The area encompassed by the proposed 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor was not always dry land. The original shoreline of Lake Erie roughly followed the course of Fuhrmann Boulevard, which now forms the eastern boundary of the proposed park. In the 1860s the federal government began construction of a series of breakwaters to protect the shoreline and to provide protection for ships. Over time a number of businesses located on filled-in parcels along the Outer Harbor but most commerce chose to locate along the Buffalo River Channel, which had connections to the Erie Canal and the rapidly expanding railroad network.
In the mid 20th century, as ship size and capacity increased, the futile dream of a deep-water connection to the Atlantic Ocean began to loom larger. The push to develop a deep-water port, in conjunction with The St Lawrence Seaway, grew. This area was filled in with material dredged from the bottom of the harbor and other locations. Much of the fill was polluted due to industrial waste discharged by the various waterfront industries.
An increase in shipping and concurrent economic growth which some had predicted did not occur. In fact, direct access to the Atlantic Ocean diverted much of Buffalo’s waterborne commerce to other areas and few Seaway vessels visited the Port of Buffalo.
The increasing size of ocean going vessels and the specialized infrastructure required to handle containerized shipping methods prevented significant maritime use of the newly created land area.