Grand Island - History and Architecture Links

Highlights of the History of Grand Island, NY

Most of the information on this page was culled from The History of Grand Island and
"A History of the Town of Grand Island," by Marion E. Klingel, pub. by the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, 1971

Click on illustrations for larger size -- and additional information

Red Jacket

Peter Porter

Major Mordecai M Noah


Lewis F. Allen

River Lea

Grover Cleveland

Falconwood Club



E.G. Spaulding

Ralph Sidney House

River Lawn 


1655 From 1655 on, the Iroquois League controlled most of New York State and what is now Grand Island.

The Senecas called Grand Island Ga-we-not, meaning the great island. They used it as a hunting and fishing preserve but had no permanent villages

One temporary Indian village was located on what is now (Lot II) near the junction of Fix and East River roads. Another village was on the West River not far from the mouth of the Sixth creek (Six Mile Creek).

There was an Indian burying ground at the head of the island near what is now Beaver Island State Park. An Indian burial mound was found in the center of the island.
1697 The first authentic historical reference to Grand Island is found in Father Louis Hennepin's book Nouvelle Decouverte published in 1697. The French called the island La Grande Isle.
1763 After the French and Indian Wars, Grand Island became part of the British domain.
1812 Beaver Island Park was probably the scene of the Porter-Smyth duel. General Peter B. Porter accused Brigadier General Alexander Smyth, commanding officer of the United States Army in Buffalo, of cowardice. The weapons selected for the duel was pistols. Each contestant fired one shot but both shots went astray. Colonel Winder, who was acting as a second for General Smyth, arranged a truce.
1815 New York State purchased Grand Island and other small islands in the Niagara River from the Iroquois nation for one thousand dollars in hand, and annually, forever, an annuity of $500. (to this day, paid every June). The treaty was signed by Governor Daniel D. Tompkins, Peter B. Porter, Chief Red Jacket, Falling Boards, Tenty Canoes, Sharp Shins, Man Killer, and others. The Senecas reserved the right to hunt, fish and fowl on the islands.
1817-1819 Squatters, who built about seventy cabins on the island housing 150 people, cut down white oak trees and made barrels that they sold. They were forcibly removed by the sheriff of Niagara county.

Every family on the island moved to Canada except the Pendleton Clarkes. They moved to what is now Pendleton, New York.
1822 The boundary commission declared that the West branch of the Niagara River was the main channel of the river because it was deeper. All the islands with the exception of Navy Island became a part of the United States.
1824 When the island was surveyed by the state in 1824, the land was divided into lots of not more than 200 acres. These were sold at public auction.
1824 2,555 acres were purchased as a refuge for members of the Jewish race. Major Mordecai M Noah's cornerstone (now owned by the Buffalo Historical Society) for his enterprise Read: "Ararat, A City of Refuge for Jews, Founded by Mordecai Noah in the month Tizri 5586, September 1825 and in the 50th Year of American Independence." The enterprise failed because of a lack of interest

One of the later owners of the cornerstone was Lewis F. Allen who wanted it for the Whitehaven settlement (see 1833 below) . The stone was quite an attraction there. The stone is now owned by the Buffalo Historical Society.
1825 Ferry service to and from Tonawanda Creek to Grand Island began.
1833 The East Boston Company purchased about 16,000 acres of land on Grand Island for five dollars per acre in 1833. The Company planned to cut the white oaks and sell the timber to the shipyards in Boston and New York. The timber would be shipped via the ErieCanal. A gristmill and a sawmill, said to be the largest steam saw in the world at that time, were included in this settlement which was named Whitehaven in honor of Stephen White.

When the greater part of the timber had been cut, the company began to sell its holdings to individuals. Asa H. Ransom [Ransom Road] purchased 2,700 acres of land. Ransom's house can still be seen on the corner of Fix and Baseline

Whitehaven continued as an active town until about 1840. Little remains of the original town, but the quaint old Whitehaven cemetery still may be seen on East River Road.
1838 Two companies of artillery with two field pieces were ordered to the barracks on Grand Island during the Caroline Incident.
1849 Farmers purchased land. The soil was excellent for fruit trees.
1852 Grand Island, Buckhorn and Beaver Islands were made into the town of Grand Island in 1852. (In 1822, the island was part of the Town of Buffalo; in 1836, part of the Town of Tonawanda.)

The first meeting in the newly created town, held on March 1, 1853, was presided over by John Nice, Lyman Thompson and Asa Ransom. Some of the pioneers at the meeting had roads named after them: Staley, Ransom, Bedell.

The main roads of the town were planned about this time. The north-south routes were the East River, Stoney Point, Base Line and the West River Roads. For many years Base Line Road ended at Staley Road.
1852 The "Jolly Reefers" incorporated themselves under the title Beaver Island Club. Grover Cleveland was an incorporator.
1858 Falconwood Club organized; club opened next year
1859 Lewis F. Allen, who owned a large farm at the head of the island, decided to build a summer resort on the south west side which he called Falconwood.

Steamers like Cygnet and Arrow transported the vacation seekers the first year.
1860 The first church, Congregational in denomination, started
1862 St. Stephen's RC Church built
1866 The oldest present day Protestant church, Trinity Evangelical, on Whitehaven Road, started
1874 Ferry service from Bedell House to the foot of Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda began.
1877 "Duke of Grand Island" Ossian Bedell built and opened famous Bedell House Hotel. Building burned around 1886, rebuilt, burned again 1935.
1887 Lewis F. Allen decided to sell his extensive holdings on the island. His home, River Lea, is a now a museum operated by the Grand Island Historical Society.
1887 McComb House built, later opened as the Island Club.
C. 1900 The largest club in the early 1900s was the Oakfield, with over 400 members.

The McComb House on the West River was an imposing hotel for its day.

Summer resorts included the Sheenwater,, Bedell House, Eagle Park, Edgewater, and Sour Spring Grove (Eldorado), Oakfield Club. Most of these resorts went out of business just before or after World War I.
C. 1900 About 1900, a cinder path for bicycles was constructed along the edge of East and West River Roads. Many of the cycling clubs so popular in Buffalo at this period came to the island on Sunday afternoons to enjoy a smooth ride on the path.
1912 The Eagle Park resort dock collapsed on June 23, 1912, causing 37 deaths.
  The State of New York decided to revive the amusement facilities of the island. To accomplish this end, the state purchased Beaver Island, a large part of the Allen estate, all of the Falconwood lands, plus River Lawn, the former home of the Spaulding and Sidway families. This is now Beaver Island State Park
1930 Population about 1,000
1935 Single span north and south Grand Island bridges opened to traffic.

This development spurred subdivisions such as Sandy Beach, Grandyle Village, East Park and Coldbrook Manor.
1936 Ground breaking for first central school, Charlotte Sidway School (opens Feb 1937)
1939 Beaver Island Casino opens. Destroyed by fire in October 1992.
1941 WBEN transmitter building at Bush road and Beaver Island parkway formally dedicated
1942 Grandyle Village
1952 Population about 4,500.
1952 The state purchased Buckhorn Island (the buckhorn is a tree) and some the adjoining land to create Buckhorn Island Park.

The state has secured the riparian rights to most of the area along West River connecting the two state parks.
1965 Second span of the North Grand Island Bridge opened.
Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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