On Sunday, September 3rd, I had the opportunity to experience a slice of Grand Island’s past. I traveled by ferry from the River Oaks Marina in Grand Island to the Long Homestead in the City of Tonawanda. The ferry service, operated by Niagara River Cruises, is the first such service in approximately eighty years.
To get to River Oaks Marina, I had to walk approximately six miles. When I left the house, dressed in a rainsuit and waterproof gardening boots, at about 7:30 a.m., the weather was chilly and rainy but no wind. My camera was sitting in my purse, unused, because pouring rain and digital cameras are not a plan. The sky was full of clouds of varying shades of gray and the water reflected that grayness.
Despite the weather, I enjoyed the walk. When I reached a small sunflower garden, I rejoiced that the rain had stopped, and I photographed the sunflowers growing along the road.
Not long after I found the sunflowers, the rain started again, and I opened my umbrella again. I observed my environment with my mind’s eye, instead of with the camera. Sticking out of the water was the smokestack of the Corona, a sidewheeler that had burned at the pier of the Edgewater, a picnic grove that attracted visitors from Buffalo, on November 18th, 1898. A picnic grove was the forerunner of amusement parks, and there were a number of picnic groves in Grand Island, all located along the Niagara River, including Edgewater, Electric Beach, and Eagle Park.
I kept walking, and my last stop was at the Whitehaven Cemetery to visit my dad’s grave. The Whitehaven Cemetery is famous for being Grand Island’s oldest cemetery. It was established in 1865 along Spicer Creek near the Niagara River. There are rumors that the cemetery is haunted by the spirits of a little girl, a mother, and a Civil War soldier.
|River Oaks marina|
After I left the cemetery, I arrived at the River Oaks Marina. After a little difficulty, I found the ferry, and I was helped aboard by the co-captains, Captain Tom and Captain Erika. I was surprised to find out that I was the only passenger for this adventure. Apparently, some people were dissuaded by the weather. The safety rules were explained to me and off we went, across the Niagara River and into the Erie Canal. It was a smooth trip. The rain had stopped and I was able to take pictures. The boat ride took about fifteen minutes.
|The Long Homestead|
The boat stopped near the Long homestead in the City of Tonawanda. The Long Homestead is a museum that is maintained by the Historical Society of the Tonawandas. Captain Tom and Captain Erika helped me disembark.
I walked on a bridge over the Erie Canal. On the other side was the City of North Tonawanda. The bridge is wonderful and very pedestrian friendly. In the middle, there is a spot to stop and take pictures of the canal.
I walked down Webster Street, home to the historic Riviera Theater, with its famous Wurlitzer organ, and I stopped at a restaurant named Lou’s for breakfast. I found a small table next to the window and I sat down. I had a meal of stuffed french toast and orange juice, which was quite tasty. It was a delightful restaurant and, apparently, a breakfast destination. Before I left, there were more people in the restaurant than tables.
After breakfast, I enjoyed some window shopping, and I visited an antique store that was open on Sunday. It was full of all sorts of odd and interesting stuff.
The owner was happy to let me take pictures. I noticed a bunch of paintbrushes next to her and I asked her if she was an artist. She said no but that, sometimes, she retouched a cold painted piece of pottery. Cold painted means that the pottery was painted after it was glazed. The paint can easily come off because the paint is not baked into the pottery, as would be the case if the pottery was first painted and then glazed.
|Stained glass on display in the window
at Gleam and Glimmer, a stained
glass studio on Webster Street,
in North Tonawanda.
After visiting this store, I went to draw a picture at the canal. The weather was beautiful.
Because I was wearing rain pants, I didn’t mind that my seat was wet. I spent some time drawing, as well as watching the kayaks and the bicycle boats, as well as larger boats, on the canal.
When I finished drawing in my small sketch book, it was time to return to Grand Island. I walked over the bridge and back to the Long Homestead, where I found Captain Tom and Captain Erika.
They helped me back into the ferry. It was a scenic ride back to Grand Island.
Toward the end, the waves became choppy, but that just added to the fun of the trip. After I got out of the boat, I went to the Raddison to wait for my ride. Almost immediately, it began pouring again.
Sunday, September 10th, is the last day that the ferry service will run in 2017. If you have a bicycle, you could bring that aboard with you. The ferry ride is a lot of fun and I would definitely encourage you to give it a try. Captain Tom and Captain Erika do a great job piloting the boat, plus they are very friendly and hospitable. If you’d like to reserve a seat for $15 round trip, check out this link: link to sign up for ferry ride between Grand Island and Tonawanda