Deveaux Woods State Park is quite possibly the most peculiar of the New York State Parks location in the city of Niagara Falls. Although it is, as Buffalo Museum of Science Research Associate P.M. Eckel said in 1986, “the oldest, most unaltered woodland along the entire American Gorge,” it wasn’t made a State Park until 2001.
The history of Deveaux Woods as we would look at it begins roughly in 1855 with the DeVeaux College for Orphans and Destitute Children. This was a boys school for orphans ages 8-12, and ran as a sort of military academy. The school evolved over time, expanding to several buildings. There is a great write-up on its history over at the old Wake Up Niagara blog, as well as personal reflections of being an alumni on the Big Daddy Dave blog.
If you’re looking for a condensed version, the school closed in 1972. This led to a series of ownership changes. Niagara University used it as additional dormitories briefly, then it passed through various local, county and state hands until the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation bought it in 2001.
If you’re looking for remnants of the original Deveaux College, there’s almost nothing left. The last surviving big structure is Schoellkopf Hall.
The hall, which may or may not be haunted, is certainly an eerie sight to behold. Old plywood boards up every window of the 1927 stone building. A Fallout Shelter sign sits above its northeast entrance. A tag number of 3140 is bolted to its southeast door. It felt at home with the overcast weather that surrounded it when I went for a visit.
Now, Deveaux Woods is also, well, a woodland. Sitting behind Schoellkopf hall are some of the oldest trees in Niagara.
If Schoellkopf was errie in overcast weather, the woodland was scary. Warning signs for ticks and coyotes mark its entrance, along with jagged trees and underbrush.
The busted logs on either side of the path seems to hiss. Whether this was due to a very light rain or some insect I’m not sure. I don’t entirely want to know.
It truly was like stepping into a different time and place. With no sounds of tourists or vehicles due to the restrictions for COVID quarantine, you could hear everything. Every twig and leave crunch. Every rabbit scurrying along. This is not a manicured nature. This is raw, unadulterated nature.
On the other end of the park lay a different sense of desolation. The baseball fields, usually filled with kids by now, sit completely empty.
This is not a 1927 building. This is not an ancient wood. This is a usually busy place. It really does show how recent world events have affected everyday life.
Now, there’s one other hidden spot within Deveaux Woods State Park that is rarely talked about. In fact, very little has ever been said of it. It sits as a lone marker of a time long gone. Tomorrow we will take a look at this spot and ask ourselves: who is Eliza Keig?