When Buffalo to Fredonia was ‘disgrace’


For travelers headed out west in the early 1800s from Buffalo to Fredonia, their journey was notorious, especially during spring or wet weather.

One disgruntled passenger in a horse-drawn wagon described the route as a “disgrace to the state, the Holland Land Company and the country through which it passed.”

In the spring of 1816 he and his wagon driver started out from the village of Buffalo – the new village of about 100 houses which had arisen from the blackened ruins left by the British three years previously. They traveled about a mile along the banks of Buffalo Creek to the ferry crossing. Here, at the risk of breaking their legs, the horses had to leap from the wharf onto the ferry. On reaching the other side, the wagon had to be pulled up a steep causeway of large logs for a considerable distance, jolting it severely and jeopardizing the horses.

Leaving the creek behind, the travelers turned westward toward what was known as the “beach road.” This was the only route going westward. It ran along the Lake Erie shoreline around the base of the cliffs, turning inland where the bluffs jutted out into deep water.

Due to recent heavy rains, the two travelers found the desolate beach road to be waterlogged and the clay slippery. The horses frequently sank up to their fetlocks in loose sand and gravel left by the receding tides and piles high around trees and bushes. Once, they passed an abandoned wagon, hub-deep in the mud. For three miles the narrow track followed the sinuous shoreline winding frequently around fallen trees and other impassable obstacles. Then it turned inland, rising to higher and more solid ground.

Shortly afterward they reached the Eighteen Mile Creek ferry and crossed over. On the other side they had a long steep climb on a road slippery with mud in which they narrowly escaped being mired.

At Lay’s Tavern they met up with a friend who had some misfortune on the road. In ascending the steep incline from Eighteen Mile Creek in his wagon, the harness had broken and his horse bolted, but he had saved the wagon. He was finishing his journey with a team of oxen. Our travelers continued their journey, but were disappointed that they couldn’t use the beach road, it being under water. Whether this road was exposed or not depended on the periodic rising and falling of action on the lake.

Three miles on they came to the Five Mile Woods. Here the denseness of the beeches and hemlocks had retarded the evaporation of the soil and they found sloughs of deep mud, the track made worse by innumerable wagon ruts. The traveler related: “After six hours of danger, difficulty and extreme fatigue, and partaking largely of the soil which flew in every direction, we arrived at Mack’s Tavern on Cattaraugus Creek.”

Twelve miles on they reached Walnut Falls (Forestville), where they spent the night. They marvelled at the abundance of walnut trees here and thought the village was aptly named.

Passing on their way through Fayette (Silver Creek), they paused at Howard’s Tavern, then continued towards Canadaway (Fredonia), viewing Fayette’s famed giant walnut tree on the village’s outskirts. Finally they arrived at their destination, Canadaway, a young village of 30 houses.

Agnes (Pat) Pfleuger is a Dunkirk resident. This first appeared in the OBSERVER in 1962.