Grand Island - LINKS

Ararat

The text below is excerpted from
Rob Roy MacLeod, Cinderella Island, pub. by the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, 1969

The Indian title having been extinguished, the international boundary fixed and the squatters driven out, the Legislature passed another act (242NYl824) relating to Grand Island. By this act of April 12, 1824, the commissioners of the land office were directed to have the Island surveyed into lots not exceeding 200 acres each . . . .

The entire Island was sold in 1825 to four men for $76,230. The purchasers were Samuel Leggett, John B. Yates, Archibald McIntyre and Peter Smith, the latter one of the biggest land speculators in the State and the only one who came out of the deal well.

The Leggett purchase is of the greatest interest. He paid $7,200 for 1,020 acres at the south end of the Island and $9,785 for the adjoining 1,535 acres along the East River, extending downstream to a point below Tonawanda.

But it is not the price of the Leggett purchase which is of particular interest; rather it was the plan for the use of the land. He was acting in cooperation with a prominent New York City politician who had a great idea, and herein lies what is probably the best known story about Grand Island.

Major Mordecai Manuel Noah

Major Mordecai Manuel Noah was described as a man of striking appearance; muscular and rotund, with a genial, generous and sympathetic nature. He was a lawyer, a politician, editor of the Bucktail party's newspaper in New York City and a member of Tammany Hall.

After his Grand Island venture he returned to New York and served with distinction as a judge of the criminal court. Thus it can be seen that he was a man of substance, although he has often been ridiculed in the telling of his story.

He conceived the idea of founding here in the New World a city of refuge for the Jews, who were undergoing tremendous persecution in Europe. Before present day Americans reject this idea as fantastic, they should recall that Navy and Grand islands received very serious consideration only a few years ago as the permanent home of the United Nations.

It was Noah who persuaded Leggett to purchase the land. Provided with the site, he ordered a cornerstone from Cleveland, publicized his idea in his newspaper and late in August, 1825, came to Buffalo prepared to lay the cornerstone of his City of Ararat on Grand Island.

The official ceremony

A flagpole had been erected on the Island for displaying the flag of Israel and crowds were gathered along the river to witness the ceremony. Noah's own account of proceedings says there were not enough boats to take the crowd to the Island, and through the friendly offer of the Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, the ceremonies were transferred to that building, in Buffalo.

Ararat (now known as Grand Island) in 1825. major Mordecai Manuel Noah, a prominent Hebrew, purchased 2,555 acres on Grand Island for $10,000 and endeavored to establish a city of refuge for Jews of all nations who were being subjected to oppression. The project failed to materialize. (From Buffalo Historical Society)
Reprinted from Palmer's Views of Buffalo: Past and Present, Copyright 1911 by Robert M. Palmer, New York City

Festivities opened at dawn on September 2, with the firing of a salute by the artillery company. At eleven o'clock a parade moved down Main Street from the Court House to St. Paul's with city officials, bands and members of the Masonic order in line. Center of all eyes was Noah himself, in his robe of crimson silk trimmed with ermine and a richly embossed golden medal suspended from the neck.

In St. Paul's was the cornerstone, with its inscription partly in Hebrew and partly in English: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; ARARAT,A City of Refuge for the Jews, Founded by Mordecai Manuel Noah, in the Month Tizri, September 1825 and in the 50th year of American Independence." In the Christian church the cornerstone of the Jewish refuge was laid.

Noah read a long proclamation. He described himself as "Citizen of the United States of America, late consul of said states for the city and kingdom of Tunis, High Sheriff of New York, Counselor at law, and, by the grace of God, Governor and judge of Israel." He declared the Jewish nation reestablished under the protection of the laws of the United States, he abolished polygamy among the Jews and he levied a tax of one Spanish dollar a year on every Jew in the world to support the project.

He made another rather curious statement. He stated his belief that the Indians were descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, and said it was his intention "to make them sensible of their origin, to cultivate their minds, soften their condition and finally reunite them with their brethren, the chosen people."

Only two years before in nearby Palmyra, Joseph Smith had announced his discovery of the golden plates in the Hill of Cumorah, and as he translated his Mormon Bible he advanced the same idea in regard to the Indians. Possibly Noah followed this theory.

It is well to see Noah's plan in the perspective of the times. There was a general religious stirring in this area, orthodox and unorthodox. Joseph Smith was making his revelations at Palmyra, Jemima Wilkinson was attempting to walk on the waters of Seneca Lake, the Shakers had a colony nearby and more conventional revivalists were touring the countryside. Noah's was a revivalist plan.
But it didn't work. His own people ridiculed him and the press had a field day.

The Ararat cornerstone

After Noah had gone back to New York, the stone was placed in the yard behind the church. General Peter B. Porter saw it there, gathering moss, some time later. He got in touch with Noah, who was an old friend, and the latter asked General Porter to secure it quietly and take care of it. This the General did, placing it on the lawn of his house on Niagara Street.

Lewis Allen found it there, and with the consent of General Porter brought it to the mill at Whitehaven, on Grand Island, where he built a stone niche facing the river and in it set the cornerstone. There it was a favorite stopping point for the tourist boats on their way to Niagara Falls, and many a tourist went home with the story that he had seen the ruins of Ararat. As a matter of fact, Noah never owned an acre of land, laid a cornerstone, built a city or even stepped on Grand Island.

In 1850 the mill was abandoned and the stone moved to the Baxter farm, two miles above Whitehaven. Four years later it was moved to Sheenwater, on the West River and a year later Allen took it to his farm at the head of the Island. Shortly after, having bought the Porter place on Niagara Street, he took the stone back to the point where it started its wanderings in 1834 ... after 31 years of traveling to four different locations on the Island!

On January 2, 1866, Allen gave it to the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, who gave the wandering stone a home for about 100 years and then gave it to the Town who have it on permanent display in the Town Hall.


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