Highlights of the Great Trail: Niagara River Part 9

Go back to Part 8

Part 9: To Netherby Road

96. The view over the west bank of the Niagara River, showing the Parkway in the foreground and Grand Island, NY on the other side. On this side, the top of a flight of stairs can be seen, leading down to a private boat dock. To see the whole of such an arrangement …

… let’s zoom in on the section of West River Parkway on the American shore opposite, which at this point closely mirrors the affluent suburbanized Canadian side.

97. This Spanish-style seven bedroom, seven bathroom “bungalow” at 11309 Niagara Parkway is currently for rent at $6,000 per month. It boasts a four car garage, a saltwater pool, and its own mini golf course. It was recently offered for sale for over $2 million.

98. This might be a new branch library or elementary school, but actually it’s “Riverhouse Niagara” (2009), a 4,700 sq. ft. single family home with 1,200 sq. ft. covered terrace at 11627 Niagara Parkway. It was designed by Zerafa Studio, a design consultancy based in New York City, and its sleek lines are refreshing after all the neighbouring McMansions. But would you want to live in it? The architects speak of trying to “find a balance between the relative transparency encouraged by the views and the privacy concerns of the owners.” But if you have have “privacy concerns,” it’s surely best not to live in a house with a frontage that contains more glass than the combination of Western red cedar, steel, and charcoal quartzite comprising the rest of its facade. Photographs of its exterior and interior can be found here.

99. Traces of pre-suburban settlement on the bank of the Niagara survive, such as this dilapidated barn just north of Bossert Road. But the remaining undeveloped pockets of river frontage along this section of Parkway are disappearing fast, in spite of (or maybe because of) this area’s real estate “walkability” score of zero, meaning that a car is required for even the most trivial domestic errand. There is no public transit along this section of the Parkway.

100. The Danner-Sherk House (built c. 1805) at 12459 Niagara River Parkway is one of the few surviving Loyalist houses in Georgian style in the area. Underneath that white stucco are coursed rubble limestone walls, the solidity of which has probably contributed to the house’s survival for more than two turbulent centuries. It was built by Ulrich Strickler (1767-1838) and his wife Magdalena (Miller) (1775-1863), Mennonites originally from Pennsylvania, who ran a successful farm here. (Pennsylvania had been founded in 1681 by the Quaker William Penn on the principle of religious tolerance for all believers, hence the large number of German-speaking nonconformists who emigrated there.) During the War of 1812, Strickler’s crops and goods were first seized by American, then by British troops. Magdalena’s brother would submit claims for 20 gallons of whiskey taken by the British in November 1812; horses, grain, and a rifle taken by the Americans in 1813-14; five buildings damaged by the Americans in 1814; and a large quantity of food supplied to the British army. This house was possibly the only one in the area not set on fire during the conflict. In 1816 the Stricklers moved back to the USA and the house was bought for £1,000 by the long-lived Joseph Danner (1774-1870) a Pennsylvanian-born Quaker who farmed here until 1847. He and his wife Rebecca built a stone wing at the rear (c. 1820) that has a “loom room” (for weaving) on the upper floor. During the 1837-38 Mackenzie Rebellion, the house was again occupied by British troops. In April 1847 Danner sold the property for £1,250 to Jacob Wenzenried and George Wulz, trustees for The Community of True Inspiration, a.k.a. the Ebenezers (see #102 below). They sold the southern half of the property in 1855 to dairy farmers Elias Sherk (1825-93) and his wife Mary (Zavitz) (1826-81), who operated a cheese factory on the property and raised thirteen children in the house. It remained with the Sherk family until 1926, then was bought by John MacTaggart (d. 1969), a director of Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks (still operating in Niagara Falls). His widow Mae lived in the house till her death in 1993. The house received a heritage designation in 2000, and until the recent pandemic it was operated as Danner House, an upscale bed and breakfast establishment. So at least till 1926, the house’s ownership presents a cross-section of radical nonconformist settlement here on the Niagara River.

101. (Above) Three PWCs (personal watercraft), a.k.a. jet skis or Sea-Doos, roar upstream in the narrows between Grand Island and the Canadian shore. Like their terrestrial equivalents the ATV and the snowmobile, these machines are great fun for the riders, extremely disruptive for all other lifeforms, and almost certainly terrible for the environment. This photo (below) of a daredevil jet skier on his terminal voyage over the edge of Niagara Falls on 1 October 1995 is courtesy of the Buffalo News.

The historical plaque reads: “EBENEZER COMMUNITY. In 1852 this was the site of the Ebenezer religious community of 800 people. It had log houses, a wharf store, blacksmith shop, sawmill, woolen mill, flour mill, tannery, cabinet shop and communal dining hall. Their best known product was high quality cotton denim dyed Ebenezer Blue. In 1859 the community moved to Amana, Iowa.”
This picture by Adolphe Tidemand (1814-76), “Low Church Devotion” (1852), gives an idea of life in a evangelical Lutheran Pietist community. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

102. The true story differs somewhat from the details on the plaque. The Ebenezers, or The Community of True Inspiration, were the first 800 members of a chiefly German radical Pietist (Protestant) sect who, to avoid persecution in their homelands, moved to New York State in 1843, having purchased 5,000 acres of an Indian Reservation in what is now West Seneca, a suburb of Buffalo. “Ebenezer,” which derives from a Hebrew phrase meaning “stone of help” and implies gratitude for divine assistance, alludes to an episode in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 7) when the Israelites defeated the Philistines in battle. The Inspirationalists, as the Ebenezers were also known, were skilled agriculturalists, textile manufacturers, and craftspeople, and soon prospered in the New World: their houses had no kitchens as they ate communally, men and women sitting apart. The millstone (above) on display by the riverbank is a suitable testament to their ethos of hard work. “In less than a year from the founding of Ebenezer [in West Seneca] two more villages were laid out on either side of the first…. And when a family of ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ [i.e., settlers of German origin] joined the Community from Canada, thus bringing to the Community a fine tract of Canadian timber land, two villages were located on the Canada side of the river and were named Canada Ebenezer and Kenneberg, respectively. Each village had its store, its school, and its church. There were sawmills, woolen mills, flour mills, and numerous other branches of industry, giving employment to all according to their talents and inclination”: Bertha M.H. Shambaugh, Amana, The Community of True Inspiration (State Historical Society of Iowa, 1908), p. 61. By 1854 the city of Buffalo had expanded, threatening the rural peace and sanctity of the Inspirationalist lifestyle. So they upped stakes and went west to the new state of Iowa, and there they founded the Amana settlement, which still exists as a tourist site. The Amana in Iowa were prosperous and creative, one of their legacies being the Amana brand of appliances, now owned by the Whirlpool Corporation: it was a pioneer in refrigeration and microwave appliances. Few realize that like “Ebenezer,” “Amana,” is a biblical proper name: a mountain in Lebanon representing spiritual constancy. So, the plaque above is chiefly incorrect in that the Canadian Ebenezer site, a mere 228 acres, was a minor adjunct to the main settlement at West Seneca, and almost certainly never included anything close to 800 people. But it too disappeared in 1854 when all the Ebenezers moved to Iowa. There isn’t even a surviving graveyard, as the Inspirationists did not believe in any markers more lasting than wooden crosses.

103. The Niagara Parkway at its junction with Sherk Road. This road’s name commemorates the family of Johannes Sherk (formerly Schürch, 1745-1837) and his wife Barbara (Berg) (c. 1750-1824), Mennonites born in the Canton of Bern, Switzerland who had emigrated to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Sherks came to Upper Canada in about 1795 with eight children and settled not far from here in the village of Snyder (known then as “New Germany”). Sherk descendants owned the Danner House (see #100 above) for many years.

104. A large barn next to the Niagara Mission House at the Missionaries of the Precious Blood site. This is an Apostolic community of priests and brothers in the Roman Catholic Church founded by the Italian priest St. Gaspar Melchior Balthazar del Bufalo in 1815, and dedicated to the virtues of poverty, chastity and obedience. The Niagara Mission House, founded in 1987, is the headquarters of the Atlantic Province of this organization. Even today, the Niagara River continues to be a magnet for non-mainstream religious orders.

105. A peloton of racing cyclists pass us going north up the Parkway.

106. The scene upstream across a broad reach of the River near our hike’s end point at Netherby Road. At the lowest dip in the vegetation on the horizon at right can just be seen the twin towers of the administration building (1870) of the former psychiatric hospital, the Richardson Olmsted complex, on Forest Avenue in north Buffalo near the State University (SUNY) campus. The towers are about 15 km away as the crow flies.

Go to Part 10