When Parkside was the Rugged Frontier

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Long before European men tread through what is today known as Parkside, portions of the area were sacred to the Seneca Nation and their fellow members of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) League of Indian Nations.

Judging by the archaeological evidence, even long before the Senecas arrived in this part of Western New York, the Erie tribe and others lived near what we now think of as Parkside.

One legend passed down through the family of early resident Erastus Granger spins the tale that native chieftains would convene “Councils in the Oaks” on ancient battlefield here, destined to become part of the Granger property.

When Granger became the area’s first permanent resident in 1804, vast wilderness was all the eye could see. Later, his son Warren built a magnificent home, what generations of Parksiders called “The Castle,” on the spot where native chiefs had met long before the scribes of modern history were there to record them.

The Granger Castle. Now the site of the Forest Lawn Sundial, Main Street. Buffalo Stories archives

Today, the area is Forest Lawn Cemetery, and this specific plot is marked with a large sundial, easily visible from Main Street. Warren’s daughter Anna Granger wrote of it:

When Warren Granger selected the situation to build his home, he fixed upon the spot where the “Six Nations” held their counsels, the elevation was crowned by a grand old oak. This part of Flint Hill was sacred to the Indians, for here many, many, many moons beyond the memory of the oldest chief, a fierce battle had been fought. The plow shares continually turned up skulls, arrow heads and tomahawks of ancient design.

There are also many early accounts of children finding bone fragments and arrowheads in massive quantities as they played in the woods along what is now Main Street. It was from the “Old Iroquois Forest,” as the woods along Main Street in the Parkside area were known, that many of the logs were hewn to build the early structures of Buffalo; many more were used after the village was burned by the British in 1813.

In the 1790’s, Western New York was bought from Massachusetts by Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham, defaulted on, and then purchased by Robert Morris. He was the financier of the American Revolution and, at the time of the purchase in 1791, the richest man in America.

Over the next two years, he sold the land to The Holland Land Company. Before that transaction could be completed, however, peace had to be made with the Six Nations, the Indians who actually inhabited the area. That peace was accomplished with the 1797 Treaty of Big Tree, which called for 1,300,000 acres of Native land to be sold for $100,000– leaving the Seneca Nation with a 200,000 acre reservation, to the south of the tiny village of Buffalo. Seneca Chief Red Jacket was paid a $600 bonus at the signing, and was guaranteed $100 a year for the rest of his life.

The Holland Land Company, under Joseph Elliott, began surveying the area today known as Western New York. It is this survey that is the starting point for most property deeds in the area, including in Parkside.

The first traces of modern Parkside are etched onto the map in 1797 when what is now Main Street is cut through the wilderness, connecting outposts in Clarence and Williamsville with the burgeoning village at the mouth of the Buffalo Creek. That village was officially known as New Amsterdam, but almost from the beginning known to locals as Buffaloe (yes, with an “e” in the early years).

Early Settlers

While many of the earliest residents of Parkside may have been Native Americans with names long forgotten to history– the names of the earliest white settlers still live on in file cabinets and safety deposit boxes. Many of the following names will be familiar to any Parkside homeowner who has read his or her property deed.

Erastus Granger was a central figure in the founding of Buffalo. He was among Buffalo’s first permanent residents, and also the first Parkside Landowner who actually lived here as well.  Having spent the early part of his life as a land speculator in Ohio, Kentucky and Western Virginia, he was to become an active supporter of the Democratic-Republican Party, and specifically of Thomas Jefferson.

It was upon Jefferson’s appointment Granger came to Buffalo in 1804. He purchased a vast tract of land along Main Street that stretched from what is now Forest Lawn Cemetery, north to the Delaware Park Meadow; and as far west as what is now the H.H. Richardson State Hospital Complex on Forest Avenue.

His homestead was built along Conjockety’s (now Scajaquada) Creek near Main Street. The area where his home stood is now the northern-most portion of Forest Lawn Cemetery, near the Canisius College campus.

Erastus Granger’s home along Conjockety’s (Scajaquada) Creek. Around 1915, Scajaquada Creek was covered starting at Main Street, running under Main Street near Jefferson Avenue.(Buffalo Stories archives)

Granger’s life was written about at great length in the Buffalo Sunday Express, November 24, 1912. He was born January 17, 1765, in Suffield, Connecticut. As a boy, he spent part of the winter of 1777-78 encamped with the Continental Army with his father at Valley Forge. As a young man, eager for adventure, he became a surveyor of frontier lands. It was on his travels in Western Virginia in 1798-99 that he became acquainted with Thomas Jefferson, who prevailed upon Granger and his brother Gideon to campaign for him for President in their native Connecticut. Once Jefferson was elected, Gideon was named Postmaster General. Erastus was named Indian Agent for the Six Nations, and was also confirmed by the United States Senate as the “surveyor of the port of Buffalo creek.”

He reached Buffalo Creek on horseback March 30, 1804, finding a frontier village of 16 huts, and the streets strewn with tree stumps. He quickly organized a post office. This handled the incoming mail, once a week, as a single horseman “came from Canandaigua with a pair of saddlebags and the trifling mail,” and once a week he returned from Fort Niagara. Within three years of his arrival, in 1807, he was appointed as the outpost’s first Judge.

Granger’s most important work came, though, as Indian Agent. He met often with the great chiefs of the Six Nations, shared his harvests with them, and allowed them to continue to use his land on Flint Hill for their councils in the oaks.

“Flint Hill” was the name given to the Granger property and its immediate environs; well outside the boundaries of the then small village of Buffalo, about 4 miles to the north. Granger himself used the name “Flint Hill” to describe his home, but, by 1914, the name had so long fallen out of use that readers of Peace Episodes on the Niagara (Buffalo Historical Society) needed an explanation of the location of the place:

“Flint Hill” is a name little known to the present generation; but their elders in Buffalo knew it as the region mostly west of Main street and north of Humboldt Parkway, embracing most of the Parkside district and the adjacent portion of Delaware Park.

The first book ever published in Buffalo was a collection of public speeches given by Granger and his great friend, the Seneca Chief Red Jacket, made as war was declared between Great Britain and the United States. Both men spoke of the desire to keep the Six Nations neutral in the conflict which would become known to history as the War of 1812.

Red Jacket, Cornplanter, Farmer’s Brother and other brilliant chiefs of the Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Tuscarora and Oneida tribes were present on July 6, 1812, just days after word of war had reached Buffalo, when Judge Granger first offered a message of goodwill and friendship to the Indians, then spoke these words to the assembled council of Native Chiefs:

Your great father, the president of the 17 fires (James Madison), now gives his red children the same advice which he gave you at the beginning of the last war (the Revolution); that is you take no part in the quarrels of the white people. He stands in no need of your assistance. His warriors are numerous, like sands on the shore of the great lake which cannot be counted. He is able to fight his own battles, and requests you stay home.

The Six Nations would stay out of the conflict until the Mohawks, who had fled to Canada after the Revolution, joined on the side of the British.

©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon

The 174-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

 

Published by

Avatar

Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. writing about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and is the News Director at WECK Radio. A 25 year Buffalo media veteran, Steve's contributed more than 1400 Buffalo History stories to The Buffalo News, worked at WIVB-TV, Empire Sports Network, and spent ten years as a newsman and News Director at WBEN Radio. He's also put his communication skills to work as an adjunct professor, a producer of PBS documentaries, and even run for Erie County Clerk. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.