History of Lein Park

Lot 329
History of Lein Park / Houghton College

A Core Study by James E. Manley

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.

After the time of the dinosaurs and after the great fires, it is said that hundreds of thousands of years ago, giant glaciers slipped down from the north and covered North America. These vast ice sheets and the subsequent warming period helped carve the delicate face of our countryside. To say that Mother Nature favored the Town of West Seneca would be an understatement. Fertile farmlands with a hint of a gentle roll and beautiful creek beds hollowed out of solid rock were the byproducts of the Ice Age. After thousands and thousands of years of patient work Lot 329 was created, waiting for the arrival of man.

Today we know Lot 329 as approximately twenty-six acres of land that forms the property bounded by Gervan Drive on the south, on the east by Park Lane and on the north by the waters of Cazenovia Creek. Holding a special place in the hearts of all who inhabited the area, this section of land brings its own varied and colorful history not only to the Town of West Seneca, but to all of Western New York.

After the Ice Age had passed, geologists claim that for thousands of years the Bering Straits off the Alaskan coast formed a land bridge that connected North America to Asia, which allowed the earliest man to inhabit the Americas. It is not known for certain if it was the early Algonkian tribe or an offshoot Eskimo Tribe that first set foot 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 phenomenon took shape as a tribe that became known as the "Mound Builders".2 The Mound Builders would eventually disappear, absorbed by a warlike tribe called the Erie Indians. The Erie tribes carved out villages and settlements, spreading their influence throughout Western New York from Lake Erie to Western Pennsylvania. The Erie Indian nation would only survive for a short time as their presence in Western New York would be forever ended by their warring neighbors. Just as the Erie tribe discovered new lands to settle, so did another group of natives called the Iroquois.3A fierce tribe, they swept down from the northeast entering the land of the Erie and through alliances and the eradication of those tribes that opposed them claimed Western New York as their new home. Eventually the Iroquois and their allies 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 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.

". . . West Seneca lies totally in what was the Buffalo Creek Reservation, its history is closely related to the remnants of the League of Iroquois after the American Revolution. The league supported the British, therefore, their vast holdings in New York State were lost and they were placed on reservations."6 In 1794, a council was held in Canandaigua, New York between the Six Nations and its white neighbors. The great Seneca orator, Red jacket, played a prominent role in those negotiations and from this council was formed the Treaty of 1794. The treaty became the basic document upon which the Six Nations would rest their land titles and tribal rights. The tract of land that was "forever" guaranteed to the Senecas was the Buffalo Creek Reservation. Nearly 130 square miles in size, this tract of land was situated along Lake Erie, Buffalo Creek, and several other streams, making it a highly desirable piece of land. The obvious commercial advantages of the Indian land would later lead the whites to wrest control of the land from the Senecas.

Lot 329 was a part of the Buffalo Creek Reservation, but it appears that no permanent structures were ever placed upon the land. With its abundance of trees, the Indians probably harvested the land for its timber.

Later, the Buffalo Creek Reservation " . . . was included in the sale of land to the Holland Land Company, however, no land from the reservation could be sold unless the Indians, as a tribe, agreed to that sale."7

The Holland Land Company decided to end their dealings with the Indians and looked for a buyer. "David A. Ogden along with other local land speculators bought up the Holland Land Company holdings about 1835."8 The tract of land where West Seneca is now situated still remained in the hands of the Seneca nation. In 1838, a council was convened between the Ogden Company and the Senecas where " . . . the Seneca nation made the most heartbreaking sale . . . they sold to Ogden . . . approximately 114, 000 acres . . . including the balance of the Buffalo Creek Reservation."9 As what has 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 Lot 329. The Seneca Nation, 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 behalf of the Senecas. 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 took place 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."10Additional payments were made and the Seneca Indians were forced to leave Buffalo Creek Reservation. The mighty and proud Indian race that was once the Seneca Nation became a fragmented society.

In 1842, a breakaway religious congregation from Germany called the "Community of True Inspiration" arrived in America searching for religious freedom and land on which to settle. The religious congregation heard about the Buffalo Creek Reservation and set out to find if the land would fulfill their needs. Upon arriving at the Buffalo Creek Reservation land, they 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."11 Impressed by the beauty of the land, the Inspirationists turned to the land company of David A. Ogden and in November 1842 bargained to purchase 5,000 acres of land at ten dollars an acre.12

By 1843, the Inspirationists, who were also known as the "Ebenezers" or the "Ebenezer Society", took possession of the Buffalo Creek Reservation. Although the land now legally belonged to the Ebenezer Society, at least in the eyes of the white man, the Indians continued to harvest and sell timber to Buffalo merchants. When the settlers complained, the Indian chiefs threatened to use 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 community once again turned to the Ogden Company for help in resolving the ownership issue, but the appeal fell on deaf ears. The Inspirationists then turned to their legal counselor Millard Fillmore who suggested the Ogden Company reappraise the land and pay the amount due as stipulated in the earlier treaty. Fillmore was confident that this would be the answer to the conflict.

The Inspirationists made additional payments to the Seneca nation and representatives of both groups along with representatives of the Ogden Company and the U.S. Government in Washington, met to reach a settlement to the land dispute. The representatives from Washington carried a letter that informed the Seneca Nation that they lost claim to the Buffalo Creek Reservation and " . . . that the Indians must yield up the tracts or they would only bring ruin upon them, and the stipulations of the treaty must be strictly adhered to."14

For about ten years, the Inspirationist community flourished and in 1851, Ebenezer was incorporated into the Town of West Seneca. No permanent structures were placed on Lot 329 by the Ebenezers and the lack of solid records appear they made no use of the land. Since Cazenovia Creek made a natural buffer between the Ebenezers and any neighbors to the south, it is probable that the society did not want to cultivate any of the lands on the south side of the Creek.

Trouble from within the society and its encroaching neighbors convinced the Ebenezers that they needed to seek a new area in which to live and grow. In 1855, the Inspirationists found a new home and over the next nine years moved their community west to Amana, Iowa. The Community of True Inspiration left an indelible mark on the history of West Seneca and all of Western New York.

Lot 329 may not have played a significant role in the short history of the Ebenezer Society, but the lot would later contribute to the enrichment of the lives of the residents of West Seneca.