Judge Samuel Wilkeson was a determined man. He was part of the population of Buffalo that was struggling to rebuild the village after the British burned it down as an aftermath to the War of 1812.

A small group of entrepreneurs, of which Wilkeson was included, realized that Buffalo's future lay in their ability to utilize the Buffalo Creek as a port. It was pretty obvious to the men that if there were to be a Buffalo Harbor, this little frontier village had to find some way to tame the sandy creek that meandered its way to the Niagara River.

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Buffalo had been made an official port of entry by an act of Congress on March 3, 1805, but the law signified little to ship's captains casting a doubtful eye on the muddy creek entrance. What Buffalo needed was a protected, deep water anchorage, and t hat's what Buffalo set out to build.

In 1819, nine citizens of Buffalo formed the first local businessmen's association -- The Buffalo Harbor Company. It was their job to see to it that money was collected and the harbor was built. The State of New York agreed to put up a loan of $12,000, but only if the people of Buffalo pledged their own property and income as collateral for the money. This was a little to much to ask of most of those involved so many withdrew their support. In the end, only Wilkeson and three other men were left to con tinue the construction.

After many setbacks, one of which resulting in Wilkeson quitting his job as a merchant to become a construction engineer, construction of a long pier got underway. The plans called for this pier to extend out into Lake Erie and then by damming the Buff alo Creek, the water would be forced to run along the pier and form a new and deeper creek mouth.

Machinery was improvised on the spot. Rain and mud hindered the work. Floods would destroy what little work the men had accomplished, only to have everything replaced time and time again. Sand would shift and move giving the men more work than they hop ed for. The Village of Buffalo was drained of its strength during the construction of this pier, but when the first unexpected test of the pier came on September 7, 1820, the men who had worked so hard rejoiced at their efforts.

A brutal storm was bashing against Buffalo and two lake vessels were forced to tie up to the new pier before it was even completed. As the storm continued its assault against the pier, men stood by to cut the ships loose if they threatened to pull the pier apart. But as the storm subsided, the pier held.

From start to finish, construction of the pier took 221 days, not including Sundays. The pier had extended the entrance of the Buffalo Creek into the waters of Lake Erie and was now 12 feet deep. However, vessels still had to bump and grind their way a cross a sand bar at the creek mouth to get into the harbor, and the channel was barely wide enough for two vessels to pass.

Buffalo was the proud host to a very distinguished visitor on November 1, 1821. The first steam powered ship on the Upper Great Lakes, the Walk-in-the-Water, was driven ashore in a storm just south of the entrance to the Buffalo Harbor not far from whe re the lighthouse now stands. No one was injured in the crash, but the Lake Erie Steamboat Company needed to replace the boat as quickly as possible.

A representative from the Steamboat Company came out to assess the damage and remarked that the new "Buffalo Harbor" was a "humbug". Feeling slighted but determined, Judge Wilkeson appeased the man by saying that he could get the boat out of the harbor by May 1, 1822. Taking the gamble, the man promised that he would allow the new steamboat to be built in Buffalo if the Walk-in-the-Water could be removed. If it could not be freed by the deadline, the citizens of Buffalo would have to fork over $150 for every day past May 1 that the sand bar kept the boat trapped.

With crews working overtime, the harbor entrance was scraped clean of the sand in barley enough time. The steamer bumped across the sand bar and back into lake water on April 13, 1822. It was a victory for Buffalo, but it also helped to deepen the anxiety between Buffalo and its neighbor to the north, Black Rock.

The Village of Black Rock always felt that they had the edge over Buffalo. Black Rock was located right on the mighty Niagara River and thus felt that it had a natural harbor needing little or no improvements. When word got out across New York State th at the Erie Canal was going to be constructed and terminate somewhere in Western New York, a bitter struggle began between Buffalo and Black Rock for that distinction.

The battle was fought long and hard by both sides. Buffalo had successfully completed its harbor improvements, but Black Rock received a $12,000 loan in 1822 for harbor improvements of their own. This cut of hopes of any further loans from Albany to B uffalo. By the time construction of a segment of the Erie Canal was started near Buffalo, Black Rock won another $80,000 grant for further harbor improvements. The issue was finally settled during the winter of 1824 - 1825 when ice and wind severely da maged the Black Rock Harbor. The result of this moved all the maritime trade to Buffalo.

Black Rock had another problem with their "natural" harbor. Back in the early 1820's, the village extended all the way to West Ferry Street. Anyone who is familiar with this area will know that the current of the Niagara River is at its fiercest. Teams of oxen would be used to help pull boats up the river and into the Black Rock harbor, a task not needed at Buffalo harbor. But perhaps the biggest factor that helped to push Black Rock out of the competition was the fact that Buffalo was much higher in s ea level than Black Rock and this helped to answer the question of how to fill the canal. It would be much easier to use Buffalo and its natural resource of Lake Erie water to keep the canal at a constant level.

By the early 20th Century, the Buffalo Harbor had evolved
into an industrial colossus. The foot of Main Street is in
the middle right of this photograph.
Buffalo won designation as the western terminus of the Erie Canal, and the question of dominance was settled. The Village of Buffalo was ready for the Erie Canal.