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New York City’s Central Park gets plenty of fanfare, and rightfully so. But anyone who’s been to Buffalo knows that our parks are nothing to sneeze at.

Many non-locals are unaware that Central Park’s designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, also designed Buffalo’s gorgeous system of parks, including its crown jewel, Delaware Park.

Buffalo’s park system happens to be the country’s first and oldest coordinated system of public parks and parkways.

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and was named one of the best park systems in the world by The Guardian in 2015.

Buffalo’s Olmsted Park System

Parks

Buffalo’s Olmsted park system includes six parks, seven parkways, eight landscaped circles and several smaller spaces, extending throughout the city of Buffalo, from North and South Buffalo all the way to the waterfront. It includes the parks, parkways and circles within the Cazenovia Park–South Park System and Delaware Park–Front Park System.

olmsted's map of buffalo parks
Frederick Law Olmsted’s map of Buffalo’s park system. Olmsted proclaimed Buffalo to be “the best planned city … in the United States, if not the world.” By Frederick Law Olmsted [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The six Olmsted parks include:

  • Cazenovia Park
  • Delaware Park (North Buffalo)
  • Front Park
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Park
  • Riverside Park
  • South Park

Parkways

According to Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Olmsted developed the tree-lined parkways and avenues in order to link the six main parks and integrate the park system with the city. In designing the parkways, Olmsted wanted visitors to travel from one park to another without abandoning the green space of the parks, with roads and parkways feeling “more park-like than town-like.”

Parkways include:

  • Humboldt Parkway
  • Bidwell Parkway
  • Chapin Parkway
  • Richmond Ave.
  • Porter Ave.
  • Red Jacket Parkway
  • McKinley Parkway
  • Humboldt Parkway
  • Fillmore Ave. (added in 1874)

Anyone that’s driven down tree-lined Lincoln, Chapin or Bidwell Parkways near Delaware Park will tell you that it feels more like driving through a park due to the large green areas between either side of the roads.

On a nice day, you’ll find plenty of people lounging or playing sports in the grass between the parkways. And the green space on Bidwell Parkway is the site of a popular farmer’s market, fitness classes and a summer concert series.

Circles & Green Spaces

Where parkways meet or join busy city streets, Olmsted also designed spacious circles, providing a safe route for travel and allowing space for flowers, monuments and fountains.

Circles within the Olmsted Park system include:

  • Soldiers Place
  • Gates
  • Colonial
  • Ferry
  • Symphony
  • McKinley
  • McClellan
  • Agassiz (altered)
  • The Bank (lost)
Gates circle buffalo 1901
Buffalo’s Gates Circle in 1911. Olmsted designed landscapes circles, including Gates, to connect parkways to major city roads.

Other spaces within the park system include:

  • Richardson Olmsted Complex (formerly ground of NY Asylum for the Insane)
  • Columbus & Perla Parks (formerly Prospect Park)
  • Site of City Honors High School (formerly Masten Place)Days Park
  • Johnson Park
  • Bennett Place (now part of JFK Park)
  • Heacock Place
  • Parkside Neighborhood in North Buffalo, home to our Main Jewett Apartments
  • The Terrace (lost)

History of Olmsted Parks

According to Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, upon touring Buffalo in 1868, Olmsted convinced Buffalo’s leaders that multiple parks would best serve the city’s needs, as opposed to one large park, as in New York City.

Buffalo’s park system was originally designed by Olmsted and Calvert Vaux between 1868 and 1896.

The first three parks that were created were The Park (now Delaware Park), The Front (now Front Park) and the Parade (now Martin Luther King Jr. Park).

map buffalo olmsted park
Map of Buffalo’s Olmsted Park system [Image: Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy]
Over time, Olmsted helped extend the park system into South Buffalo to include South Park and Cazenovia Park so that more areas of the city could have access to the park system. Soon after, Riverside Park was developed to highlight the Niagara riverfront.

Delaware Park History

Residents of our Delaware Park Apartments are lucky to live within walking distance to Delaware Park, the largest park in the Buffalo Olmsted park system and one of Buffalo’s biggest attractions, providing recreation and gorgeous scenery all year round.

Located in North Buffalo, Delaware Park spans 350 acres. It was completed in 1871 and is considered the centerpiece of the Buffalo parks system.

Originally named “The Park” by Olmsted, Delaware Park is divided into two areas: the 243-acre “Meadow Park” on the east, which includes what is now Ring Road, and the 133-acre “Water Park” on the west, which includes what is now Hoyt Lake.

At the time Delaware Park was built, the area was virtually uninhabited, according to Francis R. Kowsky’s “Municipal Parks and City Planning: Frederick Law Olmsted’s Buffalo Park and Parkway System.” Its landscape was what Olmsted and Vaux called a “country park” due to its rolling meadows and trees.

According to Kowsky, Olmsted was drawn to the park both because of the natural landscape as well as its proximity to Forest Lawn Cemetery, which was built in 1853.

delaware park 1898 buffalo ny
The largest of Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks, Delaware Park, in 1898. By Detroit Publishing Company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Little work was needed to enhance the park due to its topography and clusters of trees and tall shrubs, which shielded the park and provided an urban oasis in the midst of a busy industrial city. Walking paths, a carriage drive and bridle paths provided access and allowed visitors to take advantage of the seclusion and beauty of the expansive park.

The designers also dammed Scajaquada Creek, which ran through the park, in order to create a lake for boating in summer and skating in winter — what is today known as Hoyt Lake, originally called “Gala Water,” according to the Conservancy.

Other notable features of Delaware Park were developed later, including the Buffalo Zoo in 1875, Marcy Casino in 1901, the Rose Garden in 1912 and the Japanese Garden in 1970.

Delaware Park Today

According to the Conservancy, Olmsted had predicted that Delaware Park was destined to take a “distinguished position among the parks of the world,” and he wasn’t wrong.

The park was named one of the Great Places in America by the American Planning Association in 2014 and remains an extremely popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

delaware park buffalo ny
Hoyt Lake was created within Delaware Park to provide opportunities for water activities such as boating and skating. Delaware Park is considered the crown jewel of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks system. [By Andre Carrotflower [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons]
Much like in the 1800s, today you can find people enjoying Delaware Park throughout the year, with plenty of cyclists and joggers along the park’s Ring Road, as well as picnickers, children and athletes taking advantage of the expansive grounds and fields.

In recent years a full golf course, tennis courts, a basketball court, a soccer field and a playground have been added to the park, providing more recreational activities for visitors. The Buffalo Zoo is located right within the park, allowing families circling the park to peek at the lounging bison and listen to the animals within the zoo.

Buffalonians are fortunate to have one of the world’s best park systems right at their fingertips. And residents of our apartment communities in North Buffalo and Parkside get the advantage of having beautiful Delaware Park as their own backyard, gym and playground.

What’s your favorite part of Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks system? Let us know in the comments below.

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