Over the last century, Buffalo has done practically everything in its power to erase Scajaquada Creek from the city’s landscape. And over the course of the next century, a group of neighborhood residents is hoping to bring it back.
The storied history of the creek and the ambitions of those hoping to resuscitate it are on display in a compact exhibition of photographs of the creek that opened Jan. 8 in the Buffalo History Museum.
“Scajaquada Creek: Photos from the Black Rock Historic Photo Project,” a project of the Grant-Amherst Business Association and its ongoing effort to produce a definitive photographic history of the neighborhood, peels back decades of development that have hidden so much of the creek from public view and argues for the creek’s continued importance to the city’s identity and the everyday life of residents.
In 10 straightforward panels featuring sepia-tinted photographs, the exhibit captures the physical and historical breadth of the waterway, from its importance during the War of 1812 to current efforts to slow traffic along the expressway and connect the neighborhood to SUNY Buffalo State and the Elmwood Village.
The photos in the exhibition, lifted from family photo albums or pulled out from dusty shoeboxes by neighborhood residents, are part of the ongoing Black Rock Historic Photo Project, which now includes more than 1,800 images and will eventually result in a book. The most compelling of them show the creek in the mid-20th century, before industrial and transportation infrastructure literally buried the creek.
We learn that in the 1920s, after companies and residents had used the creek as a garbage dump for decades, a 3.5-mile section of it was buried in underground culverts. The tainted water still silently trickles beneath Buffalo East Side and through a large section of Cheektowaga over a bed of toxic sludge, though wildlife and recreation have returned to its exposed sections in the city.
In the ’50s, as the city began construction of the Scajaquada Expressway, much of the creek’s broadest sections were filled in to allow for the roadway. Around the same time, a railroad and pedestrian bridge that linked Black Rock with what is now the edge of the SUNY Buffalo State campus burned down.
For Doreen DeBoth, a longtime champion of her Amherst Street neighborhood who curated the exhibition and is spearheading work on the photo project, the show is intended to prompt discussion and action about ways to repair decades of damage to the creek.
“I thought, instead of just having a show of photographs, I’m going to use it as an educational tool and also to make people think. We really need a pedestrian bridge going from Buffalo State over to the Grant-Amherst area to create that synergy. If any student from Buff State wants to come over, they’ve got to walk all the way around,” she said.
The exhibit, she added, will “make people aware of what could be done and how much better it could be for everyone.”
What: “Scajaquada Creek: Photos from the Black Rock Historic Photo Project”
When: Through March 23
Where: Buffalo History Museum, 1 Museum Court
Tickets: $2.50 to $7
Info: 873-9644 or www.buffalohistory.org