This report was created using the best possible sources. Many
thanks to the West Seneca Historical Society, historian Ferol Webb, and the
Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society for all of their valuable assistance
that made this project possible.
I. CREATION OF LOTS 94 AND 95
It is said that a million centuries ago, giant glaciers slipped down from the
north to form our landmasses. Mother Nature must have been especially kind to
West Seneca, as she carved out beautiful creeks and fertile lands. Lot 94 and
lot 95 would eventually be the result of thousands of years of nature's delicate
Today we know Lots 94 and 95 as 15.39 acres of land that forms the corner
property bounded by Clinton Street on the north, on the west by Union Road, and
on the south by Race Street. We also know that this corner has had a varied and
colorful place in the history of West Seneca, as well as Western New York and
New York State.
II. LOTS 94 & 95 AND THE FIRST AMERICANS
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
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
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
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.
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
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."
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."
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
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 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
1 Arthur C. Parker, The History of the Seneca
Indians, (Long Island, NY: Ira J, Friedman, Inc., 1967),
2 When the dead were buried, they were
interred in walled graves in the shape of
3 "Men of
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
6 "Great Hill People" or "People of
7 Gilbert J. Pedersen, "Early Title
to Indian Reservations in Western New York", Niagara Frontier (Buffalo
Historical Society, Spring 1956), 7.
Lloyd Graham, "Obtaining Indian Lands Through Bribery", Buffalo Courier Express,
02 December 1973.
9 Organized congregations
grew in Holland and Switzerland, as well as
10 Frank J. Lankes, The Ebenezer
Society (Buffalo: Kiesling Printing Company, 1963),
11 An additional 5,000 acres was later
purchased to serve as a buffer zone to insure isolation from
12 The original home of Christian Metz
still stands on School Street across from Lots 94 &
16 From a letter written by Joseph Prestele
to his father in Germany October 15, 1843, identifying Upper, Middle, and Lower
18 Frank J. Lankes, "An Avocational
Problem", Niagara Frontier (Buffalo Historical Society, Spring 1961),
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),
21 George Weber, William Fenstermacker,
Franz Hamm, Margaretha Holfelner, Barbara Seil, Frank Bissing and Anthony
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
24 Charles Kuhn, George Traenkle,
Louise Ballswith, Katherine Roth, Ida Hoddick, Jane Mazurkiewicz, Stephen
Dwornik, Theodore Graf and William Martin.
Jodi Sokolowski, "Burchfield Center holds open house today", West Seneca Bee, 27
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.
Frank J., "An Avocational Problem", in Niagara Frontier, Buffalo, NY: Buffalo
Historical Society, Vol. 8, No. 1, Spring 1961 - Winter 1962.
Arthur C., The History of the Seneca Indians, Long Island, NY: Ira J.
Friedman, Inc., Empire State Historical Publication XLIII,
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
Ticor Title Guarantee, "Abstract of Title", 1987 Union
Road, West Seneca, New York, No. 5095-09301
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