twentieth century, much like Buffalo itself. Sadly, homeowners moved out and rented the properties. Care of the previously well used and well loved park fell off, and so did the care of the homes adjacent to the park. The park deteriorated and the homes became dilapidated.
In 1957, the city announced plans to split the park into a playground and a parking lot. Warren Day Ferris, a descendant of Thomas Day, produced an original deed which stated the land was donated with the stipulation that the land be kept a park, or it would revert to Day’s heirs. When the city balked, Ferris sued. The case was taken to the State Supreme Court, which ruled the space had to remain as one space, and as a park.
In the 1970’s, a college student, David Urgo convinced a farmer to donate 60 wild oak, maple and ash trees and the parks department arranged for planting. These replaced the elm trees that were lost to Dutch Elm Disease in the 1960’s. (Buffalo lost hundreds of Elms at that time.)
The hard times however, continued for the park, as they did for the city. At one point there were drug deals going on in broad daylight right out in front of the school that resides on the park (now Elmwood Village Charter School). Police intervention was slow at best.
Elmwood Village Charter School on Day’s Park
In 1987, the Day’s Park Block Club was formed. At this point more than half of the homes (both one- and two-family) were either owned by absentee landlords or stood vacant. Just 30 trees remained. The Block Club began extensive renovation of the park.
They pushed the city to deal with the drug problem, and also assisted the city in prosecuting the absentee landlord situation, getting the owners to either sell, or make the necessary improvements to their homes on the park.
The movement was under way. The fountain was replaced in its original spot in the park surrounded by a wrought iron fence, as Olmsted had designed it. But almost unbelievably, the fountain was stolen in 1995 by thieves posing as city workers. It wasn’t until 1999 that funds were made available to replace it. With the fountain in place once again, the park looks much as it did on Olmsted’s original design.
When I visited Days Park again recently to snap a few photos for this post, I couldn’t help but notice the ongoing problem the Block Club has been experiencing with getting grass to grow in the park. The trees shade the park so much that it’s difficult for grass to grow. They’ve held fundraisers specifically for this project. It is ongoing. The fountain appears to need work as well, although this might be what it looks like every spring after a long hard Buffalo winter! Mental note to check it out in a month or so”¦
I hesitated to even include this photo in the post, but when I check back, I’ll hopefully get a great shot of a beautiful working fountain. I’ll keep you posted.
Update: A recent visit to Day’s Park shows the park in full bloom of summer. I am happy to report that the fountain is up and running and looking great, surrounded by a plethora of wildflowers about to burst open! A couple of other shots show the struggle with the grass continues, but you can also see the widespread shade provided by the trees, causing some of the problem. Still, the park is a peaceful oasis, and I found myself wishing I had brought a chair and a good book.
You could say that the story of the park parallels the history of Buffalo. Both built during great prosperity, both fell on hard times, and suffered struggles along the way. But both are emerging victorious through hard work and perseverance.
Day’s Park is located just west of Allen Street at Wadsworth in Allentown, on a piece of property that used to be an open pasture. Can you imagine it? I can. But you know what a daydreamer I can be.
Incidentally, residential parks are perfect for urban hiking. Next time you find yourself yearning for a little urban exploration, get yourself to Day’s Park. Explore it and the surrounding neighborhood reminding yourself of the history this park has seen. From farmland to numerous homes, a school, and a park. It all used to be pasture land owned by a brick maker, Thomas Day. A smart man, who made several smart moves in his lifetime. One of which we benefit from still, our own Day’s Park.
Look for my secondand third posts on Buffalo’s residential parks over the next two weeks.
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