If you’re like me, you’ve been to and through Delaware Park dozens if not hundreds of times. And you probably think you know the park pretty well. Especially if, like me, you’ve read Dr. Frank Kowsky’s indispensable book on the work of Olmsted and Vaux in Buffalo and Western New York. (If you haven’t yet, do so – it really is essential reading about how the Buffalo we know today came to be.) But how well do most of us really know Delaware Park?
Not as well as Jim Mendola, that’s for sure.
After taking a recent Second Saturday Walking Tour around Hoyt Lake, I can confidently say that none of us knows it as well as the Olmsted Parks Conservancy’s volunteer historian.
These tours are held during the reliably warm-weather months, which around here translates into June through September, so your last chance to catch one this year is this Saturday. With all the discussions about the Scajaquada Expressway and cleanup of Scajaquada Creek, this is a great time to learn more about this park, half of which is a creature of the creek, and both halves of which were and are impacted by the expressway.
You may also have seen the Hoyt Lake loop featured over the weekend in the Buffalo News, the latest entry in the Mary Kunz Goldman series on 100-plus things you must do in Buffalo. It includes a photo gallery by Sharron Cantillon.
On the tours, Mendola answers questions like:
- What well-known park structure is made of stone from the foundations of a slaughterhouse that used to be on site?
- Where can you find remnants of a carriage road obliterated for the 198?
- Can we see the location of the Spire Head Gazebo? (Hint: it’s closer than you think.)
- What nationally known business got its start in the park?
- What was the last part of Delware Park to be built?
- What’s up with that unused park pavilion near Delaware and Forest?
Side note by Queenseyes – not long ago, a local café owner proposed opening the pavilion (see below) as a quaint pub/wine bar/café, only to be shot down by neighbors that didn’t like the idea.
And did you know:
- What was once the most popular entrance to the park is now almost never used?
- A spot you’ve walked past dozens of times was once the foundation of a waterfowl house, providing roostage for a Hoyt Lake fleet of swans and geese.
- The first park superintendent spent decades fighting to maintain the integrity of the park against changes and encroachments contrary to Olmsted’s original intent?
What I found especially interesting was seeing the park through the eyes of a couple from Lancaster who were on the tour. Even though the husband had worked for a contractor installing concrete near the Marcy Casino, they were largely unfamiliar with the park, and neither had ever taken the walk around the lake. They openly marveled at what they saw, and it reminded me of my similar reaction on first getting to know the park, and the reaction I still have when I come across something new to me.
One of the most sobering aspects of the tour was learning just how much Hoyt Lake has been encroached upon, from almost every side. As these photos we have published before show, the lake has been greatly diminished by highway and sewer projects that have decimated its size and cove-ey outline. In the old images, I see a lake with what the math major in me likes to think of as a pleasing fractal geometry – lots of naturalistic, picturesque irregularities at every scale. Now, the shoreline could be drawn with a spline.
If I could add anything to the tour, it would be perhaps to show, on every side of the lake, just where that original shore would have been. Perhaps the Conservancy could even put out a few stakes on tour days to mark the original shoreline – unless, of course, those stakes would have to be put in the middle of expressway on-ramps!
Also, while I was late for the tour and may have missed it at the beginning, I hope the Conservancy is taking the opportunity to remind folks about William B. “Bill” Hoyt, the late assemblyman for whom the lake is now named. My late friend, former Monroe County Executive Tom Frey, served with Bill Hoyt in the Assembly. He told me great stories about him, including one where Hoyt had to come directly to a vote in the Assembly from a canoe trip in Algonquin, unshaven and still in his camping togs. Hoyt loved nature and was a great advocate for parks, which is one of the reasons that having Hoyt Lake and also a visitor center at Letchworth State Park named for him is so appropriate. Read here what the Buffalo News said about him on his passing a quarter-century ago.
But a lesser known side of Hoyt was being a thorn in the side of the DOT regarding urban expressways. In an interview with the Fix Buffalo Blog, one-time aide to Hoyt, Rich Tobe, talks about battling the DOT over a Scajaquada Expressway issue at Parkside Avenue. Later, Hoyt put the kibosh on other urban expressway projects DOT was reluctant to remove from the books. The interview is worth a listen if just to note how the DOT played hardball with local officials then just as they are doing now. We shouldn’t stand for it any more now than Hoyt and Tobe did then.
On my recent tour, the wife of the couple from Lancaster made frequent comments like, “I can’t believe I haven’t seen this before,” and, “I’m so glad I’m finally seeing this,” and, “If only more people could see the park like this.”
All proceeds benefit the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.