Tonawanda News

May 12, 2013

Walking tours throughout region dabble in history, geology, ghosts

By Danielle Haynes danielle.haynes@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — As the weather warms up and the sun comes out, people across Western New York are pulling out the walking shoes, and not just to participate in the latest 5K or to take in a hiking trail.

It’s walking tour season and in an area known for its breathtaking natural wonder, rich history and architectural treasures, there are plenty options for your feet and eyes to take in.

Whether you’re looking for a way to entertain your out-of-town guests, or you want to see and learn a little more about your own community’s history, there are plenty of options for historical, architectural and even scary tours of Western New York.

To narrow your choices, we’ve profiled a few unique tour offerings specifically in Niagara County and the Tonawandas regions.

Gussied up

The founders of the Encounter Niagara tours feel that to really reach their audience, they need to dress the part.

Kenmore resident Peter Green helped his wife Danielle Green found the tour company in 2009 in an effort to provide a “richer blend of tourism,” Peter. 

After three years of success with Encounter Niagara, Peter recently joined Horizon Club Tours of AAA of Western New York as a sales executive, providing marketing support for the company, now run entirely by Danielle.

Prior to joining AAA, Peter was a mainstay guide, performing Gov. Dewitt Clinton (of ditch fame) and Augustus Porter (who owned much of the land around Niagara Falls in the early 19th century). Now most of his work is in promoting Encounter Niagara and other tours in the area.

Explaining the impetus behind formering Encounter Niagara, Peter explained “in terms of focus there was not a lot explaining the history, heritage” of the Niagara region.

He and the other guides — performing characters like Nikola Tesla and Celinda Eliza Whitney (after whom one of the Three Sisters Islands is named after) — give first-person narratives of the history of the Niagara region, mostly around the falls, but also including areas like Love Canal, the Tonawandas during a tour of Erie Canal, and a War of 1812 tour going from Buffalo to Niagara Falls.

“When we do tours of Erie Canal we come in to Tonawanda and we try to incorporate the Riviera Theatre, the Long Homestead and the Herschell Carrousel   Museum

Encounter Niagara tours are by appointment only and should be made in groups of 20 to 25 people. Those wishing to do so should visit www.encounterniagara.com, or call Peter at 626-3231.

Also featuring costumed characters are the Marble Orchard Living History Walking Tours in Lewiston. These 90-minute tours are available by appointment and highlight the Underground Railroad, Sacarissa, a Tuscarora Chief who campaigned for peace at the start of the War of 1812, and the Village Cemetery, the oldest public graveyard in Niagara County. 

For more information on the Marble Orchard tours, visit www.artcouncil.org.

Going underground

Head out to Lockport to go cave exploring and learn a little about the history of Erie Canal, industry and geology while you’re at it.

Clancy Burkwit, director of the Lockport Cave & Underground Boat Ride, said this 70-minute tour is a “history lesson made fun.”

The tour begins at Pine Street where visitors are given a street-level view of the Flight of Five, the original five locks where water is raised and lowered to allow the passage of watercraft. It continues with a walk down to the towpath and into the man-made rock cave where a hydraulic race was created to provide power to three manufacturers at street level.

There visitors can see the geological formations created by the damp, cooler temperatures of the cave. The last 20 minutes of the tour includes a boat ride inside the cave.

“One of the things that makes the cave tour unique is that we’re pure history from beginning to end. It’s interesting history ... nobody yawns and nobody gets bored on the thing. We move along at a reasonable pace,” Burkwit said.

“It’s the story about the ingenuity of man to dig the canal, put in water power for three factories and everything worked,” he added. “It’s absolute genius.”

The cave tour runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each weekend through Memorial Day weekend when it switches to daily tours from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through June 20. Tours are daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from June 20 until Labor Day. For more information, visit www.lockportcave.com

Let’s get a little structure

If architecture is your thing, Preservation Buffalo Niagara wants to show you all Western New York has to offer. With approximately 100 trained docents, hundreds of other tour volunteers and some 600 tours throughout the year, the organization’s offerings cover a variety of interests.

In Niagara County, Preservation Buffalo Niagara offers two “Lockport: Stories in Stone” tours, one that explores Main Street (July 19 and Aug. 23) and another focusing on Glenwood Cemetery (June 30 and Sept. 8). The Museum Club series of tours makes a couple of stops in the Tonawandas with a “North Tona-Wander” tour featuring the Carnegie Art Center, Railroad Museum of the Niagara Frontier and the Herschell Carrousel Factory (June 15 and Sept. 14), and a “Tona-Wander” tour stopping at Tonawanda Castle and Long Homestead (Sept. 22 and Oct. 20).

The Sacred Spaces series of church tours also features North Tonawanda with a tour of Our Lady Czestochowa and St. Mark Lutheran (Aug. 14). 

The Erie Canal Land Cruise is a six-hour excursion including a cruise through the locks in Lockport and a visit to the Erie Canal Discovery Center (July 28). A War of 1812 wine tour makes stops in the Niagara wine country (Sept. 14).

Brad Hahn, tour coordinator for Preservation Buffalo Niagara, said the appeal of the group’s tours is that for most, reservations are not needed. Participants need only show up at the right time and right place with ticket fee in hand. Most tours cost $10 per person.

“I think that’s a really great deal for people,” Hahn said. “Any weekend that you want, you can explore a different community” in Western New York.

For exact times and details of the Preservation Buffalo Niagara tours, visit www.p-b-n.org, or call 852-3300.

Spooky

Heading into the fall tour season, the Haunted History Ghost Walks provide more thrills for those looking to add a little something eerie to their history lesson.

The tour group, founded by Western New York ghost aficionado Mason Winfield, features Lewiston among its regular tour stops.

The Lewiston tour meets 7 p.m. every Friday from mid-September through October at the Peace Garden at 476 Center Street. The tour features stories of a former funeral parlor, a little girl ghost apparition and spooky stories from the War of 1812. 

More information on the Haunted History Ghost Walks tour group, visit www.hauntedhistoryghostwalks.com.

The Marble Orchard Living History Walking Tour group also does haunted tours in the fall with a cast of costumed characters to provide a spooky setting.

Contact Sunday Lifestyle editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116 or follow her on Twitter at @DanielleHaynes1.

Contact Sunday Lifestyle editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116 or follow her on Twitter at @DanielleHaynes1.