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Buffalo's hidden gems tell stories

You will not -- with one exception -- find them in any tour book. They are out of the way, off the grid. But they are some of my favorite places in Buffalo. As a public service, I will -- in time for summer browsing -- reveal the semisecrets. (Go to video.buffalonews.com to see these places). Readers can send me their "hidden" treasures to the e-mail address below.

Smith Street Park -- A decade ago, this pocket park off of South Park Avenue, on the edge of the Buffalo River, was a dumping ground for stolen cars. Today it is a (mostly) cleaned-up slice of nature on the cusp of downtown, its quiet beauty enhanced by monuments to our industrial past.

Kids swim in the murky river, optimists drop fishing lines off a concrete dock, herons swoop past and -- looming cross-river over acres of marsh grass -- is the stately ruin of Concrete Central, the largest of our standing herd of grain elevators. The mighty anachronism is a remnant and reminder of Buffalo's days as a great port city. Still-working railroad bridges flanking the park underline the sense of history, add to the site's funky appeal and make it distinctly Buffalo.

Foot of West Ferry -- Cross the lift bridge over the channel and grab a precious slab of waterfront access.

Fishermen cast into the swirling Niagara River for dinners of bass and perch (Health Advisory: not recommended for regular consumption). An Underground Railroad plaque recalls this as a crossing point for escaping slaves. Faded photos on a nearby building chronicle freed slave communities in Fort Erie and long-gone shanties on nearby Squaw Island. At park's edge is the breakwall, bisecting the channel and the river as it unwinds towards downtown -- inarguably the city's premier waterfront walk. See our nonsignature bridge from its underside. Admission: free.

Stone House at 60 Hedley Place -- In the center of a middle-class African-American neighborhood of clapboard houses stands -- as startling a sight as a penguin in the tropics -- a two-story, 160-year-old stone farmhouse that looks like nothing else in the city.

Originally built beyond the city line, once surrounded by open fields, it is hidden in the Hamlin Park neighborhood near Canisius College. It was saved from decay two decades ago by community activists, its restoration spurred in 1998 by then-Councilman Byron Brown. But its resurrection remains an unconscionable work-in-progress.

Chest-high weeds and a locked cyclone fence surround the boarded-up structure, despite promises from Brown and others of its conversion into a community center. Even so, it is worth a look -- even if we still cannot touch.

Hidden in plain sight -- Tens of thousands of people pass the downtown corner of Church and Main every weekday -- many unaware of the greatness around them.

The world-renowned 1896 terra cotta Guaranty Building at the corner of Pearl Street is Louis Sullivan's prototypical skyscraper and the best early example of how -- with the invention of structural steel -- cities would henceforth grow upward. A few steps toward Main is Richard Upjohn's 1851 St. Paul's Cathedral, which he preferred to his more famous Trinity Church in lower Manhattan.

A half-block up Main Street is the 1896 Ellicott Square, once the world's largest office building, with its marble mosaic floor and breathtaking atrium. Glance the opposite way up Main at our loose connection to 9/1 1 -- One M&T Plaza was designed by Twin Towers architect Minoru Yamasaki, with the Trade Center's same distinctive narrow archways and vertical windows.

Stand at the corner and all are visible with a turn of the head. Is this a great place, or what?

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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