It is not truly known whether the Algonkian tribe or an offshoot Eskimo tribe first settled in Western New York. What is known is that " . . . at some stage in the third Algonkian period a new cultural influence began to manifest itself. It apparently came from the west or southwest."1 This cultural influence was in the form of a tribe known as the "Mound Builders."2 Through time the Erie Indians, who next occupied this region, would absorb the Mound Builders. Carving out villages and building outposts, the Erie influence spread from Lake Erie to Western Pennsylvania and Western Ohio. The Erie Indian nation would go on to have a tragic history and their presence forever ended by their warring neighbors.
As the Erie tribe found new lands, so did another group of natives called the Iroquois.3 They entered the region and through alliances or the eradication of other tribes, eventually formed the Five Nations Confederacy in 1570.
According to Iroquois tradition, the Confederacy was founded through a vision where a great spruce tree " . . . reached through the sky to communicate with the Master of Life."4 The Iroquois considered the tree as the sisterhood of all tribes, while the roots represented the five Iroquois tribes; Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk, formed the Five Nations Confederacy.5 The purpose of the confederacy was the establishment and enforcement of an everlasting peace between all the tribes. It was also through this strength that they could oppose and destroy any intruders. A constitution and its laws, which were passed down from generation to generation, governed the confederacy.
In 1653, the Seneca Nation 6 went to war against the Erie tribes. By the mid-1650's, the Erie nation was exterminated by the combined forces of the Seneca Nation and Iroquois warriors. For the next 125 years, the Seneca Nation would battle with the French, the English and eventually, the American colonists.
Peace was finally accorded between the Six Nations and its white neighbors when in 1794 a council was held in Canandaigua, New York. The great Seneca orator, Red Jacket, played a prominent role in negotiations between the Seneca Nation and the Americans. From this council was forged the Treaty of 1794, which became the basic document upon which the Six Nations rest their land titles and tribal rights. One of the tracts of land that was "forever" guaranteed to the Senecas was the Buffalo Creek Reservation. This tract of land was nearly 130 square miles and was situated along Lake Erie, Buffalo Creek and several other streams, making it a highly desirable piece of land. The lands obvious commercial advantages would later lead the whites to wrest control of the land from the Senecas.
Lots 94 and 95 were part of the Buffalo Creek Reservation. It appears that no permanent structures were ever placed on these lots by the Seneca Nation, but it is known that the native harvested the land for its timber. It was also believed that the land was used as an Indian burial ground, however in recent years, doubts have surfaced as to its existence.
In 1810, the Holland Land Company turned to David A. Ogden to deal with the lands claimed by the Senecas. Through land purchases and a treaty made at Buffalo Creek, the Ogden Company secured the title to small reservations along the Buffalo Creek. The tract of land that is now the Town of West Seneca was still in the hands of the Seneca Nation. A council between the Ogden Company and the Senecas was convened in 1838 and " . . . the Seneca Nation made the most heartbreaking sale . . . they sold to Ogden . . . approximately 114,000 acres . . . including the balance of the Buffalo Creek Reservation." 7 As what happened all too often during our nation's history, the use of fraud, bribery, and false claims resulted in the signing away of the Seneca land along the Buffalo Creek, including Lots 94 and 95. The Senecas, with Chief Red Jacket speaking on their behalf, protested, and further negotiations dragged on until, through the use of forgery, the land was obtained under treaty from the natives. The treaty was ratified by the United States Senate and signed by President Van Buren, even though the treaty remained under protest by the Senecas. The Indians moved to have the treaty annulled and found allies in the Quakers and Daniel Webster, who was one of the lawyers who worked on the Senecas' behalf. Although the Seneca Nation did win the rights to some of their land, the Buffalo Creek Reservation slipped out of their control. In 1842 another round of negotiations was arranged, and the results confirmed the sale of the Buffalo Creek Reservation to the Ogden Company. The " . . . commercial aspects of the location, evidently were irresistible to explorers such as the Ogden crowd. Even in 1840, the Reservation property was estimated to be worth $1 million." 8 Additional payments were made and the Seneca Indians were forced to leave the Buffalo Creek Reservation. The once mighty and proud nation that was once the Seneca Nation became a fragmented society. Lots 94 and 95 were to wait for new owners.
III. LOTS 94 & 95 AND THE COMMUNITY OF TRUE INSPIRATION
In the early 1700's, protests against the Lutheran Church in Germany culminated in the founding of a breakaway religious group that called themselves the "Community of True Inspiration." 9 What began as protests against the established religion soon became an open rebellion. The Inspirationists soon turned from simple church defiance to civil disobedience causing its members to suffer under heavy tax penalties and physical violence in the hands of the German authorities. To escape persecution, the Inspirationists moved their families to a more liberal area of Germany where they were able to practice their religion in relative calm for the next 100 years.
After time, government persecution once more became prevalent against the Inspirationists. There was no longer a place in Germany where they could practice their religion in peace and be free from government prejudices. It was decided that a group of church leaders, led by Christian Metz, would set off on a trip to America to find religious freedom for their congregation, and a home in which to raise their families.
In the fall of 1842, the religious congregation arrived in America and set about the task of finding land to settle. Land in Ohio was surveyed, but was immediately ruled out because it was fairly well settled. The church leaders then turned their attention to the western region of New York State where they arranged to meet with a land agent in Westfield, N.Y. At the meeting, it was suggested that they view a tract of land on the Buffalo Creek Indian Reservation that was about to be opened for settlement.
The leaders set out to view the land and were captivated by the raw power and beauty of the land. The trees stood like " . . . a primeval forest . . . upon pleasantly rolling ground, a dim and solemn place drained by small water courses which flowed through leafy hollows into Buffalo Creek." 10 They discovered rich, virgin soil, which never knew cultivation and could provide the agriculture needs of the community. Water which could power grist or saw mills, provide fish and make boat travel possible was readily available with both Buffalo Creek to the north and Cazenovia Creek to the south of the land tract. Christian Metz and the other leaders were smitten by the beauty of the land. They did, however, continue on to the Chautauqua area of New York to view the land that was also available. What they saw did not adequately impress them, and their thoughts turned to settling the land around Buffalo Creek. They immediately began negotiations in acquiring the land that had captivated them. In November of 1842, the Inspirationists turned to the land company of David A. Ogden and bargained to purchase 5,000 acres of land at ten dollars an acre. 11
In 1843, Christian Metz went to the Buffalo Creek Reservation land and took possession of the home of Chief John Seneca. 12 This was the beginning of the community that the Inspirationists were to call "Ebenezer."
The acquisition of the land did not go as smoothly as the colonists had hoped. Although they believed the land was legally theirs, the Indians continued to harvest the trees and sell the timber to Buffalo merchants. When the settlers complained, the Indian chiefs threatened to have the Inspirationists evicted from the land. The Indians had found a legal loophole in the New York State law that stated it was illegal for " . . . residence on Indian lands by persons other than Indians. Legally the tract was still a Reservation and the law in force." 13
The German immigrants quickly worked out a deal with the Indians for about $900, which guaranteed that the Indians would not bother the colonists for a period of one year. As owners of the land, the Indians put several restrictions on the settlers, limiting them to how much land could be cultivated. The Inspirationists turned to Ogden's Company for help, but their appeals seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The ill-prepared society was left to deal with the Indians themselves. Help came to the Inspirationists in the form of legal counselor Millard Fillmore. His remedy was to have the Ogden Company reappraise the land and pay the amount due as stipulated in the earlier treaty. This, in Fillmore's opinion, would settle the matter. Additional payments were made, and in May 1844, representatives of the Inspirationists, Indians, the Ogden Company, and the U.S. Government, sat down to reach a conclusion. The Washington representative carried a letter that informed the Senecas that they had lost claim to the Buffalo Creek Reservation and " . . . that the Indians must yield up the tracts or they would suffer for not doing so, that resistance to the Government and its laws could only bring ruin upon them, and the stipulations of the treaty must be strictly adhered to." 14
The Indians were not about to leave quietly. They again pursued other legal avenues, with most judgements going against the Seneca's claims. Some Indians, sensing their land had slipped away, moved to other reservations while the more militant Indians remained and resisted the settler's claims.
In August 1844, the War Department notified the Seneca Indians that they no longer owned the land. The militant Indians grabbed their axes and began destroying trees, resulting in several arrests. The Inspirationists, seeking to avoid confrontation and not wanting to jail the Indians, sought a peaceful solution through the tribal chiefs.
Later that month, a council convened, with one of the church elders giving the Indians the history of the Inspirationist movement and the discrimination they had faced in Germany. The Inspirationists assured the Indians that they understood their plight, but wanted to peacefully bring the land claim to a finale. One of the chiefs, speaking on behalf of the Indians, said, " . . . they were not enemies of the colonists, that they had no cause of complaint against them. But just as they bought the land and occupied it according to their faith in their God, so for the Great Spirit had given this land to their forefathers and now were determined to hold it as long as they were able." 15 The chief rebuked the claim of the colonists and told them the Ogden Company had duped them.
As bleak as the future looked to the colonists, their plight apparently appealed to the Indian's sense of fair play. An Indian delegate appeared before the church elders and agreed to abandon the reservation. True to their word, by the end of 1846, the last of the Indians left, turning over the Buffalo Creek Reservation to the Community of True Inspiration.
With the land now firmly in hand, the settlers turned to developing their community. Lands were cultivated, crops planted, and trees cut to produce timber needed for their homes and businesses.
In a letter to his father in Germany, one of the colonists Joseph Prestele, wrote: "According to the plans, three communities were to be built, namely Ober Ebenezer, Nieder Ebenezer, and Mittel Ebenezer, which will be the largest because most of the land had been cleared and cultivated and it has the best location on a little stream." 16 In 1846 the community was incorporated, not as a social or business organization, but as the Village of Ebenezer. The Inspirationists, or "Ebenezer Society" as they became known, operated under its own constitution and by-laws. The only reason for the incorporation " . . . was to obtain for the society their right to have its own local government, backed by the authority of New York State." 17
A permanent home was erected in Middle Ebenezer, on Lot 94, which became the home of William Moershel, Sr., a trustee for the Ebenezer Society. Mr. Moershel remained in this home until his death in 1862. Another structure built on Lot 94 was a washhouse that appears to have been built for community use. There may also have been a few isolated cabins on Lots 94 and 95 that were used by woodsmen who worked as loggers.
In August of 1843, an infant from the Ebenezer Society, aged one year and seven months old, died. The baby's body was laid to rest in a spot on Lot 94 near Buffalo Creek, which would serve as a cemetery for the Ebenezers. The Middle Ebenezer cemetery was approximately one acre in size and would eventually contain the remains of over 160 members of the Ebenezer Society, as well as a few non-members. Mr. Moershel, Sr., whose home was on the same parcel of land, was interred in this cemetery upon his death in 1862. The general appearance of the cemetery was unkempt, surrounded by basic board fences. The grass was allowed to grow and no other plants were added. The graves were marked with wooden markers; probably pine planks, about 1 ½ to 2 feet by about 1 foot in size. Stamped or carved on the grave marker were the decedent's name, age, and date of death. When the Ebenezer Society abandoned the graveyard all of the cemetery markers eventually disappeared. Other residents within the community carted away the markers to use for " . . . sidewalk slabs, pier foundations under a porch, chicken coops, etc." 18 People of note buried in the cemetery included Christian Metz's two sisters, and Carl Ludwig Mayer, Elder and chief business agent for the Society. The last burial by the Ebenezers in this cemetery was performed in November 1863.
The Ebenezer Society built a dam on the north side of Buffalo Creek and then built two millraces 19 on Lots 94 and 95, which diverted water around the parcel of land, thus making most of Lot 94 an island. These millraces, which were excavated by hand by the Ebenezers, formed a pond where logs were gathered before being sent west under Union Road to a sawmill further down Buffalo Creek. The millraces furnished the hydraulic power not only for the sawmill, but also for the grist mill and tannery operated by the Society.
Ten years and after the establishment of the community in Ebenezer, the Inspirationists again felt the resentment of their neighbors who eyed their lands for more commercial development. There was also trouble from within the society, as dissatisfied former Congregationalists, who had left the Church, brought grievances against the Society. In 1851, Ebenezer was incorporated into the Town of West Seneca, losing its independence from its neighbors and the Society began to realize that if they were to survive, they would need to seek a more remote and unsettled area.
Once again, Christian Metz and fellow church leaders, headed west to seek out new lands for settlement. After first feeling unwelcome in Kansas, they found a parcel of land along the Iowa River in the state of Iowa. The Society purchased the land and named their new community "Amana." In July 1855, the first wagons began to roll out of Ebenezer, headed west to what would become the new home of the Inpirationists.
The land that the Society was leaving behind was having a difficult time attracting a buyer. Money was scarce and the country was immersed in the throes of the great Civil War. To make it more attractive to buyers, the land was sub-divided and sold off in smaller lots, until the land was no longer controlled by the Society. "Coming as strangers from an old and cultural fatherland to settle in a wilderness, they transformed it into a lovely and productive home within the span of ten years." 20 Nine years after the first settler headed west to Amana, the last of the Community of True Inspirationists left their homes, having left an indelible mark on the history of not only West Seneca, but all of Western New York as well. Lots 94 and 95 had played a significant role in the short history of the Ebenezer Society, but would contribute to the enrichment of the residents of West Seneca.
IV. LOTS 94 AND 95 SERVES THE COMMUNITY
Lots 94 and 95 were to see many new owners over the next one hundred years. 21 Most notable among the landholders included the Island Park Hotel, the Lion Brewery and the Union Fire Company.
The former home of William Moershel, Sr., occupying the majority of Lot 94 and lot 95, became a restaurant and was eventually known as the Island Park Grille. A barroom was later added on to the structure and many years later, the building was converted into a hotel. Behind the grille, a dance hall was erected and also a boathouse. The millraces, which were probably fifteen to twenty feet in width, were used for many hours of relaxing canoeing and other water activities. The ground surrounding the building was named Island Park or Ebenezer Park. The picturesque grounds with its spreading trees and softly driven currents of Buffalo Creek, made Island Park the choice of many picnickers of the time. The Island Park complex would serve West Seneca for about 75 years as a very beautiful and highly popular recreation area. Many years later when bowling was in vogue, alleys were added to the hotel and became a popular spot for team participation. Lots 94 and 95 were used throughout the years for many community events and family picnics.
In 1892, the Lion Brewery 22, based on Jefferson Street in Buffalo, purchased a portion of Lot 94. There are no records available as to what the brewery did, if anything, on this property. Many believe that a brew house or storage shed was built, but the prevailing belief is that the land was used strictly for a picnic grove.
A parcel of the Lion Brewery's land was then sold in 1898 to the Union Fire Company. The actual Fire House was constructed on a lot adjacent to Lot 94, but the parcel on Lot 94 hosted activities by the Union Fire Company.
In 1905, the Lion Brewery forfeited Parcel 94 due to unpaid mortgage and taxes. 23 Lot 94 was then sold to the Consumers Brewery of Buffalo, who later changed its name to the Jefferson Ice Company, Inc. The land was next sold to the East Buffalo Brewing Company in 1920 and then to the Alert Holding Company in 1923. No confirming documentation could be located as to what may have been done with the property. After its sale in 1928, the parcels of Lot 94 land would pass through at least nine different private owners 24 until 1954, when Anthony and Shirley Kasprzyk purchased all of Lots 94 and 95.
In December 1974, the Island Park Hotel sustained a fire that would snuff out the landmark that so many West Seneca residents had come to use and cherish. For the most part, all of the buildings were leveled and the property fell into disarray. For unexplained reasons, several feet of topsoil were removed from Lot 94, placing the land under the flood plane. This prohibited the building of any residential structures and also, for the most part, filling in the millraces leaving only a wide ditch. Years later a small hot dog stand was built near Union Road, but only survived a short period of time. In 1995, thought had been given to developing a campus for the New York Institute of Massage, but fell through due to lack of funds.
V. LOT 94 AND 95 TODAY
Many offers were made to purchase the land and establish a variety of businesses. Fortunately the West Seneca Town Board, in its wisdom, prevented the commercial use of the land that would otherwise have destroyed its beauty.
In 1996, the West Seneca Town Board wanted to honor Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), an internationally recognized American artist who had lived in the Gardenville community of West Seneca. Charles Burchfield was generally " . . . recognized as one of the finest watercolorists of the 20th century." 25 Mr. Burchfield's residence was located across from Lot 94, and the beauty of the Lot was the inspiration for his painting, "Rain and Wind Through the Tree." In 1998, Lots 94 and 95 was selected as the site to honor the memory of Mr. Burchfield, and the Town of West Seneca purchased the property from the Kasprzyk Family. What had originated as a simple idea for a commemorative monument or plaque to honor the artist eventually was to become an art and nature center. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held late in 1999 and a 5,500 square foot building and a 29-acre passive park honoring Burchfield were opened in June of 2000. The Charles E. Burchfield Nature and Art Center includes an Interpretive Center, gallery and an outdoor amphitheater for concerts, classes and plays. Walking trails wind throughout Lots 94 and 95, past the old Ebenezer dam and the old millraces, even passing by the Middle Ebenezer cemetery. Picnic benches dot the park, gardens are plentiful, and children have their own play area, as the Center serves as a living educational facility.
Lot 94 and Lot 95 have played a significant role in the development and history of the Town of West Seneca, and will continue to be an integral part of its future.
Footnotes 1 Arthur C. Parker, The History of the Seneca Indians, (Long Island, NY: Ira J, Friedman, Inc., 1967), 45 2 When the dead were buried, they were interred in walled graves in the shape of mounds. 3 "Men of Mountain." 4 Colin F. Taylor, ed., Native Americans The Indigenous People of North America (London, England: Salamander Books Limited, 2000) 227. 5 The Tuscarora Tribe joined the Confederacy after 1722 and the Confederacy became known as the Six Nations. 6 "Great Hill People" or "People of the Hill." 7 Gilbert J. Pedersen, "Early Title to Indian Reservations in Western New York", Niagara Frontier (Buffalo Historical Society, Spring 1956), 7. 8 Lloyd Graham, "Obtaining Indian Lands Through Bribery", Buffalo Courier Express, 02 December 1973. 9 Organized congregations grew in Holland and Switzerland, as well as Germany. 10 Frank J. Lankes, The Ebenezer Society (Buffalo: Kiesling Printing Company, 1963), 16 11 An additional 5,000 acres was later purchased to serve as a buffer zone to insure isolation from Buffalo. 12 The original home of Christian Metz still stands on School Street across from Lots 94 & 95. 13 Ibid., 36 14 Ibid., 45 15 Ibid., 56 16 From a letter written by Joseph Prestele to his father in Germany October 15, 1843, identifying Upper, Middle, and Lower Ebenezer. 17 Ibid., 40. 18 Frank J. Lankes, "An Avocational Problem", Niagara Frontier (Buffalo Historical Society, Spring 1961), 8 19 A millrace is a canal in which water flows to and from a mill wheel. 20 Frank J. Lankes, The Ebenezer Society (Buffalo: Kiesling Printing Company, 1963), 127. 21 George Weber, William Fenstermacker, Franz Hamm, Margaretha Holfelner, Barbara Seil, Frank Bissing and Anthony Young. 22 Not affiliated with The Lion Brewery of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 23 The brewery went through bankruptcy and changed its name in 1904 to the Consumers Brewery. 24 Charles Kuhn, George Traenkle, Louise Ballswith, Katherine Roth, Ida Hoddick, Jane Mazurkiewicz, Stephen Dwornik, Theodore Graf and William Martin. 25 Jodi Sokolowski, "Burchfield Center holds open house today", West Seneca Bee, 27 October 1999.
Lankes, Frank J., The Ebenezer Community of True Inspiration, Buffalo, NY: Kiesling Printing Company, 1949.
Lankes, Frank J,. The Ebenezer Society, Buffalo, NY: Ange DiNardo Printing, 1963.
Lankes, Frank J., "An Avocational Problem", in Niagara Frontier, Buffalo, NY: Buffalo Historical Society, Vol. 8, No. 1, Spring 1961 - Winter 1962.
Parker, Arthur C., The History of the Seneca Indians, Long Island, NY: Ira J. Friedman, Inc., Empire State Historical Publication XLIII, 1967.
Pedersen, Gilbert J., "Early Title to Indian Reservations in Western New York", in Niagara Frontier, Buffalo, NY: Buffalo Historical Society, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 1956.
Taylor, Colin F., ed., Native Americans the Indigenous People of North America, London, England: Salamander Books Limited, 2000.
Ticor Title Guarantee, "Abstract of Title", 1987 Union Road, West Seneca, New York, No. 5095-09301
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