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Archive for March, 2014

This post is the first in a series of three posts about one street that still exists – Marine Drive – and several streets that no longer exist – most specifically Canal Street and Dante Place.  These streets are a part of Buffalo’s old (and new) Canal District.  The Canal District contains some of Buffalo’s most fascinating stories.   Today’s post will deal with the district when it was known as the Canal Street area.  Part Two will come out on Friday April 4th and deals with the Italian Immigrant era, when it was known as Dante Place or “The Hooks”.  Part Three will come out next week and deal with the last 60 years of the area’s history – the Marine Drive apartments and Canalside.

The Canal District consists of the area along Buffalo’s inner harbor, which today is located south of the I-190, between Main Street and Erie Street.  Here is a current view of the area we’re discussing:

View from 2011

View from 2011

The area, with the success of Canalside, is quickly becoming one of the success stories for Buffalo.  The area has a long and fascinating past, some of which is represented by the ruins of canal era buildings along the Commercial Strip today.  In 1950, the Buffalo Evening News wrote of the area:

Old Canal Street – Dante Place for the past quarter of a century – lies doggo this spring. Its days are numbered. Of some ordinary street it could be said it is dreaming of its past stories – but not Canal St – the old rip. If anything, Canal St. is like an ancient burned-out roue reflecting on a disreputable past. Canal Street and some of its immediate purlieus like Maiden Lane, and Peacock Street have empty houses with the windows bashed out. The old plaster in old rooms is broken and crumbling. Along the streets are old house numbers – 148, 156 – corroded and painted over and beaten by the weather of a hundred years. There is the occasional iron rail across what was once a barroom window, to protect it from stumbling drunks and lolling roustabouts. These are the flotsam and jetsam of an era long gone – a rough and roistering era of hard men and fancy women, of the waterside of Buffalo when it was young and heady with liquor, laughter and love at voyage end. It was the days when the canaler could sing that “The Erie was a-risin‘, the gin was gettin‘ low, and I scarcely think we’ll have a drink till we get to Buffalo”. It was the days when the sailors, swinging off their brigs and barks and ready for a fight or frolic, could yell: “Canaler, canaler – you’ll never grow rich; you’ll die in the ditch”.

dug in his dive_gif

Dug’s Dive Illustration

Canal Street was only two blocks long, running between Commercial Street and Erie Street.  The street was called “the wickedest street in the world”.   It was said that, during its heyday, there was a murder every day. Legends were told of saloon owners who would serve a poisoned drink, steal a man’s clothes and personal items, and dump the body in the canal.  The supposed first “dive bar”, Dug’s Dive was located along the canal, down a steep set of slippery steps from the towpath, so patrons sometimes “dived” into the bar.  The proprietor of Dug’s Dive was William Douglas, a former slave.

Canal Street was a busy place, due to its location on the waterfront. The Canal folk met the sailors from the Lake.  In 1829, when the road was laid out, it was known as Cross Street because it crossed several of the short streets between Commercial Street and Erie Street.   Other streets in the area were Peacock, Fly, Water, Hanover, LeConteuix, Evans, Lake, Lloyd and State.

 In 1847, it was written in the Buffalo Republic:

During the summer, the very worst class of people inhabiting this portion of the first ward, have been permitted to gather there in unusual numbers, publicly enacting the most disgusting scenes, rioting by day and reveling by nightIf the canal could speak, and its waters cast up the hidden bodies of those who have doubtless come to an untimely end, its tale of horror would startle the public mind, and those whose duty it is to  look after the public peace of our city, might feel and realize how great this has been of their omission of duty.

Depiction of the Canal Street Area

Depiction of the Canal Street Area

By 1854, the canal had become supreme in the district, and the name was changed to Canal Street. The street was a busy place – The Erie Canal connected under Main Street with the Main-Hamburg Canal, running east to connect with the Clark-Skinner Canal, which started around Chicago Street and ran south to the Buffalo River. On the lake were the Prime, Coit, and Niagara slips, among others.  The Canal Street district of the city was bounded by The Terrace, Lower Main Street, Erie Street and the harbor.  The Canal Street district was connected to the rest of Buffalo by foot and wagon bridges over the Canals.  Maiden Lane got its name from the early days of Buffalo when the young women said goodbye to their sailor sweethearts or welcomed them home from voyages.

The Canal District quickly established itself with bars and taverns to entertain the canal workers.  Along with the taverns came gamblers, drunks and working girls.   Long nights of drinking and brawling turned the area into a crime-ridden district.

The Canal District was often referred to as the “infected district”, both due to the low moral standards in the area and due to the diseases that ran rampant  syphilis, chlamydia as well as diphtheria, scarlet fever, whooping-cough and the flu.  The Express described the area as containing “broken down hovels of ill-fame, presided over by ill-favored hags, who have long forfeited their right to the name of women”.    The saloons were profitable enterprises for many Buffalonians.  When early reformers and settlement houses tried to come in, they failed to lure the men away from the saloons.  The saloons of the time functioned as a labor bureau, a post office, a source of credit, a political headquarters, an ethnic gathering place, and a spot where a man could get a free lunch along with his beer.

1893 Map from the Christian Homestead Association of the "Houses of Ill-Fame" in the Canal District

1893 Map from the Christian Homestead Association of the “Houses of Ill-Fame” in the Canal District  (Source:  Rare Book Room of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library)

The song “Buffalo Gals” was written by John Hodges in 1844 and refers to the women who lived in the canal district.  By the 1880’s, it was said that there were as many as 400 women “of easy virtue” in the Canal Street section of the City of Buffalo.  Included in the district were 93 saloons, 15 concert-hall dives, and hundreds of dance-hall girls.  While Grover Cleveland was Sheriff in 1870, Cleveland had tried to clean up the place, but was unsuccessful.  Many of the women were employed by the saloons as “cooks” but were on hand to provide companionship to the men of the barges. These women of the district were not allowed to go further uptown than the Liberty Pole, which was located near where the Memorial Auditorium was later located.  Once a week, the women were allowed to go into town to go shopping.

During the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, a number of women from New York City came to the canal district, attempting to make money off visitors to the Pan-Am. They planned to take the “Buffalo Gals” out of their territory by bringing their worldliness to the area. Before the Pan-Am, there were 500 Buffalo women living in the Canal district.  The ladies of Canal Street resented the NYC women, and joined forces and attacked the NYC women with clubs, knives and fists, chasing the NYC women out of Buffalo.  The NYC women were escorted by police back to NYC on packet boats and trains.

Commercial Street Bridge Over Erie Canal, 1926

Commercial Street Bridge Over Erie Canal, 1926

In 1895, the Erie Canal was deepened and shortened.  Newly built railroads were built, which were more efficient in moving goods across distances with greater speed and power.  The changing transportation landscape began to change the neighborhood.  Immigrant families began to settle in the area.   The rule limiting the women of Canal Street from venturing north into Buffalo proper was lifted.  These ladies “of the fancy ways” began deserting the area. The vice they represented moved to other areas in the city, including the red light district of Vine Alley (located between Elm and Oak -the area was razed in the 1920s when William Street was extended from Michigan to Broadway). After the women left, the saloons and concert halls began to close.

Stay tuned for Part Two, which will discuss the Canal District’s transition into Dante Place, coming out on Friday April 4th.

Learn about other streets by checking out the Street Index.

Sources:

  1. Courier Express Dec 17, 1952 p 15
  2. “Echoes of Revelry Have Faded out and Earth-Movers Clang Away. Buffalo Evening News 4-15-1950
  3. “Housing Project Rises where Canalers Roistered” Courier Express 10-29-1952
  4. “Lusty Canal St. Lived Hard and Fast in Heyday” Courier Express 10-26-1952
  5. “Dante Area Streets Get Single Name” Courier Express, November 11, 1960 Buffalo Streets Vol 1.
  6. America’s Crossroads:  Buffalo’s Canal Street/ Dante Place.  Buffalo NY Heritage Press, 1993.
  7. Dug’s Dive.   Buffalo Express Saturday Morning, August 29,1874
  8. Hart, Mary Bronson.  Partitioning Poverty:  Zones of Influence in Social Work.  Boston Evening Transcript.  August 29, 1900.
  9. Yans-McLaughlin, Virginia.  Family and Community:  Italian Immigrants in Buffalo, 1880-1930.
  10. Nicolosi, Rachel.  Love for Sale:  Prostitution and the Building of Buffalo, New York, 1820-1910.  The Exposition:  vol 2, Issue 1. 2014.

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clevelandCleveland Avenue is a street in the Elmwood Village, running between Elmwood Avenue and Delaware Avenue.  Cleveland Avenue is named after one of Buffalo’s most prominent citizens, President Stephen Grover Cleveland!  Today (March 18th) is Grover’s birthday.

Grover Cleveland’s story is a rare one.  He rose to political fame from the position of an unknown lawyer in Buffalo in a period of only three years.  He was not connected via his lineage, but rather worked hard and represented himself with integrity, which led to his success. While much has been written about President Cleveland’s campaigns and White House years, I’m going to focus on his time before he was president.

Grover Cleveland Birthplace, now a museum Source

Grover Cleveland Birthplace, now a museum
Source

Mr. Cleveland’s family came to America in the 1600s, settling in Massachusetts from England. Stephen Grover Cleveland was born on March 18, 1837 in Caldwell, New Jersey, the son of a Presbyterian minister.  He was named after the previous pastor at the church where his father now preached – Dr. Stephen Grover.  The first name was dropped; however, and he always went by Grover.  He was educated in public schools in Fayetteville, New York and at the Academy in Clinton, New York.  He served as a grocery clerk in Fayetteville as his first job.  He later became an assistant in the Institution for the Blind, New York City.  

Grover Cleveland as a young attorney

Grover Cleveland as a young attorney

In 1855, Mr. Cleveland came to Buffalo.  He was heading to Ohio to seek fortune, but first came to visit his uncle, Lewis Allen, who lived on a farm.  Mr. Allen convinced Grover to stay in Buffalo, by giving him a place to stay and introducing him to members of a law firm.

Mr. Cleveland studied law with Bowen & Rogers and was admitted to the bar in 1859.  One of the local legends is that when Mr. Cleveland first started at a law firm in Downtown Buffalo, he made such a little impression on the lawyers while he studied, the lawyers forgot he was there, and locked up the office for the day while he was still in the office.  He vowed that “someday, I will be better remembered”.

During the Civil War, Mr. Cleveland was drafted. His two younger brothers enlisted. At the time, the Enrollment Act of 1863 allowed draftees to pay $300 to have a substitute go to war for you.  Grover borrowed money to pay a substitute, so that he could stay in Buffalo and take care of his mother.

In 1866, Mr. Cleveland formed a partnership with I.K. Vanderpool.  The two worked together for 4 years.  He then worked with P. Laning and Oscar Folsom, working with them for two years when Mr. Cleveland was then elected to be Sheriff of Erie County in 1870.

Mr. Cleveland was considered to be just and fair in his term as Sheriff.  He showed a disregard for partisan interests and he was considered a reformer.  He served as Sheriff until 1874, using his down time to continue his studies.  When he returned to the bar after his time as Sheriff, he was more confident and was considered to be a better lawyer.  He never became wealthy as a lawyer but was distinguished among the law community for his hard work and strong ethics.

Statue of Cleveland at Buffalo City Hall

Statue of Cleveland at Buffalo City Hall

In 1881, the City of Buffalo was considered to have a corrupt government that was driving the city towards ruin.  The population was growing quickly; politics and business were intertwined, and there was a demand for reform.  Citizens were looking for a mayoral candidate who could bring about reform.  They found their man in Grover Cleveland.   With some convincing by Peter Doyle, he decided to run.  He was elected with a majority that was the largest ever given to a candidate up until that time.  His main principal for his official life is expressed by one of his messages to the Common Council:  “There is, or there should be, no reason why the affairs of our city should not be managed with the same care and the same economy as private interests”.

Mr. Cleveland clung to and fought for what he thought was right.   He was known as the “Veto Mayor” (and later the “Veto Governor” and “Veto President”).  As Mayor, he was careful with city expenditures.  Mr. Cleveland’s term as Mayor was noticed throughout the state and led to his nomination for Governor.

Mr. Cleveland’s strength in the gubernatorial campaign lay in the fact that he was relatively unknown, and, therefore, not part of the machine that had run New York politics.  He had never met many of the representatives of the Democratic Party until the night of the convention.  He was elected in 1882, defeating Charles Folger by nearly 193,000 votes.

On election night, Grover wrote to his brother William, “But the thought that has troubled me is Can I well perform my duties and in such a manner has to do some good to the people of the State?  I know there is room for it and I know that I am honest and sincere in my desire to do well, but the question is whether I know enough to accomplish what I desire.”

Grover Cleveland as Governor

Grover Cleveland as Governor

His guiding principles while Governor were retrenchment, economy, integrity and reform.  He worked from early morning until late at night, carefully and deliberately undertaking the tasks at hand.  It is said that he did little to attract the attention of the party leaders outside of New York State, but in doing so, his honesty and personal habits set him apart from the pomp, circumstance and parade of importance around which many public servants surround themselves.

When the Democratic National Convention met in Chicago in 1884, Mr. Cleveland was nominated for Presidency.  He won the election by beating James G. Blaine, and became President of the United States.  After being defeated by Benjamin Harrison in 1888, Cleveland returned to New York City to work as a lawyer.  In 1892, Cleveland defeated President Harrison and became the first president to be elected for non-consecutive terms.

President Cleveland's Wedding to Frances Folsom

President Cleveland’s Wedding to Frances Folsom
Source: 1886, Harper’s Weekly

During his first term as president, in 1886, Mr. Cleveland married Buffalonian Frances Folsom.  He is the only president to be married during his term, with the wedding taking place in Blue Room of the White House.  When Oscar Folsom (Cleveland’s business partner and Frances’ father) died, Grover became executor of his estate, but was never the legal guardian of Frances, as many believe.  Frances was the youngest first lady in history, 21 at the time of their wedding.  She was a popular first lady, people purchased souvenirs bearing her likeness and copied her hairstyles and clothing.  Frances was born in Buffalo; her house still stands on Edward Street.  A slice of  the Clevelands’ wedding cake from 1886 is in the collection of the Buffalo History Museum. Frances and Grover had three daughters and two sons.

Grover Cleveland's Grave

Grover Cleveland’s Grave

In 1896, Cleveland declined the nomination for a third term, and retired to his estate, Westland Mansion, in Princeton, New Jersey.  He became a trustee at Princeton University.  He also served as a consultant to President Theodore Roosevelt.  He died of a heart attack in 1908.  His last words were “I have tried so hard to do right”.  He is buried in the Princeton Cemetery.

Other things named after Cleveland in the Buffalo Area:

  • Grover Cleveland Hall at Buffalo State College (Cleveland served on the Board of Directors when it was the Buffalo Normal School)
  • Grover Cleveland High School in Buffalo (the building now houses the International Preparatory School)
  • Grover Cleveland Golf Course
  • Cleveland Hill Neighborhood and School District in Cheektowaga
  • Cleveland Avenue, Niagara Falls
  • Cleveland Drive, Cheektowaga
  • Cleveland Avenue, City of Tonawanda

To read about other streets, check out the Street Index.

Sources:

  • Triplett, Frank.  The Authorized Pictorial Lives of Stephen Grover Cleveland and Thomas Andrews Hendricks.  New York:  E.B. Treat, Publisher.  1884.
  • Memorial and Family History of Erie County, New York.  Volume 1.  New York-Buffalo:  Genealogical Publishing Company, 1906.
  • Peckham, Caroline.  The Pre-Presidential Career of Grover Cleveland.  University of Wisconsin:  1922.
  • “Mr. Cleveland is Dead at 71”.  New York Times:  June 25, 1908.

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churchChurch Street is one of the main east-west streets in Downtown Buffalo, connecting to Main Street to what is now the Interstate-190.  The street was originally laid out by Joseph Ellicott and was named Stadnitski after Pieter Stadnitski, a Dutch banker and one of the agents of the Holland Land Company.  The street was renamed in honor of St. Paul’s Episcopal, St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic and First Presbyterian Churches.

The Downtown Buffalo core used to be home to other churches, but many moved uptown as their congregants moved out of downtown towards “suburbs”, such as the case with First Presbyterian Church or Lafayette Presbyterian Church.

The Three Church Street Churches circa 1880s

The Three Church Street churches circa 1880s

St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral is the cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York.  The congregation started in 1820, and their first church was built on land donated by Joseph Ellicott, at the corner of Main and Erie Streets.  Reverend William Shelton came to the church in September 1829 and served as Rector until 1881.  The congregation started to grow significantly following the opening of the Erie Canal.  The current church opened (on the site of the old church) in 1851, on Shelton Square.  The church was designed by Richard Upjohn, who is considered one of the greatest American Gothic church designers.  The congregation wanted the church to be made out of limestone; however, they could not afford the limestone.  Upjohn instead used Medina sandstone.

On May 10, 1888, the church was almost destroyed following an explosion and fire.  All that remained was the walls.  The church was rebuilt according to Upjohn’s original plans and reopened in 1890.  St. Paul’s was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Rev. Shelton

Rev. Shelton

Shelton Square was named after Reverend William Shelton in 1897.  Shelton Square was a public space within Joseph Ellicott’s original street layout for Buffalo, at the intersection of Erie, Church, Main and Niagara, North Division and South Division Streets.  The area was where Joseph Ellicott originally planned to build his house.  He later donated land at Shelton Square to the churches.  In the 1950s, Shelton Square was considered Buffalo’s “Piccadilly Circus”.  A trolley/bus shelter was located in the middle of the square, and this served as the main hub for the entire city – serving the International Railway Company and then the Niagara Frontier Transit system.   Shelton Square disappeared during the 1970s, when a portion of Shelton Square was covered by the Main Place Mall, and Erie street was replaced by Cathedral Park.

Shelton Square 1908

Shelton Square 1908

St. Joseph’s Cathedral

St. Joseph's Cathedral in 1914

St. Joseph’s Cathedral in 1914

St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cathedral is located at 50 Franklin Street.  The church serves as the cathedral church for the Buffalo Diocese.  Buffalo’s first Bishop, John Timon, established St. Joseph’s in 1847.  The cathedral was dedicated in 1855 and was consecrated in 1863.  The original plans for the cathedral called for two towers at the north and south ends of the facade, but only the south tower was built.  The tower contained a 43 bell carillon (a musical instrument consisting of bells, typically found in church towers or municipal buildings).  At the time of installation in 1869, the carillon was the largest in America and the third largest in the world.  The bells were too large for the tower and never worked properly, so all but two were removed from the church.

In 1902, the Buffalo Diocese determined that a new cathedral was necessary, so property was purchased at Delaware Avenue and West Utica Street.  The New St. Joseph Cathedral opened in 1915, and St. Joseph’s downtown was known as “St. Joseph’s Old Cathedral”. The new cathedral was not built for Buffalo’s climate and major repairs had to be made as soon as 1924.  The exterior marble started to fall off and in 1976, the Bishop decided repairs would be too costly.  In 1977, after demolition of the new cathedral, the “old cathedral” reverted to its former name of St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

First Presbyterian Church

Color Portrait of the First Building of the First Presbyterian Church  (First Presbyterian Church archives)

Color Portrait of the First Building of the First Presbyterian Church (First Presbyterian Church archives)

The third of the churches was First Presbyterian Church.  When First Presbyterian Church was organized on February 2, 1812, it was the first organized religious body formed in Western New York.  The first building for the church was built at the corner of Pearl Street and Niagara Street.  The church opened in 1824 and was used by the church until 1827. As the congregation grew, the building was sold to another congregation in 1828 and moved to the corner of Genesee and Hickory Streets, and was later moved to Walnut Street in 1878.  The building saw many uses over the years – a school-house, a tenement,  a cooper’s shop and an icehouse for a brewery.  It was destroyed by a fire in 1882.  No pictures of the building are known to exist.

"Old First" Presbyterian Church (1827-1890) from the First Presbyterian Church Archives

“Old First” Presbyterian Church (1827-1890) from the First Presbyterian Church Archives

First Presbyterian’s “Brick Church” was dedicated in March 1827.  With seating for 800, it was the largest church west of the Genesee River.  The church’s bell was referred to as the “town clock bell” and served all of Buffalo as a fire alarm.  When sounding alarm for a fire in 1833, the bell cracked, but was quickly recast and served the church until the church was razed.  The bell was then presented to a church in North Tonawanda.

As the congregation grew, members also moved away from the central part of the City of Buffalo.  At the time of founding, most of the congregation lived near the church, but as the central business district developed, many had moved uptown and found congregations closer to their homes.  The church was at risk of closing.  Many members of the congregation were against moving the church, so the matter had to be taken up with the Presbytery and was taken to court.  The matter was resolved in favor of moving.

First Presbyterian Church today on Symphony Circle

First Presbyterian Church today on Symphony Circle

In 1887, Mrs. Truman Avery, who lived where Kleinhans Music Hall is now located, donated a parcel of land across the circle, at the corner of Wadsworth and Pennsylvania Streets.  In April 1889, the congregation was ordered by the city to sell the property to Erie County Savings Bank to make way for the bank’s new office.  (the bank was located at Shelton Square until the 1970s, when it was demolished for construction of the Main Place Mall).

Sources:

  1. The Catholic Church in the United States of America:  Undertaken to Celebrate the Golden Jubilee of His Holiness, Pope Pius X.  Volume 3.  Catholic Editing Company, New York, 1914.
  2. DeMille, George.  St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo, 1817-1967:  A Brief History.
  3. Rote, David.  30-A Shelton Square.  1994.  accessed through City of Buffalo Website:  https://www.ci.buffalo.ny.us/Home/OurCity/Buffalo_My_City/Buffalo_My_City_Watercolors/30A_Shelton_Square_1994

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