Rich Street gets its name from Gaius Barrett Rich, who was nicknamed “Great Big” because he weighed more than 300 pounds. Mr. Rich was a prominent bank during the early years of Buffalo’s development. He was born in 1790 and opened a store in Clapp’s Mill (in Wyoming County) in 1827. Mr. Rich then founded the Bank of Attica and in 1840, expanded his banking into Buffalo. His bank was located in the Spaulding Exchange, at Main Street and The Terrace. The bank kept the Bank of Attica name until 1892, when it was renamed Buffalo Commercial Bank. Ten years later, Buffalo Commercial Bank merged with the Marine Trust Company. He also founded Western Savings Bank of Buffalo, and was president of the bank from its founding in 1851 until his death in 1861. Western Savings Bank became Western New York Savings Bank, then Niagara County Savings and Loan, then Buffalo Savings Bank, then Goldome. The bank was liquidated nearly 150 years after its founding in 1991 and assets were sold to Key Bank, M&T, and East New York Savings Bank. [side note: someone should write a blog just on Buffalo Banking History, it is fascinating stuff!]
Mr. Rich’s home was located at Main Street and Barker Avenue, which was Buffalo countryside at the time. He had greenhouses on his property, and was the first Buffalonian to raise “hothouse grapes”. He owned real estate throughout the City and was one of the founders of North Presbyterian Church.
Gaius and his wife Aphia had 7 children. One of Gaius’ sons, named his son Gaius Barrett Rich II.
Gaius Barrett Rich II was the owner of the G. Barrett Rich house, built in 1890. The house is still located on Main Street near Riley. G. Barrett sold his home in 1921 after his wife died. It was part of St. Vincent’s Orphanage, and was used as housing for the nuns who ran the orphanage. Later, it was used as part of ECC City Campus prior to ECC moving in to the Old Post Office (its current location). It was vacated by ECC in 1984. Most recently, the building is used for Little Portion Friary, which is a temporary shelter for the homeless.
Many members of the Rich family are buried in Forest Lawn, including Gaius and his wife Aphia and Gaius II and his wife Cordelia. So the next time you are driving past Rich Street, think of Gaius and his family, and know that more than 100 years ago, people thought of a banker, not whipped topping when they thought of the Rich family!
Don’t forget to check out the Street Index to learn about how other streets got their names!
Source: “Rich Street Honors Memory of Banker” Courier Express, September 25 1938, p2.