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Note from Angela:  This week marks eight years since I started researching and writing this blog.  In honor of the anniversary, I decided to have someone else write a post for me.  Today’s post is written by Natasha Davrados.  Natasha is a recent Masters in Urban Planning graduate from the University at Buffalo who has an interest in history and historic preservation.

Niagara Falls Boulevard was conceived, in the late 1880s, as a scenic connector between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. There was a need, largely due to increasing tourism, for a continuous, paved route to the Falls. Prior to the Boulevard there were travelling guides and digests that included confusing, quickly outdated written directions with zigzagging paths. Want for the route to include panoramic views posed some issues in the fast developing region causing the alignment of Niagara Falls Boulevard to change several times before settling where we know it today.

1917 nfb

1917 Map of Niagara Falls Blvd (Source: Automobile Journal Vol. 63 )

One of the first attempts was on the Niagara River waterfront along River Road. Conceivably, it would provide idyllic views of the river and the green shores of Canada and Grand Island but steam engines and streetcars had gotten there first. Not only did the fast-moving vehicles spoil the view and experience but they were dangerous too. One man, upset at the 20 mph speed of the streetcars, said “What good is the scenery going to do you if one of those cars hits you? You won’t even have time to sneak a glance at the river while they keep whizzing by.” Next, an inland option was proposed using Colvin Street, now Colvin Avenue, but with residential development quickly closing in, the Boulevard changed paths again. Moving further inland to the more bucolic Town Line Road, today Niagara Falls Boulevard, the third route would follow Ellicott, Sawyer’s, and Cayuga Creeks. This would continue to Pine Street in Niagara Falls as the permanent route. Almost. The Boulevard would make two more minor adjustments on Sawyer’s Creek and near Bergholtz.

 

goatisland

Visiting the spring on Goat Island (circa 1901)
(Source: Niagara Falls Public Library)

Thanks to the romanticism movement, which produced art and literature glorifying the American landscape, the northeast saw the rise of tourism in the 1820s. Travelling to escape the city, most well-to-do travelers sought out natural settings like mountain villages, hot springs, lakes, and beaches. They followed itineraries from fashionable guides and periodicals that outlined grand tours of the northeast that took weeks or even months. They included scenic views of the Hudson River and the Catskills with layovers in places like Saratoga Springs. Niagara Falls quickly became one of the most famous destinations of the nineteenth century. Shortly thereafter, the Falls became a popular destination for honeymooners earning it the moniker “honeymoon capital of the world.”

campauto

Example of family auto camping (circa 1915-1923)
(Source: Library of Congress)

By the 1920s, leisure travel and the Sunday drive were taking the place of grand tours. Private automobile ownership was on the rise making travel accessible to more people. As car ownership increased, the route to Niagara Falls developed roadside attractions. Among them were tourist camps and the establishment of public campgrounds that could accommodate auto-camping. The “tourist-” or “motor-court” was the transition from camping to something more hotel-like featuring cabins with winterizing and running water. By the 1940s, the Boulevard was home to around 88 tourist camps and courts. After World War II, the family vacation became accessible to the middle class. The motel, a term coined around 1924, came to play their part with the colorful neon signage and pools or playgrounds prominently placed to entice motorists and their children. The Boulevard once boasted at least 27 motels of varying sizes and styles catering to all types of travelers.

castle court

Castle Courts Motel postcard
(Source: The Cardboard America Archives)

rodeway

Former Castle Courts Motel is now the Rodeway Inn & Suites.
(Source:  https://www.booking.com/hotel/us/castle-motor-inn.html

taxpayerstrip

Example of a taxpayer strip (circa 1924)
(Source: University of New Mexico Library)

Commercial development on the Boulevard likely started as what was called the “taxpayer strip.” Much like the stripmalls that would come after them, taxpayer strips were made up of buildings constructed with cheap and efficient materials, going up quickly in order to begin making a profit as soon as possible. They were largely meant to be temporary but their presence influenced residential development and many became permanent fixtures with the first stripmalls, as we know them, appearing around the 1920s. The indoor shopping mall wouldn’t come to be until around 1956. The Boulevard gained its own shopping mall with the opening of the Boulevard Mall in 1963. The Buffalo Evening News explained that the mall would “not only provide Western New Yorkers with a new concept in shopping, but will launch a year-long program of community activities in the concourse of the spacious mall.”

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McDonalds on the Blvd, Amherst

Along with the rise of car culture came fast food restaurants which began to flourish on the Boulevard in the 1950s following the increasing suburban population. The afternoon or weekend drive to a fast food joint increased in popularity becoming a staple in many suburban households. The Boulevard was such a staple of car culture that the first McDonald’s in New York State opened on the Boulevard in 1958. This McDonald’s, though renovated, has maintained its signature double golden arch building design. There is also an Arby’s, opened a few years later, that still uses its original hat-shaped sign.

Niagara Falls Boulevard doesn’t seem like much of a tourist destination at the moment but it does present unique opportunities for both preservation and future development. It is very car oriented, somewhat to its detriment, but there are currently talks of part of the Boulevard being included in the light rail expansion. It will be exciting to see what the future has in store for the next chapter of development on the Boulevard.

Bibliography:

  1. Chiang and Shaffer, “See America First: Tourism And National Identity, 1880-1940.”
  2. “For A Boulevard To Niagara Falls”. Automobile Topics, 1908. 107-108.
  3. Jakle, John A. The Tourist: Travel In Twentieth-Century North America. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.
  4. “Niagara And The Great Lakes Country”. The Automobile Journal, 1917. 42-43.
  5. Ott, Bill, “Band to Play, Trans-Oceanic Phone Will Ring at Opening of the Boulevard Mall Wednesday,” Buffalo Evening News, March 12, 1963.
  6. Sullivan, T. John. “The Proposed Buffalo Niagara Falls Boulevard”. Good Roads Magazine, 1908. 219-221.
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Tillinghast Place is a one-block long street in the Parkside Neighborhood of Buffalo.  Tillinghast runs between Parkside Avenue and Colvin Avenue.  The street was laid out in in a curvilinear fashion, which is a common street pattern in Olmsted-designed neighborhoods such as Parkside.  Tillinghast Place is also home to the Walter Davidson house, which is one of several homes in Buffalo designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

tillinghastTillinghast street is named after James Tillinghast, a railroad executive.  Mr. Tillinghast’s father, Gideon, built one of New York State’s first cotton mills.  James was born in Cooperstown in 1822.  He learned about mill machinery while growing up around his father’s mills, gaining practical knowledge as a mechanic without the typical process of being an apprentice.  He decided he wanted to learn a different business as well.  At age 15, he began working as a clerk at a country store.  By the time he was 20, he was part owner of the Cotton Manufacturing Company’s store in Brownsville.  He became interested in transportation from selling to Great Lakes vessels.  He got involved in the lake trade, and operated a machine shop and foundry in Little Falls, New York with his father.  In 1850, he gave the business to his father to enter the railroad business.

At the age of 30, Mr. Tillinghast decided to enter the transportation field when the Utica-Schenectady railroad needed an extra fireman and he offered to take the job.  Quickly, he rose to the rank of a railroad executive.   Ten years later, in 1862, Mr. Tillinghast came to Buffalo to organize a line of steam propeller ships on the Great Lakes.  At this time, he was a part of the Michigan, Southern, Buffalo & Erie and the New York Central railroads.  At this time, he decided to make his eventual home in Buffalo.   He was a close friend of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who often spoke of Mr. Tillinghast’s railroad knowledge and his trust in his judgement.  When Vanderbilt first became in charge of New York Central, his first act was to name Mr. Tillinghast its superintendent.   He arrived back in Buffalo in 1865, when he was made superintendent of the Western Division of the Buffalo &Erie and New York Central Railroad.   By 1881, Mr. Tillinghast was appointed President of the New York Central Railroad.  In addition to his duties with New York Central, he was also president and acting manager of the Canada Southern railroad.  Over the years, Mr Tillinghast was involved in many different railroad companies.

Mr. Tillinghast was also Vice President of the Niagara River Bridge Company, which built the cantilever bridge in Niagara Falls, which opened in 1883.   The bridge was replaced by the Michigan Central Railway Steel Arch Bridge in 1925.

2000px-Niagara_Cantilever_Whirlpool_Bridges_cropped_LOC_det.4a18788.jpg

Niagara Falls Cantilever bridge

Mr. Tillinghast was married twice.  His first wife was Mary Williams of Limerick, New York.  Mary passed away in 1859, leaving three children – a son, James W. Tillinghast, and two daughters, Mrs. Kate Burtis and Mrs. Annie Stow.  Mr. Tillinghast married his second wife, Susan, the window of his first wife’s brother in 1882.  The Tillinghasts lived at 138 Swan Street.  The house had been previously owned by George B Gates; Gates Circle was named in honor of Mr. Gates and his wife by their daughter.   Mr. Tillinghast later moved to 685 Delaware Avenue.  The sites of both Tillinghast houses are now parking lots.  After the family had moved out of the house on Swan Street, the house was the site of an unrelated murder-suicide.  A year later, Mr. Tillinghast’s grandson, Kent Tillinghast Stow, shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself, killing them both at their house on Richmond Avenue.

145796811_1430359753Mr. Tillinghast mostly retired around age 70, but he was still involved with the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad.  He died at age 77 in 1898 and is buried in Forest Lawn. One of Mr. Tillinghast’s life rules was “to try and do his whole duty to whatever interests were placed in his charge, and he has never yet asked that his compensation be made any particular sum; invariably leaving that to the person tendering him a position”.  People must have seen value in him and compensated him well enough.  When he passed away, his estate was valued at more than $1.5 Million (about $42 Million in current dollars).

Think about Mr. Tillinghast next time you’re out and about around the Parkside neighborhood, when visiting the Buffalo Zoo or on one of the Parkside Community Association’s Tour of Homes or when visiting the Darwin Martin House.

Want to learn about other streets?  Check out the Street Index.

 

Sources:

  1. Smith, Katherine.  “Two Streets Here Honor Railway Executive, Jurist”.  Buffalo Courier Express.  March 29, 1942, p 12.
  2. “Richmond Ave Murder and Suicide.”  Buffalo Courier.  August 11, 1903.  p5.
  3. “Million and a Half”.  Buffalo Courier.  Buffalo Evening News.  April 29, 1899. P7.
  4. H.B. Hall & Sons, “James Tillinghast,” Digital Collections – University at Buffalo Libraries, accessed September 15, 2017, http://crystal.lib.buffalo.edu/items/show/81035.
  5. Smith, H. Perry, editor.  History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County. Syracuse: D. Mason & Co., 1884

 

 

 

wasmuthWasmuth Avenue runs between Genesee Street and Walden Avenue near Martin Luther King Jr Park on the East Side of Buffalo.  The street is named after one of the first female developers in Buffalo, Caroline Wasmuth.  Ms. Wasmuth was one of Buffalo’s pioneer business women.

Caroline Geyer arrived in America alone in 1845 at the age of 16.  The trip from Germany by boat took three months.  She got a job working for the Lautz (sometimes also spelled Lauts) family.   The Lautz family were an early Buffalo German family who manufactured candles and soaps as Lautz Brothers & Co.  She wasn’t able to continue her formal education in America, but learned to speak, read and write English. She enjoyed reading and educated herself through her books.  

Her first business experience began at her husband’s grocery store at Carlton Street and Michigan Avenue.  Ms. Wasmuth invested all of their savings into a savings and loan company.  During the 1880s, there was a land boom in Buffalo and she was asked to become a partner in the Buffalo Land Association.  The company developed the land in the Genesee-Walden district.  They later formed the Ontario Land Company to develop land in Cheektowaga.

She had a stand at the Elk Street market for 47 years, specializing in berries and fresh vegetables.   The Elk Street market was located on what is now South Park Avenue (you can read more about the change in street name here) You can also learn more about the Elk Street Market at this link, where Steve Cichon notes that it was the largest fruit and garden truck market in the United States.  During Ms. Wasmuth’s time, farmers were prohibited from bringing their produce into Buffalo.  She would walk to the City line to meet them and make her selection.  She could carry as many as five 30-quart trays of berries on her head from the City Line to the Elk Street market, likely about 4 miles!  She was known for having a kind heart towards anyone not being able to have food and a reputation for giving a meal to anyone who came to her door.  She was well known for her generous nature, particularly towards people who were struggling.

Ms. Wasmuth enjoyed singing and was a member of the Saengerbund, a well known German singing society, and the choir of St. Peters Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at the corner of Genesee and Hickory.  She was a member of the Women’s Society of that church.  She was also a member of the Seven Stars Rebekah Lodge No. 136, which was the women’s branch of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows who met at 145 High Street.  She was also a member of the Gertrude Lodge No 47, Daughters of Herman, which was a German aid society located at 260 Genesee Street. 

Ms. Wasmuth was noted for being unusual among early businesswomen because she did not try to dress like a man.  She loved her pretty clothes and jewelry.

She was known for adopting new inventions that could be useful to her.  Her husband, George Peter Wasmuth, was the first Buffalonian to  bottle horseradish.   She convinced her husband to buy one of the first foot-power machines for grinding horseradish, relieving the family of grinding horseradish for hours.  They used to buy from twenty to thirty tons of horseradish at a time.  Her nine children helped around the house.

During an interview during the 1940s, her son Fredrick said that many of the family members were still living on land originally purchased by Ms. Wasmuth.  However, he lamented that they would have been happier if they owned a piece of land she had passed on the purchase of – she could have bought the property where Buffalo Savings Bank stands downtown for $0.50 a foot.   The passed on the purchase, and bank was built.  We typically refer to the building today as the Gold Dome; the property would certainly be worth more than that today!

wasmuthMs. Wasmuth was married twice and had four sons and five daughters:  Frank, George, Maggie, Lillian, Anna, Caroline, John, Fredrick, and Charles.  The family lived on Michigan Street (now Ave) near Carlton Street, on what is now the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.  She was also one of the investors in the Pan American Exposition, having bought a subscription in 1899.  She died in 1904 at the age of 75.  She is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery. 

 

Sources:

  1. “Wasmuth Avenue Honors Business Woman” Buffalo Courier Express, Sunday January 28, 1940.  
  2. “Pan-American Subscriptions” Buffalo Evening News, Saturday January 28, 1899.
  3. 1880 United States Federal Census.  Accessed via Ancestry.com 

vangorderVan Gorder Street is a short street located off of Fillmore Avenue in the Fillmore-Leroy neighborhood of Buffalo.   The street runs one block east of Fillmore Ave where it dead-ends at Burgard High School (PS #301).

greenleaf van gorderThe street is named after Greenleaf S. Van Gorder, a politician and banker.

Members of the Van Gorder family have lived in New York State for a long time.  In 1650, Gysbert Albert Van Gorder, one of the Greenleaf Van Gorder’s ancestors, came from Holland as a pioneer settler in Ulster County and his ancestors were prominent in the early affairs around Fort Orange (Albany).  Greenleaf was born in York, in Livingston County, New York, in 1855.  He attended Temple Hill Academy in Geneseo and Alfred University.   After graduating from college, he studied law in the office of Sanford & Bowen of Angelica, New York.  In 1877, at the age of 22, he was admitted to the bar.  For the first two decades of his career, he practiced law in Pike, a small town in Wyoming County, NY.  During that period, he was elected Town Clerk, County Supervisor, and State Assemblyman.  He then spent four years representing Wyoming, Genesee, Livingston and Niagara Counties in the State Senate.

Senator Van Gorder served as a member of the board of the Pike Seminary and President of the Bank of Pike. He was instrumental in establishing the Public Library of Pike.  He also worked hard to build a modern water system for Pike.  The town fathers kept postponing the installation of the water system.  During the 1880s there was a bad fire there and many businesses, churches and homes were destroyed.  The need for the water system was realized, as it could have been stopped easily with the right system.  Many of the maple trees along streets in the village were destroyed by the fire.  Senator Van Gorder worked to plant trees along the bare streets, calling for volunteers to assist him.  On the day they set aside for the planting, an early snowstorm hit, and only one man came to help in the efforts.  The Senator refused to let the man work in the snow, so Mr. Van Gorder planted the trees himself.  He also helped to transform a neglected cemetery by planting trees and shrubs.  He felt a strong connection to Pike, and even after moving to Buffalo, he kept a summer home there.  He also fought for many years to bring a railroad to Pike.  He worked with Frank Goodyear on the project, but Mr. Goodyear’s death stopped the progress and the railroad was never built.

Senator Van Gorder had a series of narrow escapes from death.  He owned a 300-acre dairy farm at Springdale, between Pike and Bliss.  One day on the farm, he almost died when a prize bull, who weighed nearly a ton, gored him.  During a storm near Cape Hatteras, his boat engine lost power and he drifted all night.  One night on Hodge Ave in Buffalo, he was held up by two men.  He threw the bag he was carrying at the men and was shot.  The bullet remained in his body the rest of his life, since it was so close to his heart and spine doctors did not want risk removal surgery.

Senator Van Gorder’s family also had some tough times.  His brother John Van Gorder and his half-sister, Anna Farnam were murdered at their home in Angelica, New York after a gristly struggle in 1904.  It was believed that they were killed by laborers working on the construction of the Pittsburgh, Shawmutt and Northern Railroad who had been at a campsite near the family’s farm.

He practiced law in Buffalo from 1895 to 1931.  He was a partner in the firm of Bartlett, Van Gorder, White and Holt.

Senator Van Gorder enjoyed travel and music, and was an avid piano player.  He was involved with the Fillmore Land Company, which developed the section of the City where his street is located.  The Fillmore Land Company was instrumental in getting the city to install the Fillmore Avenue sewer between Kensington and Dewey Avenues.   He was a member of the Republican party, the Presbyterian church, Triliminar Masonic Lodge No. 543, the Sons of the American Revolution, the Holland Society of New York and the Buffalo Historical Society.

Senator Van Gorder married Eve Lyon.  They had a daughter, Mary.  The family lived at 332 Ashland in the Elmwood Village.   Mary Van Gorder was secretary to the principal of School Number 54 at Main Street and Leroy Avenue.

Senator Van Gorder died in 1933.  He is buried in Pike Cemetery in Wyoming County.

Want to learn about other streets?  Check out the Street Index.

Sources:

  1. Smith, H. Katherine.  “Van Gorder Street Memorial to Legislator-Educator-Lawyer”.  Buffalo Courier-Express, October 20, 1940 sec 6, p13.
  2. Douglass, Harry.  “Wyoming County’s Famous Sons and Daughters”.  The Wyoming County Times, Nov 7, 1935.
  3. “Brother and Sister are Stabbed to Death”.  The Culver Citizen, May 12, 1904, p3.

 

 

military road

Military Road’s modern alignment through the City of Buffalo and Town of Tonawanda

Military Road is a part of NYS Route 265, a 19.75 mile long state road that runs between Niagara Falls and Buffalo.  The portions called Military Road are located in the City of Buffalo/Town of Tonawanda and then again in Niagara Falls, NY.  The road dates back to 1801, when it was laid out as a road to connect Black Rock with Fort Niagara, near Lake Ontario.  The route begins at the intersection of Niagara Street and the Scajaquada Expressway.  It runs along Tonawanda Street through Black Rock, Amherst Street, then turns into Military Road where it runs for 4.3 miles until the City of Tonawanda border.  In the City of Tonawanda it is Main Street, in North Tonawanda it is River Road, in Niagara Falls it is Buffalo Ave before it turns back into Military Road through most of Niagara Falls where it ends at a junction with NY 104 (Lewiston Road) in Lewiston.  From Lewiston to Youngstown, the River Road that ran up to the Fort was already built, so that was used to connect the Military built road to Fort Niagara.

map of military road - from buffalo history gazette

Historic Map showing the route of Military Road Source: Buffalo History Gazette

Military Road was one of the first roads in the country planned for military purposes.  Roads for defense have been around for a long time and are still around in modern times – much of the United States Highway System was built as the “Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways”, designed for defense and modeled partly after the German Autobahn network that Eisenhower saw in Germany during WWII.  After the Revolutionary War, the federal government realized they needed a highway extending from the town of the Lewiston Escarpment to the bluff at Black Rock.  At the time, they were planning a large fort on the Black Rock bluff to guard the entrance to the Niagara River.  Most of WNY’s roads at the time were based on Native American trails and the trails of the earliest settlers.  These trails typically took the path of least resistance, to avoid things like creeks, marshes, or heavily wooded areas.  The highway would replace the old Portage Road, which was too winding, as it followed closely to the course of the river, rather than in a more direct line.  The Historic Map shows both the routes of the Military Road, which has a smoother path than the Portage route, which curves further to the west towards the Falls.

After the Revolutionary War, there were boundary disputes between New York and Massachusetts.  An agreement signed in Hartford, Connecticut in 1786 deeded the land once occupied by the Haudenosaunee to New York State, but Massachusetts maintained that they had a right to the area west of Seneca Lake once the Native American title was extinguished, except for a one-mile strip, which New York State reserved for itself.  The strip ran one mile inland along the Niagara River, from Buffalo to Stedman’s Farm (also known as Fort Schlosser, near where the water intakes are currently located along the Niagara Scenic Parkway/Robert Moses Parkway in Niagara Falls). Despite the State’s reservation of the parcel, the Seneca maintained that they retained the title to the Mile Strip, which was affirmed in the 1794 Pickering Treaty.   Massachusetts sold the rights to the surveyed portion of the land to Robert Morris in 1791.  Keeping a portion of the land for his own purposes, Robert Morris sold the rest of the land (which the exception of Grand Island and the Mile Strip) to the Holland Land Company, the company which Joseph Ellicott was the land agent.  You can read more about Joseph Ellicott and the Holland Land Company by clicking these links for Part One, Part Two and Part Three.  In 1798, Seth Pease surveyed the Mile Line for the Holland Land Company.  In 1802, the Seneca claim to the Mile Strip was extinguished by a treaty signed in Albany.  There had been little settlement in the area by the Seneca, only two Seneca families lived there year-round.  The treaty was initiated because the government wanted to construct a fort at Black Rock (also known as Upper Black Rock).  In 1803, the Deputy State Surveyor, Joseph Annin began to survey the Mile Strip into lots.  Fort Niagara was given 716 acres which were set aside for the Federal government.  The Stedman’s Farm/Fort Schlosser farm lot was set aside at 680 acres.  The Jones and Parrish tracts, which were each 640 acres, were also set aside and were given to Mr. Jones and Mr. Parrish who had been Haudenosaunee captives during the war.  The Jones and Parrish lots were near the Scajaquada Creek.  A total of 111 lots were laid out within the remainder of the Mile Strip, the majority of which were 160 acres in size, but due to the curve of the river, many were slightly larger.  One square mile was set aside at the southern end for the Village of Black Rock.  For more on the laying out of Black Rock, you can read about Peter Porter, the streets named after states, and the numbered streets.

In 1801, General Moses Porter, commander at Fort Niagara, was ordered by the War Department to use his troops to build the road.  I was unable to find out if General Porter was related to Mr. Porter of Black Rock during my research.  They called the road Military Road because it was built by the soldiers.  Between 1802 and 1805, the right of way for the road was cleared.  At the time, road building typically consisted of cutting trees and brush wide enough  to bring an oxcart.  Military Road was built in a strip 100-feet wide.  Marshy areas were made passable by laying logs down, which was often referred to as a “corduroy road”.  It was a tough task, as the road was built through forests and over swamp lands to cut a straight path.  Bridges were built in Tonawanda, but work was stopped and the road surface was not finished for seven years, due to disagreements between the State and the Federal Governments. In 1808-1809, New York State gave $1,500 (about $30,000 in 2018 dollars) to the project and the road was complete.

fort tompkins signThe large fort planned for Black Rock was never built, but a smaller one was built in 1807 and became Fort Tompkins in August 1812.  Fort Tompkins was also known as Fort Adams.  The fort was actually large mounds which were mounting points for seven guns.  It was technically a battery, which is a cluster of cannons in action as a group put into position during a battle of a fort or city.  Fort Tompkins was the largest of eight batteries that were built during the war.  It was located at the top of the bluff at the bend in Niagara Street.  The escarpment here allowed them to overlook the river, giving advantages over the attacks from the water.   The location was later the sight of railway barns.  A plaque was hung on the railway barn and still hangs on the building located at 1010 Niagara Street.  The more famous Fort Tompkins was located on Staten Island and was built in 1663.  They were both likely named for Governor Daniel Tompkins, Governor of New York from 1807 to 1817.  Fun fact for if you’re ever on Jeopardy:  Daniel Tompkins was later President Monroe’s Vice President and the only VP in the 19th century to serve two full terms.

Military Road Marker

Historic Marker near Amherst Street and Military Road

One of the only military uses of the road was during the War of 1812.  American General McClure lost Fort George after a significant battle.  General McClure then gave the notice to burn Fort George and the Village of Newark (now Niagara on the Lake) to deny shelter to the British.  The Americans then retreated to Fort Niagara.  The British reoccupied Fort George and planned an assault on Fort Niagara in retaliation for the burning of Newark.  General McClure claimed he had acted on Secretary of War’s order in the burning of Newark.  He had been told earlier in the year to destroy Newark if necessary but to give the residents several days notice to ensure they were not left destitute.  McClure had only given two hours notice, leaving residents without shelter or possessions during a heavy snowstorm.  This was against war conventions at the time.  McClure’s superiors disavowed his orders and McClure never again held command.

On December 19th, 1813, more than 500 soldiers crossed the Niagara River at a location known as Five Mile Meadows. They turned towards Youngstown and the Americans were taken by surprise and the story goes that they obtained the password to get into the fort by using a fake southern accent.  The British gained control of Fort Niagara and the British and their Native American allies marched upriver.  With the American Army gone, there were only civilian militias left to defend their land.  The British marched south, destroying farms and villages between Youngstown and Manchester (now Niagara Falls, NY).  The second British raid happened a few weeks later, December 31, 1813, which burned as far south as Black Rock and Buffalo.  General McClure retreated from Fort Niagara to Buffalo via Military Road after losing Fort Niagara.

The road fell into disuse and became overgrown, partly due to a debate between the state and federal governments as to who was supposed to maintain it.  Sections of it were used by local farmers.  Niagara County took over the road in 1820 and reconditioned it (at the time present day Erie County was part of Niagara County).  By 1832, it was cleared and repaired and became a state highway.

The idea behind the road was to facilitate travel of troops and munitions of war from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie.  Though the road was built for military function, it also helped to allow for commercial development of the area, with settlements occurring all along the Military Road.

In 1891, trolley service was extended along Military Road into the fledgling Village of Kenmore, allowing residents of Kenmore to arrive at the Military Road Station of the Belt Line, which would take them downtown for work.

miliatry marker sheridan drive

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Installation of the Boulder on Sheridan Drive, 1926. Source: Buffalo Courier Express

A boulder with a plaque honoring the Military Road was placed in Sheridan Drive by the Buffalo Chapter of the DAR in 1936.  It was part of a celebration of the centennial of the Town of Tonawanda.  The Centennial was held on exhibition grounds at the corner of Delaware Avenue and Sheridan Drive.  The dedication occurred on what was referred to as “Pioneer Day”.   New York State Historian, Dr. Alexander Flick, was on hand to give a speech and celebrate some of the oldest residents of Tonawanda.  Between 1906 and 1936, the Town had grown from 2,000 residents to 30,000.  Prizes were given to some of the residents including  the oldest married couple present, the oldest school teacher present, and the oldest male and female present.  Mrs. John Walters was unable to be present at the awards ceremony, but she had been a resident of Tonawanda for 93 years!

So the next time you drive along Military Road, think about the military history of WNY and remember the war fought right in our backyard, and the people who were determined enough to stay after their villages were burned to the ground.

Source:

  1. “Town Pioneers honor Guests and Centennial”.  Buffalo Courier Express, July 3 1936. p8.
  2. “Military Highway Will be Scene of Ceremonies” Buffalo Courier Express.  June 13, 1936, p13.
  3. Clinton Brown Architecture, pc.  Reconnaissance Level Historic Resources Survey:  Black Rock Planning Neighborhood.  November 2010.
  4. History of Old Fort Niagara.  https://www.oldfortniagara.org
  5. Lewis, Clarence.  “Evolution of Roadways in County Linked with Important Historical Happenings”.  Niagara Falls Gazette, July 29, 1954.
  6. Malloy, Jerry.  “Why is it Called Military Road?”  Buffalo History Gazette.  August 8, 2010.  http://www.buffalohistorygazette.net
  7. Percy, John & Graham Miller.  Images of America: Kenmore, New York.  Arcadia Publishing:  Charleston, South Carolina, 1998.

 

 

Today’s post doesn’t deal with a street, forgive me. It’s the seventh anniversary of Discovering Buffalo, One Street at a Time! This blog started as a research project for me to find out how Keppel Street got its name since that’s my last name. Seven years ago this week, I began researching in earnest and I realized I was learning all these cool stories.  By the first week in July, the blog posts started. In honor of the anniversary, I have decided to write about the woman who came 75 years before me, as the Original Buffalo Streets Girl, H. Katherine Smith.  She has basically become my new favorite Buffalo Gal!

highlight-for-xml.jpgHelen Katherine Smith was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. She went professionally by H. Katherine Smith and was known as Kate to her friends. Miss Smith’s paternal grandfather was director and general manager of the original Gas Company in Wilkes-Barre and her maternal grandfather was a founder and director of the Wilkes-Barre Deposit and Savings Bank. The family noted that Miss Smith got her business sense and drive from her grandfathers and that if she ever got tired of writing, she’d have made a wonderful business executive. Miss Smith’s first writing was to write rhymes for greeting cards, which she would sell with her father’s help as a young girl, for 25 cents a card.

Miss Smith was hired by the Buffalo Courier-Express in June of 1928. She had just graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College with a degree in journalism. Her most well known Sunday column was titled “Buffalo’s Good Listener”, a series that began in 1936. Published on Sunday’s, her articles were considered to be as important to Buffalonians as going to church. Other columns written by her were “Men You Ought to Know”, “Women of Achievement” and “Who’s Retired”.

Miss Smith also wrote a series of articles where she interviewed the descendents of families for whom Buffalo’s streets were named. These are one of the sources that I use as the first step of my research for this blog. This website is literally indebted to Miss Smith…if I hadn’t been referred to her articles seven years ago by the Research Librarian at the Buffalo History Museum (Cynthia Van Ness), none of what I’ve accomplished so far would have been possible. I like to think MIss Smith would be proud of the silly Buffalo Gal who found inspiration in her articles, seventy-five to eighty years after they were written. She was about my age when she was writing them too!

Miss Smith’s biggest accomplishment – she did it all while blind. She had been inspired by a journalism professor and decided that she wanted a newspaper job. After she graduated, she and her widowed mother had planned to travel from city to city to find a way to make it happen. Her father had passed away in 1913. Their first stop, five days after graduation, was in Buffalo and she got the job. Unknown to Miss Smith at the time, the same day she met with Courier Editor, the newspaper had run an editorial about her accomplishment of graduation with honors despite her blindness, commending her courage and success despite her obstacles and wished her luck in all her endeavors. She arrived in the editor’s office later that day and was hired. She found a niche at the Courier Express and produced many, many articles. By the end of her first nine years, she had already conducted more than 1,000 interviews.

She worked with the Courier-Express for more than 48 years, until her retirement in 1976, when she moved to Florida. In all the interviews she did over the years, she said “men are often easier to interview than women, for they are more certain of what they want to tell you, while women have a better memory for picturesque details”.

Most of her articles revolved around her interviews with people, in Western New York and beyond. She traveled to Hollywood, Europe, and South America. In her travels, she flew in a glider, floated down a river in Ecuador on a balsa raft, and raced across Lake Erie on an experimental hydro-skimmer. She covered press conferences in Washington, DC, during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In 1936, she covered South America and preparations for the Pan-American Peace Conference in Buenos Aires that fall. She sailed from New York and visited universities at Santiago, Chile, Lima, Peru, and Quito, Ecuador. She took two years of Spanish in college, and studied with a private tutor and became competent in Spanish. At the start of World War II, the President of Peru was in Buffalo for a press conference. All of the press were provided with the same summary sheet. Because of her Spanish skills, she was able to quickly ask him about Peru’s efforts to help the US War Effort while he shook all the reporters’ hands. She was the only reporter with the scoop because she was the only reporter to understand his response (in Spanish). In addition to her Spanish language skills, she minored in French in college and was an active member of the French Club of Buffalo.

TKRSummer1936_Page_21.jpg
Miss Smith lived in a second floor flat with her dog and her mother. Each day, one of her five volunteers would read her the local papers, which she would use to gather ideas for articles about personalities around the region. Many of her leads came from friends or readers. Often, the people she would interview would come to her home, otherwise, she would have someone drive her to their house or office. Her mother would often accompany her to the interviews, as a silent partner, reading silently while Miss Smith did her work. Sometimes, before the interview began, her mom would whisper to her details of the room that could serve as a lead in a story – for example, a picture of Lincoln over the fireplace or a stamp collection on the desk. Her mother would often read aloud for entertainment at home, as at the time, less than 1 percent of books were available in Braille and books on tape did not yet exist.

All of Miss Smith’s notes were taken in braille, which she learned at age 4, when she started kindergarten. The teacher herself taught herself braille and used the method to teach her. She had a private teacher for five years and then attended the Wilkes-Barre Institute before she attended Vassar. In 1969, she bought a tape recorder to help use during interviews when there were technical terms she was unfamiliar with. She always preferred not to use the tape recorder. After she’d type her story on her braille typewriter, she’d have someone read it to her for corrections before it was mailed in to the newsletter. Editors noted that her work was typically free from typographical errors.

She was active outside of her journalism work. She swam every morning at the Buffalo Athletic Club. She played bridge and may have been the only player to compete in championship tournaments while openly using marked cards. She won at least two tournaments in the Niagara Frontier. She had been a Camp Fire Girl and was awarded the Women of Achievement Medal from the Camp Fire Girls in 1939.

She was in demand as a speaker for many women’s and civic groups. One of her most popular presentations was titled “Adventures in Newspaper Writing”.

In addition to her journalism work, she also worked as a tutor for the blind, teaching braille to many students. She was an advocate for self-reliance for the sightless. Stating that she did “not believe that sightless people should be much together”. She felt that anyone that has to deal with adjustments to live is: “They must assume their own responsibility. They must bear extra expense and they must do extra work; it simply means working harder.” And Miss Smith surely worked hard to accomplish all she did. She was often invited to speak at schools for the blind. At one graduation, she said, “I was able to do it and I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to go ahead and make a mark for yourself. Of course, it requires courage”

I’ve really been inspired by Miss Smith’s story lately. I have had some difficulties with a condition called uveitis, which has led to a few bouts of temporary blindness. I am currently in one of those flares right now. It’s been a struggle, but I think to the example of Kate and everything she accomplished, and the prospect of my issues becoming permanent don’t seem quite as scary. It tends to put a damper in my ability to write for this blog at times, because so much of my research is done reading old books and microfilm, which aren’t exactly optimized for the visually impaired. It’s tough, but I know I’ll get through this.
Screenshot_20180604-211540.pngIn an interview after her retirement, Miss Smith said her favorite food was Italian eggplant (eggplant parmesan). She enjoyed cooking, but she didn’t like to bread the eggplant, because it’s too much work. A newspaper in Florida published her recipe for Italian eggplant, and I intend to add it to my repertoire. As those who know me know, eggplant parm is my favorite meal and a staple of my diet. I often will buy three eggplant at the farmer’s market and spend the afternoon breading them all at once and freeze the slices, because I also hate breading it too! I like to think Miss Smith and I would have been good friends. I can’t wait to sit around and chat with her in the great hereafter….imagine the two of us as a tag-team of interviewers! We’d be able to write-up some interesting stories for sure.

I still can’t believe I’ve been writing here on this blog for seven years! We’re a growing group of Buffalo History fans.  Thank you, thank you, thank you to every single one of you. It makes me so happy to share these stories and to hear your stories in return. I wish I could have a get together with all 6,800 of you and talk about history and Buffalo and everything else. Thank you to everyone who has read my posts or come to any of my lectures.  Please continue to share my posts with your friends, because the more the merrier.  I love writing these posts and I hope you all have gotten something from them too.   In addition to my regular streets presentations, I have a new presentation that I’ve been giving called “Which Side of the Skyway Do You Stand On?” about the history of the skyway; please contact me if you’re interested in having me give a presentation to your group.   I also have plans down the road to create a downtown walking tour to mesh together my love of history with my career as an urban planner.  So stay tuned, there’s always more to come.  We have covered close to 175 street names in the past seven years!   We’ve got a lot more yet to come!  Want to start back at the beginning?  Check out the street index to read all of the entries.  And again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!

Sources:

  1. Ritz, Joseph. “The Good Listener: Chatty for 33 Years” The Braille Monitor. January 1970. Inkprint Edition. National Federation of the Blind, Berkeley California..
  2. “Intrepid Reporter” The Key Reporter: The Phi Beta Kappa News Magazine. Summer 1936. Published by the United Chapters.
  3. “Journalism A Career of Rewards”. Palm Beach Post. Feb 22, 1980.
  4. Camp Fire Girls of Buffalo and Erie County , “Camp Fire Girls Women of Achievement Project, Helen Katherine Smith, 1939,” Digital Collections – University at Buffalo Libraries, accessed June 1, 2018, https://ubdigit.buffalo.edu/items/show/55927.
  5. “Katherine Smith, Blind Journalist, Great Personage”. The Post, Ellicottville NY July 18, 1934.
  6. Lyon, Jean. “A Newspaper Feature Writer Takes Notes in Braille” Perkins School for the Blind Bound Clippings: Occupations, 1908-1937.
  7. Winn, Marcia. “Buffalo Woman Tells of Her Work Here”. Perkins School for the Blind Bound Clippings: Occupations, 1908-1937.
russell

Map showing the locations of Russell, Fairfield and Greenfield Streets and Orchard Place.

Russell Street is a street in the Parkside neighborhood of Buffalo.  It runs for four blocks between Parkside Avenue and Greenfield Street.   Greenfield and Fairfield Street, as well as Orchard Place, were also named because of the Russell family.  You can explore the Parkside neighborhood at the Parkside Tour of Homes on Sunday, May 20th.  The tour starts this year at the corner of Russell Street and Parkside Avenue.  The tour runs from 11 am to 4:30 pm and you can get more information and buy tickets by clicking on this link.  All money raised goes to support the Parkside Community Association and all the good work they do in the neighborhood.

Russell Street is named after Washington Adams Russell II and his family.  His name is sometimes misprinted (including by myself on my blog post about Elam Jewett) as Washington Russell III.  A Russell relative currently living in New York City, the Great Grandson of Washington Adams Russell II, corrected me and provided some of the information provided below.  There were three Washington A. Russells.  The first two were Washington Adams, the third one’s middle name was Alfred.

Washington Adams Russell, the first, was born in 1799.  He built the oldest home in the Parkside area around 1841.  Mr. Russell was born in Middletown, Pennsylvania (near Harrisburg).  The Russells were a prominent family in Middletown, and Russell Street there was likely named after Washington Russell’s father, James Russell, who had served in the Revolutionary War.  James named his son after the first two presidents – Washington and Adams (the only two presidents at that time!)  Washington Adams Russell came to Buffalo with his father-in-law, Rudolph Barr (originally Bär or Baer), a Swiss brewer.  Mr. Barr had a brewery near Ferry and Main Street.  The Barr family operated Cold Spring Tavern there from 1826 until about 1849.  Mr. Russell bought 200-acres of land in what is now Parkside and built the first brick home in the Parkside area in 1841, at 2540 Main Street.  The house still stands and is now a church.

Washington Adams Russell had eight children.  His daughter Eliza was born in 1827 and married Barton Atkins, a Great Lakes ship captain.   The son, Washington Adams Russell II, was born in 1828.  Mr. Russell the elder died in August 1876 and is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Buffalo map 1872 (1)_Page_1

Map depicting land owners. Washington Russell’s land is near the center of the photo.  His father-in-law, Henry Mochel’s land can be seen across Main Street to the northeast of the Russell Farm.    Source: 1872 Hopkins Atlas of Buffalo

Washington Russell II went to California in 1849.  He returned to Buffalo and married Mary Magdalena Mochel in 1867.  Mary Russell’s parents ran a tavern across Main Street, near what became Bennett High School.   Washington II and Mary had four children.  Their first-born son, Washington Alfred Russell (called Fred), was born in 1869. A second son, James, was born in 1877.  Daughters, Nellie and Lilian were born in 1872 and 1880 respectively.  The family lived in the Russell House on Main Street.

Washington Russell II, along with Elam Jewett and Dr. J. White, formed the Parkside Land Improvement Company in 1885.  The men began to develop and sell off the lots.   Russell Street was the cowpath the family’s cows would walk to drink from the spring in the Delaware Park Meadow.  Fairfield and Greenfield were the names of pastures on the Russell farm, near where the streets are today.  Orchard Place was the site of the family’s fruit orchard.   The streets were laid out in 1886 by the Parkside Land Company and dedicated to the city in 1889.  Olmstead had planned for Parkside to be comprised of large lots for quiet villas, the developers opted instead to decrease the size of many of the lots from 300 feet to 100-200 feet, in order to maximize profits by allowing more lots to be sold and more houses to be built.  As such, the neighborhood has Olmsted’s curving streets and building setbacks, but not the large lot sizes.  Russell Street was originally known as Russell Avenue, but at some point was changed to Street.

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Washington Adams Russell II strolling in front of his house (on the right of the photograph). His son’s more ornate Victorian era home at 2532 Main Street is behind him to the left of the photo. Both houses are still standing today. Photo from Robert Russell’s family collection

Washington Russell II. died in November 1904 and is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

James Russell, son of Washington of Parkside Land Improvement Company, was grandfather of Robert Russell who provided information for this post.  James was sometimes considered a black sheep of the family, because he married a Catholic girl.  Her father also ran a tavern.  James and his family lived at 39 Fairfield Street, which backed into the property at 2540 Main Street where his father lived.   James’ daughter Jean was born in 1908 and was part of the first graduating class of Bennett High School in 1926.  James’ son was James Washington Russell, and James Washington Russell’s son was Robert Russell.

Nellie and Lillian lived in the old house at 2540 Main Street.  Lillian had married Merritt Cook, but they had no children.  Robert Russell notes that in her old age, Lillian was stooped and had a screechy voice, so she fit “the old lady living in an old house is a witch” trope often perpetuated by neighborhood children.

highland lodge

Historic Image of the Highland Lodge on Main Street

Washington Alfred Russell (known as Fred) attended University of Rochester and University of Buffalo Law School.  He was a lawyer and 33rd degree Mason.  The Highland Lodge #835 is at 2456 Main Street.  The building was built by Green & Wicks Architects in 1905 and was used as the community center for Central Presbyterian Church for some time.  The lodge is still standing today.  Fred lived at 2532 Main Street, adjacent to his parents, his house can be seen in the photograph above.  The house is also still standing today.  Fred died in 1944 and is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

 

1928_Olympics_4x100m_relay

Henry Russell at the Olympics.    Source:  U&U 1928

Fred had a son named Henry Argue (called Hank).  Hank was born in 1904 and ran track at Cornell.  In the 1928 Olympics Trials, Hank placed third in the 100 meter at the finals.  in Amsterdam at the 1928 Olympics, Hank was eliminated in the semi-finals of the 100 meter, but he anchored the 4 by 100 relay, winning a gold medal and tying a world record.  He later left Buffalo to work for DuPont.  Hank died in 1986 in West Chester, Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia).

The Washington name continued thru the Russell family for another generation.  Robert Russell had an uncle, Washington Arthur Russell.  His son was named W Arthur Russell, as his mother couldn’t quite accept the Washington name.

Don’t forget to stop by the Tour of Homes on May 20th and impress all your friends with random facts about the Russell family while on the tour!  Tickets can be purchased here.  Very special thanks to Robert Russell for all of his insight and sharing of his family story.  Got a story to share about your family?  I’d love to hear them!

To learn about other streets – check out the street index here.

 

Sources:

  • Severance, Frank H, editor.  “Mr. Hodge’s Reminiscences”.  Buffalo Historical Society Publications.  Volume Twenty-Six.  Buffalo, New York, 1922.
  • Powell, S. R., Rushing the Growler:  A History of Brewing in Buffalo.  Apogee Design, 1996.
  • History of the Great Lakes.  Volume II.  J.H. Beers & Co, Chicago:  1899.
  • Parkside East Historic District.  National Register Nomination Form.  National Register:  90OR3175.  New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
  • Recollections of Robert Russell.  Spring 2018.
  • Cichon, Steve.  “Parkside After the War of 1812”.  blog.buffalostories.com/parkside-after-the-war-of-1812/
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