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Champion of Underground Railroad history honored at Broderick Park

Mayor Brown's Facebook page

With Broderick Park's role in the Underground Railroad often overlooked, Lillion Batchelor made it her mission to highlight the location's historical importance. City officials are recognizing her efforts with the installation of the Lillion Batchelor Contemplative Garden.

The garden, dedicated on Wednesday by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, is part of nearly $11 million in improvements to the island park along the Niagara River and the connecting Ferry Street Bridge. 

"For 11 years, we had a reenactment of slaves crossing over to Canada," Batchelor recalled of the dramatizations which were eventually stopped due to safety concerns. For the fugitive slaves of the 19th century, crossing the the choppy waters of the Niagara River may have been the least dangerous stage of their perilous journeys to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

"But, when we had the reenactments of slaves going over there, we had a group from England come over to see it," Batchelor said.

"More people outside of Buffalo are interested in the slave crossing there than the people of Buffalo."

Batchelor, founder of the Buffalo Quarters Historical Society, finds a similar interest among the many new immigrants living on the West Side who visit Broderick Park for recreation.

"It's fascinating. It's something when you go down there and some people are foreigners and they will talk to you about leaving places and coming for safety in another place," she said.

"It's very touching."

The dedication also provided Mayor Brown with a chance to highlight the many improvements at the park. New shelters and grills have been installed. Roadways have been improved.

And it allowed Batchelor to remember a younger Byron Brown taking part in one the Underground Railroad reenactments at the site.

"God bless him, he's the main reason for this," Batchelor said. 

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.