Our History: Wanakah Water Company

Ariel View of LESTC



The Lake Erie Seaway Trail Center (LESTC) opened in 2005 as a tourism and visitors center for the western segment of the Great Lakes Seaway Trail system- from the Grape Belt near the Western Pennsylvania Border along Lake Erie to Niagara Falls and Lake Ontario.

Located in Hamburg, New York on the shores of Lake Erie, approximately 12 miles south of downtown Buffalo, the Center was created through the redevelopment of the historic Wanakah Water Company building on NY Route 5. The LESTC is owned by the Town of Hamburg and is operated by the Friends of the Lake Erie Seaway Trail Center, a not-for-profit 501c(3) corporation.

A Community and Regional Resource

It’s All About “Where To GO”

The Lake Erie seaway Trail Center (LESTC) provides a valuable resource for serving travelers and enhancing their knowledge and understanding of the western Seaway Trail corridor in New York.

Travelers are provided information and resources on important historical, cultural, environmental, scenic, and recreational opportunities in the immediate Hamburg area, as well as the wealth of tourist and recreational opportunities in Erie, Niagara, and Chautauqua counties.

The Wanakah Water Company Building


This 1.3 acre LESTC property contains the former Wanakah Water Company building, an approximately 4,000 square-foot brick structure, and surrounding shoreline area.

Prior to its redevelopment, the unoccupied former Wanakah Water building had little use and was deteriorating and in danger of falling into complete disrepair. With its redevelopment by the Town of Hamburg and operational hours provided by local volunteers, the beach and grounds adjacent to the building are now available for public use, a success story in a region which increasingly values and seeks improved waterfront access for the public!

Long before the Lake Erie Seaway Trail Center was created by the Town of Hamburg and made available as a public resource, the building and the grounds had decades long life as the privately-operated Wanakah Water Company.

The Wanakah Water Company was founded by Mr. John T. Roberts, a Buffalo resident who spent his summers in the Wanakah community. In 1896, Mr. Roberts began the Wanakah Water Company for 12 customers with a windmill-powered pump about 1000 feet south of the current Center site. Originally, water was only pumped in the summer months for the summer community and only when the wind was blowing hard enough to turn the windmill! By 1910, there were two windmills, an eight-horse-power gasoline engine, and about 1.5 miles of distribution mains. The windmills could move 10,000 gallons of water per hour with a good Lake Erie breeze powering them!

Mr. Roberts son who ran the company later was also known as quite a character and carried wrenches in his chauffered car to explain on at least one occasion to police officers that, yes, he was speeding, but it was to a water emergency that needed his repair.

Although the Wanakah Water Company received apporval from the Hamburg Town Board to build and maintain a water distribution center on June 1, 1910, the precise construction date for the Wanakah Water “Works” building which now is the LESTC is not known. However, records indicate that the building was in place in 1920 and was substantially expanded in 1958.

The Wanakah Water Works supplied water from the facility for almost 70 years, serving households, businesses, and summer cottage residents along the immediate lake shore area of Hamburg, including Athol Springs, Mount Vernon, Cloverbank, Wanakah, and other areas as far south as Eighteen Mile Creek.

In June 1989, Hamburg voters in the former Wanakah Water District approved the sale of the water works to the Erie County Water Authority in October of that year.

The Town of Hamburg retained ownership of the building after it was decommissioned and used it for storage and as a limited access area for the Lake Erie shoreline before formalizing its re-use as a visitors center, waterfront access site, travel an tourism-related exhibit space, and community meeting center.


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Photos courtesy: Dave Schultz