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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.

pooley 1858

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.

city_atlas_1_16

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.

pooley grave

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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