We continue the series on how to walk Buffalo, from the intrepid couple who walked every day – regardless of the weather – in the first 30 months of Covid. They think (without being systematic) they walked every street in Buffalo, and many in other cities and towns, and took about 20,000 photos, some of which are shared in this series. Although not trails, we hope to encourage others to “walk,” to see, observe, and appreciate Buffalo—and beyond. William Graebner and Dianne Bennett are also 5 Cent Cine’s film critics, here.
Today’s photo essay: Find Scajaquada Creek
Can you find Scajaquada Creek? Not so difficult if your search only covers the west of Main Street section of the creek. Not so easy on the East Side, where the creek has not been visible for almost a century. We’ll briefly start with the easy part.
West of Elmwood Avenue there is a path along the creek. It will take you through McKinley High School (there’s a nice mural there), Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Wegmans and (across Grant Street) Tops Market, then under the Scajaquada Expressway (not so “express” anymore, and the freeway above has turned the creek into a set of ugly columns), along the edge of the great space that used to be Tee to Green and, just beyond Niagara Street, the mouth of the creek, parts of it buried under concrete slopes (but fascinating) on ’ an alternative way).
East of Elmwood, the creek bypasses Lake Hoyt and ripples through Forest Lawn Cemetery. It’s lovely along that stretch, especially with a layer of snow on the ground.
And then, still charming, it disappears under Main Street.
And that’s it. You can cross Main Street, but there is no creek. Where does the water that flows so elegantly through Forest Lawn come from? What happened to Scajaquada Creek?
In the mid-1920s, it was converted into a sewer/drain — an enormous one, big enough to walk in — for 3 ½ miles of its length, from Main Street on the west to Ridge Road (and Villa Maria College ) in the east. Even further east, from Ridge Road northeast, it is above ground again, albeit straight and channelized – more like a drainage ditch than a creek.
That 3 ½ mile section of the “creek” from Main Street to Ridge Road may be underground, but with a little sleuthing it can be followed. In some places you wouldn’t know it was there. In others, the creek’s curves and turns are revealed on the surface of the land.
This is a 2-day adventure. Maybe 3. (More on the history of the creek/sewer at the end of this photo essay.)
The fun starts just east of Main Street, as the underground creek/sewer/drain loops south, around the NFTA subway station (and probably under what was a parking ramp not long ago), and crosses East Delavan before Jefferson Avenue. Then, in Hamlin Park, just south of Beverly Road at Jefferson, a path, which bends to the right as you walk it, suggests the creek/sewer below.
When the path reaches the intersection of Florida Street and Elton Place, the creek turns almost directly south, through a vacant lot that ends at the back of a church building, then around the corner (left, then right), east of the church complex .
From this point the creek runs straight east, into the backyards of homes on Florida Street and Northland Avenue. It’s not accessible there, so we took the sidewalk east on Northland and asked a resident if she knew the creek ran behind her house (she said she did). We continued on Northland past Wohlers Avenue, where the creek “reappears” at a playground on the north side of Northland and then crosses to the south, following Donaldson Road, before turning east at the circle and towards the pedestrian bridge over the Kensington Expressway goes. .
Once over the bridge, there is another revealing stretch straight ahead as the creek bends to the right (south).
The creek then turns east, crossing Fillmore, then Winchester Ave. The creek can be “felt” as it meanders through a park between Rickert and Fillmore avenues:
Beyond Fillmore and Winchester, it becomes almost impossible to trace the creek’s route, as the area is covered by industrial structures. We wandered around the back yards of some of the smaller businesses (private property) on the north side of East Ferry. But the only place one can really “see” the creek is just west of Grider Street, where it runs under an elevated railroad.
Just beyond Grider, and one block north of East Ferry, the creek runs straight east, following … Scajaquada Street (!) for 9 blocks before meeting Colorado Avenue. The photo inset is of the intersection of Scajaquada Street and Kilhoffer Street, in 1923, during the construction of the sewer. The house still exists.
At Colorado the creek (early) goes under a railroad, now abandoned. One can walk across it—there is a minimal path through some brush—to the continuation of Scajaquada Street, which ends at Bailey Avenue.
From Bailey, the creek follows Kerns Avenue, just a few feet to the south. A few blocks ahead, Kerns curves south — the creek below the curve — then crosses Genesee Street before entering Schiller Park (the actual park, rather than the jurisdiction).
The creek exits the park from Sprenger Street at a visible ellipse, then heads straight east through Villa Maria College. From the ellipse, go to the kiosk. There are some sewer covers that indicate the creek’s location.
And beyond: Ridge Road and—voila’—Scajaquada Creek, rising from the depths.
Follow the channelized creek, northeast, into Cheektowaga. Dianne is in pink, not far from where we saw a fox.
The history of the Scajaquada Creek drain/sewer remains somewhat obscure. The creek originates in Lancaster and flows 13 miles into the Black Rock Canal (and the Niagara River). By 1920, and perhaps much earlier, the creek had become a “public nuisance,” as one source put it, heavily polluted by sewage, industrial waste and dumping, and subject to upstream flooding. Between 1923 and 1928, a significant portion of the creek, from Ridge Road in the east to Forest Lawn Cemetery in the west, was converted into a drain/sewer, 14 feet high and 28 to 33 feet wide—a storm overflow pipe that was connected to other drains.
Although this solution probably solved the flooding problem, it did not solve the problems caused by sewage and industrial waste, which continued to flow through the new drain and be dumped into the Niagara River. Between 1966 and 1982, the Scajaquada Tunnel Interceptor was drilled along the entire length of the drain and beyond (approximately on an east/west line along or near Lafayette Avenue) to the Bird Island plant, where the effluent was treated before being discharged into the river. A 2014 article in “Investigative Post” argues that what remains of the visible creek—from Forest Lawn to the Niagara River—is a “combined sewer” that continues to be polluted by untreated sewage and industrial waste during rains and snowmelt overflow.
How to Walk in Buffalo – Look Up! Roofs and Roofs
How to Walk in Buffalo – Buffalo’s Mini-Marts
How to Take a Walk in Buffalo – Remember 9/11
How to Take a Stroll in Buffalo – Street Humor
How to Take a Stroll in Buffalo – The Yard as Spectacle
How to go hiking in Buffalo – Watch out for (the) dog
How to Take a Stroll in Buffalo – Halloween
How to Take a Walk in Buffalo: Little-Known Routes and Pathways
How to Take a Walk in Buffalo: Church Council Advice
How to Walk—in Buffalo: Coping with Covid
How to Walk—in Buffalo: Planters
How to Walk—in Buffalo: Christmas Times
How to Take a Walk—in Buffalo: Murals … Off the Beaten Path
© William Graebner