Now encompassing 366 acres, this irregularly-shaped urban parkland was not part of Olmsted and Vaux’s original masterplan for Buffalo’s park and parkway system, but was designed as part of an 1892 expansion. As early as 1888, Buffalo’s Board of Park Commissioners began searching for suitable parkland in the southern extreme of the city, where there was increased development. From three prospective sites, in 1890 the committee purchased the 76-acre Hart farm, where there was a mature tree grove (an additional 31 acres were acquired in 1898). The new park was named for the creek that bisected the tract of land. Olmsted’s plans for the park, submitted in April 1892, were chosen (with some controversy) over those created by the board’s in-house engineer, and construction began that August.
Like his other Buffalo parks, Olmsted’s landscape design incorporated water, forest, meadow, and architectural elements. The centerpiece was a 20-acre lake with islets, formed from damming Cazenovia Creek and counterbalanced by a grassy vale bordered by trees (called “the Bowl”), which served as a large play area. A circuitous carriage drive crossed the streambed and terminated at a large graveled concourse overlooking the Bowl. The preexisting stand of trees became a concert grove, in which the sloping ground acted as a natural amphitheater facing a bandstand to the north. As the grove was situated adjacent to the concourse, a formal parterre of flower beds with a fountain was designed to separate the two spheres. A shelter house, intended to serve refreshments and house facilities, was also included in the design. Cazenovia Park was connected to South Park, to the southwest, by the Red Jacket and South Side (now McKinley) parkways.
The majority of infrastructural work occurred between 1896 (the year in which lake excavation was begun and the wooden bandstand was erected) and 1915, when the Board of Park Commissioners was disbanded. Henry L. Campbell constructed an iron bridge over Cazenovia Creek in 1897, and the South Side Parkway opened in 1898. Since the alluvial terrain often flooded, a concrete revetment was erected on Cazenovia Street in 1908, and in 1913 the lake was dredged for construction of a concrete dam. The islets were merged then, forming a peninsula and creating a shallow lagoon on the west side; a rustic stone bridge was built over the lagoon and iron gates placed under the bridge’s span, which could retain water in the lagoon for ice-skating in winter.
The shelter house on the concourse was completed in 1902 but was made obsolete when local architectural firm Esenwein and Johnson built the Casino in 1912. The three-story brick and stucco edifice is capped with a hipped slate roof. Its loggia has a quarry tile floor and offers window seats and small tables with wrought-iron chairs from which to view the gardens and lake. The basement level was used for storing rental boats and canoes, while the upper floor provided storage and offices.
Although skating and tobogganing were popular activities within the park from the outset, the general shift towards active recreational pursuits was marked by the addition of four baseball diamonds and three tennis courts in 1915. In 1925, an 80-acre addition was acquired for a nine-hole golf links, a project that resulted in altering the streambed and building a suspension bridge across the creek for pedestrian golfers. Further athletic intrusions on the pastoral landscape entailed the addition of another baseball diamond, two football fields, five tennis courts, and three large swimming and diving pools in front of the Casino (which was significantly enlarged) by 1935. Between 1924 and 1926 three additional structures further altered the landscape: a brick, Classical Revival public library, a new brick bandstand in the grove, and a single-story brick shelter for skaters near the lagoon. These were never a part of Olmsted’s masterplan for Cazenovia Park, and their architectural expressions are not in harmony with the original Late Victorian design. The Olmstedian landscape’s greatest losses were the partial destruction of the Casino by arson in 1948 and the gradual infill of the lake between 1949 and the 1970s. The refrigerated ice rink (1956), the Thomas Tosh Collins Community Center (1971; enlarged 2003) and natatorium (1981)—which replaced the outdoor pools, by then infilled—sealed the park’s evolution from an outdoor playground to a mere assemblage of public recreational facilities.
Restoration efforts began with work on the Casino in 1989–1990. Since 1996, a tree-planting campaign has revegetated the altered landscape and Olmsted’s pedestrian circulation system has been expanded. Modern street lighting was replaced with historic light fixtures found throughout Buffalo’s historic parks, and the historic wrought-iron fence along Potters Road was replicated. Plans for restoring the east bay of the lake have yet to be implemented, but would greatly advance the rebirth of this infringed-upon Olmstedian landscape.
Broderick, Stanton M. “Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks and Parkways System.” Olmsted in Buffalo. Accessed March 16, 2021. https://www.olmstedinbuffalo.com/.
Kowsky, Francis R., ed. The Best Planned City: The Olmsted Legacy in Buffalo. Buffalo: Burchfield Art Center, 1992.
Kowsky, Francis R. “Municipal Parks and City Planning: Frederic Law Olmsted’s Buffalo Park and Parkway System.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 46 (March 1987): 49-64.
Rogers, Elizabeth Barlow. Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2001.
Ross, Claire L., “Olmsted Parks and Parkways Thematic Resources,” Erie County, New York. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1982. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.