Outer Harbor

Published on November 5th, 2018 | by GrowWNYAdmin

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Our Outer Harbor Coalition Proposes the Buffalo Harbor as a “Cultural Landscape”

The Our Outer Harbor Coalition, a campaign of the WNYEA, has prepared a report, “The Buffalo, NY Outer Harbor as a Cultural Landscape” in order to nominate the Buffalo Lake Erie shoreline as a historically significant cultural landscape.

The National Park Service defines a cultural landscape as “a geographic area, including both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife or domestic animals therein, associated with a historic event, activity, or person or exhibiting other cultural or aesthetic values.” The report, prepared by kta preservation specialists, articulates the ways in which the existing landscape tells the story and the importance of Buffalo’s harbor.

The land that we call the Outer Harbor was part of Lake Erie for thousands of years. It was one of the richest and most fertile marshes in the Great Lakes, home to fish, birds, mammals and insects, and used by indigenous people as a source of food. What we have on the Outer Harbor now is a remnant of that former biome, significantly reduced but still vibrant and regenerating.

With European settlement and industrialization in the 19th and 20th century, this landscape was filled with the sediment and spoils from the dredging of the navigational channel to keep the harbor open for commence. And indeed, it was commerce and transshipment that made Buffalo a wealthy city until the mid 20th century. The harbor tells the story of a successive technological evolution in response to the changing markets, forms of transportation, machines for transshipment, engineering and electrification, and work. It was an amazingly energetic place as the land / water interface was altered over time. Today we see the remnants of that landscape.

And we celebrate both the heritage of the marsh and the heritage of the harbor as vectors that have made our city, Buffalo. Many people are aware of the Buffalo Lighthouse and Coast Guard Station, the Connecting Terminal and Cargill Pool Grain Elevators. But we might not think about the cultural significance of the breakwalls: Buffalo lies at the eastern end of Lake Erie, and as the winds move from west to east, Lake Erie is subject to incredible storms and seiches – lake tides caused by winds that can raise the water level in Buffalo by 5 – 12 feet. These water / wind events made the marsh very healthy, but they was not good for the harbor. Over three significant periods, 1869, 1874 and 1896, the Federal Government helped Buffalo build a breakwater system that protects our waterfront – and artificial shoreline. If you come here on a windy day, you will see waves breaking over these walls – it’s beautiful and a bit terrifying. Without these breakwalls, those waves would be crashing into our shoreline at the Outer and Inner Harbors.

The Piers themselves were made to accommodate a working landscape, and the slips were crafted to secure ships during transshipment. The entire filled shore is a cultural making that transformed the landscape and made it possible for commerce.

We have much to celebrate on the Buffalo Outer Harbor and the city and region should take great pride in the natural and cultural heritage embedded in this one place. We are delighted to have this report and look forward to nominating the Buffalo Harbor as a recognized and celebrated cultural landscape.

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