The Banks of The Cazenovia 

I grew up along the banks of this redoubtable stream in Western New York State. The people who live along  this waterway are my friends and neighbors. Over the years, we have watched ice jams and floods wreak havoc on the surrounding terrain. We have also enjoyed its' languorous  beauty during  late summer and early fall. The history of  Western New York  is reflected in the growth of settlements up and down the Cazenovia, from the late 1700's to present day. The names of the towns and villages, on its banks, are reflective of America's immigrants.

Once, Western New York was the wild frontier of a new America. Then, it developed into a 19th century commercial colossus. Now, it is  undergoing a metamorphosis to an educational, banking, medical and information center.

As these transitions occurred, our people lived quietly along the banks of the Cazenovia. Indian Villages, religious settlements, farms and rural towns evolved as America grew ever westward.

On a topographical survey map, the stream is modest in size. To the residents of the area, it looms much larger. It  was and is a source of food, water, irrigation, navigation and finally, recreation to many thousands of western New Yorkers. Follow me  along its length.

The   Cazenovia has two principal branches, that  serve as a watershed, draining the hilly regions  of the southeastern portion of Erie County. They merge  lower down, near  East Aurora, and begin to gain in  depth and speed, as the water courses over the slate and gravel bedrock.

The western branch of  Cazenovia  Creek starts as multiple rivulets  high in the hills south of Buffalo. The Forests  along Genesee Rd., in the Town of Sardinia and Concord,  are laced with ravines and feeder streams. The eastern branch has a similar genesis in the hills around the Town of Holland, on Rte. # 16. Here, at an elevation of 1400 ft., the  highest in Erie County, the creeks  must make   a long and serpentine run, for the 30 odd miles downward, into  the Buffalo River and Lake Erie. Both source areas  are rooted with  large stands of multiple variety, second growth conifers. It looks  and feels like a far Northern Forest. The water is icy-cold at this level. Snow melt lasts  far into the spring and feeds the tiny streams with a crystal clear runoff that sparkles in the sunlight.

You first become aware of the  western stream,  as you drive north on Rte. 240, near the Kissing Bridge Ski Resort, in Glenwood. The depth is shallow, highlighting the pebbled concourse beneath. It runs parallel to the  railroad tracks and serves as a moat of sorts,  for the ski runs high above the west bank. In Fall, the fiery reds of the sugar maples  and the dappled yellows and shades of orange and tan, paint a collage of blazing color and beauty in the area .

The eastern branch flows through the rugged and hilly terrain of the  Holland and  Wales Townships, meandering along both sides of the old Olean Plank Rd, or Rte  16, as we now know it. Holland is a substantial Town, with a vibrant business district lining both sides of Rte.  16. The Holland Hotel evokes memories of traveling wayfarer stations throughout the west. Holland speedway is a modern motorized Arena, where piloted metal chariots duel weekly in the warmer months.

Next up the line, on the west branch, is the small village of Colden. The water is running faster here. A  functioning grist mill once stood on the site. Now, the charming  Colden Country Store and  the  picturesque  Colden Mill restaurant, with a turning water wheel, occupy the area. They draw  a portrait of 19th century  rural grace, replete with spired church . In winter, the village is alive with skiers headed to the nearby slopes. We like it best in Fall, when it is quiet and peaceful.

Across the Colden Hills, the Eastern branch of the Creek runs along the   boundaries of Emery Park, in South Wales. The gorges are steep and rugged here, with eroded shale formations. A miniature Falls cascades along the top of the Park. The area is beautifully forested with a second growth of many types of tall pines. The 800 acre Park is rustic and peaceful.

On the western side of the Valley, the waterway parallels Rte. 240. Both occupy  the bottom of what must have been an ancient spillway at the end of the last Ice Age.

The entire valley  drains part of  the enormous Onondoga Escarpment, which is the northwestern corner of the Glacial,  Appalachian Plateau.  During the last Ice Age, the snow melt, from towering glaciers, was carried  downward to the large inland sea below. The vast glacial pool covered  Lake Erie and  most of the western  portions of New York State, Pennsylvania and northern Ohio. Mighty rivers of runoff gouged out a series of broad valleys, in this area, flowing South to North.

'Westfalls' reads the next road sign. The former Dog Bar restaurant, the West Falls  fire hall and local store, make up the business community. Here, a small iron bridge crosses the creek to the eastern bank. The road leads  up into the Hills and over towards the old  Olean Rd  and the eastern branch of the creek.The water runs  swift and shallow here as well.White ripples of turbulent water, over a bed of smooth worn rocks, gives the appearance of a northern trout stream.

The next few miles  of creekbed, on both branches, flow  through the rural farm lands  of the Town of  Aurora. Corn, wheat, sorghum, pumpkins and hay fields belie the popular image of New York State as an urban conclave. The rounded conical silos, of dairy farms , are peopled outposts amidst the  solitude of the cultivated fields . Herds of cows and the occasional brace of graceful mares graze contentedly in the afternoon sun.    

The western branch passes the former settlement of  Griffins Mills. Its' history and peoples are now only a distant memory.  The branches then  merge in the Town of Aurora, just west of the quaint village of East Aurora. Here, Elbert Hubbard founded The Roycroft  institute for progressive thinking and  artistic craftsmanship. He and his wife were lost on the Lusitania. It is also the Home  of former U.S. President Millard Fillmore and the Headquarters of The  Fisher Price Toy makers.

The next few miles pass  quietly through rural Elma. The trees are tall, stately, deciduous hardwoods, reflecting the areas original first growth. Elma Meadows golf course draws its' irrigation from the Cazenovia. It appears as a  series of emerald green  patches,  amidst the hayfields and rural lanes. It is the leafy penumbra where Town and country first merge.

The community of Springbrook  is still remembered here by the Springbrook Hotel, on Rte.  16. It, as well as the North Star Tavern and several others, were  stops on the Olean Plank Rd. This rugged stagecoach  run  made the bouncy  70 mile journey from Buffalo to Olean in the early 1800's. They  and the Cazenovia, traverse the great defile of the valley gouged out by the glaciers .

At this point of the journey,  in Spring, the ice  starts  to pile up. The creek levels out and begins the last fifteen  miles of its' meandering route through the populated areas of West Seneca and  South Buffalo.  The    'Community of True Inspiration '  flourished briefly  here, in Ebeneezer, during the 1840's. They  moved  on to Amana, in the midwest, and  gained fame manufacturing  kitchen appliances.  They were an immigrant German Religious Community seeking freedom of Worship.

In the southeast corner of West Seneca, between Transit and Leydecker Roads, the creek  flows through a  broad  canyon, with steep walls. From high above on Leydecker Rd., you can see the strata of shale carved out by thousands of years of erosion. A good sized island of scrub brush and deposited silt, splits the channel briefly, before it resumes its' original course. From this point north, begins a narrow and precipitous channel through which huge volumes of runoff surge every spring.

At about the location of the Southgate  Plaza, on Union Rd., the banks again start to  level off. The stream takes on the normal visage of a  lazy meandering creek in summer.  A few hundred yards west of Union, the creek takes a right turn at Gossel's Island. This is a gravel bar deposited by the fast running waters of the creek. Unless it is excavated regularly, the surrounding areas are in danger of  Spring flooding from the jammed up ice pack. The rich alluvial fan of silt deposited here, created  fertile farmlands  that were still in use for agriculture into the 1990’s. Along this section in  winter, the flowing ice tinkles musically, as it jostles its way  around the bend towards Buffalo.

The stream passes to the east of the busy intersection at Ridge  and Orchard Park Rds. . It is  near the old Indian village on the Hill, at Seneca and Ridge.  The Creek  then bisects Orchard Park Rd., near Seneca St. Here, a large iron bridge spans the broad waterway, near the the old Bellwood Elementary School and Union Fire Hall .

Next, it follows a narrow concourse through the Cazenovia Golf course, on the Buffalo border.  The third hole is a nine iron shot across the creek. A  picturesque wooden,  pedestrian, suspension bridge spans the creek here . The second shot on the ninth hole  also must cross the creek. Many, many shots do not carry the distance. For generations, this has provided pocket money for the local urchins, who retrieve the balls and sell them back to the errant duffers.

Cazenovia park lies  ahead,  with all of its' natural beauty. Many large old Creek willows line the banks and give the area a stately elegance. In the early part of the century the  area, which now has three baseball diamonds, was  completely flooded. Canoes were rented  from the base of the Cazenovia Park Casino. Later, during the 1930's, thousands gathered for concerts and legendary soft ball exhibitions. Shifty Gears was a local hero. It was a bucolic visage of  pre World War I Americana.

This area is also the site of the old Seneca Creek Indian reservation. For generations, the Seneca Indians, camped here and fished the creek. Two blocks over, at the end of Buffum St., is the original resting place of Mary Jemison, The " White woman of the Genessee Valley" and the great  Seneca Indian Chief, Red Jacket. Both are  historical figures of note and residents of the reservation.

Many children play along the banks in the Park, fishing and hunting for crayfish and frogs. Several score of local Tom Sawyers have launched rafts and wiled away many  summers here, oblivious of the world around them.

        Two iron bridges span the creek at either end of  the Park. A  series of flood control projects here,  known to  local youngsters  as the "Dam" and the "slants,”  create  a concrete spillway for the fast rushing waters in Spring. A miniature horseshoe Falls, in the middle of the creek,  draws crowds of urchins on  warm August days. The  large indoor skating rink and nearby  Cazenovia pool complex  are a stone's throw from the west bank.

The final stretch of the Cazenovia, along Legion Drive,  runs  under three  more  iron bridges, at Stevenson  St., Southside Dr. and Bailey Avenue .  The area is densely populated with frame dwellings, that send forth the multitudes of urchins who roam the creekbanks  and nearby parks. The Southside School sits on the east bank and the venerable South Park High School is a few blocks over from the west bank.

Past these, near Mungovan Park,  the creek  merges with the Buffalo River, for its'  final journey into Lake Erie.  Here, every spring, motorized ice breakers must clear the mouth of the creek, to relieve the pressure of ice log jams miles upstream.

The  confluence of Cazenovia Creek and the Buffalo River occurs in an area that was once heavily industrialized.  It often suffered from illegal chemical discharges. I can remember times past, when the creek from the Buffalo River to Stevenson St., was as black as ink and as turgid as mud. We never knew what chemicals invaded the stream  at this point. Nothing lived in the water here, except what our imaginations created  to scare the younger ones. Tougher  environmental standards over the years have cleaned up this portion  of the creek somewhat.

Finally, we arrive at the Buffalo River. A large oil refinery and chemical plant once dominated the area. There are  mostly residential and commercial strucutres here now. The Buffalo River and Cazenovia Creek join to form a substantial waterway that wends its' way past the tall grain elevators and bulky Lake Freighters, into the broad expanse of Lake Erie. The picturesque " China Lighthouse" here has warned sailors away from shoals since the 1830's. A Coast Guard Base and large Public Marina now dominate the River's mouth. Our journey is over.

Cazenovia Creek runs from the rural and forested Hills in southern Erie County, to the densely populated residential neighborhoods of South Buffalo. The people along its' banks are  ethnically and socio-economically diverse. They are farmers and businessmen, laborers and professionals. Each admires the creek in the warmer months and eyes it warily in the Spring. Indian settlements, Farms, Villages and Towns  grew up along its' Banks.

It isn't the Mississippi River, or the Ohio, but it has a magic and a life all its' own.  We thought it  just as interesting as the bigger streams and to us, it is home .


                              Joseph X. Martin