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military road

Military Road’s modern alignment through the City of Buffalo and Town of Tonawanda

Military Road is a part of NYS Route 265, a 19.75 mile long state road that runs between Niagara Falls and Buffalo.  The portions called Military Road are located in the City of Buffalo/Town of Tonawanda and then again in Niagara Falls, NY.  The road dates back to 1801, when it was laid out as a road to connect Black Rock with Fort Niagara, near Lake Ontario.  The route begins at the intersection of Niagara Street and the Scajaquada Expressway.  It runs along Tonawanda Street through Black Rock, Amherst Street, then turns into Military Road where it runs for 4.3 miles until the City of Tonawanda border.  In the City of Tonawanda it is Main Street, in North Tonawanda it is River Road, in Niagara Falls it is Buffalo Ave before it turns back into Military Road through most of Niagara Falls where it ends at a junction with NY 104 (Lewiston Road) in Lewiston.  From Lewiston to Youngstown, the River Road that ran up to the Fort was already built, so that was used to connect the Military built road to Fort Niagara.

map of military road - from buffalo history gazette

Historic Map showing the route of Military Road Source: Buffalo History Gazette

Military Road was one of the first roads in the country planned for military purposes.  Roads for defense have been around for a long time and are still around in modern times – much of the United States Highway System was built as the “Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways”, designed for defense and modeled partly after the German Autobahn network that Eisenhower saw in Germany during WWII.  After the Revolutionary War, the federal government realized they needed a highway extending from the town of the Lewiston Escarpment to the bluff at Black Rock.  At the time, they were planning a large fort on the Black Rock bluff to guard the entrance to the Niagara River.  Most of WNY’s roads at the time were based on Native American trails and the trails of the earliest settlers.  These trails typically took the path of least resistance, to avoid things like creeks, marshes, or heavily wooded areas.  The highway would replace the old Portage Road, which was too winding, as it followed closely to the course of the river, rather than in a more direct line.  The Historic Map shows both the routes of the Military Road, which has a smoother path than the Portage route, which curves further to the west towards the Falls.

After the Revolutionary War, there were boundary disputes between New York and Massachusetts.  An agreement signed in Hartford, Connecticut in 1786 deeded the land once occupied by the Haudenosaunee to New York State, but Massachusetts maintained that they had a right to the area west of Seneca Lake once the Native American title was extinguished, except for a one-mile strip, which New York State reserved for itself.  The strip ran one mile inland along the Niagara River, from Buffalo to Stedman’s Farm (also known as Fort Schlosser, near where the water intakes are currently located along the Niagara Scenic Parkway/Robert Moses Parkway in Niagara Falls). Despite the State’s reservation of the parcel, the Seneca maintained that they retained the title to the Mile Strip, which was affirmed in the 1794 Pickering Treaty.   Massachusetts sold the rights to the surveyed portion of the land to Robert Morris in 1791.  Keeping a portion of the land for his own purposes, Robert Morris sold the rest of the land (which the exception of Grand Island and the Mile Strip) to the Holland Land Company, the company which Joseph Ellicott was the land agent.  You can read more about Joseph Ellicott and the Holland Land Company by clicking these links for Part One, Part Two and Part Three.  In 1798, Seth Pease surveyed the Mile Line for the Holland Land Company.  In 1802, the Seneca claim to the Mile Strip was extinguished by a treaty signed in Albany.  There had been little settlement in the area by the Seneca, only two Seneca families lived there year-round.  The treaty was initiated because the government wanted to construct a fort at Black Rock (also known as Upper Black Rock).  In 1803, the Deputy State Surveyor, Joseph Annin began to survey the Mile Strip into lots.  Fort Niagara was given 716 acres which were set aside for the Federal government.  The Stedman’s Farm/Fort Schlosser farm lot was set aside at 680 acres.  The Jones and Parrish tracts, which were each 640 acres, were also set aside and were given to Mr. Jones and Mr. Parrish who had been Haudenosaunee captives during the war.  The Jones and Parrish lots were near the Scajaquada Creek.  A total of 111 lots were laid out within the remainder of the Mile Strip, the majority of which were 160 acres in size, but due to the curve of the river, many were slightly larger.  One square mile was set aside at the southern end for the Village of Black Rock.  For more on the laying out of Black Rock, you can read about Peter Porter, the streets named after states, and the numbered streets.

In 1801, General Moses Porter, commander at Fort Niagara, was ordered by the War Department to use his troops to build the road.  I was unable to find out if General Porter was related to Mr. Porter of Black Rock during my research.  They called the road Military Road because it was built by the soldiers.  Between 1802 and 1805, the right of way for the road was cleared.  At the time, road building typically consisted of cutting trees and brush wide enough  to bring an oxcart.  Military Road was built in a strip 100-feet wide.  Marshy areas were made passable by laying logs down, which was often referred to as a “corduroy road”.  It was a tough task, as the road was built through forests and over swamp lands to cut a straight path.  Bridges were built in Tonawanda, but work was stopped and the road surface was not finished for seven years, due to disagreements between the State and the Federal Governments. In 1808-1809, New York State gave $1,500 (about $30,000 in 2018 dollars) to the project and the road was complete.

fort tompkins signThe large fort planned for Black Rock was never built, but a smaller one was built in 1807 and became Fort Tompkins in August 1812.  Fort Tompkins was also known as Fort Adams.  The fort was actually large mounds which were mounting points for seven guns.  It was technically a battery, which is a cluster of cannons in action as a group put into position during a battle of a fort or city.  Fort Tompkins was the largest of eight batteries that were built during the war.  It was located at the top of the bluff at the bend in Niagara Street.  The escarpment here allowed them to overlook the river, giving advantages over the attacks from the water.   The location was later the sight of railway barns.  A plaque was hung on the railway barn and still hangs on the building located at 1010 Niagara Street.  The more famous Fort Tompkins was located on Staten Island and was built in 1663.  They were both likely named for Governor Daniel Tompkins, Governor of New York from 1807 to 1817.  Fun fact for if you’re ever on Jeopardy:  Daniel Tompkins was later President Monroe’s Vice President and the only VP in the 19th century to serve two full terms.

Military Road Marker

Historic Marker near Amherst Street and Military Road

One of the only military uses of the road was during the War of 1812.  American General McClure lost Fort George after a significant battle.  General McClure then gave the notice to burn Fort George and the Village of Newark (now Niagara on the Lake) to deny shelter to the British.  The Americans then retreated to Fort Niagara.  The British reoccupied Fort George and planned an assault on Fort Niagara in retaliation for the burning of Newark.  General McClure claimed he had acted on Secretary of War’s order in the burning of Newark.  He had been told earlier in the year to destroy Newark if necessary but to give the residents several days notice to ensure they were not left destitute.  McClure had only given two hours notice, leaving residents without shelter or possessions during a heavy snowstorm.  This was against war conventions at the time.  McClure’s superiors disavowed his orders and McClure never again held command.

On December 19th, 1813, more than 500 soldiers crossed the Niagara River at a location known as Five Mile Meadows. They turned towards Youngstown and the Americans were taken by surprise and the story goes that they obtained the password to get into the fort by using a fake southern accent.  The British gained control of Fort Niagara and the British and their Native American allies marched upriver.  With the American Army gone, there were only civilian militias left to defend their land.  The British marched south, destroying farms and villages between Youngstown and Manchester (now Niagara Falls, NY).  The second British raid happened a few weeks later, December 31, 1813, which burned as far south as Black Rock and Buffalo.  General McClure retreated from Fort Niagara to Buffalo via Military Road after losing Fort Niagara.

The road fell into disuse and became overgrown, partly due to a debate between the state and federal governments as to who was supposed to maintain it.  Sections of it were used by local farmers.  Niagara County took over the road in 1820 and reconditioned it (at the time present day Erie County was part of Niagara County).  By 1832, it was cleared and repaired and became a state highway.

The idea behind the road was to facilitate travel of troops and munitions of war from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie.  Though the road was built for military function, it also helped to allow for commercial development of the area, with settlements occurring all along the Military Road.

In 1891, trolley service was extended along Military Road into the fledgling Village of Kenmore, allowing residents of Kenmore to arrive at the Military Road Station of the Belt Line, which would take them downtown for work.

miliatry marker sheridan drive

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Installation of the Boulder on Sheridan Drive, 1926. Source: Buffalo Courier Express

A boulder with a plaque honoring the Military Road was placed in Sheridan Drive by the Buffalo Chapter of the DAR in 1936.  It was part of a celebration of the centennial of the Town of Tonawanda.  The Centennial was held on exhibition grounds at the corner of Delaware Avenue and Sheridan Drive.  The dedication occurred on what was referred to as “Pioneer Day”.   New York State Historian, Dr. Alexander Flick, was on hand to give a speech and celebrate some of the oldest residents of Tonawanda.  Between 1906 and 1936, the Town had grown from 2,000 residents to 30,000.  Prizes were given to some of the residents including  the oldest married couple present, the oldest school teacher present, and the oldest male and female present.  Mrs. John Walters was unable to be present at the awards ceremony, but she had been a resident of Tonawanda for 93 years!

So the next time you drive along Military Road, think about the military history of WNY and remember the war fought right in our backyard, and the people who were determined enough to stay after their villages were burned to the ground.

Source:

  1. “Town Pioneers honor Guests and Centennial”.  Buffalo Courier Express, July 3 1936. p8.
  2. “Military Highway Will be Scene of Ceremonies” Buffalo Courier Express.  June 13, 1936, p13.
  3. Clinton Brown Architecture, pc.  Reconnaissance Level Historic Resources Survey:  Black Rock Planning Neighborhood.  November 2010.
  4. History of Old Fort Niagara.  https://www.oldfortniagara.org
  5. Lewis, Clarence.  “Evolution of Roadways in County Linked with Important Historical Happenings”.  Niagara Falls Gazette, July 29, 1954.
  6. Malloy, Jerry.  “Why is it Called Military Road?”  Buffalo History Gazette.  August 8, 2010.  http://www.buffalohistorygazette.net
  7. Percy, John & Graham Miller.  Images of America: Kenmore, New York.  Arcadia Publishing:  Charleston, South Carolina, 1998.

 

 

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expressway

Scajaquada Expressway (NYS 198)

The Scajaquada Express (aka NYS 198) has been in the news a lot in the last few years.  Everyone has a lot of opinions on the road and what it should look like – whether to remain an expressway, be downgraded to a parkway, etc.  Of course, the expressway takes its name from the creek along who’s route it follows.  Did you know that in addition to the creek, there is also a second Scajaquada Street in Buffalo?

scajaquada street

Scajaquada Street

Scajaquada Street runs between Bailey Avenue and Grider Street on the east side of Buffalo, cut into two pieces by railroad tracks.  Scajaquada is the type of word that Buffalonians know, but the kind of word that immediately stumps out-of-towners, a relic of our Native American roots here in Western New York.  Both the street and the expressway get their names from Scajaquada Creek.  Did you know that Scajaquada Creek was named after a person?

The creek is named after Philip Conjockety.  His name was also spelled Kenjockety.  He was also known as Ska-dyoh-gwa-deh (meaning “Beyond the Multitude”), which was also spelled Skandauchguaty or Conjaquady.  There are estimated to be as many as 90 different spellings of the word.  No wonder we still have trouble spelling the word today!  (One of my favorite Buffalo jokes:  How do you spell Scajaquada?  “198”)  The Seneca name was commonly Ga-noh-gwaht-geh, meaning “after a peculiar kind of wild grass that grew near its borders”.  The grass was important to early settlers, because it was used to create woven baskets, fishing nets, and supplies.

1850 Portrait of Philip Conjockety by Lars Gustaf Sellstedt

Philip had come to Buffalo with the Senecas shortly after the Revolutionary War, when they were driven away from the Genesee Valley.  Philip’s great grandfather was a member of the Kah-kwahs, who once lived in the Western New York area.  The Kah-kwahs were overtaken by the more powerful Senecas around 1651, and the survivors were adopted into the Seneca nation.  Philip’s father, John, became Chief of the Seneca, and was part of the influence which brought the Seneca Nation to the banks of the Niagara River near what became Scajaquada Creek when they left the Genesee Valley.

Philip was born near the Tonawanda Reservation and lived in Fort George during the Revolutionary War, when he fought with the Senecas against the Americans.

Philip died April 1, 1866, at Newtown, on the Cattaraugus Reservation.  When he died, the Courier reported at the time that he was the oldest resident of the region.  Some accounts listed him as 120 to 130 years old, but it was generally believed that he was nearly 100 when he died.  His mind was clear in his old age, so much of the early history of Buffalo was gathered from Philip’s stories.

During the War of 1812, the navy yard at the mouth of Scajaquada Creek was where five of Commodore Perry’s ships were reconditioned during 1813.  A plaque commemorating this location of this navy yard is on the Niagara Street Bridge, north of Forest Ave.   On South Side of the creek near its mouth was Sailor’s Battery – the last in a line of 8 batteries stretching from the Terrace to the Creek that helped defend during the War of 1812.   The Sailor’s Battery was the first to be overtaken during the night of December 29, 1813 during the Battle of Black Rock which led to the Burning of Buffalo.

Doreen-DeBoth-Buffalo-NY

“Battle of Scajaquada Creek Bridge” Artist: Doreen Boyer DeBoth

The Battle of Scajaquada Bridge was fought August 3, 1814.  British forces were attacked by American forces at the bridge, west of where Niagara Street crosses the creek.  The American forces were entrenched on the south side of the creek and began to dismantle the bridge to prevent the British from crossing.  The British attempted to rebuild the bridge, but failed and ended up retreating to Canada.  The outnumbered American men were able to stand up to the British men in what was the last act of British aggression towards Buffalo during the war.  The victory is described as a decisive engagement and a triumph for the United States.

By 1902, the area around the mouth of Scajaquada Creek had become a city dump.  The area was a popular place for “mouchers” to rifle through the discarded waste of the city to resell things.  Of the Scajaquada Creek dump, it was written:  ” Once it was a picturesque stream, but here its glory is departed.  It has banks of ashes six or eight feet high and between them flows the noble stream in a sluggish, dirty current.  Its channel obstructed by peach baskets, bottomless coffee pots, kerosene cans, bed springs, tin cans and other materials which the moucher rejects.”

Historic View of Scajaquada Creek Source: Buffalo News

In 1899, the National Motor Transit Company entered into a 1 year contract with the Park Board of Buffalo to operate an automobile transit service to travel along what would become, 60 years later, the route of the City’s first intra-urban highway, the Scajaquada Creek Expressway.  Four cars traveled from Lincoln Parkway past the zoo to Humboldt Parkway and Main Street every half hour.

Around 1946, New York State began planning for a system of highways throughout the City of Buffalo in a report titled Report on the New York State Thruway and Arterial Routes in the Buffalo Urban Area.  In 1951, the Buffalo Planning Commission adopted a Major Traffic Ways Plan that included the Scajaquada Expressway as a component of the system.  Traffic was quickly growing within the City and the highways were designed to find a place for the cars by channeling them onto expressways.  The Scajaquada Expressway was constructed during the 1950s and 1960s.   The route was designated by the Surface Transportation Act of 1982 as NYS Route 198.

Buffalo NY Courier Express 1958 a - 2435

Proposed plan for Delaware Park Shortway. Source: Courier Express, September 5, 1958

Other plans to create a second limited access highway was proposed for Delaware Park in 1958.  The “Delaware Park Shortway” would have run parallel to 198 across the north side of the Delaware Park meadow.  The City Planning board tabled the proposal in order to finish construction of the Scajaquada and Kensington Expressways to be completed before the Shortway was built, so plans never came to fruition.

Studies have been going on since the late 1990s regarding downgrading and/or removal of the Scajaquada Expressway, particularly the section through Delaware Park.

Historically, Scajaquada Creek was a shallow, wide, meandering creek.  Over time, the creek was channelized and portions were routed underground in three ares.  Residents would use the creek to dump their waste, creating a public health issue in the stagnant water.  Putting the creek underground would help resolve this issue, and created numerous pocket parks along the former length of the creek.  The largest tunnel was created as the Scajaquada Drain project in 1928.  This project buried 3.5 miles of the creek, from Pine Ridge Road to Forest Lawn Cemetery.  A portion of the buried creek runs under Scajaquada Street.

FotoJet

Top photo 1924.  Bottom photo modern image same site.  Corner Scajaquada Street and Kilhoffer during construction of Scajaquada Drain.  Source:  WNY Heritage.

During the 1930s, the sewer systems crossing the creek were disconnected, connected the creek into the city’s combined sewer overflow system.  The Delevan Drain was built to try to divert the combined sewage near Main Street, but it is designed to function during low flows, and during storm events or high flows, the water exits the Delevan tunnel and flows into the stream channel.  At Forest Lawn Cemetery, the creek is recharged by underground springs, and the Onondaga Escarpment creates Serenity Falls within the Cemetery.  When Delaware Park was originally designed, the 42 aces lake was formed by damming Scajaquada Creek.  As part of the Expressway construction, park, portions of the lake were filled.  The lake retains little of its original shoreline.  During the 1950s, the lake was declared by the Department of Health a health hazard and was closed to the public due to the sewage overflow issues.  The creek was rerouted to separate it from the lake in the early 1980s.  Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and other organizations are working to restore and provide environmental restoration to the creek.

So the next time you drive over the Scajaquada, think of Philip Konjockety, a highway that were never built, and a creek that’s been buried.  To learn about other streets, check out the street index.

Sources:
  1. Carstens, Patrick Richard and Timothy L. Sanford.  Searching for the Forgotten War – 1812.  Xlibris Corporation:  2012.
  2. “Death of Philip Kenjockety”.  Courier & Republic.  Wednesday Evening, April 4, 1866.
  3. OH Marshall. “The Niagara Frontier” Vol. II Buffalo Historical Society Publications
  4. Parke, Bill.  “Battle of Scajaquada Bridge”.  Black Rock Historical Society.  Online at http://www.blackrockhistoricalsociety.info/battle-of-scajaquada-creek-bridge.html
  5. Delaware Park Shortway. Courier Express. September 5, 1958.  Pg 6.
  6. Cichon, Steve.  The Buffalo You Should Know:  The Slow Death of Humboldt Parkway in Building the 33 & 198.  Buffalo News. May 8, 2016.
  7. NYSDOT.  NY Route 198 Scajaquada Corridor Study P.I.N. 5470.14.  June 2005
  8. WNY Heritage.  Scajaquada Drain Project.  Online at https://www.wnyheritage.org/content/scajaquada_drian_project_-_1920s/index.html
  9. Treasure at the Dump.   The Illustrated Buffalo Express.  1902.

 

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Often a group of streets will be named after a theme.  This is often seen when a developer may name a bunch of streets after his family members or friends.  Many people know that Washington, DC has streets named after all 50 states to form the City’s grid (crossed by alphabetic and numbered streets).   The City of Buffalo has streets named after 32 of the 50 states.  Many of these state street names originated in one of Buffalo’s original street grids.

Map of Village of Black Rock, 1816 Source:  New York State Archives

Map of Village of Black Rock, 1816
Source: New York State Archives

Many of the streets named after streets are located in what was the original development of the Village of Black Rock.  The Black Rock streets were originally laid out  two years before Joseph Ellicott came to Buffalo!  New York State purchased a one mile strip of land along the Niagara River known as the New York State Reservation in 1802.  The State laid out the streets of the Village of Black Rock.  For 20 years, Black Rock would serve as Buffalo’s rival.  In 1825, Buffalo won its fight to be the terminus of the Erie Canal, became a booming city, and annexed the Village of Black Rock in 1854.

State named streets in Black Rock include Georgia, Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Jersey, York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Hampshire.  All of the original 13 colonies are represented by these streets, other than Delaware, which was originally located where Hudson Street is today.  When Buffalo and Black Rock merged, duplicate street names were changed to prevent confusion.  These streets all lay parallel to each other in what is now the West Side of the City of Buffalo, but was originally known as the South Village of Black Rock or Upper Black Rock.  When originally laid out, these streets formed a grid with numbered streets.  The streets were laid out by Lemuel Forester, a Surveyor for New York State.  You can read about the numbered streets in Buffalo by clicking here.  These streets form what was known as Upper Black Rock.  Peter Porter was an important person in the early days of Black Rock.

It is important to note that it is difficult to differentiate between states such as North and South Carolina or Virginia and West Virginia, as the cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) are used in street naming conventions.  Early maps of Black Rock show Jersey, York and Hampshire as New Jersey, New York and New Hampshire, but as time elapsed, the convention to name streets “New” to differentiate between different alignments of a street which changed over time, of which the alignment’s name may be “New _____ Street” or “Old ______ Street”.

Streets in Buffalo Named After States

Streets in Buffalo Named After States  (click to view larger image)

The City also has streets named after the following states:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • North and South Dakota (as Dakota Street)
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

There are several streets named after states that used to be located in Buffalo.  These streets names have been removed for various reasons:

Portion of 1900 Sanborn Map depicting locations of Idaho and Arizona Streets.

Idaho Street and Arizona Streets– were located in North Buffalo off Military Road, north of Sayre Street.  The Buffalo Foundry was located here, and industrial facilities eventually absorbed the streets.

1951 Sanborn Map showing the former location of Indiana Street

 

Indiana Street was located near the foot of Main Street.  The street was eliminated when Crossroads Arena (aka Marine Midland, aka HSBC, aka First Niagara Center) was built.  The street is currently buried under First Niagara Center.

1925 Sanborn Map Showing Alaska Alley

1925 Sanborn Map Showing Alaska Alley

Alaska Alley  – was closed on February 24, 1960.  This was a small alley off of Chippewa near Genesee and Washington.   The block where Alaska and Seward Alleys were located is now parking for the Electric Tower building.

Iowa – used to be the part of LaSalle Avenue from Bailey to Eggert (near Minnesota Avenue).  However, they changed the name when they wanted to rename Perry Street to Iowa Street.  They then decided that Perry was too important to change the name of the street.  At this time, they also tried to change the name of Fulton Street to Oklahoma, but also decided that Fulton was too important of a person to change the name of the street.

In 1901, the City wanted to rename Indian Church, Hudson or South Division Street to Missouri.  Residents complained because it sounded like “Misery” to them, and they did not want to live on “Misery Street”.

There is no Maine Street, because it would be confusing because it sounds like Main Street.

I was unable to find evidence of streets in Buffalo named after the following five states:

  • Kansas
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • Utah
  • Hawaii

Buffalo Ex-Pats living in the Washington, DC area will be happy to know that Columbia Street, in the Cobblestone District near the arena, is named after the District of Columbia.

To answer the “which street named after a state is your favorite?” question – mine is York Street.  My dad moved to Buffalo (from Central New York….and after time spent in the Navy) in 1978 and his first apartment here was on York Street.  My parents lived there when the first got married.  This is where my branch of the Keppel family started in Buffalo.  🙂

To read about other streets, click the Street Index.

Sources:

  1. “Many Changes Made in Names of Streets Here” Courier Express, August 26, 1928
  2. “New Names for Streets” Buffalo Express Oct 7, 1901
  3. “Council Closes Alaska Alley” Buffalo Courier Express, February 24, 1960.

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