This is the third and final part in a series about Joseph Ellicott. Click here to read Part One about Joseph’s family and his early life. Click here to read Part Two, about Joseph’s days with the Holland Land Company. Today, I am going to touch on Joseph’s legacy throughout Western New York.
Mindful of Buffalo’s strategic location as a port, Joseph Ellicott was a strong advocate for a canal to be built from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. He served as one of the first Erie Canal Commissioners and was appointed in 1816 to supervise the canal construction. He was also responsible for convincing Governor Clinton not to send to England for engineers to design the canal, but to use local talent instead. He donated more than 100,000 acres of company land for the canal project. He resigned from the Canal in 1818, due to his declining health.
Joseph worked hard to further the settlement of Buffalo by encouraging development on certain transects. As hard as Joseph worked, his later years were not as bright. He suffered from physical and mental health issues in his later days. As early as 1816 he began to suffer from periods of depression and melancholy. At the time, his condition was thought to have been brought upon by his lonely, unmarried life as well as the disappointments of the unrealized hopes and dreams. In 1821, the Holland Land Company suggested that he was no longer needed and Joseph retired. He became a hypochondriac and was admitted to Bloomingdale Asylum in New York City by his family around 1824. He died in 1826 by hanging himself. He was originally buried in New York City, but was exhumed and reburied in Batavia in the Batavia Cemetery.
Joseph’s grave was erected in 1849 by his sister Rachel Evans. and is engraved with the following:
“He was the first resident agent of the Holland Land Company for whom in 1798 he began the survey of the western part of the state then owned by them. Even at that day his predictions of its future wealth and importance fell but little short what has since been realized. For more than twenty years, he used with great judgement combined with liberality, the powers entrusted to him as one of the earliest and by far the most efficient advocate of the Erie Canal. His name is a part of the history of New York. His reputation among his fellow citizens as a man of the highest intelligence as well as the influence of his station gave his opinions great weight with every successive administration during the first twenty years of the present century, and in every portion of the tract once subject to his control may be seen marks of his foresight and generosity. He was the founder of Batavia and Buffalo, NY.”
The following places were named after Joseph Ellicott:
- Ellicottville, New York – a village in Cattaraugus County
- Ellicott, New York – town in Chautauqua County
- Ellicott Square Building – A ten story office building in Downtown Buffalo. When it was built in 1896, it was the largest office building in the world. The building was designed by Charles Atwood of Daniel Burnham & Company Architects. The building sits on the lot that Joseph Ellicott originally owned.
- Ellicott Street – in addition to the one in Buffalo, there’s an Ellicott Street in Batavia, and an Ellicott Road in Orchard Park
- Ellicott Complex – dorms at University of Buffalo
- Ellicott Creek – a creek that runs through Tonawanda and Amherst
- Ellicott Elementary School -in orchard park
- Ellicott Run – in Sinnemahoning State Park in Pennsylvania
If you look closely at Joseph’s plan from 1804 (click on the picture for a better view), you will notice that some of the streets have different names. Joseph named the streets after the dutch investors and members of the Holland Land Company.
The street changes occurred on July 13, 1825. There was a battle between the Highway Commissioners of the City of Buffalo and Joseph Ellicott. As discussed in Part Two, Joseph owned a large lot in Downtown Buffalo. After the Highway Commissioners decided that Main Street needed to be re-routed to cut through his property, Joseph changed his will to avoid leaving the land for a park. In order to spite Joseph, the Commissioners changed the names of the streets:
- Willink Avenue and Van Straphorst Avenue became Main Street
- Schimmelpennick Avenue was renamed Niagara Street
- Stadnitski Avenue was named Church Street since it was the location of St. Paul’s Church
- Vallenhoven Street was named Erie Street
- Cazenovia Street became Court Street, because the Courthouse was located near where the Central Library is currently located
- North and South Onondaga Streets were merged to become Washington Street
- North and South Cayuga Street became Pearl Street
- Franklin was renamed from Tuscarora Street
- Busti Avenue became Genesee Street
- Mississauga Street became Morgan Street (which is currently South Elmwood)
In March 1836, Crow Street became Exchange Street. In the end, Seneca, Swan, Chippewa, Huron, Eagle and Delaware were the only street names given by Joseph Ellicott that remained.
The Highway Commissioners must have felt a twinge of regret, because the changed the name of Oneida Street to Ellicott Street, honoring the man who laid out our streets and helped the fledgling Village of Buffalo Creek become the City of Buffalo.
To learn about how other streets got their name, check out the Street Index. If you want to be the first to know about new blog posts, subscribe to the blog and updates will be emailed to you. And as always, if you have any questions about specific streets, leave them in the comments and I can see what I can do to add them to my queue.
- “Joseph Ellicott” Memorial and Family History of Erie County New York. Volume 1, Biographical and Genealogical
- Beers, F.W. ”Our County and It’s People: A Descriptive Work on Genesee County, New York.” J.W. Vose & Co Publishers, Syracuse NY 1890.
- “Our Street Names: They Tell Much of Buffalo’s History”. Buffalo Express, November 14, 1897.
- Burns, Rosamond. ”Paving the Way For Settlers: The Rise and Fall of the Holland Land Co.” Buffalo News, January 25, 2004.
- Houghton, Frederick. ”History of the Buffalo Creek Reservation”. Buffalo Historical Society Publications, Volume 24: Buffalo, 1920.