Olmsted Parks: III

 

(This column was first published in the September 29, 2003 issue of The Buffalo News.)

 

Before I made my way to South Buffalo, I visited the two other downtown Olmsted parks, Riverside and Martin Luther King, Jr. Although, like Front Park, Riverside is cut off from the Niagara River by the expressway, it remains a peaceful and attractive enclave. When it was opened in 1898, its setting was almost rural. A footbridge crossed the Erie Canal to a dock where steamboats delivered park visitors from up and down the river.

 

There are two strikingly different monuments in this park, a large lighthouse-like monolith dedicated to Billy Ehrmann and a small bust of Sandor Petofi. Billy was the younger brother of pro footballer Joe Ehrmann from Riverside who died of leukemia. Petofi's statue calls him "The Poet of Hungary" who "lived, fought and died for liberty."

 

The one discordant note in all my park visits was Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. I am saddened by the condition of this park, its former reflecting pool now a vast concrete blot and the small garden near the museum where Nora Lindell and I used to eat lunch now overgrown with weeds. The morning I was there must have followed some activity for the lawns were strewn with garbage. This is no way to honor one of this nation's heroes. Where, I asked myself, is the support community for this park?

 

Quite reasonably I made two trips to South Buffalo, only the first by scooter. Marge Ryan, another of those wonderful volunteers who care deeply for her city, escorted me on my second. I was overwhelmed by the education Mrs. Ryan provided, not just about Olmsted's contibutions - the Heacock Place, South and Cazenovia parks, the McClellan and McKinley traffic circles and the McKinley and Red Jacket parkways, but also about the many other small parks that grace this area. She seemed to know everything and everybody, past and present, and it was a great pleasure for me to bask in her enthusiasm.

 

Just one of those smaller parks, Seneca Indian Park, hidden in a residential section at the corner of Buffum and Frank Streets, was the original burying ground of both Red Jacket and Mary Jemison. Although Red Jacket's grave has been moved to Forest Lawn and Mary Jemison's to Letchworth Park, this perhaps two acre area retains the respectful solemnity due these earlier residents of this region.

 

The Botanical Gardens in South Park have never looked better than they did on these visits. The plantings around the building were in full bloom with those rich late summer oranges and yellows giving the old white edifice a lovely setting. In contrast to these showy manicured gardens is the bog garden behind the building where plants are purposely retained in their wild state.

 

I've mentioned before in this column Bruce and Libby Kershner's "A Walking Tour of Olmsted's South Park Arboretum", which introduces the reader to 76 tree species to be found on a tour around the park lake.

 

Cazenovia Park deserves more than this final paragraph. It is another beautiful and well-maintained park with a near-perfect mix of public and natural areas. Where we entered is an appropriately well-tended memorial to five firefighters killed in 1983: Michael Austin, Michael Catazaro, Matthew Colpoys, James Lickfield and Anthony Waczkielewicz. By the ball fields is a monument to Frank Callahan "who spent a lifetime helping boys in baseball" and there is a lovely little moonlight garden dedicated to the heroes of 9-11.

 

We in this area are deeply indebted to Frederick Law Olmsted.-- Gerry Rising

 

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More about Buffalo's Olmsted Parks is to be found on the Olmsted Conservancy website.