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Conservation group seeks to preserve land significant to Roycroft history

The waterfall and forest in the Town of Aurora where Steven Searl’s Roycrofter grandfather, Cecil Jackson, frequently spent the day is being sold and made into a public place.

And, if you are willing to donate $200,000, the Jackson Falls Preserve could be renamed after you.

The Western New York Land Conservancy is willing to sell the naming rights in hopes of raising the last of the money needed to augment the $400,000 already pledged so that the land can be bought by an October deadline.

“My grandfather would be ecstatic over that rather than turn it into a bunch of houses,” Searl said of the sale.

The 57 acres on Hubbard Road, with an entrance across from Major’s Park, has stayed in Cecil Jackson’s family since he bought it in the 1920s. Jackson, charged with the Roycroft’s banking, moved his family near Bert Hubbard, who lived across the street and was the Roycroft leader and son of the artisan community’s founder, Elbert Hubbard.

“He was a lifelong Roycrofter and he was very caught up in the romanticism,” Searl said of his grandfather.

Trees line a trail on the 57-acre parcel connected to Jackson Falls in Aurora. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Trees line a trail on the 57-acre parcel connected to Jackson Falls in Aurora. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Now Jackson’s three grandsons, who no longer live here, want to sell.

“We’re not in a position where we can just donate the land,” Searl said. “We’re at the point where we don’t want our children to have to deal with this.”

While the family relocated to Rochester in 1958, Searl and his brothers kept their grandfather’s prized forest with a wet-season waterfall that runs through a shale bed. The conservancy is working to raise an extra $200,000 above the $400,000 price to cover closing costs and to start a stewardship fund for maintenance, like tree clearing.

“Hubbard probably walked this property,” Jajean Rose-Burney, the conservancy’s development director, said as he followed a path through the forest that led to a ridge overlooking the ravine. “We want to protect this place and open it up to walking, snowshoeing.”

On an afternoon last week, the dry weather left the stepped shale bed exposed and empty of water as Rose-Burney walked. The sounds of birds trilled through the trees, like the flute-like wood thrush and a woodpecker’s hammering. Frogs plopped through a shallow pool, rimmed with rocks and fallen trees.

Flowers and fungus dot the Jackson Falls property. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Flowers and fungus dot the Jackson Falls property. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

It is a “headwater forest,” said Rose-Burney, explaining that it filters water heading to the Niagara River.

“They’re a lot of headwater forests left in our area,” he said, “but they’re declining and developed rapidly.”

In an effort to spur donations, the conservancy’s naming options include one of five benches for $20,000. For $50,000, christen one of the two trails. Pick one of two waterfalls in the terraced shale for $100,000. Or, give $200,000 and rename the entire place now known as the Jackson Falls Preserve.

The strategy worked three years ago when the conservancy was raising $650,000 for another East Aurora property. Sixty acres with views of farmland and treetops in East Aurora is now called the Mill Road Scenic Overlook as per the request of a $200,000 donor.

“It’s within the realm of possibility,” said Rose-Burney.

Searl remembers coming to the woods as a boy when his mother “E.J.” Searl ran a summer camp there called “Three Maples” where kids built fern forts, swung from grape vines, explored the ravine for preserved ancient footprints of Native Americans and swam in the water pool below the falls.

His grandfather Cecil had kept a “gentleman’s” farm on the land. He grew flowers and vegetables and raised chickens, pigs and sheep. Jackson eventually moved to Whaley Avenue in the village to be closer to his mother and the now defunct Jackson bowling alley founded by his father, Merritt, a Roycroft furniture maker.

“If my grandfather had his way, we never would have left that property,” said Searl, a retired ophthalmologist. “It had a great deal of emotional importance to him. It wasn’t just a piece of land.”


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