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On This Day in Buffalo, From 10,000 Years Ago to 1832

On this day 10,000 ago, during the most recent Ice Age, Chestnut Ridge–now way up in the hills of the Southtowns–was truly ice-front (later waterfront) property.
In that same era in local history: There were five gradations to Niagara Falls, and in an extremely short period of time they gradated back to form the one mighty falls we know today.
Lake Tonawanda, the Great Lake between Erie and Ontario, helped rush the formation of the singular falls by squeezing itself out of existence, rapidly expanding Lake Ontario while itself becoming today’s 27 mile long Niagara River (actually a strait).
Today the Niagara moves more water in the span of a minute, in a shorter distance run, than any other. This surely begs the question: what makes a river, it’s water or the land that holds it? If it is the latter, go ahead and call Niagara a puny river; but if the former rings true, rank her with the Amazon, Nile and Mississippi as a truly daunting force.
As the Ice Age retreated, its gnarly fingers scraped out the deep Finger Lakes. Lake Seneca is so deep, near 700 feet, that the Navy does secret tests in her waters far below.
The Great Lakes aren’t that deep, but if you took a one foot ruler as the average depth of each of them, Lake Erie would stand out existing only in the top one inch. Erie is known as a puddle jump, a sloppy bowl of soup, and because of this, she is also known as the Cemetery of the Great Lakes, with 300-plus years of shipwrecks in her store.
At the mouth of the Niagara, gazing out from today’s City of Buffalo, the eye reaches west toward Canada, and spans to the south, viewing an ever-wide Lake Erie, then to the cliffs and hills of Southern Erie County.
Prior to European settlers, this Buffalo area was inhabited by Senecas, and other tribes, including an Iroquois tribe named Ongiara, who the French settlers called Neutrals for their mediating abilities.
The French lived among the Indians in early Buffalo around 1758, then a locale simply known as lake Erie. When the British overtook Fort Niagara, the French burnt their little Buffalo town to the ground and dispersed. The British took control of the entire region by 1763, after the French and Indian War.
“Black Joe” Hodges set up a log cabin store in 1789 to trade with the local Indians. More European settlers moved in and built up the village that had been burned down. Yet within 20 years, the village of Buffalo would be burned again, when the War of 1812 burned Buffalo almost beyond the hope of ever rebuilding.
During the war, Buffalo was more or less known as a military resort. When the Indians and British came burning her to the ground, all but two buildings were decimated. The following years saw slow growth, but then things began to speed up ever so quickly.
Prior to 1821, Buffalo was the county seat of Niagara County, which spanned clear up to Fort Niagara. In 1821, Erie County was sliced out of Niagara County and set on its own, retaining Buffalo as its county seat. Federal monies poured in to rebuild by 1825, and the Erie Canal (“Clinton’s Great Ditch”) was built. The canal transformed Buffalo into the greatest grain port in the world, the veritable bread basket to the west.
By 1832, she was a lively town. Buffalo had its banks and breweries, scores of wealthy entrepreneurs and incoming and outgoing shipping magnates.
All of these events bring us up to a special achievement we celebrate today:
On this day, May 23rd, 1832, the Charter of the City of Buffalo was enacted. The rest is our history. Burned to the ground twice, blaze busters abound, she rose like the phoenix, and she is ever rising still.

Written by Bill Zimmermann

Bill Zimmermann

Bill runs Seven Seas Sailing school, and is a staunch waterfront activist. He is also heavily involved with preserving, maintaining, and promoting the South Buffalo Lighthouse. When Bill first started writing for Buffalo Rising, he wrote an article a day for 365 days - each article coincided with a significant historic event that happened in Buffalo on that same day.

View All Articles by Bill Zimmermann
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