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Archive for April 14th, 2022

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Hamlin Road shown in Red. The former Hamlin Driving Park outlined in Light Blue

Hamlin Road runs between Lonsdale Road and Humboldt Parkway in the Hamlin Park neighborhood of the East Side of Buffalo. The street opened in the early 1920s, running through what used to be the grounds of the Hamlin Driving Park.  The street and neighborhood are named after the Hamlin Family, a prominent family in Buffalo and East Aurora.

cicero hamlinOn November 7, 1819, Cicero Hamlin was born in Hillsdale in Columbia County, New York. His parents were Reverend Jabez and Esther Stow Hamlin. Cicero Hamlin would say that he started his life as a poor child and that his only heritage was “being of sound health and good digestion.” Cicero was the youngest of a family of ten. Cicero came to East Aurora in 1836 and purchased the general store operated by his brother John W. Hamlin. The store was located on Main Street near what is now Hamlin Avenue in East Aurora.

In 1846, Cicero Hamlin moved to Buffalo, where he entered the dry goods business in the firm Wattles and Hamlin at 252 Main Street. Mr. Wattles left the business in 1847, and Mr. Hamlin continued the business alone until 1852. Then, he joined the firm of Mendsen & Company, a wholesale-retail carpet and house furnishing business. The firm was reorganized as Hamlin & Mendsen. In the 1860s, Mr. Hamlin Built the Hamlin Block on Main Street.  He remained in business there until 1871.  In February 1888, the Hamlin Block was destroyed by a fire. A new Hamlin Black was constructed in its place by the end of 1888.

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Cicero Hamlin breaking the world’s team’s record.   Source: Buffalo History Gazette

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Gravestone for Mambrino King, East Aurora. Photo By Stacy Grinsfelder, True Tales from Old Houses

In addition to his real estate interests, in May 1855, Cicero Hamlin established Village Farm in East Aurora. The farm began as 55 acres and expanded to 600 acres by the 1890s. The farm had the reputation of some of America’s best trotting horses. The farm was located at the west end of the Village, fronting on the north side of Main Street. His first horses were Little Belle, Mag Addison, and Hamlin Patchem. At its peak, the Village Farm stabled 748 horses. In 1882, Mr. Hamlin purchased “Mambrino King” for $17,000. The horse was judged the most handsome horse in the world. Many people traveled to East Aurora to visit Mambrino King. In one day, Mambrino King was taken out of his stall to be shown to visitors more than 170 times! Mambrino King was put down on December 5, 1899. He is buried in front of a house on North Willow Street, and the grave marker can be seen from the sidewalk.

The Hamlin farm closed in January 1905. The horse line continued at the Ideal Stock Farm, founded in 1905 by Seymour Knox. Cicero Hamlin donated land to the Village of East Aurora to create Hamlin Park. Hamlin Avenue in East Aurora runs through the property that was once the farm.

Before 1873, there were several attempts to manufacture glucose in the United States, but with little success. Cicero Hamlin developed a process that helped form an entire industry; he founded Buffalo Grape Sugar Company in 1874. Buffalo Grape Sugar Company merged with the American Glucose Company in 1888. The works of the American Glucose Company in Buffalo were the largest in the world. Their brands were well known both in domestic and international markets. The Buffalo plant employed 500 men and processed 10,000 bushels of corn per day to create glucose, syrups, grape sugar, and animal food products. American Glucose Company also had factories in Peoria, Illinois; Leavenworth, Kansas; Iowa City, Iowa; and Tippecanoe City, Ohio. Their headquarters were located at 19-23 West Swan Street in Buffalo.

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Hamlin Driving Park in 1870. Source: Buffalo News

What became the Hamlin Park Neighborhood in Buffalo was still a rural area in 1868 when Cicero Hamlin established his Driving Park at the corner of East Ferry and Humboldt Parkway. The Driving Park was included in Frederick Law Olmsted’s parks plan for Buffalo. The Driving Park quickly became popular and gained international fame. It had a one-half-mile speedway for trotting and pacing races and training stable for 75 horses. Horse-riding was a gentleman’s sport. Many of Buffalo’s important businessmen were officers of the Buffalo Driving Park Association – Chandler J. Wells, Cicero Hamlin, E.R. Buck, J.H. Metcalfe, Myram P Busch, George Gates, Joseph G. Masten, R.L Howard, and Jewett Richmond. Race days were an important occasion in Buffalo. There was a festive atmosphere, many stores declared them holidays, and the trolley offered half-fare travel to the Driving Park. The Belt Line Railroad opening in 1883 eased access to the track, with a station at Fillmore Avenue near Northland. People traveled from across the country to view the races and to race here. There were railroad car sidings to allow for Pullman cars, day coaches, and special freight cars for the horses.

In 1869, Frederick Law Olmsted looked to integrate the Driving Park into his Parks Plan. Mr. Olmsted looked to put an expanded parkway near the entrance of the race course with a circular or elliptical form for a spot to put a fountain, statue, or other monument. This didn’t happen. The Driving Park grew crowds of up to 40,000 people for special events. After the races, many people would go to the nearby Parade House at The Parade park (aka Humboldt Park, now MLK Park).

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1895 Map of Buffalo showing the location of the Driving Park/Fairgrounds. Humboldt Parkway is shown in green to the east of the Driving Park site. The Driving Park Station can be shown at the corner of Fillmore and Northland. Source: Rand, McNally & Co Map of Buffalo.

In 1888, Hamlin sold the Driving Park to a group of 120 stockholders who were looking to start up an International Industrial and Agricultural Exposition in Buffalo at Hamlin Park. The largest investor was Cicero Hamlin himself. They planned to create a permanent fairgrounds, similar to the one in St. Louis. He felt Buffalo was a good location between New York and Chicago for fairs. Other stockholders included – Philip Becker, Jacob Schoellkopf, JJ Albright, Daniel N. Lockwood, D.E. Morgan, George Urban Jr, and Jewett Richmond. They constructed several exhibition buildings, including the largest fair building in the world. The Fair opened on September 4, 1888 to great fanfare. However, long-term attendance did not come. The fair lost money and closed within five years. Public transportation made it hard to get to the Fair. A horsecar up Main Street took about an hour from the downtown railroad depots. Passengers actually had to get out and help push the cars up the Main Street hill from North to Virginia Street!

Trolley service finally came to the Park in 1892.  That year, Mr. Hamlin put $25,000 into the Driving Park. He built a new grandstand modeled after the one in Monmouth Park, New Jersey. In addition, Mr. Hamlin offered free admission for that year for those who would take standing room admission. He felt this was a way to increase interest in the Park and allow “regular” folks to come, in addition to the upper class.

In 1895, a grandstand stairway collapsed, and 20 people were injured. In 1896, a fire swept through the grounds and destroyed the buildings, ending the horse races. In January 1898, Mr. Hamlin announced he would divide the Driving Park grounds into residential lots.  Thus began the development of the Hamlin Park Neighborhood.

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Hamlin House on Franklin Street. Source: Hamlin House Restaurant

Cicero Hamlin married Susan Jane Ford in September 1842. They had three sons – Frank, William and Harry, and two daughters – Anna and Kate. Sadly, Anna died as a newborn and Kate passed at age 3. The Hamlin Family lived in a house they built at 432 Franklin Street. The Hamlin property consisted of the entire corner of Franklin and Edward Street, where 420, 426, 436 and 440 Franklin now stand. The house is a two-story Italian villa, and is still standing today.  Cicero and Susan moved to 1035 Delaware Ave and sold the property in the 1890s.

The Buffalo Orpheus (a German singing society) used the 432 Franklin Street house as its headquarters starting in 1915. In 1920, the American Legion purchased the Hamlin House, and the house is still the clubhouse for Troop 1 Post 665 of the American Legion. Additions were added to the right side of the building and a gym was added to the rear of the building in 1940. The rear portion of the building has been used as the Legion’s auditorium but used to be the family’s stable.  (Note from Angela:  If you’re looking for a good fish fry – Hamlin House is a great place!)

Cicero Hamlin died February 20, 1905, just three weeks after the sale of Village Farm.  He was considered to be one of Buffalo’s oldest and wealthiest citizens when he died.  He is buried in the Hamlin family plot in Forest Lawn Cemetery.  Cicero’s son Harry Hamlin was born in Buffalo on July 17, 1855. Harry worked with his father in the Village Farm and in the American Glucose Company. Harry married Grace Enos in 1878. Harry and Grace lived on North Pearl Street. Harry was killed in an automobile accident on June 3, 1907 at age 52.

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Chauncey J. Hamlin

Grace and Harry had a son named Chauncey Jerome Hamlin, born January 11, 1881. Chauncey attended Miss Hoffman’s School, Heathcote School and Nichols School. Graduating from  Yale in 1903 and from Buffalo Law School in 1905, he was admitted to the bar in February 1909.  Chauncey Hamlin helped to launch the Buffalo Legal Aid Bureau. After serving in WWI, he gave up his active law practice in 1919 to serve the community.

Chauncey married Emily Gray in 1904. The Hamlins lived on West Ferry Street between Delaware and Elmwood Avenues. They had three children – Martha, Mary and Chauncey, Jr.  In 1910, they purchased an estate in Snyder.  The John Schenck House and moved to Snyder.  This estate included the John Schenck House, is a small stone house built in the 1830s on Harlem Road near Main Street.  Between the 1890s and the time the Hamlins purchased it, the house had ceased to be residential.  It was used as oat storage by the farmers who lived on the land.  The house reportedly has a slant due to the weight of the oats.

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Stone House on Harlem Road, Snyder. Source: NYSHPO

The Hamlin Estate included the Schenck House, the main large mansion house (where the family lived), and two other frame houses. They set up a small museum in the old stone house to display the fossils and other natural objects found in the nearby quarries that the Hamlin children would find. They referred to it as the Snyder Museum of Natural History.

In 1922, the Hamlin Estate was sold to the Park School of Buffalo, a private school founded in Buffalo in 1912. When the school moved to Harlem Road, the grounds were described as:

“large barns in prefect repairs, carriage sheds, and a farmhouse. There were great apple orchard, large trees, fields of grain and a tiny brook winding its way down to two enchanting ponds. Best of all, at the entrance of the estate, a very old, stone house banked with lilacs and forsythias, having in it gardens, flowers and herbs which might have been growing there for a century.”

The Hamlin’s home was converted into the main classroom building at Park School, now called Hamlin Hall.

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Hamlin House in Snyder. Now Hamlin Hall at Park School.  Source:  Image of America:  Amherst by Joseph Grande.

Chauncey Hamlin would later say that “the little stone house contributed concretely” in his interest in the Buffalo Museum of Science.  Chauncey Hamlin became President of the Museum of Science in 1920. At the time, the Society of Natural Sciences had no permanent building of its own. Some of its collection was housed in a building near the art gallery at the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Penhurst Place, but the major collections were located in borrowed space in the Buffalo Public Library on Lafayette Square.

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Hamlin Hall at the Buffalo Science Museum. Source: Friend of Author

Chauncey Hamlin led a campaign to raise funds to build a permanent building in Humboldt Park (now MLK Park). The Buffalo Museum of Science opened in January 1929. Mr. Hamlin continued on as President until 1948. He worked with other families to finance the creation of and upkeep of exhibits in the halls of the museum including the Schoellkopf, Lark, Knox, Kellogg, Goodyear and Bennett families. Chauncey Hamlin contributed over $241,277 (about $4 Million in today’s dollars) to the museum funds. He served on the American Association of Museums as President. He helped to found the International Council of Museums in 1948 and headed the organization for the first five years of its existence.

Chauncey Hamlin also served as the first President of the Buffalo City Planning Association. He led the site selection committee for the new City Hall, which selected the west side of Niagara Square for the site of the building.  From 1925 to 1947, he was Chairman of the Niagara Frontier Planning Board. While on the Board, he pushed for construction of the Grand Island Bridges and other parkways in Buffalo. He was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal of the University of Buffalo in 1931 and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Alfred University in 1954.

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Actor Harry Hamlin, Great Great Grandson of Cicero Hamlin.  Source:  @harryrhamlin Instagram

Chauncey died on September 23, 1963 in Carmel, California.   He is buried in Forest Lawn.

Chauncey’s son, Chauncey Hamlin Jr. was born in March 1905. Chauncey Jr’s son, Harry R Hamlin, was born in 1951. You might recognize this Harry Hamlin as an actor. Harry was People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 1987.  (Disclaimer:  I am watching Harry in my favorite tv show, Veronica Mars, as I write this.)  Harry is the Great Great Grandson of Cicero Hamlin who the street and neighborhood are named after!

So the next time you drive through Hamlin Park in Buffalo, go to Hamlin Park in East Aurora, stop at the Science Museum, or watch a moving starring Harry Hamlin, think of the Hamlin family.  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:

  • Askew, Alice.  “Racing Day Marks Era of the Horse.”
  • Keller, Ed.  “Cicero J. Hamlin Village Farm Among Trotting’s Greatest.”  The Harness Horse.  P 50.
  • “Village Farm.”  Pictorial and Historical Review East Aurora and Vicinity.  1940.
  • Fink, Margaret Reid, editor.  “Chauncey Jerome Hamlin”.  Science on the March.  Volume 44, No 2.  December 1963, p1.
  • NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.  Building Structure Inventory Form.  The John Schenck House.
  • “C.J. Hamlin Dead”.  The Buffalo Commercial.  February 20, 1905.  p11.
  • Kwiatkowski, Jane and Paula Voell.  “Buffalo’ 20th Century Club: The Far-Sighted Men and Women Who Shaped Our Past and Set a Course for the Future”.  Buffalo News.  November 28, 1999.

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