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HISTORY OF WEST SENECA


The land that is today West Seneca is an area of rolling hills crossed by two creeks, which was first occupied by Indians over ten thousand years ago.  These earliest Indians moved across the land hunting the game that inhabited the primeval forests, fishing the abundant Buffalo and Cazenovia Creeks, and gathering wild crops for their subsistence.  In time, their descendents settled in villages of Longhouses and depended upon agriculture for their subsistence.  Some of these Indians are known today as Seneca, members of the Iroquois Confederacy. 

At the end of the eighteenth century the Holland Land Company purchased much of Western New York State.  Land south of the Buffalo Creek was set aside for the Indians and named the Buffalo Creek Reservation.  West Seneca is part of this land.  The rest of the land was to be surveyed and sold to incoming settlers.

The Native Americans on this reservation built and worked saw mills and grist mills, and lived in dwellings much the same as the incoming settlers.

For over a century, in Ronneburg, Germany, a religious group known as the Community of True Inspiration, had been suffering religious persecution.  In 1842, they decided to seek the freedom of America.  Four men, led by a twenty-four year old carpenter named Christian Metz, came to Buffalo and purchased land which was part of the Buffalo Creek Reservation.  A tract of 5,000 acres was purchased at a cost of $10.00 per acre.

Four hamlets, or villages, were established in this order: Middle Ebenezer (Gardenville), Upper Ebenezer (Blossom), Lower Ebenezer (Ebenezer), and New Ebenezer (part of Elma).  Christian Metz and his group moved into existing Seneca dwellings and continued to run the working mills and work the established agricultural areas.  Each hamlet was bounded by border streets or footpaths, so strangers could travel around the hamlet without interrupting daily life.

The first hamlet of Middle Ebenezer still retains much of its integrity.  Three of the four border streets, North Avenue, South Avenue, and West Avenue are still named.  Today, East Avenue is called Weigand Avenue.  Fourteen Holy Helpers Church was the first building the Ebenezers built, their Meeting House.  The Heritage Inn Restaurant building was originally the hamlet book-bindery, and later a Kitchen House.  The doctor's office at 3457 Clinton Street was the butcher shop, where huge meat hooks are still fastened to the joists in the cellar.  The house that Christian Metz occupied is now 12 School Street.  The residence at 1300 Indian Church Road was the original Indian saw mill.

Approximately one thousand people passed through the Ebenezer hamlets during the Inspirationist's twenty year occupation.  The Ebenezers formed their own governing body, the Elders of the Church, and had essentially a communal society.  Each man was designated a job or trade to benefit the whole community.  He and his immediate family lived near the man's work assignment.  Although each family lived in a separate dwelling, all meals were taken in common in Kitchen buildings, where the food was prepared by the women of the community.  Men, women, and children each ate at separate tables, and conversation was not allowed.  The hamlet communities were self-sufficient, providing their own food, clothing, furniture, tools, and utensils.  Goods and services, food and clothing, were not sold for money, but given to the community for use by all.

Children went to school at an early age, freeing the mother to work in the kitchen and laundry.  The school day lasted from dawn to dusk, six days, all year long.  On religious holidays there was no school, as most of the day was spent in worship at the Meeting House.  During the fall harvest season.  the older children were dismissed early to help in the fields.  Girls received very few years of formal education before taking their place in the kitchen and laundry houses.  Boys went to school years longer, with additional apprenticeship training in a trade.  Both boys and girls were taught to knit, and had to make their own mittens, scarves, hats, and socks.

Women lived at home until marriage, but unmarried men could live in a Brother's House upon taking a trade.  Once a couple was given permission to marry by the Church Elders, there was a one year waiting period during which time the man went away and the betrothed couple could have no communication.  When the man returned, if the couple had the same feelings for one another, the marriage took place.

The whole life of the Inspirationists revolved around the Word of the Lord.  Attendance was mandatory at prayer services held each evening in the Meeting House.  In addition, services were also held on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings, and Sunday afternoons.  The services were simple scripture readings and singing with no instrumental accompaniment.  The Meeting House rooms were austere with unpainted wooden furniture, and no ornamentation.  The men and boys sat separately from the women and girls.  The Elders read sermons and the congregation joined in reading Bible passages.

The life of the Ebenezers  was a s austere as the Meeting House.  Religious holidays were spent in meeting all day, breaking only for meals.  There were no trees nor presents for Christmas, and no pretty hats nor chocolates for Easter.  the men wore plain dark colored coats and trousers, plain leather boots, and conservative brim hats.  Beards were worn, but no moustaches.  The women wore long, full dresses of dark color, a plain white cap, dark colored shawl and apron.  A white apron was worn to Meeting.

About 1855 the Ebenezers felt the need for more land to accommodate their ever increasing membership.  A contingent was sent to investigate land sales and they purchased 18,000 acres along the Iowa River.  By 1862 they had moved west and established the villages today known as Amana Colonies.

As the Ebenezers moved out, more German settlers moved into the area.  The Meeting House became a Catholic, German parish, Fourteen Holy Helpers Church.  For many years West Seneca was basically a farming community.  Within the last twenty-five years the area has changed.  New residential neighborhoods were created and commercial and industrial development has occurred.

We are proud to claim, Joseph Prestele (1796-1867), among the distinguished citizens who have lived in West Seneca.  Born in Bavaria, he came to Middle Ebenezer in 1843.  He was a skilled painter and lithographer and is particularly known for his botanical illustrations.  Much of his work was published in leading horticulture periodicals.  His home is today 36 School Street.

Watercolor artist Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967) was born in Astabula Harbor, Ohio.  At the age of thirty-two, he moved to Gardenville, where he spent the most productive part of his life.  In addition to his watercolor paintings, he designed wallpaper for the Birge Wallpaper Company of Buffalo, New York.  The Burchfield Arts Center on the State University College Campus is named for him, and houses many of his works.  His home and backyard studio still stand at 3574 Clinton Street.

Wilson Greatbatch (1919- ).  He was born in Buffalo, New York and moved to West Seneca when he was a young child.  His elementary and high school education was received at West Seneca schools, where he graduated in 1936.  He is most known for his invention of the first inplantable pacemaker.  Unable to find a manufacturer for batteries, he started Wilson Greatbatch Ltd., a battery manufacturing company.  He is currently Chief Executive Officer of Greatbatch Gen-Aid Ltd., a genetic engineering research firm working towards the cure of Aids.

West Seneca was incorporated as a town in 1851.  It was initially named Seneca, but the West was soon added to avoid confusion with another town named Seneca to the east.  West Seneca's history actually began over 10,000 years ago with the Native American occupation.  The second stage of development began with the Ebenezers, who purchased the land and buildings from the Seneca.  The Ebenezers came from Germany to escape religious persecution, and created their self-sufficient communities in the largely undeveloped wilderness.  When the Ebenezers left in 1862, the largest growth and expansion began to take place.  West Seneca became a predominately agricultural rural community, and later developed into the suburban are of today.
 

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