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Archive for August, 2012

Buffalo Skyway around 1956
(from WNY Heritage Website)

The Buffalo Skyway was originally known as “High Level Bridge”, a description of the function of getting the road over the Buffalo River.  The bridge opened in 1955 and was a marvel of modern engineering.  The bridge is fraught with controversy today, as many people see the skyway as a barrier to development of the waterfront.

The bridge eliminated the waits for railroad and lift bridges that plagued commutes between downtown Buffalo and South Buffalo/Lackawanna.    Plans for a bridge had been discussed amongst the Planning Commission as early as 1922.  Some early traffic planners had fought for a tunnel instead.  The tunnel idea was scrapped because the City would have been responsible for operation and maintenance costs for lighting, ventilating and other maintenance, which the City could not afford.  New York State is responsible for maintenance of the Bridge.

Some planners insisted that construction of either the bridge or a tunnel would be too expensive and not worthwhile.  The Skyway was built despite the fierce opposition and bitter criticism.  It was heralded as a triumph of development and engineering.

The highest piece of the bridge sits 120 feet above the River.  And the viaduct is 5,803 feet in length.  The Steel used to create the skyway was from the Bethlehem Steel plant, just down the road.  The girders were brought to the River via barge.   The Father Baker Bridge, further down the river, was built in similar fashion to cross the Union Slip Canal and opened in November the following year  The two plate girder spans measure 348 feet and at the time were the second longest on any structure in the United States (not sure if they still are).  The bridge was built by the Bates and Rogers Construction Corporation.  Approximately 10,000 cubic yards of concrete was used.  It is supported by 15 massive steel “bents”.  More than 10,000 gallons of paint were used to protect it from the weather.  The bridge incorporated 11,516 tons of structural steel that was fabricated by Bethlehem Steel.

The Street was named The Buffalo Skyway after a contest was held to name the bridge.  Mrs. Wallace E. Easter, of Lackawanna, submitted the name “Skyway”.  Mrs. Easter received a golden key to the City and $100 for her prize.  If you had to name the road, what would you have named it?

Officials on the Skyway
October 4, 1955
From The Buffalo News

The Bridge cost $12,000,000 (1955 dollars) and Opened on Oct 19, 1955.  The Ribbon Cutting Ceremony was held on October 19th and consisted of Mayor Pankow accompanying an inspection party of city and state officials on a tour by car and a ribbon cutting at the north abutment near Delaware and Church Street.  A reception was held following the ceremony at the Hotel Lafayette, which included an address by State Public Works Superintendent John W. Johnson.

The Skyway brought the start to some major transportation investment projects in Buffalo.  The following projects were announced as being funded during the reception (costs in 1955 dollars):

  • Union Slip Canal Bridge (aka the Father Baker Bridge…it has since been demolished) – $13,000,000
  • Kensington Expressway – $6,3,00,000 (for Section 1)
  • Broadway Viaduct Elimination (aka the Z-viaduct of the New York Central) – $2,4,00,000
  • Scajaquada Creek Expressway – $10,000,000.

These investments brought the City of Buffalo into a new time period.  A time where the car was king.   The state officials at the reception called the opening of the Skyway “so magnificent as to be unforgettable”.

Today, many people consider the Skyway to be a barrier to development of our waterfront.   Many public meetings regarding the waterfront, canalside, and other projects result in cries to remove the Skyway.  However, from a traffic perspective, it’s one of the best ways to move traffic.  It’s a key transportation artery in the City of Buffalo, carrying an average of 38,800 vehicles each day (according to 2011 data from GBNRTC).  The New York State Department of Transportation see the Skyway as “a safe, efficient sturdy roadway with another 40,50 years of life in it”.

Yesterday, a new article was published in Next American City which quotes the Congress for the New Urbanism stance that the Skyway as one of the top 12 roads that need to be removed.

Many argue that the accidents on the Skyway is a reason for its removal.  However, the rate of accidents on the Skyway is 0.61 accidents per mile, far below the statewide average for urban, divided four-lane highways, which is 1.52.

Some see the Skyway, with its smooth curves as graceful, while at the same time monumental and graceful.   The ride along the Skyway is unlike any other drive in Buffalo – these people see the climb, the descent, and the view as phenomenal.

So which side of the Skyway Debate do you fall on?

[To learn about other streets, check out the street index. ]

Sources:

  1. “Buffalo Skyway to Open” Oct 19 with a ribbon-cutting, Buffalo News 10-4-1955
  2. “Final River Span Lifted Into Place” , Courier Express 5-5-1955
  3. “Skyway Name Approved by Mayor” Buffalo News 10-6-1955
  4. “Traffic Streaming Over Skyway Heralds New Era For City”,  Buffalo News 10-19-1955
  5. “Skyway Called First Of Big Projects”,  Courier Express 10-20-1955
  6. “Skyway Celebrates 50th Year” Buffalo News, 10-21- 2005
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Nash Street is a short street a close walk from the Central Business District, between Broadway and William Street near Michigan Avenue.  The street is less than a quarter-mile long, but is a part of the rich history of Buffalo.  Nash Street was known as Potter Street until the 1950s.

The Street is named after Jesse Edward Nash, Sr.  Dr. Nash was one of the City of Buffalo’s most prominent African-American citizens for the first half of the 20th Century.

J. Edward  Nash was born in Occoquan Virginia in 1868.  He worked as a farm hand, a blacksmith, a mason and a boatman.    He was a student at Virginia Union College in Richmond with Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Senior, the pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church.   Rev. Powell’s son was the first African-American elected to congress.  Reverend Nash became a minister at age 18.  At age 24, he came to Buffalo in 1892 to serve as pastor of Michigan Avenue Baptist Church.  He was pastor from 1892 until he retired in 1953.   Dr. Nash married Frances Jackson in 1925 and moved to 36 Potter Street in 1925.  Dr. and Mrs. Nash had one son, Jesse Junior, who became a professor at Canisius College.

Dr. Jesse Edward Nash, Senior

The City of Buffalo has had a strong history of African-Americans living in freedom.  When the City was incorporated in 1832, the city directory listed the names of 68 colored heads of families.  The majority of the African-Americans in Buffalo lived in the 4th Ward of Buffalo at the time – east of Main Street between North Street and South Division Street.  Michigan Avenue was the heart of the African-American neighborhood.  The Michigan Avenue Baptist Church was founded in 1836.  The current church was built in 1845, prior to this, they worshiped in a meeting room on Niagara Street near Pearl Street.

During the early 1900s, Buffalo’s African-American community was growing quickly, due to the City’s industrial economy.  When Dr. Nash came to Buffalo, there were only three established African-American churches.  By 1952, there were more than 30 churches.  Because of his education, Dr. Nash was well respected and he became one of the main representatives and spokesperson for the City’s African-American Community.

Reverend Nash helped to found the Buffalo Urban League.  This functioned as an agency to welcome African-Americans to Buffalo when they arrived from the south, by helping them find housing and jobs.  The Buffalo Urban League is still in operations today.

Reverend Nash was unique in his role in Buffalo.  He was widely respected by the city’s white leadership, so he had access to the Mayor and elected officials.  This was uncommon in many other cities during this time.   He worked to put together community meetings of black Buffalonians to intercede on behalf of other black citizens who were being wronged because of their race.

Dr. Nash was well-known, not just in Buffalo, but throughout New York State and the entire country.  He hosted Booker T. Washington in 1910 in Buffalo.  In addition to Mr. Washington, many nationally known African-American leaders were guests of Dr. Nash’s, including WEB DuBois.  Dr. Nash’s neighbor was Mary Talbert, another significant African-American in Buffalo during this time period, but we’ll get to her later (there’s a street named after her as well).

In 1912, Virginia Union University awarded Nash an honorary doctorate.  Dr. Nash served as treasurer of the Western New York Baptist Association, secretary of the Baptist-Disciples Ministers Fellowship.  He was chaplain at Meyer Memorial Hospital (the predecessor to ECMC).

During the 1950s. Buffalo was undergoing a series of urban renewal projects.  Many of these projects impacted African-American neighborhoods disproportionately.   Dr. Nash advocated for fair housing and worked to stop the loss of affordable housing which was occurring under the name of “slum clearance”.

Dr. Nash retired as pastor in 1953.  To commemorate his retirement, the City renamed the street from Potter Street to Nash Street.  In 1954, Dr. Nash was awarded one of the first Brotherhood Awards from the National Conference of Christians and Jews.  He passed away in 1957 and was survived by his wife and his son Jesse Edward Nash, Junior.  He is buried at Forest Lawn.

Nash House, 36 Nash Street

The Nash House is located at 36 Nash Street.  The Buffalo Preservation Board and Buffalo Common Council designated the NAsh House a local historic landmark in 2001.  The house was originally built as a two-family residence, with an upper and lower unit.  Many of the houses in Buffalo were built like this as a practical form of housing for the urban middle class.   The Nash family lived on the second story of the house and rented out the lower floor.

The house was built around 1900.   Few changes have occurred through the years, and the historic integrity of the structure has been preserved.  The house and its contents, which included most of Dr. Nash’s papers, were acquired by the Michigan Street Preservation Corporation in 2000.  Restoration from 2002-2003 included restoration of the clapboard, windows and front porch.  The Nash family living quarters is fully restored, and the lower levels was rehabilitated for office and research space.

Dr. Nash and his family lived in the house from 1925 until 1987.   He passed away in 1957, but his widow occupied the house until she died in 1987.

The Nash House was restored and opened as the Nash House Museum in May 2007.   The museum provides a glimpse into what life was like in the early 1900s on Buffalo’s East Side.  The museum is open Thursdays and Saturdays from 11:30-4pm.   My interest has been piqued and I intend to check out the museum, hopefully this weekend.

For more information on the Michigan Street Heritage Corridor Commission and some of the amazing African-American history of Buffalo that happened in this neighborhood, please read this report prepared for the Commission by a UB Planning Studio.  

Dellenbaugh Block

This neighborhood has a personal history for me, as my uncle owned the complex of buildings known as the Dellenbaugh Block at the corner of Broadway and Michigan for much of my childhood.  He operated a car wash and pizzeria on the Broadway side of the block.  There was a pharmacy on the Michigan side of the building which always reminded me of the pharmacy in It’s a Wonderful Life.  The pharmacy here in this building was the first 24-hour pharmacy in Buffalo.

The Langston Hughes institute has plans to develop the Dellenbaugh Block.   More on their plans can be found here.

Some of my most vivid childhood memories were spent exploring that building and being fascinated by the neighborhood and the history.  The dark and scary basement of the building always freaked me out, because legend has it that it was a part of the underground railroad.  Portions of the building were built in 1842.  The city lists the building as being built in 1890, but to my childhood imagination, there were civil war era ghosts in that basement.

The Dellenbaugh Block is a designated landmark with the City of Buffalo.  The block is named for Frederick Dellenbaugh, a German immigrant.  Mr. Dellenbaugh was a physician and built his home and office at 173 Broadway circa 1842.  The house is visible from Nash Street, behind the newer storefront.   The storefront was the location of a Deco restaurant in the 1930s.

Broadway Arsenal in 1858

Across Nash Street is the Broadway Barns, a City of Buffalo DPW garage.  This building was originally designed as a New York State Arsenal.  Portions of the original circa 1865 armory still exist and can be seen from the inside of the building.  Once the regiments left the Arsenal, the building was converted to an exposition and event hall.

Broadway Auditorium in 1915

This was used for events prior to the construction of the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium on the Terrace.  There are pictures of elephants walking down Broadway to get to the circus at the old Broadway Auditorium.   After the Memorial Auditorium was built, the Buffalo Streets Department began using it as a garage.  What a change this building has seen in the past 150 years!  What a history in this little pocket of a neighborhood!

 

Check out the Street Index to learn about other streets in Buffalo.

 

Sources:

Cottrell, Kevin.   “J. Edward Nash History”.  accessed at: http://www.motherlandconnextions.com/nash.html

“Dr. J. Edward Nash, Sr.” (Obituary).  Buffalo Courier Express.  27 January 1957

http://www.showcase.com/property/163-173-Broadway-Street/Buffalo/New-York/1435912

http://greaterbuffalo.blogs.com/gbb/2005/12/campaign_landma.html

http://www.nashhousemuseum.org/history.html

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