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This week marks 9 years of writing this blog.  Where has the time gone?  In those nine years, I got rid of my car, moved twice, and have had four different jobs!  In June of 2011, I decided I needed to find out how Keppel Street got it’s name.  So I started doing research.  Funny how such a little question I had turned into all of this!  So far, we have covered information about 183 streets.  Can you believe it?

89846546_1781223202012043_4603468453204983808_oIn the past year, I’ve had some great opportunities – I gave a bunch of University Express presentations which has been great fun!  In the fall, we covered “Which Side of the Skyway Are You On?”  It was really fun to discuss the history of the Skyway and differing opinions on it.  This spring, we switched to online classes, and I’ve done “Discovering Buffalo One Street at a Time” Parts 1, 2 and 3 so far!  You can find them on Erie County’s website here.  Stay tuned, we may be doing a Part 4 at some point.  Last summer/fall, I tested out some ideas for tours.  I’m definitely planning on doing more once it’s safe to congregate in groups again!  In March, I spoke at the Library as part of the Imagine Greater Buffalo series.  Since it was Women’s History Month, I spoke about streets named after women.  WBFO got wind of it and I was then interviewed for a story about streets named after women.

I hope you all have been enjoying my current series about streets named after African Americans.  I intend to continue those pieces through the summer at least.  I have several more in the works that will be coming very soon – including Mary Talbert, who is one of my all time favorite Buffalonians.  When I was in Arkansas in March (just before pandemic hit), I was able to visit some of the places associated with her when she lived there before she moved to Buffalo.  It was very special to me.  I’m actually ashamed I haven’t written about her on here yet!

As most of you know, this is truly a passion project for me.  I love sharing stories about our city and regional history.  I’m so thankful for all of you who have followed along over the last nine years.  When I started writing this, I thought I’d only have like 12 followers….boy was I wrong about that!

Just for fun, here are some some things that were also happening in Buffalo in June 2011:

  1. Terry Pegula had just purchased the Sabres a few months earlier.   The Sabres had just played in the playoffs for the last time since that year.  Lindy Ruff was still coach.  Thomas Vanek was our best player.
  2. Chris Collins was still our County Executive.  Mark Poloncarz was still just our trusty County Comptroller, but was about to be elected County Executive in the fall
  3. Byron Brown was in his second term as Mayor.  Andrew Cuomo was six months into his first term as Governor.
  4. Thursdays in the Square moved from Lafayette Square down to the Central Wharf and became Thursdays at Canalside.  The first concert at Canalside was June 30th, 2011 and was Lowest of the Low and Ron Hawkins and the Do Good Assassins.
  5. Canalside was just the property south of Marine Drive and west of Main Street.  The portion near Main Street wasn’t even grass yet (Pegula donated the sod to fill in the grass there).  There were no restaurants or buildings yet.  The New Naval Park Museum and Liberty Hound would open in 2012.  One Canalside was still the State-owned Donovan Building; HarborCenter was just a city-owned parking lot, and the Aud Block was just a giant pit.
  6. The Construction was just wrapping up at the old Dulski Federal Building – now the The Avant/Embassy Suites.
  7. Larkin Square and Larkinville were still just a twinkle in the eye of Howard and Leslie Zemsky.  Larkin Square and the Filling Station would open in 2012.  Food Truck Tuesday wasn’t really a concept we knew about yet. Our first food truck, Lloyd, had just started serving burritos a year before and food trucks were new on the scene!
  8. The tower at the end of Main Street was still known as HSBC Tower and it was still used by bank employees for another two years.
  9. The Hotel Lafayette was still vacant.  We still had to drive to Rochester for Dinosaur BBQ.  Toutant, Big Ditch, Tappo, Thin Man….none of them existed.
  10. Buffalo was preparing to be the location of the National Trust Preservation Conference in the fall.  During that conference, the Richardson Building was open to the public for the first time.  It would still be two years before construction began on Hotel Henry.

Years ago (maybe in 2011) there was a Sabres blog I used to follow that would do a summary of things people search for to find your blog.  I always enjoyed reading those updates.  Many people search for generic things like “streets of Buffalo History”, “buffalo streets blog” or “Angela Keppel”.  It’s weird to see that people search my name so often, but also kind of cool.

Here’s the top ten things people searched for to find my blog this past year.  If you click the link, it will take you to the associated articles:

  1. Canal District -including things like “central wharf”, “dante place”, and “end of erie canal in buffalo history”.  I have been doing some research about the Canalside area lately for a project we’re doing at work, so hopefully I’ll have some more coming about this in the future!
  2. Church Street – people are really interested in the downtown churches of Buffalo (and there used to be many more before they moved out of Downtown), and they search for the three churches on Church Street often, for the location of Old First Presbyterian Church…perhaps those are people who went on a tour of First Pres and are curious about where they used to be?
  3. Rumsey– people are continually interested in the Rumsey Family and learning about Rumsey Park….many of the Rumsey Park contemporaries probably were curious too – those who didn’t get invites to parties there surely gawked at the properties as they walked by or rode by in their carriages.
  4. Kelly Island – I don’t even have a post about this yet and it’s consistently in the top list! There was an announcement in the news a few months ago regarding a property on Kelly Island…and my blog was one of the few places that mention the Island….although it’s just an offhand mention because Ganson Street is located on Kelly Island.  I have more research to come about the Island (which is where General Mills and Riverworks are today).  I hope to learn more about the name soon.
  5. Lovejoy– Sarah Lovejoy and her son Henry are something people search for often.  I’m glad her story continues to be told.  Her bravery protecting her home inspires me.
  6. Ellicott– people are often searching for more about Joseph Ellicott and the Holland Land Company.  Joseph is the reason for Buffalo’s existence as we know it, so I’m glad people are still looking for more information about him.
  7. Tifft– people have been coming across the blog from searching for “Tifft House”, which was a great building on Main Street, as well as searching for George Washington Tifft himself and “Tifft Farm”.  Sometimes, I wonder if a few of the Tifft searches are looking for directions or info about operations at Tifft Farm Nature Preserve….if so, I’m sorry you got to my blog, but I hope you enjoyed learning the history of the site!
  8. Exchange– people searched for “what businesses were on exchange street in the 1800s”, “New York Central station on Exchange Street”, as well as searching for the other stations that were on or near Exchange Street historically.  I think people have a renewed interest due to the new Amtrak Station that is under construction now.
  9. Scajaquada– this is of course a common search item for people in Buffalo.  There’s been lots of news and lots of debates about if we should change the expressway to a parkway, etc.  I also like that some people have found my blog by searching for “Kenjockety” or some of the other spelling of his name.
  10. Central Park – when this first started showing up in my search terms, I was convinced that people were trying to find Central Park in New York and were probably super confused when they found an article about Lewis Bennett.  But lately, there have been more searches for things like “former stores in central park plaza” and “history of central park plaza” so I think it’s Buffalo related.  The Central Park neighborhood and the Central Park Plaza are an interesting part of Buffalo’s history and it seems like more and more people are interested in it!

So, how did you find my blog?  Do you have a favorite street history you’ve learned about?  Let me know in the comments!  My favorite fact that I’ve learned is still about how handsome Bishop John Timon was in his youth!

I hope you are enjoying what is going to be a very different summer for us all.  We’ll have to have a big party next year to celebrate 10 years.  New posts coming soon!

Love,

Angela “9 Years & I still don’t know how Keppel St got its name” Keppel

 

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Ellicott Mall properties shown in red. King Peterson Road shown in orange.

Given what is going on these days, we are featuring streets named after our Black brothers and sisters this month here on Discovering Buffalo, One Street at a Time.  Specifically, this is Part 4 in a series of  four streets built in the 1990s in the Ellicott Neighborhood.  To read more about how the Ellicott Mall urban renewal project changed this neighborhood and to learn about Minnie Gillette, please read Part 1.  Part 2 is about Delmar Mitchell and can be found here.  Part 3 looks at Ora Wrighter and can be found here.  Part 4 is about King Peterson Road.

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King Peterson’s portrait on the Freedom Wall.  Source:  Albright Knox

King W. Peterson was born in July 1915 in Pelham, Georgia to Samuel and Aurilla Carter Peterson.  The family moved to buffalo and King attended Buffalo Public Schools.  Following his graduation from Hutchinson Technical High School, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta Georgia.  Morehouse is a historically black men’s college that was founded in 1867, right after the Civil War.  At Morehouse, Mr. Peterson was a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.  He founded the Buffalo Alumni Chapter for the fraternity.

 

Mr. Peterson worked at the Buffalo Assembly Plant of Ford Motor Company.  He was elected to the Union Bargaining Committee.  He was also appointed International Representative of the United Auto Workers (UAW).

He began his public service when he was elected to the Erie County Board of Supervisors, representing the old Fifth Ward in the City of Buffalo. He served two terms on the Board and was then elected to the Buffalo Common Council as the Ellicott District Councilmen.  While on Council, he served as Chairman of the Legislation Committee and was President Pro Tem.  In 1956, he served as Acting Mayor for 10 days while Mayor Pankow and Common Council President William Law Jr. were attending the Democratic National Convention.  Under Council rules, when the Mayor and Council President were out of town, the President Pro Tem serves as Acting Mayor. While temporary, he was the first African American to serve in the capacity of Mayor of Buffalo.  There was some opposition to the idea of having an African American mayor, even for just a few days.  A public meeting was held to discuss the issue.  Only one person attended the public meeting – Rufus Frasier – who was black himself and attended to support Mr. Peterson.  Acting Mayor Peterson’s term as Acting Mayor of the second largest city in New York State was significant enough that it was reported in national newspapers of the time.

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Acting Mayor Peterson with Luke Easter (on the left), Dick Fisher and Joe Caffie. Source: Buffalo Courier

While serving as Acting Mayor, Mr. Peterson issued a proclamation to designate August 24, 1956 as “Luke Easter – Joe Caffie Night” in Buffalo.  Luke Easter and Joe Caffie were two black baseball players on the Buffalo Bisons.  A special celebration was held that night during the game at Offerman Stadium.

In 1967, Mr. Peterson was elected as a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention, representing the 55th Senate District.  He also served as Assistant Project Manager for the City of Buffalo where he executed the Hamlin Park Neighborhood Improvement Program.  The Hamlin Park program was one of the more successful of the City’s Urban Renewal Programs, as large scale demolition didn’t occur in Hamlin Park the way it did in the Ellicott neighborhood.  If you’re interested in a more in depth look at Urban Renewal and how it shaped the Hamlin Park neighborhood, I recommend this series by Mike Puma that can be found on Buffalo Rising. 

Mr. Peterson was a member of First Shiloh Baptist Church from the age of ten.  He served on the Board of Trustees for the church, and was named Trustee Emeritus.  He helped to establish the food pantry at First Shiloh, which still serves the community by providing food and clothing for those in need.  Mr. Peterson also served as a member of the building committee for the congregation when they built a new sanctuary and educational facility in 1965.

Mr. Peterson retired from public service in 1979, but was still involved with the community.  He served as President of the Buffalo Central Home Finders, Director of the United Way, Director of the Food Back of WNY, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Towne Garden Housing Development, Director of Shiloh Housing Development Corporation.  He was also a member of Buffalo Urban League and NAACP.

97918711_137864513074Mr. Peterson was married to the former Jannie McCarley.  They were married 72 years and had three children – Kenneth, Lawrence and Lorraine.  Jannie was the daughter of Reverend Burnie McCarley, the founder of St. John Baptist Church in Buffalo, and the namesake of the McCarley Gardens apartments.  Mr. Peterson died a few months after his wife, on September 23, 2012.  His portrait is represented on the Freedom Wall at Michigan and Ferry Streets.  Both King and Jannie are buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Our next series of streets will continue to focus on the Ellicott Neighborhood and urban renewal, as we move on to the Frederick Douglass Towers.  Stay tuned!  To read about other streets in Buffalo, please check out the Street Index.  Follow the blog on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/buffalostreets.

Sources:

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Ellicott Mall property shown in red. Ora Wrighter Drive shown in yellow.

Given what is going on these days, we are featuring streets named after our Black brothers and sisters this month here on Discovering Buffalo, One Street at a Time.  Specifically, this is Part 3 in a series of  four streets built in the 1990s in the Ellicott Neighborhood.  To read more about how the Ellicott Mall urban renewal project changed this neighborhood and to learn about Minnie Gillette, please read Part 1.  Part 2 is about Delmar Mitchell and can be found here.  Today, in Part 3, we are focusing on Ora Wrighter.  Part 4 will be about King Peterson and will be posted this coming weekend.

2763f426e294e938308017588262ae2cOra Perry Wrighter was born in December 1920 in Birmingham Alabama, to Owen and Alberta Perry.  She came to Buffalo as a child with her family and graduated from the Buffalo Public Schools.  She attended Hartwick Seminary.  At the time of her death, she was a student at Medaille College.

Mrs. Wrighter began working at Community Action Organization in 1967 as a Community Aide. She was considered to be a fighter for the people.  She attended community meetings to fight for the poor.  She was involved in many grassroots organizations, and was often sought for her expertise by other organizations.  She served on the 7th District Planning Board, New York State Urban Development Corporation Community Advisory Committee for the Urban Development Corporation-Ellicott Neighborhood Advisory Committee Ellicott Housing; and the Steering Committee for Buffalo’s Model Cities Program. She served as the manager of the Ellicott center located in the County multipurpose center she fought to have built.

She was given a Distinguished Service Award from Mayor Joseph A. Sedita for her service to the Model Cities Program.  The Models Cities Program was a part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society reforms.  The programs emphasized social and anti-poverty programs as well as physical renewal.  As the country moved away from social programs in the late 60s-early 70s, the program shifted away from the social programs towards brick and mortar apartment building projects.  Buffalo was one of 75 cities awarded Model Cities program funding in the first round.  The program ended in 1974.

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Mrs. Wrighter hosting a Christmas Party in her apartment. Source: Buffalo Criterion, January 10, 1976.

Mrs. Wrighter lived in the AD Price Courts at William and Jefferson for 17 years.  The AD Price Courts, also known as the Willert Part Courts, was built in 1939.  Willert Park was the first housing project in New York State built exclusively for African Americans.  Mrs. Wrighter was involved in the construction of Ellicott Houses, a complex of 200 townhouses built near Hickory and Swan Street between 1970 and 1972.

She was Vice President of the Community Interaction Committee at Sheehan Memorial Hospital.  She was also a member of the Board at Jesse Nash Community Health Center.

Mrs. Wrighter died on August 23, 1977 of a heart attack.  After her death, the Ora L. Wrighter Memorial Fund was created at Sheehan.  Sheehan Hospital was a private hospital on Michigan Avenue that had been established as “Emergency Hospital” in 1894.  It was run by Sisters of Charity, who also ran Sisters Hospital.  The hospital closed in 2012.

Sources:

 

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Ellicott Mall Property shown in red. Delmar Mitchell Drive shown in orange.

Given what is going on these days, we are featuring streets named after our Black brothers and sisters this month here on Discovering Buffalo, One Street at a Time.  Specifically, this is Part 2 in a series of  four streets built in the 1990s in the Ellicott Neighborhood – Minnie Gillette Drive, Delmar Mitchell Drive, Ora Wrighter Drive and King Peterson Drive.   To read more about how the Ellicott Mall urban renewal project changed this neighborhood and to learn about Minnie Gillette, please read Part 1.  Today’s post is about Delmar Mitchell Drive.  Delmar Mitchell was the first African American elected to citywide office in Buffalo.  Parts 3 and 4 will be coming in the next week.

182x250-8c80b44abf53355884ecd0e80497c5f1Delmar Mitchell was born to Lee and Tobitha Mitchell in February 1918 in Providence, Kentucky.  He was raised in Glen Cove, Illinois, outside of Chicago.  He attended DuSable High School, the University of Illinois  in Champaign and DePaul University.  He served in the US Army during WWII, rising to the rank of captain and serving in both the Pacific and European fronts.  He earned a Purple Heart for his service.  He later worked for the US Department of Justice, in the Intelligence Section.

Mr. Mitchell moved to Buffalo in 1949.  He worked in the hotel business for 8 years, operating Mitchell’s Corner hotel and bar.  Mitchell’s Corner was located at 527 Genesee Street, at Camp Street (near Jefferson).  The building no longer exists.

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Campaign Ad for Mr. Mitchell in the Buffalo Criterion, 1963

He was first elected in 1957, when he was elected to represent the old 13th Ward in the Erie County Legislature.  He was named Masten District Councilman in 1961 after the death of Cora P. Maloney, the first African-American woman on the Council.   He was re-elected twice in the Masten District before winning election as Council Member at Large in 1965, the first African American to hold citywide office.  He became Council Majority Leader in 1970 and Council President in 1974, a position he held until 1983.  He was considered to be a skilled councilmen as well as a gifted consensus builder.  He was also known to take people into the back conference room of his Council Office, a room he called the woodshed.  At his last Council meeting in 1983, he is reported to have said “Lay your petty differences aside. Buffalo is greater than any individual. You tell me your dreams, and I’ll tell you mine.”

He was a supporter of many of the City’s efforts during the 1970s and 1980s.  He helped to bring about the Metro Rail, the Buffalo Hilton (later the Adam’s Mark, now the Buffalo Grand) and the Buffalo Convention Center.  He was also an important part of establishing an elected Board of Education for the city and the City’s school desegregation plan.  He was credited with ensuring that the Board would have a representative number of blacks on the School Board, and that the school board would be free of politics.

He was honored often throughout his career.  He was the Buffalo News Citizen of the Year in 1974.  He was awarded the Medgar Evers Civil Rights Award in 1983 by the NAACP.  He received an honorary degree from Canisius College in 1971.  He was honored by the 100 Black Men of Buffalo Club in 1994.

Mr. Mitchell was well respected by many of his fellow councilmen, and served as a mentor for many as they served both with him and after his retirement.  The Hamlin Park Community and Taxpayers Association installed a bust of Mr. Mitchell in the Delavan-College train station in 1994.    In 2018, the Common Council passed a resolution, sponsored by all nine councilmen, to name the new facility at 612 Northland in the Northland Corridor Redevelopment Project as the “Delmar Mitchell Entrepreneurial Center”.  The resolution states:  “Delmar Mitchell was a trailblazing leader for his community whose legacy can inspire people in Buffalo to emulate his enterprising spirit, commitment to community service, and zeal for personal professional development.”

Mr. Mitchell retired to Hinsdale/Olean, New York.  It’s reported that he joked with his friends that he was moving there to integrate the countryside.  He had four sons – Delmar Jr, Joseph, Gregory and Darryl.  Mr.  Mitchell died on December 16, 1996 at the age of 77.  He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.  After his death, the Buffalo News reported, “He was a man seeking racial harmony in a community that didn’t always want it. Perhaps if he could have taken Buffalo area citizens one-by-one to the back-back office for a talk about dreams, it might have worked out better.”

So, think of Mr. Mitchell as we continue to work to build a better community today.  Stay tune for parts 3 and 4 of this series coming next week.  To learn about other streets, check out the street index.

Sources:

  • McNeil, Harold.  “Delmar Mitchell, First Black To Win Citywide Office, Dies.  Buffalo News.  December 16, 1996.
  • “Delmar Mitchell”  Uncrowned Community Builders.  https://www.uncrownedcommunitybuilders.com/person/delmar-mitchell.  Accessed June 2020.
  • Buffao Common Council Minutes.  Oct. 4, 2018.  Agenda Item 18-1661
  • Tyler, Steven.  Desegregation in Boston and Buffalo:  the Influence of Local Leaders.  State University of New York Press, Albany:  1998.
  • Gates, George. “Remembering Delmar Mitchell:  Too Bad He Couldn’t Have Taken All of Buffalo to his Back-Back Room for a Dose of His Famous Persuasion and a Lesson that ‘Epidermis’ Doesn’t Matter”.  Buffalo News.  December 21, 1996.

 

 

Note from Angela:  Given what is happening right now in Buffalo and across the country, it doesn’t feel right to write about another “important” white man. I realize my platform isn’t as large as some, but I know I must use my voice to lift those who are suffering and fighting for justice. I know that most of you are here for the history and not the politics, but for the next two months, I am going to only write about streets named after African-Americans.  I am remiss for not doing this sooner.  Our black brothers and sisters have been here since the beginnings of Buffalo, and they deserve more recognition. For more information and resources, please check out the Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable website. If you are looking for a list of Black Owned Businesses to support, you can find that at this link.

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Ellicott Mall Property outlined in red. Minnie Gillette Drive shown in yellow.

The first series I’ll be writing about will be a series of four streets in the Ellicott Neighborhood – Minnie Gillette Drive, Delmar Mitchell Drive, Ora Wrighter Drive, and King Peterson Drive.  These four streets were created as part of the same project in the 1990s.  Today, Part 1 will be on Minnie Gillette Drive.  Stay tuned for Parts 2 through 4 which will posted over the next two weeks. 

The Ellicott Neighborhood is a neighborhood on the near East Side of Buffalo.  Up through the first half of the 20th Century, the neighborhood was a diverse neighborhood consisting of Italians and Jews, along with most of Buffalo’s African American residents.  My Italian grandfather was born (on the kitchen table) in this neighborhood in 1928 at the corner of Hickory and Division Streets.  The following map shows the area as it looked in 1950. 

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1950 Map of Ellicott Neighborhood

 

In 1958, much of the Ellicott Neighborhood was completely cleared and demolished in the name of “Urban Renewal”.  In this portion of the neighborhood, the Ellicott Mall public housing project was built.  The Ellicott Mall was run by Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority and consisted of eight residential towers that contained 590 apartments.  The JFK Community Center and associated park/playing fields were constructed east of the Ellicott Mall.  Here is an aerial photo of the area in 1966.

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1966 Aerial Photo of Ellicott Neighborhood

By the mid-1960s, the project had begun to deteriorate and the apartments closed in 1981.  There is still an active group of Ellicott Mall residents who lived in the neighborhood and still meet up for Ellicott Mall Reunions to celebrate the bonds of those who lived in the neighborhood.  During the 1990s, the City began planning to redevelop the area.  Norstar, along with First Shiloh Baptist Church, created a mix of housing that is now known as the Ellicott Town Center.  Here is what the area looked like in 1995.

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Aerial Photo of Ellicott Neighborhood from 1995

The project consisted of demolition of four of the towers and replacement with new housing, and renovation of the remaining towers.  The Ellicott Town Center consists of 281 apartments, 48 private townhomes and 24 senior garden apartments.  The project was completed in 1997.  Minnie Gillette Drive is one of the new streets that runs through the Ellicott Town Center. 

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Painting of Minnie Gillette on the Freedom Wall Source: Albright Knox

Minnie Gillette was born in Alabama in 1930, but was raised in Buffalo.  She attended Buffalo State College, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition. She worked at Columbus Hospital on Niagara Street as a dietary supervisor.

Mrs. Gillette was elected to the Erie County Legislature in 1977. She was the first African American woman elected to the Legislature. Her candidacy was backed by the Democratic, Republican and Conservative parties. Her obituary called her “a feisty political figure who strayed from party lines in the interest of her constituents”. She didn’t get involved in partisan politics, instead focused on serving her community.

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Minnie Gillette and Joan Bozer meeting with contractors as they convert the post office building into ECC. Source: Buffalo News

Mrs. Gillette worked with Legislator Joan Bozer to convert the former Post Office Building into the Erie Community College City Campus.  According to the Buffalo News, in 1969, in a letter from Erie County Democratic Chairman Peter Crotty, the building was called “a mongrel structure of no authentic period, dungeon-like in its aspect, repellent to the visitor and lacking in the convenience suitable for habitation”.  The building was considered “a monstrous pile of death-like stone”. 

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“A monstrous pile of death stone”? ECC City Campus

At the time, people did not always appreciate old buildings, and the idea of having an entire city block to redevelop was enticing to those who thought new was better.  Legislators Bozer and Gillette helped change that attitude, save the building, and bring ECC into the City.  At the time, ECC was only located at what is now their North Campus, in Amherst/Williamsville.  

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Buffalo Library’s Ram Van.  Source

Mrs. Gillette helped to establish the “Ram Van”, which was a traveling lending library. She also fought to ensure that minority contractors got a fair share of county contracts.  While in the Legislature, She was named the Buffalo News Outstanding Citizen for 1979. She received the University at Buffalo’s Outstanding Women of Western New York Government Award in 1980.

Mrs. Gillette served two terms as a legislator. After she left, she continued her work advocating for the homeless, the poor and the needy. She was appointed as the first director of the County’s Victim/Witness Assistance Program. She worked at a food pantry in the Towne Gardens Housing Project. She won a Martin Luther King Award in 1990 from the Erie County Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Mrs. Gillete was very involved with many organizations. She served on the board of the William-Emslie YMCA and helped to establish the senior citizens center there. She was a chairwoman of the Seventh (Ellicott) District Planning Board, on the Advisory Board of the Equal Opportunity Center on Washington Street, president of the Association of Retarded Children and president of the New York State Community Action Agency. She was active in the Community Action Organization, the Western New York Health System Agency, the Paramount Chapter 57 of the Order of the Eastern Star, the Jesse E. Nash Health Center and the Buffalo Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mrs. Gillette died on January 7, 1992. She had been ill with cancer for a year before she died, but she continued to work on community projects up until about two weeks before she died. Mrs. Gillete had three children – Hasinah Ramadhan, Loretta Gillette, and Calvin Gillette.  Mrs. Gillette is featured on the Freedom Wall at Michigan and Ferry.  In addition to the street, the auditorium at ECC City Campus is named for her.

Stay tuned for the next streets in this series, which will be posted over the course of the next two weeks.  Part Two, about Delmar Mitchell, can be read at this link.  If you haven’t subscribed to the blog, you can do so on the upper right hand side of the screen when on a desktop computer.  You can also like the page on facebook at facebook.com/buffalostreets to follow along there.  To check out other streets that have been written about, check out the street index here.  If you grew up in or currently live in the Ellicott Neighborhood, please reach out – either by leaving a comment here or emailing me at buffalostreets@gmail.com –  I’d love to hear your stories. 

Sources:  

  • Allen, Carl and Dave Ernst.  “Minnie Gillette Dies at 62:  First Black Woman Legislator”.  Buffalo News.  January 7, 1992.
  • Kirst, Sean.  “In demolition-happy 1970s, the fight to save the old Post Office”.  Buffalo News.  November 30, 2018.
  • Sapong, Emma.  “Resurrected public housing project to be celebrated Sunday”.  Buffalo News.  July 9, 2014.
  • Kraus, Neil.  Race, Neighborhoods and Community Power:  Buffalo Politics 1934-1997.  State University of New York Press, Albany:  1997. 

 

 

 

Hello fellow street history fans!  I just wanted to write a quick post to check in and see how everyone is doing during this pandemic?  I am healthy and working from home these days.  I try to get out and walk every day around my neighborhood, which I’ve been enjoying when it’s not snowing!  For those not in Buffalo, today – May 8th- it is snowing!  I like winter, but I am ready for some warmth!

I really miss writing blog posts!  I have some research I can do online, but many of you know that a lot of my research takes place using old books and microfilm in the Grosvenor Room at the Buffalo Central Library.  I take pride in trying to find as many sources as I can to verify facts before I publish information, which is tricky when my sources are all locked up for public safety!  I’m hoping to pull together some new posts soon, piecing together some of the research I do have access to at this time.

Some of you may know that I have been a long time speaker with the Erie County Department of Senior Services University Express Program.  University Express brings courses to Seniors across Erie County.  Since we can’t meet in person now, I have partnered with the county to do some of my programs as virtual courses.  Two have been posted so far:

“Discovering Buffalo, One Street at a Time” Part 1 is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=au0PB_iL5oE

“Discovering Buffalo, One Street at a Time” Part 2 is available here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZxjQKknCjs

To see more great courses by other great speakers, you can check out the County’s page.  They are posting new content each week, so keep checking back for more on their site here:  https://www2.erie.gov/universityexpress/index.php?q=current-classes

I had been hoping to launch my history walking tours this summer.  I had a lot of fun last summer with my two test tours!  It’s still undetermined if we’ll safely be able to meet up in groups over the summer, so it’s looking like that may not happen.  I may toy around with putting some of the tour content online…perhaps using Instagram stories.  Is this something you may be interested in?  Please leave a comment below!

Keep in mind that we’ve covered a lot of streets on here, so if you’re bored, you can always check out the Street Index to read up on all the streets we’ve covered here!

I hope you all are staying well.  To all the mother’s out there – Happy Mother’s Day this weekend!

Thank you as always, for all of your support,

Angela Keppel

 

 

 

blossomBlossom Street is a street in Downtown Buffalo that runs between East Huron Street and Broadway.  It is cut in half by Hersee Alley.  It functions mainly as an alley for buildings along Ellicott and Oak Streets these days, but it is still designated as a street by the City of Buffalo.  Buildings along the street have windows and doorway entrances that once looked out onto Blossom Street, but are now bricked over.

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Street sign that has seen better days

 

20200301_154105It is not named for flowers, but for Ira Allen Blossom.  Mr. Blossom served as right hand man to Joseph Ellicott. Mr. Blossom’s family were pioneers in Monmouth, Maine, where Ira was born in 1789.  In his 20s, Ira moved to Meadville Pennsylvania for work.  When he was 26, he came to Buffalo as Joseph Ellicott’s assistant.

Mr. Blossom started as Joseph Ellicott’saide in 1821 and was later a Subagent for the Holland Land Company following Joseph’s resignation.  Mr. Blossom was connected to the Holland Land Company until the company was sold to the Farmer’s Loan & Trust Company in the 1840s.  He was then appointed receiver of the Buffalo branch of the United States Bank.  He was also made receiver of the Commercial Bank.  While working for the Holland Land Company and the banks, he was known for being lenient with giving credit to promising young men to start their businesses.  A number of businessmen in Buffalo attributed much of their success to Mr. Blossom’s confidence in them and expressing his confidence through credit.

 

Mr. Blossom partnered with Mr.Lewis Allen to lease what is now the site of the Ellicott Square Building.  In May, 1829, they secured a 63 year lease for the property bounded by Main, North Division, Washington and Swan Streets.  They were able to get the lease at a bargain.  This land had been set aside for Joseph Ellicott by the Holland Land Company in 1816 to build his home, but the Village Trustees interfered and straightened the path of Main Street.  Joseph was disgusted and gave the land to Joseph Ellicott the younger, his nephew.  For the first 21 years, they paid only $700 ($16,000 in today’s dollars) per year, for the second 21 years $850 ($19,000) a year, and for the third 21 years, they paid $1,000 ($23,000) a year.

It was written of Mr. Blossom and Mr. Allen at the time, “the magnitude of their enterprise frightened every conservative in town.” They saw the potential of the site and built a block of fourteen 2-story buildings on the site.  The first legitimate theater in Buffalo was built on the site in 1835.  This theater, William Duffy’s Theater, was on South Division Street between the alley at Washington Street.  It burned down in the 1840s.  The Young Men’s Association (which became the Buffalo Public Library) leased and occupied the upper part of the Theater building.  Reverend Cicero Stevens Hawkins worshiped in the theater in the late 1830s with a group of Episcopalians.  These worshipers later formed Trinity Church, on Delaware Avenue.  Other buildings on the site were filled with businesses as well.

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Buildings located at what is now the Ellicott Square Building

Mr. Blossom and Mr. Allen’s lease on the Ellicott Square ran out in 1892, after both men had died.  On March 1, 1893, the properties were all purchased by the Ellicott Square Company for a fee of $1,080,000 (about $33,583,730 today).   By 1895, when they were planning to construct the Ellicott Square Building, the buildings on this property were described as “the sorriest exhibit of business buildings in the city.”  The planned Ellicott Square Building was expected to cost 2 Million to construct.

Mr. Blossom married Eunice Hubbard.  They lived at the triangle at Franklin, Swan and Erie Streets, across from St. Joseph’s Cathedral.   The famous naturalist Audubon was a guest at their home.  Mr. Audubon was thought to have painted portraits of the Blossoms in 1825, which the family treasured.  The house stood in a garden and was framed by majestic trees of the primeval forest.  The Blossoms had one daughter, Anna.

In 1831, Mr. Blossom, along with John Beals, Samuel Callendar, Elizah Einer, James McKay and Noah Sprague met to organize a parish of the Unitarian church.  The congregation grew and constructed its first building in 1833, at the corner of Franklin and Eagle Street.  The building is still standing today, having been remodeled into a commercial building by the Austin Family. 

In 1832, Mr. Blossom was elected to Buffalo’s first Board of Alderman.  For two terms, he represented the old Third Ward on the board.  He was offered other public offices, but he declined them.  He helped to incorporate the University of Buffalo and was on the university’s first council.

He also was known for giving generously to public projects he believed would benefit Buffalo.  He was known for his hospitality.  He was also known for taking care of the poor, at a time when the indigent were not considered a general public responsibility; his gifts and kindness helped many families.

blossom grave 2He died in 1856.  Mr. Blossom’s tombstone read “a man who never turned his back on his honor, a loyal citizen, a generous friend.”  He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

After Mr. Blossom died, living across from the Cathedral and hearing it’s carillon inspired Mrs. Blossom to become a Catholic.  She gave the house to the church.  On the site of the house, St. Stephen’s Hall was built.   Mrs. Blossom and Anna moved to New England.  When Mrs. Blossom died in 1875, she was buried along with her husband in Forest Lawn.

Portraits of Mr. Blossom can be found in the collection of the Albright Knox Art Gallery and the Buffalo History Museum, both portraits are the same painting.  The portrait in the Albright Knox Collection was attributed to John James Audubon and was believed to have been painted in 1825. The Albright’s  portrait was donated, along with a portrait of Mrs. Blossom, in 1943 by the grandson of the Blossoms, Ira A.B. Smith.  The second portrait, was donated to the Buffalo Historical Society at a later date by the estate of one of Mr. Blossom’s associates in the Holland Land Company office.  This second portrait was accompanied by Mr. Blossom’s journals.  The 1835 journal reveals that an associate (Mr. Johnson) commissioned the painting, along with a copy, for his colleague in 1835.  The paintings are both believed to have been done by Samuel Bell Waugh and not by Audubon as had been originally thought.  Both museums attribute the painting to Waugh now.  The picture of Mr. Blossom in this article is a newspaper copy clipping of the painting.

To learn about other streets, check out the Street Index.   Be sure to subscribe to the blog so that new posts are sent directly to you – you can do so on the right hand side of the home page.  You can also like my blog page on facebook at facebook.com/buffalostreets.

Sources:

  1. Winner, Julia Hull.  “The Puzzle of Buffalo’s Two Ira Blossom Portraits that Look Just Alike”.  Buffalo Evening News Magazine.  December 1, 1962, p 1.
  2. “Centennial Planned for Unitarian Church”.  Buffalo Evening News.  November 21, 1931.  p 4.
  3. Buffalo Changes:  The Old Buildings Now on Good Business Sites, and the New Structures which are to Replace Them.  Buffalo Express.  Feb 3, 1895.
  4. Audubon Works Are Acquired by Art Gallery.  Courier Express , Nov 19, 1939, sec 5 p3.
  5. Goldberg, Arthur.  The Buffalo Public Library:  Commemorating its first century of service to the citizens of Buffalo – 1836-1936.  Privately Printed, Buffalo New York, MCMXXXVII (1937).
  6. Smith, Katherine.  Named for Ira Blossom. Courier Express Nov 19, 1939, sec. 5, p3.

 

emerson placeEmerson Place is a small one-block street that runs between Michigan Avenue and Masten Avenue in the Masten Park neighborhood on the East Side.  The Street is named for Henry P. Emerson, superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools.  The Emerson neighborhood and Emerson School of Hospitality are also named after Henry Emerson.  In Addition to the Emerson School on Chippewa, the Buffalo schools are about to start classes in a new location on West Huron, where the former CW Miller Livery was converted into classroom space and a new gymnasium was built on a parking lot.  The new school will be The Buffalo School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management, formerly known as Emerson Annex.  The school expansion project was one of Mark Croce’s projects.  Mark passed away earlier this month.  He was a friend of this blog and I always enjoyed talking with him about the history of his buildings.  Since there’s no Croce Street, I write this post in memory of Mark, as well as in celebration of the new space for the students!

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Henry Pendexter Emerson was born in Lynn Field, Massachusetts in 1847. He was the son of Oliver and Eliza (Weston) Emerson and is a relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He attended Phillips Andover Academy. in Massachusetts. He received his A.B. Degree in 1871 and A.M. in 1874. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. After graduation, he started teaching Greek and Latin at Potsdam Normal School.

Mr. Emerson came to Buffalo in 1874 to teach at Old Central (located on Niagara Square). After nine years, he became principal of the school. While he was principal, he obtained $60,000 in appropriations to enlarge the school. This was a very large appropriation at the time.

At the time, the superintendent of schools was a political office. Dr. Emerson ran for it in 1892 on the Republican ticket. He was elected for six successive four-year terms. After the office ceased to be an elected office, he was appointed to continue as superintendent by Mayor Louis Fuhrman. In 1919, Dr. Emerson retired.

Dr. Emerson married Mary Estey of Middleton, Massachusetts in 1874. They lived on Allen Street at the site of what is now the Allendale Theatre (Theatre of Youth) and later at 122 College Street in Buffalo.  The family returned to Middleton every summer and kept a home there on a lake. After retirement, they moved to Middleton full time. They returned to Buffalo every winter for more than a decade to reunite with his fellow teachers and friends.

While Dr. Emerson was superintendent, he was considered an education reformer. He often said, “Better schools make a Better Buffalo”.  Buffalo’s rapid growth had caused school problems at the time.  The population had more than doubled between 1870 and 1900 (from 117,714 to 255,000 people).  Schools were crowded and the quickest growing immigrant populations lived in areas where there were often no schools.  In 1900, almost 3/4ths of the school population was foreign-born or the children of foreign-born.  City services – such as garbage pickup, water supply, sewer, trolley service, etc had difficulty keeping up with the growth, and schools were no exception.  Classrooms at the time could be jammed with as many as 100 students assigned to a single teacher.  The schools were poorly ventilated and poorly lit, with inadequate seating.  Students learned by rote, reciting text together, and passed each grade with a written test, if they passed at all.  In 1890, 76% of children were in 1st and 2nd grade.  There was no school board, school policy was set by the City Council.  As superintendent, Dr. Emerson appointed and supervised the 700 teachers.  Many of the teachers at the time were poorly educated young women from politically connected families.  An October 1892 article in Forum, described the school system of Buffalo as an example of how not to run a public school system.

Dr. Emerson introduced free textbooks for public schools, the first local kindergartens and the first evening classes. He also introduced the first courses in home economics and industrial arts, from which Buffalo’s vocational schools developed. While he was superintendent, four public high schools were built – Lafayette, Masten, South Park and Technical. The Masten High School building is now City Honors. Technical High School was located at Cedar Street and Clinton Avenue (now school administration offices and storage). Technical High School merged with Hutchinson and Central High Schools and is now Hutchinson Central Technical High School (typically called Hutch Tech these days). Lafayette High School and South Park High School are also both still in operation, though Lafayette is now Lafayette International High School.

Dr. Emerson provided free medical and dental exams for students, as well as special classes for the physically and mentally handicapped.  He also introduced non-academic subjects such as music and art.  Dr. Emerson also founded the first local teacher training school. He published two books while he was here – a Latin textbook, “Latin in High Schools” in 1891 and an English grammar textbook “A Course in English For Schools” in 1905. The books were widely used in schools across the country for many years.

Dr. Emerson was president of three educators’ organizations – the Council of School Superintendents of New York State, the State Teachers’ Association, and the National Education Association. He was loyal to his students and encouraged them to finish high school and if possible, college. At the time, it was typical for many students to go into the world of work after they completed 5th or 8th grade, as opposed to completing high school.  For many, it was more important for the students to earn money to help the families than to go on to higher education.  In 1915, the number of students who reached 9th grade was five times more than in the 1890s.  Class sizes were smaller and teachers had better training.

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The Former Emerson Vocational School on Sycamore Street (now Harvey Austin School)

In addition to the street, Emerson Vocational High School is named after Dr. Emerson. The school had originally opened as Peckham Boys Vocational School in 1911, at the corner of Peckham and Townsend Streets. Peckham Vocational School was the first vocational school in Buffalo to have its own facilities. The school focused on upholstery, tailoring, cabinetmaking, machine shop, welding, drafting, painting, baking and culinary arts. The school was located at the corner of Sycamore Street and Koons Avenue from 1926 to 2002. It was named in Dr. Emerson’s honor in 1937. Emerson school became co-ed in 1975. In 2002, Emerson school moved to Chippewa Street and became Emerson School of Hospitality. The school at Sycamore and Koons was remodeled and became Harvey Austin Elementary School.  Emerson School operates Emerson Commons, also on Chippewa, a cafeteria-style restaurant operated by students.

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The former CW Miller Livery before renovations into classroom space for Emerson School (Source:  Buffalo Business First)

In addition to the Emerson School of Hospitality on Chippewa, Buffalo’s schools will be expanding its footprint very soon.  The Buffalo School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management will be in the renovated former CW Miller Livery on Huron.  Construction of an adjacent gymnasium building is being completed in what was a parking lot.  Students are expected to move in next week (January 2020).  The CW Miller Livery has had a fascinating history of its own – it was built as a “palace for horses” and was considered to be one of the finest stables in the United States.  It uses a unique construction as the floors were suspended from steel trusses at the top of the building.  It provided stalls for approximately 250 horses when it was built.  C.W. Miller was a businessman who had made his fortune providing horse transportation to Buffalonians.  After WWI, the livery was converted to a parking garage for cars.  The building was vacant for several decades before being renovated into the expansion of the school by a development team and the Buffalo Public Schools.

Dr. Emerson also donated Emerson Lodge to Camp Rotary, a camp near his home in Massachusetts that allowed poor boys an opportunity to enjoy outdoor life.  While Camp Rotary still exists, I was unable to determine if the lodge is still standing.

While at college, Henry met Frank Fosdick, who became a lifelong friend. They promised to name their children after each other. Frank Fosdick served as principal of Masten High School from 1914 until 1926. Masten High School was renamed Fosdick-Masten High School in Frank Fosdick’s honor in 1927.  Dr. Emerson had no children himself, but Mr. Fosdick kept his promise and named his first son Henry Emerson Fosdick.  Henry Emerson Fosdick was a prominent pastor, serving at First Presbyterian Church in the West Village, Manhattan and the historic, inter-denominational Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, Manhattan.  He was featured in a Time Magazine cover store on October 6, 1930.

Dr. Emerson died in 1930. He is buried in Oakdale Cemetery in Middleton, Massachusetts.

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Emerson Row Houses

Emerson Place is also known for its rowhouses.  It’s one of the only remaining sets of rowhouses left in Buffalo (it was never a common housing style here).  The rowhouses on Emerson were built in 1893 by Benjamine B. Rice.  Benjamin Rice was a real estate developer who developed several streets in the Masten Park neighborhood.  The Emerson rowhouses consist of two seven-unit row houses.  They became a City of Buffalo Local Landmark in 1981 and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

So the next time you grab lunch at Emerson Commons or are driving through Masten Park, think of Dr. Emerson and his attempts to reform our schools.

To learn about more streets, check out the Street Index.   Be sure to subscribe to the blog so that new posts are sent directly to you – you can do so on the right hand side of the home page.  You can also like my blog page on facebook at facebook.com/buffalostreets.

Sources:

  1.  Smith, Katherine H.  “Emerson Place Memorial to Long-Time School Head”.  Buffalo Courier Express.  November 16, 1941, sec6 p3.
  2. “Emerson High School Students Take Part in Funeral Services”.  Buffalo Courier Express.  April 23, 1937. p12.
  3. Motter, HL, editor.  International Who’s Who:  Who’s Who in the World:  A biographical dictionary of the world’s notable living men and women.  William G. Hewitt Press, Brooklyn NY, 1912.
  4. Seller, Maxine.   “The Education of Immigrant Children in Buffalo”,  April 1976.  Found in Institutional Life:  Family, Schools, Race and Religion. Shumsky, Neil Larry, editor.  .  Garland Publishing, Inc, New York.  1996.
  5. LaChiusa, Chuck.  “C.W. Miller Livery Stable”  Buffalo as an Architectural Museum.  https://buffaloah.com/a/whur/75/75.html (online January 2020)
  6. Buffalo City Directories
  7. Emerson Place Row.  Building Structure Inventory Form.  Accessed from NYS Office of Parks and Recreation via cris.parks.ny.gob (online January 2020)

ramsdellToday’s post is about two streets – Ramsdell Street and Eugene Avenue.  Ramsdell Street is an east-west street running between Delaware Avenue and Grove Street in North Buffalo. At the end of the street is a park, Ramsdell Park.

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The street is named for William Mayhew Ramsdell. Mr. Ramsdell’s parents, Henry and Mary Ann came to Buffalo from New London Connecticut in the early 1850s via the Erie Canal. The family is descended from Elder Brewster of Mayflower fame. William was born in July 1864 at 49 Mariner Street. At the time, Mariner Street ran from Virginia Street into the”North Street woods”. Between Virginia Street and the Ramsdell Home, there was a large vacant lot. Mr. Ramsdell attended the old School 36 on Day’s Park and the Old Central HIgh School.

In 1879, at age 15, Mr. Ramsdell began delivering the Buffalo Express along the waterfront. Two years later, he applied for a job in the office of the newspaper. His job was a combination of office boy and printer’s devil – an assistant to the printer. He quickly advanced through the ranks, serving as collector, cashier, assistant business manager, advertising manager, business manager and in 1901, he became publisher of the Buffalo Express. He remained with the Express as publisher until the merger with the Buffalo Courier, at which time he retired.

In 1893, he founded the first newspaper travel bureau in the state outside of New York City. Mr. Ramsdell enjoyed traveling himself. He made seven trips to Europe between 1907 and 1937. In 1912, while in Europe, he met Rudyard Kipling (author of the Jungle Book). Mr. Ramsdell and Mr. Kipling corresponded for many years. mr. Rasmdell was also an acquaintance of Presidents Cleveland, McKinley, Taft, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover.

Mr. Ramsdell married Margaret Scott Adam in 1894. Margaret was the adopted daughter of Robert B. Adam of AM&As. They had one son, Robert, and three daughters: Margaret, who married Dexter P Rumsey Jr; Gay, who married John L Kimberly; and Jean, who married Luther E. Wood. The family lived for 11 years at 54 Ashland Avenue and for 31 years at 1132 Delaware Avenue (now an Amigone Funeral Home). After retirement, the Ramsdells lived in the Windsor Apartments on West Ferry Street.

Mr. Ramsdell was known for his sense of humor. When asked on forms where a space was listed for “college degree”, he’d write that he “once lived at 48 College Street.”

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View from Eberhardt Mansion (large building at NW corner Delaware and Kenmore Ave)

Mr. Ramsdell was a member of the Delaware Avenue Land Company, which bought and developed a tract of land from Delaware Avenue to Military Road, north of the Beltline Railroad. They purchased the land in the 1890s. At the time, Mr. Ramsdell stated “that property seemed so far from the center of town that we owners were considered very optimistic in our expectation that homes and factories would be built there”. The land company ended up struggling to develop the land and sold it for barely more than what they had paid for it. The land company dissolved in 1898, the same year the electric street car first extended to Kenmore, with the Village of Kenmore incorporating in 1899. If they had held on a little longer, they may have been able to make more money from the land.

In the early days of Kenmore, they referred to this section of North Buffalo as “South Kenmore”. There was a two room school house built on Ramsdell Avenue that accommodated 40 students. The school was also used by the Baptist Congregation of Kenmore. The school later suffered a fire and remodeled as a home, still standing at 29 Ramsdell Avenue.

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Mr. Ramsdell was a life member of the Wanakah Country Club, the Buffalo Academy of Fine Arts, the Buffalo Public Library and the Fort Niagara Association. He attended Westminster Presbyterian Church. Mr. Ramsdell died in 1948 and is buried in Forest Lawn.

eugeneEugene Avenue is a north-south street running from Washington Avenue in Kenmore to a dead end near Delaware Consumer’s Square (Target Plaza).  One of Ramsdell’s partners in the Delaware Avenue Land Company was Eugene Fluery. Eugene Street is named after him. Mr. Fleury was a former music critic and cirulation manager at the Buffalo Express, working with Mr. Ramsdell there. Mr. Fleury was born and educated in New York City. He was associated with newspapers of Cleveland and other cities before coming to Buffalo. He worked for the Express for 17 years. He lived on Linden Avenue and died on December 8, 1903.

If you’d like to learn about additional streets, check out the Street Index.  Be sure to subscribe to the blog so that new posts are sent directly to you.  You can do so on the right hand side of the homepage.  You can also like the page on facebook at facebook.com/buffalostreets .

Sources:

  1. “Descendant of Elder Brewster has a Street Bearing His Name”. Buffalo Courier-Express. July 7, 1940. 4L.
  2. “W.M. Ramsdell, 83, is Dead; Ex-Carrier Rose to Publisher”. Buffalo Evening News. Jan 2, 1948,33.
  3. “Land Company Dissolution”. Buffalo Evening News. October 21, 1898.
  4. “Eugene Street Carries Given Name of Express Music Critic”. Buffalo Courier Express. February 2, 1941. 2, sec 6.
  5. Parkhurst, Frederick. History of Kenmore, Erie County, New York. Village of Kenmore, New York, 1926.
  6. Percy, John and Graham Miller.  Images of America:  Kenmore, New York.  Arcadia Publishing.  Charleston South Carolina, 1998.

austinstAustin Street is a street in the Black Rock neighborhood of Buffalo, running between the Niagara River and Military Road.  The road is about one mile long because the land it originally ran through was the State Reservation, which was a one mile strip of land from the river inland.  When the Village of Black Rock was incorporated in 1813, Austin Street was the northern boundary of the Village.   The part of Black Rock north of the Scajaquada was often referred to as “Lower Black Rock”, as opposed to Upper Black Rock which Peter Porter originally laid out.  Austin Street is named after S.G. Austin, an early Buffalo lawyer.

lyjGdRx6Stephen Goodwin Austin was born in West Suffield, Connecticut to Joseph Austin, a farmer, and Sarah Goodwin, a sea captain’s daughter, in October 1791.  He studied at the academy in Westfield, Massachusetts.  In 1811, he began his studies at Yale College and graduated with honor in 1815.

After graduation, he began his study of law in the office of Daniel W. Lewis in Geneva.  In 1819, he received a license to practice in the State of New York.  He then left Geneva and came to Buffalo at the end of 1819.

When he came to Buffalo, the project of creating the harbor for the port was the biggest issue of the day.  Mr. Austin saw the future happening here in Buffalo and decided to make the city his home, despite it being a small town of only about 2,000 residents at the time.  He boarded at the Eagle Tavern with Millard Fillmore and Joseph Doat.  The Eagle Tavern was located at Main and Court Street, the current location of the Liberty Building.

He was often considered as someone who possessed the knowledge, ability, integrity and qualifications for public service, but Mr. Austin never wanted political or other public office.  He declined it over the years, time and again.  The only office he held was Justice of the Peace for one year, in 1821.

While serving as Justice of the Peace, an important trail came under his jurisdiction.   Tommy Jimmy, also known by Tommy Jemmy or his Native American name of So-on-on-gise, was accused of murder.  The woman killed, Chaughquawtaugh (or Kauquatau),  was a Seneca woman who was accused of bringing about the death of a man using witchcraft.  She had fled to Canada.  Tommy Jimmy, at the Chief’s request, brought her back home.  Once they crossed back into Indian Territory, he killed her.  Chief Red Jacket and other Native Americans testified that the act was in accordance with tribal law.  Since the land was sovereign land, Justice Austin’s Erie County Court of Oyer and Terminer could not reach a decision in the case.  The jury found that the woman was executed in accordance with tribal law.  The case was moved up to the Supreme Court.  The Court did not render a decision, as the Native Americans had sovereignty over their land.

In the legal field, Mr. Austin was considered a man of clear insight, thorough knowledge and careful judgement.  He was perceptive and intellectual. He was sought after as a legal representative and was able to grow a lucrative business.   As his business grew, he accumulated a large estate.  He had invested much of his savings in real estate from the time he first arrived in Buffalo.  Buffalo’s growth rewarded him, as he was able to retire from legal practice at age 52 with a large fortune.

Stephen purchased land on the southeast side of Niagara Square in 1828.  Mr. Austin Married Lavinia Hurd in October 1829.  They had four daughters, two of which, Adeline and Frances, died in childhood.  A third daughter, Lavinia Hurd Austin was born in 1833 and married George P. Russell of Philadelphia.  Lavinia Russell died in 1874.  The final daughter, Mrs. Truman Avery, aka Delia was born in 1842. (Note from Angela:  how annoying is it when women in history books are only listed as “Mrs. Husband’s Name”?  Sometimes it’s so hard to find out their first name!!  Delia is almost always referred to as “Mrs. Truman Avery” in history books and newspaper articles.  I will refer to her Delia from here on out!) 

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Niagara Square in the days of the Austin Family.  Their home is shown to the right of the monument.  Erie County Hall can be seen behind the home.

The Austin family lived at 11 Niagara Square, where the Buffalo Athletic Club (also known as the Athletic Club Building) is now.  The house was built by Benjamin Rathbun.  Mr. Rathbun was one of the early builders of Buffalo and was especially prominent during the 1830s.  In 1835 alone, Rathbun built 99 buildings.  The Austin house was completed in 1836.  The house was the site of lots of entertaining.  At the time, Niagara Square was home to homes of many prominent Buffalonians.  The square itself was composed of eight triangular fenced in parks and was the most fashionable part of town.  The postcard view here would be from after 1914, because the Telephone Building can be seen just beyond Old County Hall.  Newspapers report that Mrs. Austin and her daughters were “most accomplished” and they “presided with grace, dignity and charm” over entertainment at the Austin House.  After the Austin family left the house in the 1890s, the house was converted for business purposes.

In 1851, a meeting of some of the leading citizens of Buffalo took place at the Austin House.  This meeting was the start of the Buffalo Female Academy (now Buffalo Seminary).  Both of the Austin daughters attended the Academy.

The Niagara Square house was demolished in 1922 to become the new clubhouse for the Ellicott Club.  The Ellicott Club was founded in 1895 and its first home was the top floor of the Ellicott Square Building.  On May 22, 1922, the members of the Ellicott Club held a ceremony to celebrate the underwriting of and groundbreaking for their new building.  They had a band and marched from Ellicott Square to Niagara Square.   The new clubhouse was to be called “The Buffalo Athletic Club” and a new organization was created.  The Ellicott Club officially disbanded on March 31, 1923.  By 1938, the Buffalo Athletic Club had more than 2,700 members.

The family were members of First Presbyterian Church when it was located on Main Street at Church Street.  The Austin Family also gave to many other organizations, but their donations tended to be off the radar because, as a friend was reported saying after Stephen’s death “Little is known of his gifts because of his conviction that charity should not be seen or talked about.”

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Lavinia Hurd Austin

Lavinia Austin was a founder of the Buffalo Orphan Asylum.  Organizational meetings for the development of the asylum were often held at the Austin house on Niagara Square.  Stephen Austin served as the 2nd president of the Orphan Asylum.  Lavinia also donated $10,000 to the organization, which allowed for Infant ward addition to be built in 1877.  She also left $9,000 to Ingleside Home (a home for unwed mothers and wayward girls) and $5,000 to the YMCA in her will after her death in 1884.

Stephen Austin had significant land holdings in Buffalo.  He owned the land northwest of Niagara Square, where several prominent Buffalonians lived, such as Henry Sizer, Darrow Noyes, and Stephen Parrish.  The houses were demolished in the 1950s for the Federal Reserve Bank (now New Era Cap) Building.

In 1868, when the National Savings Bank organized, Stephen was voted President.  He worked full time at the bank until his death, a position for which he refused to take any salary.  He also served as President of the Buffalo Scale Works and owner of the Bennett Elevator, the elevator which replaced Joseph Dart’s original grain elevator in 1863 after the Dart Elevator suffered a fire.  It was said after he died that it was rare to see Mr. Austin on the street, because he spent so much time in his work pursuits.

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The Austin Family monument in Forest Lawn Cemetery

Stephen Austin died in 1872 and is buried in the Austin family plot in Forest Lawn Cemetery.   At the time of his death, his estate was estimated at $2 Million (about $42 Million today).  After Mr. Austin’s death, the Niagara Square house was occupied by his wife, along with Delia and her husband, Truman G. Avery.  The family lived there until the 1890s.

Lavinia Austin purchased the Universalist Church building at 110 Franklin Street in 1880.  Like their home on Niagara Square, the church was built by Benjamin Rathbun.  The former church was expanded it and significantly altered. The remodeled building was referred to Austin Building or the Austin Block over the years.  This remodel is often credited to her husband in modern local history sources, however it occurred well after Mr. Austin’s death.  Newspapers of the time indicate that the purchase and construction/remodeling of the Austin Building was completed by Mrs. S.G. Austin.  After its conversion to offices, the building was said to be one of the finest in the city.  The offices were elegantly styled and decorated and were occupied by F.W. Caulkins (the architect who designed the remodel), the Buffalo Cement Company, Lee & Zink (a real estate firm), Green & Wicks Architects and other companies over the years.  The upper floor consisted of a grand hall, which was occupied by the Academy of Fine Arts (now the Albright Knox).  The Academy, as it was known in those days, occupied the entire third floor, one room in the second story and one room in the basement.   The hall was lit by skylights from the ceiling to allow as much light into the hall as possible (this was before electricity).  The Academy was located here for five years, after which they moved into the Young Men’s Associations new building on Lafayette Square (the old Buffalo Library).   Stephen G. Austin, Delia Austin Avery, Truman G. Avery, as well as Delia & Truman’s daughter Lavinia Austin Avery were all life members of the Academy of Fine Arts.  The building is currently owned by Erie County.

77PearlStreet

Delia Austin Avery’s building at 77 Pearl Street  Source:  Preservation Ready Sites

Stephen Austin owned 204-206 Main Street (often called the Granite Block).  Delia took over management of the building after her father’s death.  The Granite Block was taken down in 1905 for the Merchant’s Exchange/Chamber of Commerce building.  Mr. Austin also owned the building at 302-304 Main Street (now 300 Main Street).  The family is shown as owning the 300 Main Street building until at least 1891, so it was likely managed by his wife and daughter after his death.  Delia continued in her father’s real estate pursuits, purchasing several properties in her own name.  Delia also built a building in 1891 at 77 Pearl Street, adjoining the Merchant’s Exchange building.  The Heacock Homestead, home of Reuben Heacock was demolished to build the building.  The Austins had purchased the former house in 1876.  The last tenant in the home before it was demolished was the Union Veteran Legion.  Over the years, Delia’s building on Pearl Street was home to William H. Walker wholesale shoes, Rugby Knitting Mills, the Board of Trade Cafe, and other businesses.

Delia Stewart Austin married Truman Gardner Avery, in 1868.  Truman Avery was a lawyer who came to Buffalo from eastern New York State in the 1860s.  When he came to Buffalo, he gave up law to work as a grain merchant.  Delia had a hard year in 1872, she lost both her father and her first child, Jessie, at 10 months old.  Two years later, her sister died.  The Austin family owned much of the land where Symphony Circle is located.  In 1887, Delia Avery donated the parcel of land at the Circle for First Presbyterian Church in honor of her parents.  The church was then able to sell their downtown property for the construction of Erie County Savings Bank and build their current building on the Circle.

averymansion

The Avery Mansion on Symphony Circle

After leaving Niagara Square, Delia and her family lived on The Circle (now Symphony Circle) in a large mansion.  The mansion was constructed in 1892.  Delia served on the board of the Ladies’ Hospital Association at Buffalo General Hospital, the 20th Century Club, and the Home for the Friendless.  She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Delia died in 1922 and is buried in the family plot.  Delia followed in her parents charitable footsteps.  After her death, it was said that “no worthy cause ever appealed to her in vain”.

Delia’s daughter, Lavinia Austin Avery, was born in 1876 when the family still lived at Niagara Square.  Lavinia attended Buffalo Female Academy and the University of Buffalo Teacher’s College and married James McCormick Mitchell in 1907.  James Mitchell was the son of Reverend Samuel Mitchell, the pastor at First Presbyterian Church.  James worked as a lawyer at the firm of Kenefick, Cooke, Michell and Bass.

After her parents died, Lavinia Mitchell no longer wanted the Avery mansion on The Circle, and offered the 4 acres of land to the Buffalo committee that was working to build a new music hall.  Money had been left in the wills of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Kleinhans to create a Buffalo Foundation to be used to build a new music hall.   Several locations were looked at for the music hall, including Humboldt Park near the science museum and Delaware Park near the Rose Garden.  Architect E. B. Green had even designed plans for an addition to the science museum that would function as a music hall.  Residents near Delaware Park opposed the Rose Garden site because they did not want to use park lands for this purpose.   The Buffalo Foundation upheld that public parks should be preserved for its natural beauty for recreation and not further encroached upon by public buildings.  This stance followed the lead of State Parks Commissioner, Robert Moses, who had also resisted numerous proposals to erect additional buildings in Central Park in New York City.  The Buffalo City Planning Board also took a stance to oppose further use of parks for such buildings.  The land at The Circle was offered for $50,000 by Lavinia Mitchell, less than half of it’s assessed value.  The site offered the spaciousness and beauty of a park location, while allowing for parking but also was bordered by magnificent elm trees, and direct access into the park system via the circle and parkways.  It also was on both east-west and north-south bus lines, and had easy access to tourist traffic from the Peace Bridge.  The property was officially sold on July 19, 1938 after a large public hearing, at which the public were overwhelmingly in support of the location.  The mansion was demolished in 1938 and Kleinhans Music Hall was built. The Circle was renamed Symphony Circle.

1901

Pomeroy House on Oakland Place

Lavinia and her family first lived on Summer Street, on a house where the Richmond-Summer Recreation Center is now located.  In 1911, Lavinia Mitchell purchased the home at 70 Oakland Place (often referred to as the Pomeroy house) from the Pomeroys.  Mr. Mitchell died in the 1940s.  Lavinia sold the Oakland Place house in 1967 to a developer who subdivided it into three units.  Lavinia had been a president of the Garret Club and was on the board of directors of the Twentieth Century Club.  She died in 1968 and is buried in Forest Lawn in the family plot.

Want to learn about more streets?  Check out the Street Index.  Coming in the new year will be a multi-part series about the Fruit Belt on which I have been working hard.  Stay tuned!  You can subscribe on the home page and new articles will be emailed to you directly.

Sources:

  1. H.B. Hall & Sons, “Stephen G. Austin,” Digital Collections – University at Buffalo Libraries, accessed November 17, 2019, https://digital.lib.buffalo.edu/items/show/80993.
  2. Smith, Katherine.  “Austin Street Honors Justice Who Presided at Indian Trial”.  Buffalo Courier Express, Sunday May 26, 1940, p W8
  3. Meeting Notices.  Daily Courier, April 29, 1851.
  4. Myszka, Dawn.  “Kleinhans Music Hall and its Polish Connection”.  Am-Pol Eagle.  http://ampoleagle.com/
  5. “Kleinhans Music Hall:  Before the Music”.   http://archives.bpo.org/kmh-letc.htm (accessed November 2019)
  6. Wachadlo, Martin.  “Oakland Place:  Gracious Living in Buffalo.  2006.  https://buffaloah.com/a/oakland/70/wach.html (accessed November 2019)
  7. H. Perry Smith, editor.  History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County.  D. Mason & Co Publishers, Syracuse NY.  1884.
  8. “The Old Church:  No Longer in God’s Service, but Used for Business Purposes”.  Buffalo Evening News.
  9. “The Groton Avery Clan”.  North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000.  Provo, UT:  Ancestry.com, 2016.
  10. “The Art Gallery”.  Buffalo Express.  June 11, 1881.
  11.  Brown, Christopher.  Historic Plymouth Avenue in the Kleinhans Neighborhood.  Kleinhans Community Association, 2006.
  12. “A Seven-Story Fire-Proof Is to be on Pearl Street and Will Be a Credit to Buffalo”.  Buffalo Evening News.  June 4, 1891.
  13. “Buffalo Orphan Asylum.”  Buffalo Express.  August 2, 1924.
  14. “To Break Ground Monday for New B.A.C. Clubhouse”.  Buffalo Courier.  May 21, 1922.
  15. Burr, Kate.  “Picturing Some Buffalonians as They Were”.  Buffalo Times.  July 1, 1928.
  16. “Ellicott Club to Observe Demise with Celebration”.  Buffalo Courier.  March 31, 1923. p. 14.
  17.  “Death of Stephen G. Austin”.  Buffalo Courier.  June 20, 1872.  p.1.
  18.  Ball, Charles.  “History of Niagara Square”.  Buffalo News.  May 17, 1921.
  19. Reports of the President and Secretary, submitted at the Annual Meeting.  Buffalo Historical Society.  January 9, 1923.
  20. Chapin, Willis.  The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy:  A Historical Sketch.  Published by the Academy, January 1899.

 

 

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