Yesterday, I posted on the upcoming Preservation Day event that is being hosted by the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village (BNHV), in partnership with Preservation Buffalo Niagara and the Town of Amherst Historic Preservation Commission. As I was writing the article, I began to wonder about the formations of the Village itself.
With that, I called BNHV Executive Director, Carrie Stiver, who shared with me an abbreviated history of the organization and its impressive mission to preserve our region’s agricultural and rural heritage. So often, when we think about historic structures, we tend to think of the impressive architecture within the city limits. Of course there are also plenty of significant architectural gems in surrounding villages, but when it comes to the art of preservation, the BNHV has taken the conversation of conservation to an entirely different level.
When I first heard that there were ten architecturally and historically significant structures within the small village, I thought, “Well, that’s nice.” But then I learned that all of these structures had been relocated, to create an authentic “living museum,” complete with a farmstead. Each of the buildings is dedicated to preserving ways of life that have, for the most part, been lost and forgotten. Buildings such as the Village Store (lead image – circa 1888), Schmitt Log House (circa 1840), the Brewer’s Cottage (circa 1840), and even a schoolhouse constructed in 1880 – ten absolutely stunning examples of period edifices that have not only been rescued and restored, they are being lovingly cared for and are once again being utilized to reflect the times and region whence they were constructed.
Stiver told me that the BNHV started out as the Amherst Museum in 1972, founded by the Town of Amherst. At the time, the Museum was in a different location, and did not possess the ten buildings that would eventually be amassed. It was in 1976 that the museum moved to its current location at 3755 Tonawanda Creek Road. That was also the point in time when there became a focus on collecting the buildings that now anchor the site.
In 2011, there was a name change to “Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village.” That’s also when the museum became an independent 501c3 (non-profit). This allowed the BNHV to expand its scope and mission, according to Stiver. Then, in 2019 there was a mission update, with a focus on “a narrower slice of the region’s history,” with a bent on preserving agricultural and rural ways of life (in the historic sense). Today, the Village grows crops, raises chickens, practices beekeeping, and even raises critically endangered Hog Island sheep. This is only a slice of the environmental programming that is conducted at the BNHV.
More than anything else, it is the architectural legacy of the BNHV that is most impressive. Over the course of the last 50 years, an effort has been made to identify ten at-risk structures, which have been painstakingly moved to the site. “These structures were relocated from throughout Amherst and Williamsville,” Stiver told me. “Whether they were acquired for their unique architecture, like the Bigelow House (saltbox construction), or others with more historic distinctions, many were being threatened by town expansions and developments. The towns were concerned, and so were the people that owned the structures. Many of them were donated, and in some cases the owners helped with the moving process.”
When I asked Stiver exactly how the structures were moved, she answered, “We have a video in our theater (in the museum building), where you can see the process. Most were picked up and put on the back of trucks – it’s fascinating to see what goes into the process.”
While ten of these structures might not seem like a lot to some people, others “in the know” understand what it takes to keep one historic building standing. Stiver mentioned that the focus now is to preserve the structures as best they can. “It’s an ongoing challenge – we’re actively looking for volunteers… there are lots of different opportunities. Come and pay a visit, and learn about preservation, our artisans and makers, the culture of our region and rural communities… this is our heritage, but it is your village to enjoy.”
It’s easy to see the boundless devotion that envelopes this very unique village. I mean, The Village Store (lead image) is the definition of charming. So are its architectural companions, each in their own distinct ways. As for the rest of the unique historic structures, Stiver told me that they are best when observed firsthand, so don’t be a stranger. With that said, you can visit the BNHV website to get days/hours, directions, and additional information. Or you can visit during one of the festivals, such as Preservation Day or the Harvest Festival on September 25.
Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village | 3755 Tonawanda Creek Road | Amherst, NY 14228 | 716-689-1440
The Museum and Village are open May through October
Lead image: The Village Store has been repurposed to showcase goods produced by Village artisans, using the traditional methods and techniques of the 19th century.