Black Rock Pier

Why did Hagoth choose the Narrow Neck along the West Sea to launch his “EXCEEDINGLY LARGE SHIP?”

And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an EXCEEDINGLY LARGE SHIP, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and LAUNCHED IT FORTH INTO THE WEST SEA BY THE NARROW NECK which led into the land northward. (Alma 63:5)

Hagoth likely based his decision for that location because there was a naturally occurring pier: The Black Rock Pier of Tonawanda near Buffalo.

Blackrock received its name and its reason for existence by virtue of a LARGE WEDGE OF BLACK LIMESTONE FORMATION THAT PROJECTED AT A NORTHWESTERLY ANGLE INTO THE NIAGARA RIVER near the point where School Street and Niagara Street intersect. Its FLAT SURFACE WAS 200 FEET WIDE at its northern end and ROSE FOUR OR FIVE FEET ABOVE THE NORMAL WATER LEVEL OF THE RIVER – Kis-tan-goi, as the Senecas called it, thus formed A NATURAL PIER (Landmark Society, n.d.). THE ROCK FORMED A PERFECT NATURAL LANDING PLACE AND WAS USED AS EARLY AS THE TIME OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AS A FERRY POINT (General Motors Tonawanda Engine Plant Expansion, Stage 1 Archaeological Investigation, OPRHP, No. 00 PR 116, August 4, 2000, p. 3-42).

Peter B. Porter, one of the earliest settlers of the Black Rock area and a partner of the portage company (Porter, Barton and Company), believed that their village would become the center of Lake Erie trade, by virtue of the NATURAL HARBOR and because the harbor at Buffalo was often impassable due to sand bars (Severance 1902) (Ibid, p. 3-44).

Buffalo also improved its harbor, however, and once the choice of Buffalo was made as the western terminus of the Canal, Buffalo quickly eclipsed Black Rock as a lake port. Symbolic of this, the rock formation which gave Black Rock its name was destroyed in conjunction with construction of the Erie Canal to Buffalo (Severance 1902; Bingham 1931) (Ibid, p. 3-45).

Black Rock Pier

Commentary

What Was the ‘Black Rock’ in Black Rock?

[The illustrations and text below are reprinted from “The Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo,” Severance, Frank H., ed. Buffalo Historical Society, Vol. 16, 1912, in a chapter entitled “Early Black Rock Facts.”]

Herewith is published for the first time a map of a section of the Niagara river as it was before the War of 1812 showing the site of the old ferry at the foot of the Black Rock and many other data of value. Our engraving is from a sketch made from the original drawing owned by the Buffalo Historical Society. The original bears this inscription:

“Compiled and drawn from recollection and actual surveys and information furnished by Captain James Sloan, Lester Brace, Col. William A. Bird and E.D. Efner, Esq.,” by Henry Lovejoy, Surveyor, who was familiar with the location from 1810 to the present time”

The date of Mr. Lovejoy’s drawing was December, 1863. The information relative to the Canada side was furnished to Mr. Lovejoy by Alexander Douglas of Fort Erie. On the original drawing are written descriptive notes. These on the engraving are indicated by numerals, the explanation of which follows:

1. [Far left, just below the middle of the drawing] Starting at the left of the map on the American side is shown the main traveled road from Black Rock ferry to Buffalo before and during the War of 1812. It also ran to the eddy under Bird Island, where vessels discharged and received most of their freight. “The road was up and along the shore of the river and the beach of the lake to the mouth of the Big Buffalo creek; up the bank of the Big Buffalo creek to the mouth of the Little Buffalo creek and up the bank of the Little Buffalo creek to its angle, now [1863] foot of Pearl street; thence direct to the Terrace at the junction of Main and Exchange streets.”

2. [ To the right of #1] Sand ridge behind which some men took shelter from the enemy’s guns. They were engaged the day before Buffalo was burned in towing vessels belonging to Joshua Lovejoy up the rapids, when the enemy opened fire upon them. They were obliged to swing the vessel ashore and retreated behind the sand ridge, which was full protection. The vessel had several shot through her, but was not disabled. Her guns were soon brought to bear on the enemy and they were driven off. Dr. Trowbridge served one of our guns.

3. [to the left of #4] Site of Water-works, 1863.

4. Lester Brace’s garden.

The Black Rock plainly shown on the diagram was a ledge or outcropping of the native country rock [Ed. Note: Onondaga limestone], narrowing at its southern end until it disappeared in the bank. At the northerly end it presented a broad line of cleavage forming a natural wharf, with a landing for boats somewhat protected from the force of the current. This rock was blown up and destroyed in 1825 when the [Erie] canal was built.

Three buildings stood on the rock, as follows:

5. A log house occupied by Orange Dean. Before the war he was employed at the old ferry. During the war it was occupied by E. D. Efner and from it he furnished clothing for Swift’s regiment.

6. Clark’s grocery and boarding-house.

7. Store built by Porter & Barton, and kept as a tavern during the war until Buffalo was burned, by Orange Dean. It had several shot through it from the enemy’s guns. One, while Dr. Trowbridge was dressing the wounds of some of the men who had been engaged in taking the brigs Adams and Caledonia.

8. Lester Brace’s barn

9. A building nearly in line of Fort street of later days, was a log house occupied before the war by Frederick Miller as the ferry-house and tavern. Occupied during the war by Holden Allen as a tavern until Buffalo was burned. Rebuilt after the war on the same location by Lester Brace and occupied by him as a tavern and the ferry-house for a long time.

Before leaving the Black Rock it may be noted that the ferry landing was in the protected angle at the north end of the ledge. The old ferry-boat was about 32 feet long by 8 feet wide, with two sweeps and a steering oar. The ferry charges were: per man, 2 shillings; man and horse, 4 shillings; one horse wagon, 10 shillings; two horse wagon, 12 shillings.

The current at this point in the middle of the stream being about 6 to 7 miles an hour, the old route in crossing was to swing into the current and float down stream with it, gradually making the Canada shore at about the point near the figure 31 on our map. From that landing the boat made its way up stream close in shore until opposite the Black Rock, when it again swung out and was carried down stream to about the present Ferry street, whence it was rowed up to the rock. This route is shown by the light dotted line on the map (Chuck LaChiusa, https://buffaloah.com/h/br/sev/index.html).

In the following illustration of Black Rock, a ship can be seen docked along the outer-edge of the pier next to a building (store, #7), and before the building a bridge that crosses the water to a cabin (#9), and next to it a large white barn (#8) with gardens. The land was slightly raised and flat bordering the river looking north. This area was part of the Narrow Neck of Land.

Black Rock - 1823

The watershed map for this area shows this unique, bordering “neck” of land in brown:

Watershed Map

 

 

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