Recent redevelopments along Buffalo’s waterfront and Erie Canal Harbor are transforming the area into one of the region’s historical treasurers. The waterfront’s unique attractions make it a great fall day trip destination.
My family recently revisited the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, which underwent extensive renovations over the past few years, including a newly built exhibit building. The naval park is the largest inland park of its kind in the nation.
While the exhibits are informative, the real attraction at this six-acre site is the opportunity to climb aboard and tour actual naval vessels. The tour starts on the National Historic Landmark destroyer, the USS Sullivans, which was named after the five Sullivan brothers who enlisted in the Navy together and all died serving aboard the USS Juneau, which was sunk by an enemy sub in 1942.
Next on the tour is the guided missile light cruiser, the USS Little Rock, the only guided missile cruiser on display in the United States. This ship holds a special place in my family’s heart, as my late father-in-law served on the ship in the late 1940’s. Before he passed away a few years ago, he had the opportunity to attend several reunions of his shipmates, which were held at the naval park. My older sons actually slept on the ship a few years ago, as the facility offers overnight campouts to Scout groups.
The last vessel on the tour is the submarine, USS Croaker. After touring this sub, with its narrow and small hatches, you’ll have a new appreciation of what life is like for navy personnel serving aboard a submarine! One note of caution: These vessels are not stroller or handicapped accessible; there are many ladders and tight spaces. If you have trouble walking, climbing or are of considerable girth, you may want to pass on touring the ships and submarine. It also is not suitable for babies or small children.
Another attraction along the waterfront is the redevelopment of the Erie Canal Harbor. Back in 1825, when the Erie Canal first opened, this area was the western terminus of the canal. It was referred to as the “Gateway to the West” and it made Buffalo the largest inland port in the United States. By the early 20th Century, cars and trains replaced the canal as a transportation route; eventually the harbor was filled in.
In 1999, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation was formed and restoration of this historical area began. This past May, the harbor area was opened to the public. Among its features is a recreation of the “Commercial Slip,” the junction between the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes and a “Whipple Truss” foot bridge, which represents traditional canal spans. There is also much information signage to educate visitors about the area. (For more information, see www.eriecanalharbor.com).
Also located along Buffalo’s waterfront is the Erie Basin Marina, a great place to take a stroll or watch the sunset. An observation tower at the end of the marina offers a great view of the waterfront, as well as the city skyline.