Notes On the Limits of the Sacred Precinct on Scovell's
Knoll (Oak Hill), Lewiston, Niagara County, New York

P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica, a Missouri Botanical Garden Web Site
March 25, 2004


Notes On the Limits of the Sacred Precinct on Scovell's Knoll (Oak Hill), Lewiston, Niagara County, New York

by Patricia M. Eckel


Among the various significant ecological communities that exist in the Artpark complex at Lewiston in Niagara County, New York, the one that blankets the rocky outlier, or knoll, at the base of the Niagara Escarpment merits special mention. This area lies at the northern limits of the gorge of the Niagara River, opposite Queenston, Ontario, Canada, on the Ontario lake plain. This parcel is known today as Artpark and includes the shore of the Niagara River both within the gorge and on the lake plain that is owned by the Power Authority of the State of New York (NYPA), and which is administered by the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks).


Scovell's Knoll is an inconspicuous feature on

USGS topographic maps (click here).


The actual maintenance of Artpark is or has been outsourced into the public sector. The primary focus of State Parks at Artpark is to maintain buildings that support musical and dramatic entertainment in an arena-type setting. Other thematic objectives include or have included public programs in art education - as commented on previously - graphic, theatrical, craft and other arts.


Associated with the entertainment arena are several large asphalt-topped parking areas on ground adjacent to the arena and associated buildings and also on a series of ascending tiers or terraces developed on masses of rubble (the "spoil-area") deposited on the ground at the base of the escarpment. This rubble probably also supports part of the incline of the Robert Moses Parkway as it descends over the face of the escarpment parallel to the road that preceded it: State Rte. 104 (an extension of Lewiston Road running above the escarpment).


The constituent of this rubble derives from excavation, during the mid 20th Century, of the bedrock for the reservoir and forebay just upstream at the Robert Moses Powerplant, a structure built into the face of the Niagara River gorge and extending west into the town of Lewiston. The town of Lewiston includes areas that straddle both above and below the north-facing Niagara Escarpment.


Land use practices at the debouchment of the Niagara River at the northern terminus of its seven-mile gorge extend far back in human history.  The National Park Service acknowledges this complex history by establishing a plaque near the river, on Artpark grounds, that reads:


Lower Landing Archeological District has been designated a National Historic Landmark. This site possesses national significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America. The archeological remains of Joncaire's trading post (1719-1741) and other archeological resources document inter-cultural relations at this key point within the colonial Niagara historic district. 1998. National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior.


The base of the escarpment at Lewiston was the northern point of the eastern riverside portage route around the escarpment and the cataracts upstream connecting navigation routes, including those between Lakes Erie upstream and Lake Ontario downstream. As such, the area has seen military activity during the colonial periods and later ferry service before the construction of the Erie Canal between the United States and Canada and from points along the north and southern shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence, especially from Montreal into the interior.


Railroad service connected the lake traffic. There are three railroad beds, two within Artpark descending from the upper bank to the lower along the face of the gorge, and one close to the base of the escarpment but along its north face (not in the gorge).


Two bridges across the river on the lake plane between Lewiston and Queenston were erected, one in 1851 and another in 1899. The abutments of the 1899 bridge are still visible on both sides of the river and the bit of land on which these stone piers stand is still apparently the property of the original bridge owners (according to a plaque on one of the piers).


In spite of centuries of activity in the Artpark area, there are still two remnants of pre-colonial ecological habitat to be found within its boundaries. One is an apparently intact forest on the north-facing escarpment on its talus, overlooking the arena buildings on the lake plain (see 


Another is the rocky outlier or knoll on the lake plain just above (north) of the escarpment and just east of the banks of the Niagara River.  The spoil area slopes touch its southern side, but the other three sides are free.


It is the flora of this knoll, and its significance, that is the subject of this essay.


Although the Artpark area is the site of various historical human activities acknowledged by the National Park Service, there is only one aboveground historic element that is actually present and visible (except, perhaps, the old bridge piers). Exposed as it is, it deserves the most attention from preservation agencies and their agents. This is the Indian burial mound located on the southwestern side of the knoll, and at its base on the lake plain. This is perhaps the oldest representative of all the human activities at the heart of the "Lower Landing Archeological District" and appears to be the only extant artifact existing in the district only a hundred feet or so from burial under the excavated rubble of the spoil areas just south of it.


The Indian Mound at the southwestern side of Scovell's Knoll occurs in a lightwell formed by the removal (absence) of the native trees that once surrounded it and covered it in shade. The greenery on its present surface is composed of mostly weedy species, rather than the native plants that once covered it. It is possible these plants were removed during excavation in the 1960's and no protocol exists to restore them.


Ritchie (1965) wrote in 1965 that the Indian mound at Lewiston was "recently discovered" and that at the time of writing it was still being excavated by Richard L. McCarthy of Lockport, New York, "and associates of the Ondiara [Ongiara?] Archeological Society." (p. 215-216). The burial mound contained the remains of several human beings interred in both bundle and cremation burial types. "Since these exist in all quarters of the tumulus, and from the floor to within a foot or so of the surface, they seem to have been interred over quite some period of time and the mound to have grown by accretion of soil and rock placed over the progressively added human remains." This type of pattern is associated with a similar structure to the west of Lewiston, in southern Ontario, rather than structures in regions to the south of the mound in what is now southwestern New York State, nearby Pennsylvania and the upper regions of the Genesee Valley to the east.


Radiocarbon date of charcoal excavated from the Lewiston mound indicated a date of A.D. 160, with an 80-year margin. Within the cultural chronology of Native American culture, Ritchie placed the Lewiston mound in the Squawkie Hill phase of the Hopewellian culture in the middle Woodland Stage. This is within a cultural sequence that begins with the paleo-Indian hunters beginning around 7000 B.C. and extends to the present day.


Rather than viewing the mound as the memorial of a single person, it may be viewed as a cemetery where numerous individuals were chosen for burial. Scientific excavation at the burial mound indicated, from the artifacts identified, that the age of this feature is around AD 200-400 (Kevin Smith, pers. comm.). Signage at the mound site indicates there is a radiocarbon date for it of 140 AD, and that it is identified as a "Middle Woodland Hopewell-style" mound.


The purpose of this essay is not to detail the archaeological interpretation of the site but to discuss the significance of the surrounding vegetation relative to it. The question should be asked: is there a vegetational precinct associated with the cultural and religious significance of this ancient structure that is integral to the preservation of its historical significance?


Other questions arise, such as to what extent does the entertainment and recreational focus of the present State administration conflict with the national importance of the district? Note also that the national designation is directed to the colonial period, occurring nearly a millennium (1000 years) after the construction of the Indian mound. If anything, the mound's existence is a testimony to the interaction of aboriginal peoples on the North American continent back when most of Europe itself was culturally in a relatively primitive state. The distinctiveness of this mound in the historical imagination could be said to transcend those of the colonial ones, no structures of which have survived.


It may be important to ask why, if all the colonial and postcolonial evidence has perished, did this humble trace of human activity survive?  Also why did it survive in the midst of the transportation stream, which is the main character of the activity focused on in this historic district?


It is conceivable that the mound survived as it did because of the natural character of the immediate environment in which it was originally constructed at what is now Lewiston. Lewiston-Queenston is at a visually striking setting, where the tumultuous Niagara River exits from its violent course during seven miles in a limestone gorge onto the relative calm of the lower river.


Add to this the admirable presence of an outlier of the tableland stretching south of the crest of the escarpment and the lower lake plain - Scovell's Knoll, an elevation that had survived the leveling effects of the last glaciation and the subsequent drainage patterns as the glaciers retreated north. The bedrock cap of the knoll is unusually resistant to erosion, which is the geological basis for its existence, and the knoll is apparently the only feature of its kind in the surrounding region.


Add to this the unusual hydrologic conditions that once obtained at this site. The bedrock of the tableland stretching south of the crest of the escarpment is riddled with fissures, as can be seen all along the Niagara River gorge in winter where their frozen cascades are arrested on the gorge walls. This may be the source for an unusual flow of water at the escarpment base at Lewiston and across the river in Queenston. There appears to have been a swampy condition in the knoll area, as testified to by streambeds at the site, by what must have been a lovely series of waterfalls where Fish Creek, Bloody Run and other east-west trending streams fell over the crest of the gorge, or the so-called high bank onto the lower bank of the river.


Swampy conditions surrounding the knoll can be imagined from the present impoundment of water within a few yards of the Indian mound on its southern side, comprising a boggy area on the eastern side of the mound. A plaque at the site indicates there is a cold-water spring there that flows into the pond. Year-round flow of groundwater that may derive from an artesian condition where water from above the escarpment now finds its way onto the lower plain through fissures in the bedrock and pours over the lower banks of the Niagara River. It supporting a curious and unusual ecological community of saturated masses of vivid green moss, dominated by Didymodon tophaceus, the epithet referring to the tufa, the stony deposits left behind as a respiration product of these tiny plants. This moss forms a thin yellow-brown calcareous curtain under the moss carpets and over the vivid red-green of exposures of the Queenston shale on the lower plain at the river's edge.


Evidence of a more saturated condition to the soil at the escarpment base at Artpark may be seen in the concrete drainage structure at the northern property boundary. The river bank in the Artpark property is stripped of its natural verdure - the shalely bedrock is exposed. There is also, however, an interesting stony layer of nearly unconsolidated sediments on the riverbank that merits further study. The more natural riverbank just north of the Artpark property may give some semblance of its aboriginal botanical conditions. This is where calcareous sheet seepage over moss communities can be observed.


The Indian mound occurs within this striking combination of natural factors.


Government preservation agencies may take their mandate from the human behavior of the communities that have existed in the area adjacent to the mound and its knoll, for the mound and the knoll seem have a sibling relationship to one another. This relationship apparently created a moving force in the spiritual and historical imagination that stimulated people to naturally and voluntarily preserve the extraordinary setting of knoll and mound throughout the centuries.


This natural inclination to preserve this setting on the part of the communities adjacent to it may be detected in the extraordinary degree of preservation of the native forest community surrounding the knoll and mound. If the observer factors out the monumental activity of government in the construction of the hydroelectric plants and the necessity to transport a mountain of debris in the shortest distance possible, and the compensatory erection of a spectacular entertainment complex with ascending tiers of parking lots to serve it, such spontaneous protection is manifest.


One must also factor out the erection of a stone mansion on the knoll's summit by Seymour Scovell in the pre-1860's, the servicing of which probably accounts for the weedy invasive forest on the knoll's eastern side. The house stood on the summit from the 1830's until the 1960's.


This image of Scovell's house was on an interpretive

sign provided by State Parks at the site.


Scovell carefully preserved the knoll's western face, at the base of which lies the Indian mound. The architectural hubris that dictates a mansion be constructed on a summit overlooking the lower domain apparently stimulated Scovell to build his house in this important context.


It is an interesting cultural contrast that the mound was built on the base of the knoll, and not its summit. Perhaps the fact that the mound faced the western sun is also significant.


A stone wall built on the western side and mentioned by George Clinton in his journal (see notes on the flora below) seems to have functioned to contain the domestic activities of the household and keep them to the back, or eastern side. This stone wall is still extant, although the house has been demolished. It is probable that this wall existed to preserve the western side of the knoll.


This spontaneous motivation to protect the mound side of the knoll may also be seen in the unusual quality and kind of the forest draping this face of the knoll. The forest has many if not all of the elements of old growth. That this is true mirrors the extraordinary length of time during which the environment of the Indian mound was preserved from development by the surrounding community and the transportation and other industries associated with the "Lower Landing" area.


The Power Authority itself seems to have been involved in both protecting the knoll and the mound as the stone building was removed in the 1960's and the mound itself must have been discovered not long before. Its excavation may have been instigated by the Authority in its deliberation whether to overwhelm the knoll area by the spoil area, which embraces it today on its southern side.




Botanical Notes from the 1860's 

(For additional information see


Scovell's knoll was known to George Clinton, a Superior Court Judge, a mayor of Buffalo, son of DeWitt Clinton and President of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences among other offices. In 1862 he began a collecting journal which he was to continue until around 1872 (note that Scovell's name is spelled here the way Clinton spelled it in his journal). He would make annual trips to Lewiston via the railroad that ran nearest to and parallel to the crest of the Niagara River gorge as he examined both sides of the gorge for botanical novelties. For a map of the railroads near Lewiston, click here.


On October 2, 1862, Clinton found "in the woods between it [i.e. the village of Lewiston] and the railroad, by the old Scovell place, Asplenium ebeneum [= A. platyneuron (L.) Oakes], and an Aspidium, probably A.  marginale (!) [= Dryopteris marginalis (L.) Gray] but smaller than usual." Dryopteris marginalis is the most abundant fern in the present flora of the Niagara River gorge.


On April 25th of the following year "Near the stone house Dr. Scoville [sic] once used in flower Saxifraga virginiensis, Dicentra cucullaria, Claytonia virginica, Ulmus fulva [= Ulmus rubra Muhl.]." The woods surrounding Scovell's knoll possessed some components of the type of woodland wildflowers visible on Goat Island today (Dicentra and Claytonia), indicating that the woods perhaps on the eastern side, now absent, was milder than the arid woods on the western side, with perhaps Beech (Fagus grandifolia) and Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum). The Saxifraga is today only found on rocky ledges in the gorge. Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra) is associated more with slopes and valley crests and low, open, rocky woods.


On June 5th (1863), after leaving the village of Lewiston, he "Cut by Scoville's [sic] old place to the railroad, Ranunculus scleratus very abundant. Picked a few specimens of Houstonia caerulea." That there was another low area, now filled in by the spoil area, may be seen where Clinton notes "In the pond in the grove between R. R. and river bank, noticed Ranunculus purshii," which is Ranunculus gmelinii DC. As this species is excluded from the local flora (Zander and Pierce 1979), it is probably Ranunculus scleratus, as noted above, common in the ditches at Buckhorn Island State Park.


In 1864, on May 12, Clinton went to Lewiston on the train, "Upon the rocks some after passing the road beyond old Scoville's place, found, ... a Turritis [= Arabis] .... Found it also in continuation of the hollow after crossing the railroad (= T. stricta). Picked up a Carex & divers other things, including Ostrya in flower, & Betula papyracea ... beautifully in flower. In the middle of the pond, on right of the R. R., some ways before reaching the tunnel, a patch of yellow flowers. My chest being sore with a cold, I did not dare to wade, but think it was Ranunculus Purshii, having noticed it there last year. Walked up the R. R. .... Among other things collected, at the old Scoville place outside of the wall, Prunus domestica?" On July 8 (1864) "Back of Scoville's old place, & on the other side of the R. R., Asplenium ebeneum." Note that areas of natural seepage assert themselves - there is such a wet area near the base of the upper railroad hiking path at Artpark.


Note that on February 1, 1864, the bridge to the Canadian shore, at Queenston, Ontario, the Lewiston & Queenston Suspension Bridge, built in 1851 was wrecked in a winter gale (Greenhill 1984). Clinton makes no mention of the loss of this bridge, but in subsequent years either crossed to Canada upstream at the Niagara Railway Suspension Bridge, built by John Augustus Roebling in 1855 at the town of Suspension Bridge, or he took ferries across the Niagara River into Canada.




1. Alien species:


*Acer negundo, Box Elder

*Acer platanoides, Norway Maple, east and north woods

*Aesculus hippocastanum, Horse Chestnut

*Alliaria officinalis, Garlic Mustard

*Arctium sp., Burdock, moist disturbed base, west-facing.

*Arrhenatherum elatius, Tall Oat-grass

*Berberis thunbergii, Japanese Barberry

*Bromus commutatus, Brome-grass

*Campanula rapunculides, Creeping Bellflower

*Capsella bursa-pastoris, Shepherd's Purse, all degraded areas

*Convallaria majalis, Lily-of-the-Valley, eastern side

*Cymbalaria muralis, Kenilworth Ivy "upper abandoned homestead with other escaped ornamentals, over old rocks." Note lovely displays of this species sprawling over talus just upstream of the old Schoelkopf Power Generating plant below the Rainbow Bridge (in 2002).

*Erucastrum gallicum, Dog  Mustard, "parking lot above Scovell's Knoll."

*Glechoma hederacea, Gill-over-the-ground.

*Hesperis matronalis, Dame's Rocket

*Hypericum perforatum, Common St. John's Wort

*Lapsana communis, Nipplewort

*Leonurus cardiaca, Motherwort, summit

*Ligustrum vulgare, Privet

* Lonicera sp., Honeysuckle, moist disturbed base of knoll

*Lonicera tartarica, Tartarian Honeysuckle, east side of knoll

*Lysimachia nummularia, Moneywort, moist upper slopes

*Morus alba, White Mulberry

*Nepeta cataria, Catnip

*Ornithogalum nutans, Nodding Star-of-Bethlehem; this old planting on the   knoll summit matches populations at the "old Fleming place," the riverside parcel (old homestead) just to the left of the vehicular bridge going over to Goat Island.

*Philadelphus coronarius, Mock Orange "abandoned settlement above, with other old horticultural plantings"

*Picris hieracioides, Hawkweed Picris

*Polygonum cuspidatum, Japanese Knotweed, thicket at entrance from parking lot, mid-western face.

*Prunus avium, Bird Cherry, western entrance

*Ranunculus acris, Buttercup, moist western base and throughout.

*Rhamnus cathartica, Common Buckthorn

*Ribes sativum, Red Currant

*Robinia pseudoacacia, Black Locust

*Rosa canina, Dog Rose, resembling the Eglantine Rose is planted and escaped in dense thickets throughout young thickets.

*Rumex crispus, Curly Dock, east side

*Setaria glauca, Pigeon-grass, Indian mound with Echinochloa microstachya.

*Tussilago farfara, Coltsfoot

*Viburnum opulus var. opulus, Guelder Rose

*Vinca minor, Periwinkle, horticultural plantings on summit.


2. Native species:


Acer nigrum, Black Maple, base of knoll. A common species in the Niagara River forests.

Agrimonia gyrosepala, Tall Hairy Agrimony

Arisaema triphyllum var. triphyllum, Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Asarum canadensis, Wild Ginger

Bidens frondosa, Beggar-ticks, moist west end, base of slope

Boehmeria cylindrica, False Nettle

Carex rosea, Rose Sedge, one of the most characteristic woodland sedges.

Carpinus caroliniana, American Hornbeam

Carya ovata, Shagbark Hickory, stony slopes, with Sassafras

Chenopodium hybridum, Maple-leaved Goosefoot

Convolvulus sepium, Hedge Bindweed

Cornus florida, Flowering Dogwood

Cornus racemosa, Panicled Dogwood, margin of rich woods.

Desmodium glutinosum, Sticky Tick Trefoil

Dryopteris carthusiana, Wood-fern, weedy area eastern side of knoll

Echinochloa microstachya, Small-spiked Barnyard Grass, Indian mound, with Setaria glauca.

Erigeron annuus, Slender White-top

Erigeron strigosus, Daisy Fleabane

Erythronium albidum, White Adder's Tongue. This white-flowered species is infrequent along the Niagara River; some plants found upstream at Buckhorn Island.

Fagus grandifolia, Beech

Fraxinus americana, American Ash, summit.

Galium aparine, Cleavers, moist base, west side.

Geranium maculatum, Wild Crane's-bill, east side beside path.

Geranium robertianum, Herb Robert associated, with Sambucus pubens

Juglans nigra, Black Walnut, rich western woods

Geum canadense, White Avens, moist base, west side

Glyceria striata, Nerved Manna-grass, moist eastern side

Hamamelis virginiana, Witchhazel

Hydrophyllum virginianum, Virginia Waterleaf

Onoclea sensibilis, Sensitive Fern

Osmorhiza longistylis, Long-styled Sweet Cicely

Ostrya virginiana, Hop-hornbeam

Penstemon hirsutus, Hairy Beard-tongue

Penthorum sedoides, Ditch Stonecrop

Physocarpus opulifolus, Ninebark

Phytolacca americana, Pokeweed

Poa nemoralis, Meadow Grass

Podophyllum peltatum, May-apple

Potentilla canadensis, Dwarf Cinquefoil

Prunella vulgaris, Heal-all

Prunus serotina, Black Cherry

Prunus virginiana, Chokecherry

Quercus alba, White Oak

Quercus borealis var. maxima, Northern Red Oak

Ranunculus abortivus, Small-flowered Crowfoot

Rhus typhina, Staghorn Sumac

Rubus sp., Raspberry

Rubus odoratus, Purple-flowering Raspberry

Sambucus pubens, Red-berried Elderberry

Sanguinaria canadensis, Bloodrot

Sanicula marilandica, Black Snakeroot

Sassafras albidum, Sassafras

Scrophularia marilandica, Maryland Figwort

Smilacina racemosa, False Solomon's Seal, eastern weeds area

Smilax herbacea, Carrion-flower, south end

Solidago flexicaulis, ZigZag Goldenrod

Solidago juncea, Early Goldenrod

Thalictrum dioicum, Early Meadowrue

Typha angustifolia, Narrow-leaved Cattail, rimming pool, southwest base of knoll.

Verbena urticaefolia, White Vervain

Vibernum acerifolium, Maple-leaved Viburnum

Vibernum lentago, Nannyberry

Viola spp. (Violets), abundant on the western slopes.

Vitis aestivalis var. argentifolia, Summer Grape, southwest side, also found on Navy Island.

Vitis riparia, Frost Grape, talus rubble


The forest on the western side presents a pleasing appearance to the visitor approaching it from the parking area. Here, in the moist base of the knoll, are Oak-dominated woods: huge Red Oak and White Oak trees whose acorns are abundant in the early fall to collect for germinating and Black Cherry (Prunus serotina). Here is also, on the southwestern side, the Indian mound can be located in its Oak-Hickory setting. The base of the knoll is moist, the soil black, where Geum and Galium grow, Solidago juncea and Hydrophyllum virginianum, and the Maryland Figwort so well developed on Navy Island (Scrophularia marilandica). Native species in the low, moist areas include the native Ginger (Asarum canadensis) and the Mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum), as well as Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Some beech occurs here (Fagus grandifolia).  Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina), old and well developed, typical of the edges of woodlands, occur here as well, and Panicled Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) both better species to plant in such areas than Japanese Knotweed.


Trees on the dry upper slopes with Red Oak, include Sassafras and very large specimens of Shagbark Hickory (Carya  ovata), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), Basswood (Tilia americana), Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), Black Cherry, Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius).


Clambering over the stony talus, as on the talus in the gorge grows the Herb robert (Geranium robertianum), growing with Red-berried Elderberry (Sambucus pubens), ZigZag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) so typical of all gorge slopes, and River Grape (Vitis riparia).


Many glacial (granitic or acidic) erratics, as on the aboriginal Red Oak-dominated north facing slope along the upper terraces of the spoil area, grow on the talus with interesting bryophyte cover: black mosses such as Grimmia, Anomodon attenuatus, Orthotrichum species such as O. anomalum and Hedwigia ciliata on granitic rocks (not calcareous ones associated with the native bedrock).


Horticultural species clamber over the stone fence and along the path (probably recent) on the west side of this structure over which Kenilworth Ivy tumbles, Moneywort clambers over the moist soil (Lysimachia nummularia) and Periwinkle (Vinca minor). This path supports masses of recently planted liliaceous species (Hemerocallis, the Day Lily), and also Ornithogalum. Unfortunately the trees on the summit, associated with the old Scovell house are mostly invasive tree species, primarily Box Elder (Acer negundo), Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), the noxious Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Bird Cherry (Prunus avium). The native American Mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum) occurs there, Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), Carrion-flower (Smilax herbacea) and Early Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dioicum).


Toward the "back" or eastern face of the knoll, where the native forest has been completely removed, occur the weedy invasives Box Elder and Garlic Mustard, Privet (Ligustrum vulgare), Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica), Lily-of-the Valley (Convallaria majalis), and Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) occur here in deep green shade.


Some native regeneration occurs here because of the interpenetration of native species populations with the disturbed areas. The native Wild Crane's-bill (Geranium maculatum) occurs beside one of the paths, as does False Solomon's Seal (Smilacina racemosa), the native Woodfern (Dyopteris carthusiana), Nerved Manna-grass (Glyceria striata) and Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).


The western, or historically and biologically significant aspect, possesses a complex old-growth species matrix. It not only supports the relatively depauperate but native remnant forest type of the talus on the north facing escarpment within Artpark boundaries, but also aspects of old growth in the two forest types upstream at DeVeaux State Park. Here the two forest types intermingle. No other forest type in the public lands from Buckhorn Island upstream downstream to Lewiston possesses, for example, Sassafras among its components. The flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) once present at the entrance to Whirlpool State Park, has been cut to accommodate Robert Moses Parkway and other mitigations during the opening of DeVeaux State Park in 2002 and 2004. Its presence in the forest on the knoll is therefore likely to be the only extant population remaining on state lands in the area. Components of the talus slope in biologically important areas, such as Whirlpool Woods occur on the knoll, specifically Red-berried Elder (Sambucus pubens).


Unfortunately, because of excessive path development, picnic tables, clearing for miniature arenas (e.g. for story telling), occur many invasive and alien species on account of path disturbance and tree removal: thorny native blackberries (Rubus sp.), and Beggar-ticks (Bidens frondosa), the stubborn invasive Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), Ribes spp.  (Currants), Burdock (Arctium sp.), Common Buttercup (Ranunculus acris), Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.), Horsechestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), Nipplewort (Lapsana communis).



Overuse and inappropriate development -

Inappropriate recreational use -

Inappropriate horticultural development


The western side of the knoll is the most pristine of its four faces.  The summit and eastern side have been the most seriously modified, especially by the Scovell construction during the 19th century. The north aspect suffers from invasive species mixing with a relatively robust native mix. The southern side also represents this mix, with the additional pressure from contact with the spoil area.


Natural regeneration is occurring, especially of the native forest tree American Basswood (Tilia americana), and relictual or actively regenerating native species populations may be spotted in the most seriously disrupted area. A program of encouraging natural regrowth and inhibiting the most invasive or problematic of the alien species should be formulated and put in place.


The most serious effect is the degradation of the most important side: that facing the west. This deterioration appears to be directly attributable to inappropriate management activities by Artpark administrators promoting recreational activities inconsistent with the site's biological, historical, and cultural value inherent in the National Historic Landmark status given it by the national government.


Threats to the Cultural and Biological Integrity of the Site


1. Over-development of paths:


At the base of the knoll, facing the lowermost parking lot, an extensive path network has been established, some with hard-packed earth, others being covered with asphalt. It appears that this proliferation of paths also occurs throughout the western face, including the summit. White painted marks on the trees along the summit are reminiscent of those used to indicate tree removal, but a sign posted at the entrance to one of the paths indicates these are blaze marks to guide visitors along the trail.


Also, old horticultural species elements on the summit, such as Kenilworth Ivy and Ornithogallum, minor and insignificant species, have been enhanced by heavy plantings of liliaceous species, perhaps Hemerocallis or related plants, adjacent to the summit paths. Such recent plantings form dense colonies where regeneration is impossible and where these populations will likely expand in area at the expense of native taxa.


2. Culling of trees:


Removal of trees anywhere on the knoll, especially the western side, will have a serious impact on the integrity of the native old-growth forest community. Understory vegetation types rely on the centuries-old dense canopy to maintain its integrity. Light wells created in the canopy by tree removal expose the soil below and favor colonization by weedy and invasive tree, shrub and herbaceous vegetation, especially Garlic Mustard (Alliaria officinalis)  which, in areas on top of the knoll, form broad denuded areas, and put undue pressure on the native, shade-dependent species presently in place.


Superficial examination of areas where trees have been removed reveal massive stumps, several of which do not obviously indicate necrosis in the heartwood to justify their removal.


Stump of a removed tree shows the extraordinary size of

some of these old trees at the site (and elsewhere in the

public lands along the Niagara River).


Whatever the reasons for tree removal at this site, the resulting gap has been filled by picnic tables and staging areas for some sort of performance in a "rustic" setting (both existing in light wells from canopy removal). Such emplacements prevent native forest regeneration either by trees, shrubs or herbs especially when extensive populations of invasive alien species occur nearby or within the native ecological communities and adjacent to areas experiencing repeated or pattern disturbance (such as mowing). Dumps on the knoll of cut-tree material are unsightly and continue to erode the surface area for colonization by native species. Such dumps are familiar to visitors to the central forest on Goat Island. When such material is removed, the habitat is prime for invasive taxa already well established in disturbed areas.


A plaque by the pond-side entrance to the knoll base at its southwestern side indicates that sculptures by George Peterson, in 2001, and placed at various places in the knoll, were prepared "from trees that New York State had designated for removal."


Given the high monetary value of well-developed, mature trees of the hardwood species at Artpark and other public areas, there should be a registry of trees above a certain diameter and their locality, especially in patches of old growth throughout the Niagara River park system to prevent the poaching of trees. Justification for removal of these trees should be part of the public record. Plans to anticipate impacts on the surrounding vegetation should be detailed and mitigations enumerated.


The extraordinary term "poaching" is used here advisedly, not to accuse any particular administration of sanctioning such an activity, but because I have personally received testimonials from persons associated with the development of major public institutions in the County of Niagara as to the removal of ancient trees from their private property by individuals using heavy equipment while the owners were out of town. I was also personally involved in the prevention of trees being cut down in what is now DeVeaux State Park, which supports an old growth Oak-Maple forest on one of its parcels; this involved an exchange in the Niagara Gazette newspaper. I also needed to warn members of the present park's administration about similar orange marks on the old trees in Whirlpool State Park during a time when the old administration was changing over to the new. The old trees in question at Whirlpool are outliers, minus the shrub and herbaceous layers, of the old growth at DeVeaux, across the highway (the Robert Moses Parkway).


3. Overdevelopment and overuse:


Although the author has not seen the knoll in its heaviest use as, for example, during the summer season, evidence may be indicated in the soil compaction of the paths and picnic areas, compaction exacerbated by the permanent moisture inherent in the soil here.


One noted area has been set aside with a rope suspended from the lower limbs of an old tree on the north side just below the summit. This recreational option has created a broad circle of trampled, muddy earth devoid of vegetation except for the noxious species Nipplewort (Lapsana communis), which is also along the weedy river-bank on Artpark's western boundary.


The denuded muddy area under the rope is surrounded by

the basal leaves of Nipplewort, an invasive weed, and Garlic Mustard.

Surrounding vegetation has been removed to provide additional

area for groups to use this recreational device.


The knoll base on the western side has been modified to support a small gymnasium (tree-rope swing), "Lecture Space", a "Meeting Space" and a "Picnic Area." Continuation of these exposed areas should be reconsidered and the areas reconverted back to their natural vegetative condition.


4. Maintenance of the burial mound.  Development of a planting or maintenance protocol:


The Indian mound today is part of this cluster of development at the western base of the knoll. Tree cover has been removed around its periphery and the mound lies in a lightwell surrounded by asphalt paths. There is a conspicuous sign saying "Indian Burial Mound" which seems inappropriate as it gives a tourist or sightseeing image to this feature, eliminating the sacred character of what is essentially a cemetery with a tendency to promote inappropriate connotations to the visitor. Such connotations might stimulate the viewer to climb on the mound or interfere with its surroundings in a variety of ways. Surrounding the mound with asphalt paths (roads) encourages rapid transit as though the mound was a feature on a highway.


It has recently been informally announced that the surface of the mound is to receive a treatment of English Ivy (Hedera helix). Presumably, this will prevent perpetually trimming the graminoid cover and other successional and opportunistic species from colonizing the mound. Such trimming on the mound seems inconsistent with its sacred character and with the sense that the mound should have and has had a more harmonious relationship with its natural surroundings.


One image to consult is a drawing of the mound recently published in a collection of National and State Historic Landmarks by the late historian of the City of Buffalo where a young tree and other successional vegetation is indicated. The image does represent what might be taken to be an overgrown lawn. The tendency toward successional vegetation on the mound will always continue and the attempt to plant Ivy or some other ground cover upon it is meant to defeat this natural process.


Clearly, however, throughout the long existence of this feature, which has a soil-covered surface, there has existed a flora upon it. It is and was from its beginning, a disturbance in the natural landscape. After it was constructed, sooner or later a flora became established upon it from native species derived from the surrounding plant community. If left to its natural state, a flora would redevelop on its surface from the available vegetation in its context. This flora could be allowed to develop in a passive way, with efforts to remove inappropriate species from becoming established, for example, species such as Garlic Mustard (Alliaria officinalis), Dandelions and other lawn rubbish.


Native species growing within a circle with an area with a radius of twenty or more feet from the center of the mound might be introduced by design to cover the mound as well.


It is safe to assume that the mound spent most of its long existence beneath a canopy as deep as the present, undisturbed canopy. Since this canopy has been removed over the mound, it is recommended that it be restored, specifically by reestablishing forest species growing adjacently to it, preferably with the same genetics, that is, from seeds, other propagules, cuttings produced from vegetation growing on the site, not produced elsewhere.


An image showing something of the old trees

and canopy  on the north side of the knoll.




Presently an accommodative relationship between State Park and the Power Authority relative to the authority's activities in the 20th century and building activities needs to be reevaluated to restore the historic focus.


The Artpark master plan should be written to declare the knoll and Indian mound off limits to public use for picnicking, tree-rope swinging, camping, arena emplacements. All of these activities could be developed on the acres of disturbed landscape that abounds at Artpark. The fact that the scrap of native forest exists should not be construed as unused land, but land committed to the highest use by nature.


The knoll is not to be integrated into the entertainment and recreational objectives of the manipulated landscape at Artpark.


The knoll is to be guarded and treated for its sacred character. The surrounding old forest is to be maintained as an appropriate ambience for a site of unusual cultural importance for an aboriginal people that antedated the colonial period in North America.


Gardening of any kind should be eliminated on the knoll and in any other area of native vegetation (talus slope patch) and a protocol should be established to ensure the native vegetation is restored at the mound and in its vicinity.


Undesirable duplication of paths should be eliminated.


Under the current relicensing procedure for the New York Power Authority, which owns the Artpark property, it seems in the public interest that thorough examination of current and historical natural conditions associated with the Lower Landing Historic District be included in related studies, such as archaeological, groundwater, geological and botanical reports.


An excellent example of the sort of habitat restoration is the cold-water spring-fed pond and marsh at the knoll's southwestern side designed and constructed by Peter Richards. Richards, like George Peterson, was an artist in residence but during the period 1988 and 1989. Although the establishment of this wet area was a design, an "environmental artwork" as the sign by this pond indicates, it should not be construed as a garden.  Development of the knoll's summit with garden species may be construed as an "environmental artword" also. The pond's taking the name of its modifier, "Richards' Pond and Marsh," may set an inappropriate precedent for additional artifice.


All agencies along the Niagara River who have a protective, restorative mandate for the ecosystems within the boundaries of public lands have always been handicapped by lack of overall studies, present and historic, establishing acceptable baselines for preservation and restoration within their properties.


This is further handicapped by a lack of appropriate greenhouse facilities and protocols for growing native stock from seeds or other propagules to reintroduce into areas disturbed by natural and artificial activities, such as tree-fall during spring winds and slope denudation by temporary construction activities throughout the public lands, such as those undertaken on the Niagara Reservation during dewatering of the falls during the last century. Such resources and information could be a collective facility that can be shared by federal, state and municipal agencies, including departments of energy, transportation and tourism, and as these have similar if not identical mandates, can be shared with sister agencies across the river in the province of Ontario, Canada.




Specimens for most or all species reported here have been deposited in the herbarium of the Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo, New York.  I thank Richard Zander for sharing his extensive knowledge of computer applications to make this posting possible. Bob Baxter of the Niagara Heritage Partnership first drew my attention to the Indian mound. Kevin Smith, former Curator of Anthropology at the Buffalo Museum of Science, provided critical information about the Indian Mound. I would like to thank Lynda Schneekloth of the Friends of the Buffalo, and Niagara Rivers and Neil Patterson, Jr. of the Tuscarora Environment Program for their interest and support.




Greenhill, Ralph. 1984. Spanning Niagara, the International Bridges 1848-1962. University of Washington Press, Seattle, Washington.


Ritchie, William 1965. The Archaeology of New York State. Published for the American Museum of Natural History. The Natural History Press, Garden City, N.Y.


Schuchert, Charles and Carl O. Dunbar. 1933. A Textbook of Geology. Part II - Historical Geology. ed. 3. John Wiley & Sons. New York. Photograph of the railroad tunnel at Lewiston taken by Charles Schuchert.


Thompson, Gordon J., ed. The Niagara Gorge Belt Line, A Pictorial Album. Niagara Frontier Chapter, National Railway Historical Society. North Tonawanda.


Topographic Map: Lewiston, Ont. - N.Y. NE/4 Niagara Falls 15' Quadrangle. 1965. United States Geological Survey.