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Archive for February 26th, 2022

A few posts ago, we talked about General Hayes, for whom two streets in Buffalo get their name.  Did you know there’s another General who actually had three streets named after him!?  Unfortunately, two of this General’s streets don’t exist anymore and the third was renamed.  Today, we’re going to talk about Brig. General David Burt, two Burt Avenues and Burt Alley.  

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Approximate Former Location of Burt Ave

Burt Avenue was located between Abby (now Rittling Blvd) and Hopkins Streets near Tifft Street in South Buffalo.  The street appears on maps as early as 1894.  It is unclear if there was ever development on the street.  I was unable to find evidence of development; however, there were some records of sale of properties on Burt Ave.  The street doesn’t appear to ever have been opened, as it’s listed as “not opened” on maps as late as the 1950s.  Burt Ave, along with other streets in this area appear to be paper streets.  Paper streets are streets that only exist on paper, designed for subdivisions that never end up built for whatever reason.  This area of Buffalo was referred to as part of the the Ogden Gore Tract.  The land was originally a part of the Buffalo Creek Reservation.  Between 1838 and 1842, negotiations were in place with the Ogden Company to acquire the Reservation land for white settlement.  The Ogden Company reportedly obtained the land from a Council of Chiefs. The negotiations were later reported to be “a scandalous condition of bribery and corruption, shameful methods of bribery and intoxications seeming to have been used in procuring signatures.”  We’ll discuss this more when we learn about Ogden Street.  Burt Avenue and the streets in this area may have been planned for development, but as South Buffalo developed, other subdivisions were built first and this area never developed the way that was planned.  This area was surrounded by heavy industrial uses.  If anyone lives near here or has family that lived near here, I’d love to know if you know any more about these streets!

burt ave

1894 Atlas of Buffalo map showing Burt Avenue and other streets that were likely never fully developed in this part of South Buffalo.

There was also a Burt Avenue in North Buffalo.  In 1908, the street name was changed to Coburg Street to remove the street duplication of names.  Newspaper reports of the time indicated that there were no houses built on the street at that time, so the name change would not impact anyone.

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1894 Atlas of Buffalo Map showing Burt Alley. Court Street is the bottom of the photo with Burt Alley above it in the center part of the photo.  Also depicted is Buffalo High School on the former Burt property and the Tucker Building built on the site of the Burt Family’s 2nd house.  Source:  Erie County.

 

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Remnants of Burt Alley seen between the Convention Center on the left and the Walbridge Building on the right.  Photo by author.

Burt Alley was located between Pearl and Franklin Streets, north of Court Street.  At times, it was also known as Burt Street.  In 1938, the street name was changed from Burt Alley to Omaha Alley.  The name change was the result of a two-year campaign by the Junior Chamber of Commerce to abolish duplicate and confusing names.  Since the Burt name was also used for Burt Ave, the name was changed.  There were 31 street names change at this time, and oddly, this was not the most street names changed by council in one session!  It took a year for the new street signs to go up due to a funding shortage.  Whether you call it Burt or Omaha, the alley is now covered by the Buffalo Convention Center, a portion of its path can still be seen between the Walbridge Building and the Convention Center from Franklin Street.  

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David Burt. Source: Ancestry.com

David Burt as born in Northampton, Massachusetts in November 1791.  He came to Buffalo in 1815 and opened a general store.  His store was located on the west side of Main Street between Court and Huron opposite the Tifft House

General Burt succeeded General Peter Porter as Brigadier General of the 46th New York State Brigade.  He served on the Village of Buffalo Board of Trustees and was Pension Agent for local veterans of the Revolution and War of 1812. 

In 1825, General Burt accompanied Governor Clinton and other distinguished guests on the inaugural ride on the Seneca Chief to open the Erie Canal.  This event is often referred to as the Wedding of the Waters.  General Burt served in the Assembly from 1827 to 1829.  He served as a Director of the United States Bank, the Commercial Bank and the Buffalo & Niagara Falls Railroad.  

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Burt House on Niagara Square Source: Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo.

General Burt married Harriet Whiting in September 1830.  They had four children – Harriet, Henry, Maria and David Jr.  The Burt family lived in a mansion on Niagara Square that was built in 1832.  Mr. Burt had purchased the lot from Seth Grosvenor for $7,750 (about $251,000 in today’s dollars) in 1832.  The Burts were members of Trinity Church.   Their property was on the triangle of land at Niagara Square bounded by Court, Franklin and Genesee Streets.  It was one of the largest mansions in the city and considered to be among Buffalo’s grandest homes.  Guests at the Burt home included Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams, and the long time Commanding General of the US Army – Winfield Scott.  

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The Destruction of the Caroline by George Tattersall. Source: Wikipedia

During the Patriot’s War in 1837, the Canadian Patriot movement took possession of Navy Island.  Led by William Lyon McKenzie, from the town of York (now Toronto), they declared the island The Republic of Canada.  The population of the island grew from about 25 to over 600 men.    Navy Island is a small island on the Ontario side of the Niagara River near Niagara Falls.  The Ship “The Caroline” belonging to William Wells of Buffalo ran between Buffalo and Slocher (Schlosser) opposite Navy Island.  The Canadians thought the steamer was bringing supplies to the Patriots on Navy Island (which it was).  The Canadians boarded the ship, killed the watchman and set the steamer on fire.  They sent the ship over Niagara Falls.  There was outrage in Buffalo over the actions of the Canadians and a fear of going to War again (the memories of the War of 1812 still in many Buffalonians minds).  General David Burt issued orders to the different militia commanders to mobilize in Buffalo for the defense of the frontier in December of 1837.  About 1200 men mobilized – 300 in Buffalo, 100 at Lower Black Rock, 200 in Upper Black Rock, 200 in Tonawanda and the others in Niagara Falls.  The men were discharged from service after the island was vacated by the Patriots.  

burtgraveGeneral Burt died on August 9, 1848.  He was buried with military honors at Forest Lawn.  After General Burt’s death, his widow sold the house to the City of Buffalo in 1853 for $31,000 (about $1.2 Million in today’s dollars).  The City turned the house into a school, Central High School, which opened on the site in 1854.  This was the early days of public education and the need for public schools was still being debated.  At the time, there were no high schools in Buffalo.  The only higher education that students could receive was through what was called a “Third Department” at two other public schools – School 10 on Delaware Avenue and School 7 on Swan Street.  These Third Departments were established in 1848 and taught arithmetic, algebra, geometry, natural philosophy, chemistry, astronomy, botany, grammar, bookkeeping and English composition.  Eventually the Third Departments grew and the city felt they might need to establish a Central school.  

Central High School was made ready for the 100 students with two teachers.  There were considerable opposition from the press and the public.  In 1858, there was a student rebellion and a petition was circulated to abolish the school.  In 1861, a law was passed which put the school under the supervision of the Board of Regents.  This was the only high school in Buffalo until Masten Park High School opened in 1897.  Central High was the alma mater of both the wife of and the daughter of a US President – Abigail M. Fillmore, daughter of President Millard Fillmore was one of the first students at the school; and Frances Folsom, who later married President Grover Cleveland also attended Central.  Many of the who’s who of Buffalo that have been written about on this blog also attended Central.  One of the most well known teachers at Central was Miss Mary Ripley.  

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Central High School, 1908. Source: Buffalo Times

Two generations of General Burt’s descendants attended school in the old house.  In 1870, a wing was added that fronted on Franklin Street to expand the school.  In 1885, the Burt Mansion portion of the school was demolished and replaced by a new three-story structure connecting to the the Franklin Street wing.   In 1914, the school moved to Elmwood Avenue on land donated by the Hutchinson family and became Hutchinson-Central High School.  When Hutchinson opened, they had 122 teachers and 2500 students, along with 4 other high schools – Buffalo’s high schools had 7000 students in total.  Quite a growth from 2 teachers and 100 students when Central opened!  General Burt’s Great Granddaughter taught at Hutchinson High.  After Hutchinson opened, the Old Central building was still used for education of students, including ninth graders attending school there to accommodate the disruption in schools as the new Masten Park School (rebuilding after a fire) and new Hutchinson school buildings were being organized and the construction of the new South Buffalo high school (South Park High) was being completed. 

After the education purposes moved out, the Old Central property was sold by the City of Buffalo in 1926 to help finance the construction of Buffalo City Hall.   William J. Connors Senior (Fingy Conners) purchased the property in March 1926 for $500,000 (about $7.8 Million in today’s dollars).  Mr. Connors, owner of the Buffalo Courier had just brought the Courier and the Buffalo Express together in a merger and planned to erect an office building on Niagara Square for the newspaper.  The first Courier-Express issue hit newsstands on June 14, 1926.   The Courier-Express ended up selecting at Main and Goodell for their building instead, and the Courier-Express building at 787 Main opened in 1930 (now the Catholic Diocese Offices.)  In August 1927, the State purchased the former High School property on Niagara Square to build the Mahoney Office Building.  

Douglas Jemal’s Douglas Development purchased the property in 2020 for $4.1 Million.  Crazy to think that Mr. Jemal is only the 6th owner of the property since the Holland Land Purchase in 1793! Douglas Development is working on a plan to remodel the building into a boutique hotel.  

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1872 map showing the location of Central School (in the green triangle on the left). The second Burt Mansion is shown on the lower right corner labeled as D. Burt

After selling the Niagara Square house, Mrs. Burt built a house just a few doors down at 37 Court Street, at the corner of Pearl Street.  That’s right, just like the Burts having multiple streets, they also had two mansions!  The house cost $20,000 in 1861(about $633,000 in today’s dollars).  Mrs. Burt’s gardens were noted for their beauty.  Mrs. Burt lived at the home with her son David Jr., daughter Maria, Maria’s husband Edward Reed, and Maria’s three children.  I wasn’t able to find any pictures of this house, but it was said to be a grand mansion.  The Burt family’s neighbor at the corner of Court and Franklin Street was Albert Tracy

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Sketch of the Tucker Building on the site of . Source: Buffalo Express

Harriet Burt died in December 1885.  Following her death, the house was demolished and replaced by the Tucker Building.  There were fewer and fewer residential homes around downtown as it was shifting towards a the Central Business District.  Newspaper reports of the time stated that “The rapid growth of Buffalo and the imperative demand of business caused this apparent sacrilege, and as usual with such demands there has been erected on the same site a finer, more costly and more durable building than the former”.  The Tucker Building was demolished for the construction of the Buffalo Convention Center.  

One of David Burt’s grandsons was Frederick Northrop Burt.  Frederick was well known in Buffalo as the proprietor of F. N. Burt Company, who made boxes and cartons.  The company started in a small shop at 440 Main Street in 1886.  F.N. Burt developed a machine that could make boxes and they became the world’s largest producer of small paper boxes.  Their main headquarters was in a building on Seneca Street until 1959 when they moved to Cheektowaga.  The Seneca Street building is now known as 500 Seneca and was renovated into a mixed-use complex by Savarino Companies in 2016.  F.N. Burt closed their operations in Cheektowaga in 1999 after 113 years.

The next time you drive around Niagara Square, think about the Burt Family and all the students of Buffalo who attended school there over the years.  Want to learn about other streets? Check out the Street Index. Don’t forget to subscribe to the page to be notified when new posts are made. You can do so by entering your email address in the box on the upper right-hand side of the home page. You can also follow the blog on facebook. If you enjoy the blog, please be sure to share it with your friends.

Sources:

  • “Two Thoroughfares Memorials to Soldier – Banker-Merchant” Courier Express November 13, 1938. Found in Buffalo Streets Scrapbook, Vol 2 P. 130.
  • “Street Changes Due”.  Buffalo Evening News.  February 23, 1938, p3.
  • “A Credit to Buffalo:  The Splendid Seven Story Building Erected by Mr. David Tucker”.  Buffalo Express.  March 18, 1888, p12.
  • “Passing of Central as a High School”.  Buffalo Commercial.  July 11, 1914, p 13.
  • “In the Early Days of the Central High School.”  The Buffalo Illustrated Times.  November 29, 1908, p40.
  • “Central High Soon Mere Memory; Board Prepares to Surrender Structure”.  Buffalo Courier.  February 8, 1925, p79.
  • “Halcyon Days of Burt Mansion Are Recalled”.  The Buffalo Exrpess.  March 28, 1826, sec6,p8.
  • “Buffalo Courier-Express.”  Buffalo:  Lake City in Niagara Land.
  • “Tales of Older Buffalo – A Pioneer Buffalo Merchant”.  Buffalo Evening News.  August 15, 1938, p8.
  • Miller, Esther.  “F.N. Burt Co. Closes 100 Workers Lose Jobs at the 113-year-old firm”.  Buffalo New.  October 16, 1999.
  • “Buffalo’s Central High School and the Free School System”.  Buffalo History Gazette.  https://www.buffalohistorygazette.net/2013/01/buffalo-central-high-school-free-school.html
  • Hill, Henry Wayland.  Municipality of Buffalo, New York:  A History, 1720 -1923.  Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1923.  

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