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Archive for November, 2022

fosdick

Map showing Fosdick Avenue in Red

Fosdick Ave is a short, one-block, one-way street between North Street and Best Street.  The street is adjacent to City Honors High School, the former Fosdick-Masten Park High School.  Fosdick Ave is a relatively new street, especially for this part of the City of Buffalo.  The street was created in 1977.  Fosdick Ave is named for Frank Fosdick, principal of Masten Park High.  The street is referred to as Fosdick Avenue in many newspaper articles, city documents, and on Google maps, so I will refer to it as Fosdick Ave, however, the street signs do say Fosdick Street.

The Fosdick family has been in America since the 1600.  They have been in Western New York since 1819 when Solomon Fosdick, his wife Anna, and their nine children traveled across New York State in a covered wagon to settle here.  They stopped in Buffalo, which was still rebuilding after the Burning of Buffalo, and then headed to the Boston Valley twenty-two miles southeast of Buffalo.  Boston at the time was a tiny settlement on the banks of 18-Mile Creek, with about two dozen families.  Solomon was a carpenter and was involved in building many buildings in early Boston.

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John Fosdick, Frank Fosdick’s Father

Solomon and Anna’s eight child was John Spencer Fosdick.  He was two years old when the family traveled to WNY.  John attended school in the schoolhouse in Boston and then attended Springville Academy (now Griffith’s Institute) and then the Boston Academy when it opened in 1834.  The school year at the time was only 3 to 4 months of the year, so John worked with his dad on carpentry and building projects when he wasn’t in school.  Solomon and John built the Presbyterian Church in Boston in 1837.  The church is still standing and is now the Boston Historical Society Museum.  In 1836, John became a teacher at the Common School in Hamburg.  John continued in the carpentry business during non-school months.  In 1841, John married Eunice Andrews and they moved to Randolph, NY, where he taught in the school there.  A son, Charles, was born in 1842.  A year later, Eunice died suddenly in September 1843.  Her death prompted him to move to Buffalo.  In fall 1843, he was appointed a principal of the Grammar Schools in Buffalo.  He worked within the Buffalo Public Schools for the next 26 years and was known around town as “one of the great teachers of his generation”.  In 1845, he married Mary Blain, daughter of Reverend Jacob Blain, minister of the Dearborn Street Baptist Church in Buffalo.  Mary was also a teacher with the Buffalo Public Schools.

John Fosdick was later Superintendent of Education for Buffalo from 1866-1867.  While he was superintendent, he instituted qualifying exams for teachers, which was a revolutionary idea at the time.  He decided that high standards in teacher were going to be enforced and maintained in all of the Buffalo Schools.  John and Mary moved to Westfield in Chautauqua County in 1869 and John Fosdick worked at the Westfield Academy for 9 years and served on the Westfield Board of Education for 3 years.

John was a member of the Free Soil Party, which was for free soil, free speech, free labor, and free men.  John reportedly served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and helped bring runaway slaves across the Niagara River into Canada.  The Fosdick home at 677 Ellicott Street, the SE corner of Virginia Street, was a place where slaves would come to be taken across the river.   Unfortunately, the house was demolished during Urban Renewal of the Oak Street neighborhood.

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Frank Fosdick. Source: Buffaloah.com 

Frank Fosdick was born March 11, 1851 in Buffalo to John and Mary Fosdick.  Frank attended School 14 (Franklin Street School, between Edward and Tupper), where his father was principal and his mother was a teacher.  Mr. Fosdick attended Central High School and then received a Bachelor of Arts from University of Rochester in 1872.  After graduating from U of R, he became a teacher at Buffalo Classical School (sometimes called Dr. Briggs School).  In 1873, he was appointed principal of School  No. 25 (Lewis Street School, near William).  He also served in School No. 33 (East Elk Street School, near Smith) and No. 36 (Day’s Park) before becoming an instructor of Greek and Latin in Central High School (in the Burt Mansion on Niagara Square) in 1884.  He became head of the Classical Language Department in 1891.  In 1891 he was also made Principal of the High School Annex and later of the High School Annexes.  The Annexes were added to provide overflow space for students while new schools were being constructed.  The only high school in Buffalo was Central High School.  The High School Annex opened in 1891 at the corner of Clinton and Ellicott Streets, in the former Clergy House.  Buffalo was growing and did not have adequate school facilities to meet its growing needs.  In 1894, there were 798 high school students at Central High School, 400 in the Annex on Clinton Street and 400 throughout the additional High School Annexes located at schools in different parts of the city.  Students were turned away because schools was at capacity.

The City looked to built an East Side High School to be Buffalo’s second official high school.  The City first began looking at sites for a new high school around 1890.  They looked at multiple sites, mainly in the Fruit Belt and North Oak neighborhoods.  One of the sites proposed for a new school was Masten Place, a small park built by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1887.  Masten Place is named for Judge Masten, an early Mayor of Buffalo.

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1872 Atlas Map depicting the cemeteries between North and Best Streets. The Private Cemetery to the east – current site of the Masten Armory – and the Potters Field to the west – current site of City Honors. Note the small sliver of land that looks like a street west of the Potters Field, this is labeled as property owned by Day & Stevenson, it does not depict the location of Fosdick Ave, which lines up more closely with the end of Maple Street, just to the right of the larger number 7 on the map.

Masten Place had been built on the site of a former Potter’s Field for the City of Buffalo. The cemetery had been created around 1832 to house residents of Buffalo who died from a cholera epidemic.  Five acres of land was set aside for cemetery purposes, with the western portion of it for Roman Catholic burials.  About a year later, General Sylvester Mathews and Birdseye Wilcox purchased another 12 acres for additional cemetery purposes.  This second cemetery was often referred to as the “East North Street Cemetery”.  The Potters Field was used until Masten Place was constructed and bodies were moved to Forest Lawn Cemetery.  The Private Cemetery was used until 1901 when the Masten Street Armory was built.  Bodies  from both cemeteries were reinterred in Forest Lawn.  During construction of the high school building, as well as during more recent renovation activities, additional bodies were located at the site.  It was difficult to know where all of the bodies were buried on the site.  Because the Potters Field was used for indigents and unknowns, there weren’t always good records of where the burials were located.  In 2012, recognizing that other human remains still are on site, a stone monument was placed to recognize the site’s earlier use as a cemetery.

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Olmsted’s “Plan for Potter’s Field” which became Masten Park. Source: National Parks Service.

The cemetery site was regraded to make it appropriate for park purposes.  It is located at one of the highest points in Buffalo and the land has a significant slope towards Best and Michigan Streets, which made it hard to maintain the turf of the park.  Olmsted’s plan for Masten Place included winding diagonal walkways crossing the park from each corner, with an open turf playground in the center.  A small shelter house provided toilet facilities and tool storage.  Thick plantings were planted on each side to screen the park from the hustle and bustle of the city.

When the site was suggested for a school, the Board of Parks Commissioners wanted to keep the site a park, so there was a lot of back and forth regarding the school site.  The Parks Commissioners went on record as being opposed, as was reported in the Buffalo Commercial:

“We protest most earnestly against any scheme to take possession of this or any other park property for any purpose. As a precedent alone such action may lead eventually to other encroachments of a most harmful character. It is especially important that every minor place in the heart of the city should be preserved intact. If the present generation is indifferent the next will feel keenly the evil results…”

Eerie words to read when you consider that it just took two generations after Masten Place was lost to turn Humboldt Parkway into the Kensington Expressway, creating detrimental impacts for the neighborhoods of the East Side.

Different school designs were considered to try to build the school and keep the park, such as putting the school on the very edge of the park and leaving the rest parkland.  The Parks Commissioners opposed the idea.  They said that if a portion of the site be used for the school, the whole property should be used and asked to be relieved of the property entirely rather than settle for a lesser park.

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Historic Postcard View of the Original Masten Park High School

The school ended up being built upon Masten Place.  The school was constructed by ME. Beebe & Sons at a cost of $240,000(about $8.5 Million today) between 1895 and 1896.  Masten Park High School opened in 1897 to meet the needs of the growing East Side.  Its opening made Buffalo the second city in New York State to have more than one high school (the first being NYC).  Mr. Fosdick was principal of Masten Park High School from its founding until June 1926, for 29 years.  Students affectionally called him Pop Fosdick.  In 1884, he was awarded a Master of Arts degree by the University of Rochester and in 1903 was awarded the same by Princeton.

In 1912, Masten Park High School was destroyed by a 3-alarm fire.  The fire started in an attic on the fourth floor.  The fire was discovered around 12:50pm.  As the students left the building, several were hit by falling bricks.  Principal Fosdick heroically remained in the building until he was sure that all students were out.  After walking out of the building, he then went back into the building with several students to assist in retrieving school records.  When the records were safe, Mr. Fosdick entered the building again to take a final look to make sure no students had been overlooked.  He was injured by flying timbers when the roof and walls collapsed as he was trying to ensure that all students were safe.  Principal Fosdick was taken to his home to recuperate from his injuries.  By 2pm the school was a compete loss.  All students were accounted for with only minor injuries.  The students finished the term doing afternoon classes at Lafayette High School.

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Postcard view of the 1914 building for Masten High School. Note the central tower, which no longer exists.

Between 1912-1914, a new building was built for Masten Park High School.  The building opened on September 8, 1914.  The Board of Education was able to build a school quickly by using the plans for Lafayette High School, which was fairly new at the time (opened in 1901).  The exterior surfaces and the shape of the towers are different, but the general layout of the schools are the same.  The new building cost $500,000(about $15 Million in today’s dollars).  The new Masten Park High opened at the same time as Hutchinson High School and Technical High School, providing education opportunities for students throughout the City of Buffalo.  South Park High School was under construction and opened a year later.  Buffalo went from having two high schools when Masten Park first opened to having five High Schools in less than 20 years!

In June 1921, Mr. Fosdick was awarded a degree of Doctor of Laws by University of Rochester.  On his 75th Birthday in 1926, Dr. Fosdick was publicly honored by the City of Buffalo and the school alumni at the Hotel Statler.  They presented “Pop” with a diploma for “29 years of faithful service” to signify his graduation into retirement.  More than 1500 alumni attended the dinner, along with many prominent educators from Buffalo and across the country.  The alumni raised funds to create a scholarship fund to send one male and one female student to college each year.   Dr. Fosdick’s son gave a speech where he calculated that Dr. Fosdick attended 1080 faculty meetings, ate 16,200 school lunches, and listened to 827,640 irate parents – and joked that it was amazing he was still alive at 75 after doing those things!  News of his honor was reported in newspapers across the country.  In October 1926, the University of the Sate of New York conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Letters in tribute to his more than 50 years service as a teacher.

Dr. Fosdick had married Amie Weaver of Westfield in August 1873.  They had four children – twins Edith Wellington and Raymond Blaine; Ethel Dunning Fosdick, and Harry Emerson.  Ethel died at just four months old.  Amie died in 1904.  Mr. Fosdick married his second wife, Mrytilla Constantine on March 18 1907.  Frank and Myrtilla had a daughter, Ruth Sheldon.  The Fosdick Children went on to be successful:

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Raymond B. Fosdick. Source: Wikipedia

Son Raymond Blaine Fosdick went to Princeton and New York Law School.  He was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to be the top representative to the League of Nations after WWI.  He resigned from that position when he was made President of the Rockefeller Foundation, a position he held for 13 years.  Raymond’s proudest achievement at the Rockefeller Foundation was the development of the yellow fever vaccine.  Raymond authored 14 books, including The Story of the Rockefeller Foundation, published in 1952 and a biography titled John D. Rockefeller, A Portrait, published in 1956.  Raymond married Winifred Finley in 1910.  Sadly, Winifred suffered from mental illness and ended up committing suicide and killing her and Raymond’s two children, ages 15 and 9.

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Harry Fosdick on the cover of Time Magazine in 1930 Source: Wikipedia

Son Harry Emerson Fosdick attended Colgate University and Union Theological Seminary.  Harry was named after his father’s friend Harry Emerson.  Mr. Emerson and Frank Fosdick met in college and spent long careers in Buffalo Public Schools.  They promised to name their children after each other.  Mr. Emerson didn’t have any children, but Frank kept his promise and named Harry after his friend.  Harry Fosdick was founder and Pastor Emeritus of Riverside Church in New York City.  Several of his sermons were widely recognized and printed in publications and books.  From the beginning, Harry Fosdick ensured that Riverside Church was interracial, interdenominational and international.  Riverside Church is still known today for its liberal theology and social justice programs.  Harry Fosdick authored more than 25 books.  Reverend Fosdick’s sermons are considered to be an influence on Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who called Fosdick “the greatest preacher of this century”.

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Edith Fosdick’s Vassar Yearbook Photo from 1906

Daughter Edith Wellington Fosdick attended Vassar College.  After graduation, she did settlement work in Buffalo at the Neighborhood House and in New York City.  She worked with the YMCA in France during WWI.  She also worked with the State Charities Aid Association.  She devoted her life to overseas teaching and taught at Kobe College in Japan, in Ginling College in China, the American College in Athens, and in Istanbul.  She retired in 1943 and lived at Butler Hall, Columbia University.

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The cover of Ruth Fosdick’s book, Escape to Freedom, about the Underground Railroad in Buffalo

Daughter Ruth Fosdick attended Mt Holyoke College and taught at the Elmwood School in Buffalo before moving to New York City and then Maine.  She wrote children’s books, including “The Boy of the Pyramids” which won the Jack & Jill Award for best manuscript in 1950.  Her book “Escape to Freedom”, published in 1956 is a story about the underground railroad in Buffalo, inspired by the stories of her grandfather John that were told to her by her father Frank.

In 1880, the Fosdick Family lived at 490 North Division Street in the Ellicott Neighborhood with a 22 year old German servant named Carrie.  In 1900, the family lived at 300 Baynes Street on the West Side with a 31 year old English servant named Mary Ann Folsom.  In 1900, they were at the same address but no longer had a servant;  Mrs. Fosdick’s mother had moved in with the family.  By 1920, the family and mother-in-law had moved to 114 Crescent Avenue in the Parkside Neighborhood.

Frank Fosdick was a Mason, member of the Washington Lodge and Adytum Chapter, a member of the Royal Arcanum, the University Club, Independent Club and other various societies.  He was the only person in Buffalo at the time to be a member of the American Philological Association.  He was a member of the National Education Association, the State Teacher’s Association and the Buffalo Principals’ Association.

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Modern View of Fosdick Masten High School (City Honors). Note the lack of central tower compared to earlier image.

Dr. Frank Fosdick passed away on February 26, 1927 at the home of his son, Raymond Fosdick in Montclair, N.J.  The flags in Buffalo were hung at half mast following his death.  He is buried in Westfield near his parents and his first wife.  After his retirement and death, the faculty petitioned to have the Masten Park High School named in Frank Fosdick’s honor.  The resolution to change the name was passed by the School Board in March 1927.  The School was named Frank S. Fosdick High School, but later that year, the name was changed again to Fosdick-Masten Park High School.  The central tower of the school started to crumble and was taken down in 1927.  Students remarked that the very building itself was mourning Principal Fosdick’s death when the tower was removed.

In 1953, Fosdick-Masten became home to the Girl’s Vocational Program and was officially named Fosdick-Masten Vocational High School.  They offered classes in business, foods, clothing, beauty culture and practical nursing.   The Girl’s Vocational school operated at the site until 1979 when the program was discontinued.

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Woodson Gardens. Source:  University at Buffalo

In April 1968, Buffalo Urban Redevelopment Agency (BURA) purchased 39 parcels along Michigan Avenue between North and Best and tore down 29 buildings.  The Board of Education released some of the open space from Fosdick-Masten High School to BURA to build new apartments.  Fosdick Ave was built in 1977 to serve the new apartments, which were called Woodson Gardens.  The apartments were named in tribute to Albert L. Woodson, former chairman of Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.  Woodson Gardens consisted of 160 units of townhouses and garden-style apartments.  At the time, the school was planning to move to Main and Delevan when their new school building was built.  This never happened and Fosdick-Masten graduated its last class in 1979.  The school became a warehouse and the interior was stripped, preparing to be demolished.  The alumni of Fosdick -Masten protested and the building was declared an Erie County Landmark and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The demolition never happened. In 1980, the school became home to City Honors School, officially known as City Honors School at Fosdick Masten Park.

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Plan for Fosdick Field. Source: https://restoreourfield.org/

Beginning around 2006, City Honors school officials began looking into purchasing the Woodson Gardens property.  The apartments were planned for demolitions as leases expired.  The Fosdick Field Restoration Project began to look to restore the open space in front of the school, for use as athletics fields for the school.  In 2013, the Woodson Garden apartments were demolished, restoring the open space around City Honors high school once more.  Ownership of the former Woodson Gardens Space was transferred to Buffalo Public Schools.  The school’s property now extends all the way to Michigan Street, which is larger than the property extended when the school was first built, as there were buildings along Michigan Avenue when Masten Place was first built.  Here are some images showing the property over the years:

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1894 City Atlas showing Masten Place.  Note the buildings along Michigan Avenue.

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1926 Sanborn Map showing the school, the field and the buildings along Michigan Avenue

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1944 image of Fosdick Field. Source: restoreourfield.org

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2002 Aerial Photo showing the Woodson Gardens apartments between Fosdick Ave and Michigan Ave

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Aerial Photograph from 2014 showing the current configuration of the site – note the addition on the northern side of the school (along Best Street) and the open field between Michigan and Fosdick Aves.

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View of Fosdick Ave from the corner of Best (note the street sign says St not Ave)

The City of Buffalo is looking into the removal of Fosdick Avenue to connect the field, which is being called “Fosdick Field”, to the remove the barrier between the two parts of the City Honors campus.  The restored field would include a small regulation FIFA field to be used for recess, physical education and athletics.  In addition to the regulation field, it would include pedestrian pathways, landscaping, seating, off-street parking and a tunnel.  The City has completed a traffic study.  The road is currently blocked off to traffic.  After 45 years, Fosdick Ave may be a relic of the past.

So the next time you are near City Honors, think of the Fosdick Family –  of the fugitive slaves who may have passed through our city led by John Fosdick, the people saved because of the yellow fever vaccine, the souls who were uplifted by Reverend Fosdick’s words, and the countless number of other students influenced by Pop Fosdick in his 50 years in the Buffalo Public Schools!

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:

  • “Name of Masten Park High Changed to ‘Frank S. Fosdick’.”  Buffalo News.  March 1, 1927, p1.
  • “Dr. F. S. Fosdick, Former Masten Principal, Dies”.  Buffalo Evening News.  February 28, 1827, p3.
  • “Masten Park High Destroyed by Fire”.  Buffalo News.  March 27, 1912, p1.
  • “Students Sing Alma Mater Over the Ruins”.  Buffalo News.  March 28, 1912, p16.
  • “Is it Feasable:  A Schoolhouse Site May be Proposed by the Mayor”.  Buffalo Morning Express. March 30, 1890, p15.
  • “High School on High Street”.  Buffalo Enquirer.  December 31, 1891, p5.
  • Fodick, Raymond B.  Annals of the Fosdick Family.  The American Historical Company:  New York, 1953.
  • “More Teachers Needed”. Buffalo Sunday Morning News.  September 30, 1894, p2.
  • “1500 Masten Park Alumni See ‘Pop’ Fosdick Graduated at 75”.  Buffalo News.  March 13, 1926, p26.
  • “William, Diedre”.  City Honors Campaigns for Restoration of Its Athletic Field”.  Buffalo News.  October 8, 2013, p21.
  • “Authority Names Projects to Honor Commissioners”.  Buffalo News.  September 29, 1982, p25.
  • “Masten Park”.  The Buffalo Commercial.  January 22, 1895, p5.
  • “Olmsted in Buffalo:  Masten Place”.  https://www.olmstedinbuffalo.com/masten-place/  (accessed November 2022)
  • LaChiusa, C.  “From Masten Park High School to City Honors:  The Story of a School Site”.  https://buffaloah.com/a/north/186/hist/tc.htm (accessed November 2022)

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Map of Pooley Place and Cordage Alley

Today we’re going to talk about two streets in the Grant-Forest Neighborhood of the West Side – Cordage Alley and Pooley Place. Pooley Place runs between Grant Street and Dewitt Street. Cordage Alley, also known as Cordage Lane or Cordage Place, is a small little alley that runs for one block between Pooley Place and Bird Avenue. It used to be the “center of one of Buffalo’s greatest industries”, the Pooley & Butterfield rope factory. Historically, this area was a part of Black Rock and was known as Upper Black Rock, with Lower Black Rock on the other side of Scajaquada Creek.  It was called “upper” because it was upriver of the Lower Black Rock as the Niagara River flows south to north.

George Pooley was a well-known resident of Black Rock. He was born in 1816 in Suffolk, England to Edward Pooley and Maria Smith Pooley. The family came to America around 1824 and settled in Wayne County, New York. In 1843, he married Mary Ann Clinton, who was born in Black Rock in 1821. They lived in Palmyra, NY and had two children – Maria Smith and Mary Clinton – and then moved to Buffalo in the late 1840s and had two more children – George Clinton, and a daughter who died before being named. Mary Ann Pooley died in May 1853 and was buried in Palmyra with her baby daughter.

162 BirdMr. Pooley got remarried a year later, in 1854, to Cornelia Pooley. George and Cornelia had four children – Mary Hubbard, Cornelia, Katie, Edward, and Harriet  Of Mr. Pooley’s nine children, only three lived to adulthood – Maria Smith Pooley, Harriet Pooley and George Clinton Pooley (we’ll call him George Jr). The Bird family lived at 162 Bird Avenue.

After coming to Buffalo, he created a rope-walk business as Pooley & Butterfield. His partner Martin Butterfield was a resident of Palmyra, New York. The rope-walk was an old fashioned industry. The workers were called rope-walkers.  Ship’s rope is made of a number of strands, typically three. The strands in turn are made of several threads, which makes a hawser. Three hawsers are twined together to form a cable. Ship’s rope was made from hemp, typically Manilla hemp from the Philippine Islands. Loose hemp fibers were brought into a shed where a man attacked them with a hacker, a gigantic curry-comb with teeth about the size of a ten-penny spike.  Oiling a handful of the hemp, the hemp was run through the comb again and again until all the strands face the same way, binding it into other strands.  Then the strands went to the rope-walker.  The rope-walker would walk through a long, open shed.  The shed was 16 feet wide and 1000 feet long, almost the length of Pooley Place.  The shed didn’t have sides, just a roof.  The rope-walker, who wore a long leather apron, would take a number of strands from the comb-man, wrap them tightly around his waist under his apron and hitch the end to a wheel at one end of the shed.  An assistant would turn the wheel, which was fitted with hooks to twist the loose stands together.  The rope walker, walking rapidly backwards, fed the room from under his apron until he reached the shed, clipped off the remaining strand and began again, walking back and forth..  To keep things uniform in strength and thickness, the rope-walker would have to go the same pace as the wheel-man.  The rope-walkers would make the strands into hawsers and the hawsers into cables.  Dozens of them would work at a time at the rope-walk.  At it’s height, the business employed 40 men who worked to put out about 3 tons of rope a day.

Rope Walk 1872 Atlas

1872 Atlas of Buffalo showing the rope walk on Pooley Place. Note the property of Geo, Pooley along Cordage Alley south of Pooley Place (near the number 153 on the map). Mr. Pooley’s house is shown along Bird Avenue on his property.

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Ad for Pooley & Butterfield from the 1858 Buffalo City Directory

Shipbuilders from all over the Great Lakes and even some that sailed on the ocean came to Cordage Place to buy their cordage.  This included ropes to hoist the sails of their schooners, ropes to hold anchors (before the days of chain cable) and ropes for all of the other thousands of uses for ropes on a sailing ship.  The ropes for all of the Great Lakes were supplied on Cordage Place, it was before Detroit, Chicago or Cleveland grew, so Buffalo provided the majority of supplies and materials for lake shipping.  The thousands of ships on the Lake would get their cordage in Buffalo.  This was not the only rope-walk in Buffalo, there were many, including one not far from Pooley, owned by Mr. Francis Wardell on Thirteenth Street between Massachusetts and Hampshire Aves.  Mr. Pooley’s rope walk was one of the largest.

Rope Walks were very much a part of life in the middle of the 19th Century.  Well-known American Poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote a poem about it.  Longfellow is best known for poems such as Paul Revere’s Ride and the Song of Hiawatha.  His poem titled The Rope Walk, which was published in the Buffalo Morning Express on November 2, 1855:

In that building long and low,
With its windows all a row,
Like the port-holes of a hulk,
Human spiders spin and spin,
Backward down their threads so thin,
Dropping, each, a hempen bulk.

At the end an open door;
Squares of sunshine on the floor
light the long and dusky lane;
And the whirling of a wheel,
Dull and drowsy, makes me feel
all its spokes are in my brain.

And the spinners to the end
Downward go and re-ascend,
Gleam the long threads in the sun;
While within this brain of mine
Cobwebs brighter and more fine
By the busy wheel are spun.

Two fair maidens in a swing,
Like white doves upon the wing,
First before my vision pass;
Laughing, as their gentle hands
Closely clasp the twisted strands,
At their shadow on the grass.

Then a booth of mountebanks,
With its smell of tan and planks,
And a girl poised high in air
On a cord, in  a spangled dress,
With a faded loveliness
And a weary look of care.

Then a homestead among farms,
And a woman with bare arms,
Drawing water from a well;
As the bucket mounts space,
With it mounts her own fair face,
As at some magician’s spell.

Then an old man in a tower
Ringing loud the noontide hour,
While the rope coils round and round
Like a serpent, at its feet,
And again in swift retreat
Almost lifts him from the ground.

Then within a prison-yard,
Faces fixed, and stern, and hard,
Laughter and indecent mirth;
Ah! It is the gallows-tree!
Breath of Christian charity,
Blow, and sweep it from the earth!

Then a schoolboy, with his kid,
Gleaming in a sky of light;
And an eager, upward look;
Steeds pursued through lane and field;
Fowlers with their snares concealed,
And an angler by a book.

Ships rejoicing in the breeze,
Wrecks that float o’er unknown seas,
Anchors dragged through faithless sand;
Sea-fog drifting overhead,
And with lessening line and lead
Sailors feeling for the land.

All these senses do I behold,
These and many left untold,
In that building long and low;
While the wheels go round and round
With a drowsy, dreamy sound,
And the spinners backward go.

Pooley Place was opened in honor of George Pooley after several citizens, including G. Dewitt Clinton, petitioned to put a street there in 1866.  Pooley and Butterfield became George Pooley & Son after George Clinton Pooley entered the business.

Eventually, ships started to use wire cables, making the rope unnecessary and the rope-walkers fell to the wayside.  The name of Cordage Alley is one of the few reminders of the major shipbuilding that happened here in Buffalo.

George Pooley & Son Rope-Walk closed in 1888 and was absorbed by a larger trust – The National Cordage Company.  The National Cordage Company was a trust and owned nearly all of the cordage buyers and distributers in the country at the time.  Due to the trust, Pooley & Son wasn’t able to purchase hemp and therefore could not operate their role-walk.  They were offered stock in the company in return for keeping their works idle.  Mr. Pooley fought to keep his works in operation, as many of his employees had been with the firm for 10 to 20 years.  But he was unsuccessful.  The American Cordage Company absorbed the National Cordage Company in 1892.  American Cordage sold off the machinery, which hadn’t been used in several years, and ended up selling the land back to the Pooley family.  The Pooleys sold their stock when it was high.  They ended up making money in the deal and also still owned their land.

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1894 Atlas of Buffalo showing how most of the ropewalk property was now developed with houses.

Mr. Pooley had built tenant cottages along Forest Avenue and three large houses on West Avenue to house their workers.  Around 1891, they began building houses on Pooley Place. Mr. Pooley was well known in Black Rock.  He was a member of Grace Church and served as Chairman of the Black Rock Business Men.

The building at 92 Pooley Place, formerly George Pooley & Sons rope-walk, was converted into a laundry used by the Buffalo Steam Laundry.  The building caught fire on February  10, 1895 around 7:30pm from an overheated drying-room.  Fireman battled the blaze for two hours, but the building was a complete loss.

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Mr. Pooley’s grave in Forest Lawn

George Pooley died on February 8, 1898. He had been suffering from cancer for several years and had surgery to remove his arm at the shoulder in January.  He had recovered well from the surgery and was hoping to return to a regular life shortly after, when he became ill and died from kidney disease.  Mr. Pooley is buried in a family plot in Forest Lawn Cemetery.  When he died, he was almost 83 years old and was the oldest voter in the 24th ward.  It took two years to settle the estate through Surrogate Court.  Daughter Maria had to petition for her fair share of the estate.  The will was contested as it was believed to have been procured through coercion from son George Jr and George Jr’s wife Margaret.  Maria also alleged that her father was not of sound mind when the will was executed.  Interestingly, Maria’s name was also left out of some of the obituaries published in the newspapers, but her name was included in others.  During the trial, it came out that part of the will had been written by Henry Perrine, one of the executors of the estate, and not by Mr. Pooley himself.  The will did not make provisions for the division of the real estate, other than leaving the family home to his widow Cornelia.  The estate involved about $140,000 (about $4.6 Million in today’s dollars) in personal property and real estate.  The real estate was worth about $78,000 ($2.6 Million today) and was all rented out, and brought in about $3,000 to $4,000 ($98,000 – $131,000 today) in income each year.  The Pooley Home at 162 Bird, which was left to Mr. Pooley’s widow, Cornelia, was valued at $1,000 ($32,000 today).  The personal property estate was divided as follows – to Cornelia, widow, $30,000 set in a trust; to George C Pooley, son, $20,000; to Margaret Pooley, his wife, $10,000; to Maria Vosburg, daughter, $10,000; to Harriet E Manning, daughter, $20,000 to George Manning, grandson, $15,000.  The remainder was divided among grandchildren, nieces and nephews.  Maria was looking for the court to allow the sale of the real estate to pay off legacies.  The court held that it would be foolish to dispose of the remainder of the real estate at the time and divided the real estate between the three children – George, Maria and Harriet.  Deeds to the real estate were transferred to the respective heirs in July 1900.

By 1900, most remnants of the rope-walk were gone, and the property was fully developed with houses. In addition to George’s own house on Bird Avenue, several other houses built by George Pooley are still standing on Forest, Pooley Place and Bird.  The Grant Ferry Neighborhood Intensive Level Historic Resource Survey completed for the City of Buffalo lists the following houses as built by George Pooley – 162 Bird Ave, 172 Bird Ave, 201 Forest, 203 Forest, and 90 Pooley.  There may additional properties as well.

The next time you pass Pooley Place or Cordage Alley, think about all the rope that once was made in Buffalo!  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:

  • “Made Money in Cordage”.  Buffalo Weekly Express. May 11, 1983, p5.
  • “Overheated Drying Room”.  Buffalo Morning Express. February 10, 1895, p14.
  • “The Rope-Walk”.  Buffalo Morning Express.  November 2, 1855, p 4.
  • Holloway, Hubert.  “Notes and Quotes”.  Buffalo News.  February 13, 1958, p25.
  • “All Around Town.”  Buffalo Courier.  March 10, 1982, p5.
  • “A Hemp Trust”.  Buffalo Sunday Truth.  February 26, 1888, p 8.
  • “City and Suburbs:  Black Rock”.  Buffalo Times.  February 4, 1887, p4.
  • “Death of George Pooley”.  Buffalo News.  February 9, 1898, p1.
  • “Coercion Alleged”.  Buffalo Times.  February 17, 1899, p5.
  • “Pooley Estate Settled”.  Buffalo Morning Express.  April 27, 1900, p6.
  • “Pooley Will Under Dispute”.  Buffalo Enquirer.  October 20, 1899, p1.
  • “Pooley Will Case Settled.”  Buffalo Times.  March 12, 1900, p4.
  • “George Pooley Will Decision”.  Buffalo News.  March 12, 1900, p9.
  • “Deeds Filed.”  Buffalo Review.  July 25, 1900, p6.
  • “Ghosts of Old-Time Rope-Walkers Inhabit Cordage Place, Erstwhile Center of Vessel-hawser Industry”.  Buffalo Courier.  November 8, 1925, p63.

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Screenshot (8)Connelly Avenue runs one block between Bailey Avenue and Olympic Avenue in the Kenfield neighborhood on the East Side of Buffalo.  The street is named after John Connelly, from Connelly Brothers Ship Chandlers, a waterfront business in Buffalo for more than a century!

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Portrait of John Connelly. Source: Jennifer Connelly

John Connelly was born in Ireland around 1852.  His father, Michael Connelly as a sailor who visited nearly every port in the world.  On one trip Michael Connelly traveled to the Great Lakes.  He was impressed with Buffalo, which he called “a city of promises”.  In the 1860s, Michael’s two oldest sons, Michael and James sailed to America and came to Buffalo.  In 1866, they brought their brother, John, to the country.  John was about 14 years old and had already been working in the rolling mills in Wales for 50 cents a week since he was 10 years old.  He was excited to come to America, to get away from the cold, hunger and poverty of the old country.  

John and his brothers worked hard to establish a ship chandlery business for themselves here in Buffalo.  Connelly Brothers Ship Chandlers was established in 1870.  Brother James tragically died in 1872, drowning at the foot of Illinois Street. To start their business, John and Michael would take their rowboat to Tonawanda, load it with lumber and tow it to Buffalo, pulling the tugboat from the towpath the horses used along the canal.  It was noted that even as he got older and was successful and could work less, John would still get up early, get dressed, read the newspaper by gas light and get to work right at sunrise.  The ship company was located at the southwest corner of Ohio and Michigan Streets, at a site selected by John Connelly.  They built some of the first steamers built for shipping lumber on the Great Lakes.  In 1896, they built the last steamer that was built to ship lumber on the Lakes.  

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View of the Buffalo River, between 1900 and 1910. Note Connelly Brothers, the small building in the foreground to the left of the bridge abutment. Source: Library of Congress. Click here to see larger image.


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Mary Connelly. Source: Jennifer Connelly

John Connelly met Mary Sullivan on a trip along the Erie Canal. She was from Ireland and was visiting friends in Oswego, New York.  She returned to Ireland and Mary and John wrote letters to each other for a year.  He then made his only trip back to the old country in 1885 to marry her.  The Connellys lived on Michigan Avenue, which was called Michigan Street at the time.  It was still a quiet, residential street lined with trees.  Today, the site of their house is a parking lot across the street from the Seneca Buffalo Casino.  John and Mary had eleven children, six sons and five daughters.  Unfortunately, five of the children died in childhood.  Five sons and a daughter lived to adulthood – Boetius, William, John Jr, James, Mary and Arthur.  

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Connelly Family on the steps of their house. Source: Jennifer Connelly

In 1901, the Connellys moved to 126 Fargo Avenue.  The family lived there for many years.  The house is now a part of the Nickel City Housing Cooperative and is known as Plankton House.  The family also had a servant who lived with the family.  In 1900, their servant was Mary Giritt, a 19-year old woman from Germany.  In 1900, the servant was Annie Snyder, a 20-year old from Germany.  In 1920, their servant was Elizabeth Endres, a 27-year old woman born in New York state to German immigrant parents.  Because John had to leave school to work at a young age, he insisted that all of his children complete high school and offered them all a college education.  John Jr and William were the only two who went to college – both becoming attorneys.  William sailed on the Great Lakes to help finance his education, served in the U.S. Navy and specialized in marine law.  Boetius served in the US Army during WWII.  Mary and James worked for Connelly Bros.  Arthur worked in labor relations. 

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Ad for Connelly Ave Lots for Sale from 1921. Source: Buffalo Times.

Connelly Street was developed in the early 1920s as Buffalo grew.  John Connelly did not see Connelly Street as a source of pride.  The street was named in his honor, which was a sign of his respect and esteem throughout the community.  However, Mr. Connelly could only think of the money he lost when the street was cut through his property!

Despite being eager to grow his fortune, Mr. Connelly was also known as an easy target for those down on their luck.  People would approach him for spare change, and Mr. Connelly would always empty his pockets for them.  Eventually, his family persuaded him to give his change to the bookkeeper every morning, so that he would not have cash on him while walking around town.  Mr. Connelly would then ask his bookkeeper for half a dollar to buy a handkerchief at the store across the street.  He’d buy a hanky and then give the change to the person who asked.  Because of this, he had many, many handkerchiefs!

Mr. Connelly died in 1928.  He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna.   After Mr. Connelly’s death, son James and daughter Mary Connelly Keene and Mary’s husband Russell Keene continued the business.  In 1933 Mary Connelly Keene became President of the company. 

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Aftermath of the Bridge Collapse. Source: Buffalo News.

On January 21, 1959, the Michigan Avenue Bridge collapsed in what is often referred to as “the Tewksbury Disaster.”  That winter was very cold, with heavy snow and bitter temperatures.  On January 21st, there was an unseasonable thaw.  The 50 degree day combined with a wind storm broke up the sheet of ice along Cazenovia Creek around 6pm, pushing the ice from the creek into the Buffalo River.  The ice jam ran up against the hull of the MacGilvray Shiras, owned by the Kinsman Transit Company in Cleveland.  The Shiras was moored for the winter at Concrete Central Elevator and full of corn.  The Shiras broke free from its mooring around 10:40pm during wind gusts of 48 miles per hour.  A chain-reaction accidental crash when the steamer Shiras broke loose from a dock owned by Continental Grain Company.  The Shiras floated down river, where it struck the steamer Michael K. Tewksbury, which was stationed for the winter at the Standard Elevator and full of wheat.  The boats continued downriver, past the Ohio Street lift bridge which was under construction and out of service.  The story goes that the bridge operators for the Michigan Ave bridge were drinking at the Swannie House and not manning the bridge.  One rumor says that the bridge operator was in bed with his mistress!  William H. Mack testified in Federal Court that he did visit the tavern twice during that evening, from 8:20-8:40pm and from 10:00-10:20pm but that he was back on duty a half hour before the first warning call came in.  Shift change for the bridge came at 11pm.  One of the bridge tenders, Casimir Szumlinski, came on duty at 11.  A call came in at 11:10pm from the watchmen at Standard Elevator alerting the bridge that there was a loose boat coming their way.   It was said an earlier call came in at 10:45pm but the operators were waiting for Mr. Mack and Mr. Szumlnski because they did not know how to raise the bridge.  Mr. Szumlinski recollected to the Buffalo News in 1969, “I saw the boat about 1000 yards away.  It looked like a phantom coming out of the night – no lights, no flares”.  The efforts to raise the bridge came too late, they were only able to partially raise the bridge before they needed to abandon the bridge.  Two of the bridge tenders were injured as the boats slammed into the Michigan Avenue Lift Bridge at 11:17pm.  The bridge plunged into the river, also damaging a water main.  The two ships came to a stop near the wreckage of the bridge, abutting each other and wedged in the River amongst the wreckage of the bridge.  The Shiras had traveled almost 3 miles! 

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Approximate path of the MacGilvray Shiras on January 21, 1959

The ice jam created by the ships blocking the river caused intense flooding in the First Ward. The quick thaw and the rain that occurred caused one of  the worst flooding events in Metropolitan Buffalo History.  There was also major flooding that night in Tonawanda and Amherst along Ellicott Creek.  Delaware Park lake (now Hoyt Lake) rose several feet, closing Delaware Avenue.  The New York Central Railroad tracks between Forest and West Delevan were washed out from flooding on Scajaquada Creek.  Smokes Creek flooded an area 2 square miles in size, causing a state of emergency to be declared for Lackawanna. 

At 7:45am the next morning, the north tower of the Michigan Avenue bridge toppled, crushing the roof of the Connelly Bros building and kicking out the sidewall timbers of the Engine 20 (the fireboat) firehouse.  Connelly Bros lost the building, many marine supplies, a pier, and a 40-foot supply ship which sunk under the weight of the twisted bridge girders.  The boat was recovered several months later, found in the rubble in the river.  It took about two weeks for the Shiras and the Tewksbury to be freed from the wreckage, with tug boats and a coast guard ice-breaker cutting thru the ice.  51,000 bushels of wheat were unloaded from the Tewksbury to lighten the load to help free the ship from the wreckage of the bridge.  Suction equipment was used which pumped out the wheat into trucks.  With the Michigan Avenue bridge wrecked and the Ohio Street bridge closed for repairs, the Skyway was the only way to access South Buffalo from Downtown.  The trucks hauled the grain from the wreck site over the Skyway to Connecting Terminal, an 8-mile trip.  A channel was finally cleared on February 3rd preventing the risk of the River flooding again.  The Shiras was damaged and on February 12 was towed to the GLF elevators to be unloaded and then taken to the American Shipbuilding dry dock for repairs.  The Shiras ended up being towed to Hamilton, Ontario and sold for scrap in June 1959.  The Tewksbury continued operations, returning to winter in Buffalo in following years.  In 1962, the Tewksbury was renamed, but the ship saw service until 1975. The Michigan Avenue bridge reopened December 7, 1960.  

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Connelly Bros Boat at their pier, 1946. Source: Buffalo News.

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Connelly Bros Boat Recovery in March 1959, after the bridge collapse. Source: Buffalo News.

At that time, Connelly Bros was 89-years old and were the oldest chandlery business in Buffalo.  The company lost an estimated $200,000 ($1.8 Million today).  It took many years for a ruling on how the three parties involved – The Continental Grain Co (owner of the dock), the Kinsman Steamship Co (owner of the steamer MacGilvray Shiras) and the City of Buffalo must share the payment of damages.  The City was held partially liable because it was determined there should have been adequate time to lift the bridge.  The case revolved on whether or not the Shiras was properly moored at Concrete Central elevator.  The lawsuit for the damages was appealed at least six times.  Final settlements for the 28 claimants was decided in 1966, totaling $1.8 Million ($16.5 million today) in damages.  The original damage claims exceeded $3 Million!  Connelly Bros ended up receiving $42,500 ($389,331 today) for business damages and $42,238.17 ($386,932 today) for damages to the building.

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Mary Connelly Keene, 1974. Source: Jennifer Connelly

After the bridge collapse, the company leased space in a warehouse on Scott Street.  The company suffered another tragedy when the warehouse suffered a fire four years later on March 9, 1963.  Connelly Brothers moved to 43 Illinois Street on March 21, 1963, just 12 days later!  In February 1969, Mrs. Keene was presented a plaque by the Buffalo Propeller Club and the International Shipmasters Association which recognized her contributions to both groups.  Mary Keene was president of the company for more than 40 years!  A rarity for a woman of the time!

Shipping in Buffalo was changing.  The winter of 1974 was the first year since before the Civil War that no freighters spent the winter in Buffalo.  The grain ships, like the Shiras and the Tewksbury, used to spend the winter with storage grain for Buffalo flour mills.  In 1974, it was decided they could move grain in by train as needed.  At the height of grain shipping in Buffalo, there would be more than 100 ships wintering in Buffalo.  In 1973, there were just 12 vessels.  The loss of winter ships impacted the Buffalo economy.  Each ship that stayed in port typically spent about $75,000 (about $500,000 today) in Buffalo before leaving in the spring.  This includes towing, docking fees, shifting fees, shipkeeper pay, and electric and water bills.  Additionally, they’d spend money on food and repairs during the fit-out to prepare the ship for the spring lake season. At the time the entire business of Connelly Bros was built around marine trade.  The company branched out to serve ships across the Great Lakes, not just in Buffalo, trying to survive.  

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43 Illinois Street, the final location of Connelly Bros. Source: Julia Spitz


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Connelly Bros Ad from 1976.  Source:  Buffalo News

Mary Keene’s son Gilbert Norwalk was president of the company after Mary retired. Mary Keene died in 1978 at age 81.  She is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Tonawanda.  As the marine business continued to decline, Connelly Bros eventually shifted to including Auto Repairs as part of their business to keep up with the times.  The company closed in 1984, after 114 years in business!  In 2014. the Illinois Street building was listed as part of the Cobblestone District local historic district.  

So the next time you’re down at the waterfront, think about Connelly Bros and the 114 years they spent working on helping ships in the harbor! Special thanks to Jennifer Connelly, Great Granddaughter of John Connelly, for allowing me to use some of her family photos in this post.  

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:  

  • Smith, H. Katherine.  “Connelly Street a Memorial to Ship Chandlery Founder”.  Buffalo Courier Express.  January 12, 1942, p6.
  • Wood, Jerry.  “Company Crushed in Bridge Collapse”.  Buffalo News.  February 26, 1959, p1.
  • “US Judge Rules on Who Shall Pay in Bridge Disaster.”  Buffalo News.  May 1, 1963, p10.
  • Maserka, Ron.  “Damages in 1959 River Crash Are Set at $1.8 Million”.  Buffalo News.  April 22, 1966, p25.
  • “Mrs. Keene to get Plaque”.  Buffalo News.  February 3, 1969, p2.
  • Buckham, Tom.  “Waterfront’s Economy Hit Hart by Loss of Winter Grain Fleet”.  Buffalo News.  January 25, 1974, p34.
  • “Connelly Bros Leases Building”.  March 21, 1963, p33.
  • “Mary Connelly Keen Dies; Headed Ship Supply Firm”.  Buffalo News.  June 28, 1978.
  • Hariaczyi, Todd.  “January 21, 1959:  The Michael K. Tewksbury topples the Michigan Avenue Bridge”.  Buffalo News.  July 4, 2017.
  • “Mayor Aids Confer in Flood Emergency; Zero Cold Forecast”.  Buffalo News.  January 22, 1959, p1.
  • Kowalewski, Ed.  “1959 Bridge Crash Still Vivid.”  Buffalo News.  Janaury 21, 1969, p29.
  • Maselki, Ron.  “$1.8 Million Damage Found by Investigator of 1959 River Crash”.  Buffalo News.  April 21, 1966, p67.
  • “Crews Start A Task To Cut Away the Bridge.”  Batavia Daily News.  February 2, 1959.  P1.
  • “Conveyors Unloading Grain From Aft Hold of Tewksbury”.  Buffalo News.  January 29, 1959, p31.
  • “Visited Tavern Before Crash, Bridge Operator Tells Court”  Buffalo Courier Express.  May 3, 1961, p64.

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