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City's history alive on land and water

If you were looking for some local history Saturday, you could find a few lessons offered around the city.

And you also would get a look into the future.

You could tour the old city waterfront, walk aboard a replica canal schooner and get a look at the emerging Canal Harbor park.

An outdoor jazz festival in front of the Colored Musicians Club brought back memories of some of the famous musicians and singers who have played there since 1918, such as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.

And the West Side recognized the rescue and rebuilding of the city's first green space, Johnson Park, named after the city's first mayor.

"I think Ebenezer Johnson had more modest desires for what the park would be," said City Housing Court Judge Henry J. Nowak, who has worked with the West Village Renaissance Group to restore the park.

The renaissance group unveiled a new historic display case detailing the history of the West Village and Mayor Johnson, who donated the land now known as Johnson Park to the city in 1837.

Over the years the park became a high-traffic crime area and, according to residents, was a common site for drug-dealing, vagrancy, and other "illicit acts."

Since 2002, Marilyn Rodgers and other community members have maintained the park and worked with authorities to drive out criminals and drugs and alcohol.

The morning ceremony, which honored the park's past, concluded by introducing its future: architectural renderings for a $1.2 million five-year park renovation.

The project, expected to be completed by 2012, includes a jogging track, the reinstallation of a fountain, a conservatory, a meditation labyrinth, hopscotch areas for children, dog stations, bike racks, new curbs, turf, and garden areas.

Opening another chapter of the city's history Saturday were the Buffalo Heritage Days events taking place at the entrance to Erie Basin Marina, including guided tours through the Lois McClure, an 88-foot replica of an 1862 canal schooner, and the Edward M. Cotter Fireboat.

"Bringing this canal schooner to the Buffalo harbor is restoring what would've been a common site during the 1860s," said Arthur B. Cohn, executive director of the Maritime Museum in Lake Champlain.

Cohn and 14 other crew members made the trip to Buffalo on the schooner as part of the "Grand Canal Journey," which visits 25 different port cities and showcases canal history along New York's living canal system.

"Buffalo is a great connection to canal history," Cohn said. "There are canal shipwrecks right at the mouth of the Buffalo harbor. I know there are literally, hundreds of intact shipwrecks representing different time periods in history right around this area."

Heritage Day tours and festivities, including culturally diverse music, will continue today from 10 a.m. until 6 p. m.

The Boogie Bop Band, the Dale Toliver Band, Jenny May Quintet, Will Holton, Sharon Bailey and Taylor Made Jazz put on a free show during the Colored Musicians Club's outdoor jazz festival.

The festival included a raffle to help raise funds to open a museum at the Broadway location.

The museum, which the club hopes to open by early next year, would include artifacts the club has collected over the years.

e-mail: lmariacher@buffnews.com

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