Grand Island is a town and an island in Erie County, New York, USA. As of the 2010 census, the town population is 20,374. This represents an increase of 9.41% from the 2000 census figure. The current town name derives from the French name La Grande Île, as Grand Island is the largest island in the Niagara River and fourth largest in the state. The phrase La Grande Île appears on the town seal.
Over the course of its history, the island has served as home to the Attawandaron Nation, and been an acquisition of both French and English colonial pursuits. In 1945, Grand Island was part of a plan to make a new World Peace Capital on the international border between Southern Ontario and Western New York. The plan proposed placing the United Nations headquarters on adjacent Navy Island (Ontario, Canada), which was considered an ideal location because it lay on the boundary between two peaceful countries. An artist's rendering of the World Peace Capital (as seen in the George Seibel Niagara River Collection at the Niagara Falls Public Library in Niagara Falls, Ontario) showed the property with bridges spanning both countries (at Grand Island in the US and the Canadian mainland on the other side). The proposal was ultimately turned down in favor of the current U.N. headquarters in New York City.
The Town of Grand Island is located at the northwestern corner of Erie County, on the western edge of New York State and on the Canada–US international border, although there is no river crossing. It is northwest of Buffalo and is traversed by Interstate 190 and New York State Route 324.
Period before the American Revolution
In the early historical period of the island, the 16th century, French explorers found members of the Neutral Nation of Native Americans, also known as the Attawandaron, living on the island; by 1651, the nearby Seneca Nation had chased off or killed the Neutrals, having also absorbed some of the survivors. The Seneca used the island for hunting and fishing.
Period after the American Revolution
In 1815, New York State purchased Grand Island and other small islands in the Niagara River from the Iroquois nation for $1,000 in hand, and annually, forever, a perpetuity of $500 (to this day, paid every June). The treaty was signed by Governor Daniel D. Tompkins, Peter B. Porter, Chief Red Jacket, Falling Boards, Twenty Canoes, Sharp Shins, Man Killer, and others. The Senecas reserved the right to hunt, fish and fowl on the islands.
In 1824, in a precursor to modern Zionism, journalist and Utopian Mordecai Manuel Noah tried to found a Jewish homeland at Grand Island in the Niagara River, to be called Ararat, after Mount Ararat, the Biblical resting place of Noah's Ark. However, the idea failed to attract Noah's fellow Jews and it never got further than a ceremonial laying of a cornerstone. MacArthur Award-winning cartoonist Ben Katchor fictionalized Noah's scheme for Grand Island in his The Jew of New York.
The Town of Grand Island was organized in 1852 from part of the Town of Tonawanda.
On August 25, 1993, the Seneca Nation commenced an action to reclaim land that allegedly was taken from it without the approval of the United States in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York. The Senecas argued that the 1815 transaction with New York State violated the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790, which stated that no Native American lands were to be sold without consent of the Federal government. The Senecas sought the ejection of more than 2,000 property owners on the Island. By decision and order dated June 21, 2002, the trial court held that the subject lands were ceded to Great Britain in the 1764 treaties of peace and that the subject lands were not owned by the Seneca at the time of the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua and that New York State's purchase of them in 1815 was intended to avoid conflict with the Senecas over land it already owned. This decision was appealed and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the trial court's decision on September 9, 2004. The Senecas then sought review of this decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, which was denied on June 5, 2006.