Delaware Park – Now and Then

Delaware Park isn’t exactly a hidden gem of Buffalo.  The 376 acre park borders the north end of the city, bridging the gap between the Elmwood Strip, and more upscale neighborhoods like Rumsey and Nottingham.  The park is divided by Delaware Ave (hence the name), and both sides take on distinctly different personalities.  The 243 acre eastern side is dubbed “Meadow Park” and features wide open expanses with tennis courts, a running track, baseball diamonds, and even a golf course.  This is the far more populated side of the park, with the running track looking like a mini marathon race most days…people everywhere.

I prefer the eastern side of the park, the 133 acre section dubbed “Water Park”.  When I lived on West Ferry for a stretch of almost three years during the end of my college days, this section of the park was within walking distance and I found myself spending time in the park quite often.  Unfortunately I’m about a 5-10 minute drive from the park now, but that didn’t stop me from heading over there yesterday to take in some old sights and get some material for a quick write up.  Check it out after the jump:

I usually like to park where Rumsey Road meets Delaware Ave, right across from Forest Lawn Cemetery (a future write up here).  There is plenty of parking on the street, but starting here is probably just out of habit since this is the point I used to walk to from my old apartment.  From here you can walk down through Rumsey Woods and eventually emerge at Hoyt Lake.  Walking through the woods here is very surreal, as it’s easy to forget you’re in a city, but yet you can still hear the cars speeding down Delaware and the 198 in the background.  Once you emerge from the woods there is a nice open area along the lake which is ideal for tossing a Frisbee…one of my favorite past times.  There are also some beautiful weeping willows (maybe, I’m not a botanist) along the water where you’ll often times find people reading, meditating, or just hanging out underneath them.

As you get closer to the Albright Knox Art Gallery, there is a nice paved area along the lake where the Commissioner’s Building is (which I’ve never been in), and some old style street lights along the way.  This is one of my favorite places to sit in the city, as you are at the foot of the art gallery, and across the water is the History Museum.  You can also see people across the water on the other side of the track, running by the statue of David replica.  There used to be an RC Boat club that met here on Monday nights.  I’m not sure if they do anymore but I always enjoyed watching that.  I like to imagine this spot being more populated with street performers, food carts, etc…but it is Buffalo after all.  You can really tell that Frederick Law Olmstead later designed New York’s Central Park in the same mold.  The feel is very similar – it’s just missing the extras, like the performers and carts mentioned above.

After sitting by the lake for a bit I usually wrap up around the hill to walk through the rose garden, and back through the more open section of Rumsey Woods.  This is where Shakespeare in the Park takes place during the summer.  Sometimes I’ll wrap around the other side of the lake instead, where there is a foot bridge to cross over the road to get to the eastern section of the park.  Most times though, I’ll end up by the soccer field where I originally parked, where there usually is a large group of dog owners doing a meet and greet.  [Sidenote:  get a dog, meet women].

bridge in Rumsey Woods

Of course you can make a day out of a trip to the park by visiting the Albright Knox Art Gallery (definitely worth the visit), or the History Museum (worth it if you’ve never been there).  The Buffalo Zoo is also located adjacent to the eastern side of the park.  If you’re looking for a beverage to wet your whistle after a nice walk, head to Cole’s just across Forest Ave on Elmwood.  Beer selection on tap is top notch.

I wanted to end this write up with a bit of history to put everything in perspective, so I did a little bit of research:

Delaware Park is actually part of the bigger picture that is the Buffalo Parks System.  Built between 1868 and 1896, it is actually the oldest organized recreational park system in America.  Frederick Law Olmstead and his partner Calvert Vaux were actually inspired by the parkways and system in Paris, France.  If you take a look at an aerial map of this section of Buffalo, you will see all of the diagonal parkways linked by traffic circles, something that is easy to take for granted today.  Bidwell Parkway, Lincoln Parkway, and Chapin Parkway are some of the key stretches of road still in existence, connected at sections by traffic circles like Gates Circle and Symphony Circle (where Kleinhan’s Music Hall is).

yes, Buffalo really looked like this in 1901 (credit Wikipedia)

Delaware Park and the surrounding park system had its first chance to show off when the Pan American Exposition came to Buffalo in 1901.  At the time, Buffalo was the 8th largest city in America, and due to the vast system of railroads at the time, it could be accessed in a day’s time by 40 million people across the country.  It’s hard for us to imagine such a booming time of life in Buffalo, but the existence of the park system is a present day reminder.  The Exposition is probably most remembered for the assassination of President McKinley, but strangely, you cannot visit the steps of the building this happened on, since the dozen or so buildings built for the exhibition were all demolished after it was over.  The only building that was built to be a permanent fixture was the New York State Building, which now houses the Buffalo History Museum.

Hoyt Lake (at the time called Mirror Lake) was a centerpiece of the festival and of course still survives today, although it has been reduced in size over time.  Sitting on a bench next to the lake and gazing across at the history museum, it is fun to put yourself back in that time, where people from all over the world, including the president, came to Buffalo to witness advances in technology and arts.  Of course over 100 years later, it is hard to imagine anything like that happening again.  The best we can do is appreciate the rich history the city has to offer, and the footprints left from the past that we can still retrace today.

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2 comments on “Delaware Park – Now and Then

  1. Michelle Bennett Stieglitz says:

    How about doing a piece on the Jesse Kregal Pathway which is the hike/bike trail connecting Delaware Park with the Riverwalk along the Niagara River? I also appreciate your blog – pls keep it going!

  2. Is there swimming in Mirror Lake ?

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