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Archive for the ‘Downtown/Harbor’ Category

This post is the first in a series of three posts about one street that still exists – Marine Drive – and several streets that no longer exist – most specifically Canal Street and Dante Place.  These streets are a part of Buffalo’s old (and new) Canal District.  The Canal District contains some of Buffalo’s most fascinating stories.   Today’s post will deal with the district when it was known as the Canal Street area.  Part Two will come out on Friday April 4th and deals with the Italian Immigrant era, when it was known as Dante Place or “The Hooks”.  Part Three will come out next week and deal with the last 60 years of the area’s history – the Marine Drive apartments and Canalside.

The Canal District consists of the area along Buffalo’s inner harbor, which today is located south of the I-190, between Main Street and Erie Street.  Here is a current view of the area we’re discussing:

View from 2011

View from 2011

The area, with the success of Canalside, is quickly becoming one of the success stories for Buffalo.  The area has a long and fascinating past, some of which is represented by the ruins of canal era buildings along the Commercial Strip today.  In 1950, the Buffalo Evening News wrote of the area:

Old Canal Street – Dante Place for the past quarter of a century – lies doggo this spring. Its days are numbered. Of some ordinary street it could be said it is dreaming of its past stories – but not Canal St – the old rip. If anything, Canal St. is like an ancient burned-out roue reflecting on a disreputable past. Canal Street and some of its immediate purlieus like Maiden Lane, and Peacock Street have empty houses with the windows bashed out. The old plaster in old rooms is broken and crumbling. Along the streets are old house numbers – 148, 156 – corroded and painted over and beaten by the weather of a hundred years. There is the occasional iron rail across what was once a barroom window, to protect it from stumbling drunks and lolling roustabouts. These are the flotsam and jetsam of an era long gone – a rough and roistering era of hard men and fancy women, of the waterside of Buffalo when it was young and heady with liquor, laughter and love at voyage end. It was the days when the canaler could sing that “The Erie was a-risin‘, the gin was gettin‘ low, and I scarcely think we’ll have a drink till we get to Buffalo”. It was the days when the sailors, swinging off their brigs and barks and ready for a fight or frolic, could yell: “Canaler, canaler – you’ll never grow rich; you’ll die in the ditch”.

dug in his dive_gif

Dug’s Dive Illustration

Canal Street was only two blocks long, running between Commercial Street and Erie Street.  The street was called “the wickedest street in the world”.   It was said that, during its heyday, there was a murder every day. Legends were told of saloon owners who would serve a poisoned drink, steal a man’s clothes and personal items, and dump the body in the canal.  The supposed first “dive bar”, Dug’s Dive was located along the canal, down a steep set of slippery steps from the towpath, so patrons sometimes “dived” into the bar.  The proprietor of Dug’s Dive was William Douglas, a former slave.

Canal Street was a busy place, due to its location on the waterfront. The Canal folk met the sailors from the Lake.  In 1829, when the road was laid out, it was known as Cross Street because it crossed several of the short streets between Commercial Street and Erie Street.   Other streets in the area were Peacock, Fly, Water, Hanover, LeConteuix, Evans, Lake, Lloyd and State.

 In 1847, it was written in the Buffalo Republic:

During the summer, the very worst class of people inhabiting this portion of the first ward, have been permitted to gather there in unusual numbers, publicly enacting the most disgusting scenes, rioting by day and reveling by nightIf the canal could speak, and its waters cast up the hidden bodies of those who have doubtless come to an untimely end, its tale of horror would startle the public mind, and those whose duty it is to  look after the public peace of our city, might feel and realize how great this has been of their omission of duty.

Depiction of the Canal Street Area

Depiction of the Canal Street Area

By 1854, the canal had become supreme in the district, and the name was changed to Canal Street. The street was a busy place – The Erie Canal connected under Main Street with the Main-Hamburg Canal, running east to connect with the Clark-Skinner Canal, which started around Chicago Street and ran south to the Buffalo River. On the lake were the Prime, Coit, and Niagara slips, among others.  The Canal Street district of the city was bounded by The Terrace, Lower Main Street, Erie Street and the harbor.  The Canal Street district was connected to the rest of Buffalo by foot and wagon bridges over the Canals.  Maiden Lane got its name from the early days of Buffalo when the young women said goodbye to their sailor sweethearts or welcomed them home from voyages.

The Canal District quickly established itself with bars and taverns to entertain the canal workers.  Along with the taverns came gamblers, drunks and working girls.   Long nights of drinking and brawling turned the area into a crime-ridden district.

The Canal District was often referred to as the “infected district”, both due to the low moral standards in the area and due to the diseases that ran rampant  syphilis, chlamydia as well as diphtheria, scarlet fever, whooping-cough and the flu.  The Express described the area as containing “broken down hovels of ill-fame, presided over by ill-favored hags, who have long forfeited their right to the name of women”.    The saloons were profitable enterprises for many Buffalonians.  When early reformers and settlement houses tried to come in, they failed to lure the men away from the saloons.  The saloons of the time functioned as a labor bureau, a post office, a source of credit, a political headquarters, an ethnic gathering place, and a spot where a man could get a free lunch along with his beer.

1893 Map from the Christian Homestead Association of the "Houses of Ill-Fame" in the Canal District

1893 Map from the Christian Homestead Association of the “Houses of Ill-Fame” in the Canal District  (Source:  Rare Book Room of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library)

The song “Buffalo Gals” was written by John Hodges in 1844 and refers to the women who lived in the canal district.  By the 1880’s, it was said that there were as many as 400 women “of easy virtue” in the Canal Street section of the City of Buffalo.  Included in the district were 93 saloons, 15 concert-hall dives, and hundreds of dance-hall girls.  While Grover Cleveland was Sheriff in 1870, Cleveland had tried to clean up the place, but was unsuccessful.  Many of the women were employed by the saloons as “cooks” but were on hand to provide companionship to the men of the barges. These women of the district were not allowed to go further uptown than the Liberty Pole, which was located near where the Memorial Auditorium was later located.  Once a week, the women were allowed to go into town to go shopping.

During the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, a number of women from New York City came to the canal district, attempting to make money off visitors to the Pan-Am. They planned to take the “Buffalo Gals” out of their territory by bringing their worldliness to the area. Before the Pan-Am, there were 500 Buffalo women living in the Canal district.  The ladies of Canal Street resented the NYC women, and joined forces and attacked the NYC women with clubs, knives and fists, chasing the NYC women out of Buffalo.  The NYC women were escorted by police back to NYC on packet boats and trains.

Commercial Street Bridge Over Erie Canal, 1926

Commercial Street Bridge Over Erie Canal, 1926

In 1895, the Erie Canal was deepened and shortened.  Newly built railroads were built, which were more efficient in moving goods across distances with greater speed and power.  The changing transportation landscape began to change the neighborhood.  Immigrant families began to settle in the area.   The rule limiting the women of Canal Street from venturing north into Buffalo proper was lifted.  These ladies “of the fancy ways” began deserting the area. The vice they represented moved to other areas in the city, including the red light district of Vine Alley (located between Elm and Oak -the area was razed in the 1920s when William Street was extended from Michigan to Broadway). After the women left, the saloons and concert halls began to close.

Stay tuned for Part Two, which will discuss the Canal District’s transition into Dante Place, coming out on Friday April 4th.

Learn about other streets by checking out the Street Index.

Sources:

  1. Courier Express Dec 17, 1952 p 15
  2. “Echoes of Revelry Have Faded out and Earth-Movers Clang Away. Buffalo Evening News 4-15-1950
  3. “Housing Project Rises where Canalers Roistered” Courier Express 10-29-1952
  4. “Lusty Canal St. Lived Hard and Fast in Heyday” Courier Express 10-26-1952
  5. “Dante Area Streets Get Single Name” Courier Express, November 11, 1960 Buffalo Streets Vol 1.
  6. America’s Crossroads:  Buffalo’s Canal Street/ Dante Place.  Buffalo NY Heritage Press, 1993.
  7. Dug’s Dive.   Buffalo Express Saturday Morning, August 29,1874
  8. Hart, Mary Bronson.  Partitioning Poverty:  Zones of Influence in Social Work.  Boston Evening Transcript.  August 29, 1900.
  9. Yans-McLaughlin, Virginia.  Family and Community:  Italian Immigrants in Buffalo, 1880-1930.
  10. Nicolosi, Rachel.  Love for Sale:  Prostitution and the Building of Buffalo, New York, 1820-1910.  The Exposition:  vol 2, Issue 1. 2014.
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churchChurch Street is one of the main east-west streets in Downtown Buffalo, connecting to Main Street to what is now the Interstate-190.  The street was originally laid out by Joseph Ellicott and was named Stadnitski after Pieter Stadnitski, a Dutch banker and one of the agents of the Holland Land Company.  The street was renamed in honor of St. Paul’s Episcopal, St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic and First Presbyterian Churches.

The Downtown Buffalo core used to be home to other churches, but many moved uptown as their congregants moved out of downtown towards “suburbs”, such as the case with First Presbyterian Church or Lafayette Presbyterian Church.

The Three Church Street Churches circa 1880s

The Three Church Street churches circa 1880s

St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral is the cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York.  The congregation started in 1820, and their first church was built on land donated by Joseph Ellicott, at the corner of Main and Erie Streets.  Reverend William Shelton came to the church in September 1829 and served as Rector until 1881.  The congregation started to grow significantly following the opening of the Erie Canal.  The current church opened (on the site of the old church) in 1851, on Shelton Square.  The church was designed by Richard Upjohn, who is considered one of the greatest American Gothic church designers.  The congregation wanted the church to be made out of limestone; however, they could not afford the limestone.  Upjohn instead used Medina sandstone.

On May 10, 1888, the church was almost destroyed following an explosion and fire.  All that remained was the walls.  The church was rebuilt according to Upjohn’s original plans and reopened in 1890.  St. Paul’s was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Rev. Shelton

Rev. Shelton

Shelton Square was named after Reverend William Shelton in 1897.  Shelton Square was a public space within Joseph Ellicott’s original street layout for Buffalo, at the intersection of Erie, Church, Main and Niagara, North Division and South Division Streets.  The area was where Joseph Ellicott originally planned to build his house.  He later donated land at Shelton Square to the churches.  In the 1950s, Shelton Square was considered Buffalo’s “Piccadilly Circus”.  A trolley/bus shelter was located in the middle of the square, and this served as the main hub for the entire city – serving the International Railway Company and then the Niagara Frontier Transit system.   Shelton Square disappeared during the 1970s, when a portion of Shelton Square was covered by the Main Place Mall, and Erie street was replaced by Cathedral Park.

Shelton Square 1908

Shelton Square 1908

St. Joseph’s Cathedral

St. Joseph's Cathedral in 1914

St. Joseph’s Cathedral in 1914

St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cathedral is located at 50 Franklin Street.  The church serves as the cathedral church for the Buffalo Diocese.  Buffalo’s first Bishop, John Timon, established St. Joseph’s in 1847.  The cathedral was dedicated in 1855 and was consecrated in 1863.  The original plans for the cathedral called for two towers at the north and south ends of the facade, but only the south tower was built.  The tower contained a 43 bell carillon (a musical instrument consisting of bells, typically found in church towers or municipal buildings).  At the time of installation in 1869, the carillon was the largest in America and the third largest in the world.  The bells were too large for the tower and never worked properly, so all but two were removed from the church.

In 1902, the Buffalo Diocese determined that a new cathedral was necessary, so property was purchased at Delaware Avenue and West Utica Street.  The New St. Joseph Cathedral opened in 1915, and St. Joseph’s downtown was known as “St. Joseph’s Old Cathedral”. The new cathedral was not built for Buffalo’s climate and major repairs had to be made as soon as 1924.  The exterior marble started to fall off and in 1976, the Bishop decided repairs would be too costly.  In 1977, after demolition of the new cathedral, the “old cathedral” reverted to its former name of St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

First Presbyterian Church

Color Portrait of the First Building of the First Presbyterian Church  (First Presbyterian Church archives)

Color Portrait of the First Building of the First Presbyterian Church (First Presbyterian Church archives)

The third of the churches was First Presbyterian Church.  When First Presbyterian Church was organized on February 2, 1812, it was the first organized religious body formed in Western New York.  The first building for the church was built at the corner of Pearl Street and Niagara Street.  The church opened in 1824 and was used by the church until 1827. As the congregation grew, the building was sold to another congregation in 1828 and moved to the corner of Genesee and Hickory Streets, and was later moved to Walnut Street in 1878.  The building saw many uses over the years – a school-house, a tenement,  a cooper’s shop and an icehouse for a brewery.  It was destroyed by a fire in 1882.  No pictures of the building are known to exist.

"Old First" Presbyterian Church (1827-1890) from the First Presbyterian Church Archives

“Old First” Presbyterian Church (1827-1890) from the First Presbyterian Church Archives

First Presbyterian’s “Brick Church” was dedicated in March 1827.  With seating for 800, it was the largest church west of the Genesee River.  The church’s bell was referred to as the “town clock bell” and served all of Buffalo as a fire alarm.  When sounding alarm for a fire in 1833, the bell cracked, but was quickly recast and served the church until the church was razed.  The bell was then presented to a church in North Tonawanda.

As the congregation grew, members also moved away from the central part of the City of Buffalo.  At the time of founding, most of the congregation lived near the church, but as the central business district developed, many had moved uptown and found congregations closer to their homes.  The church was at risk of closing.  Many members of the congregation were against moving the church, so the matter had to be taken up with the Presbytery and was taken to court.  The matter was resolved in favor of moving.

First Presbyterian Church today on Symphony Circle

First Presbyterian Church today on Symphony Circle

In 1887, Mrs. Truman Avery, who lived where Kleinhans Music Hall is now located, donated a parcel of land across the circle, at the corner of Wadsworth and Pennsylvania Streets.  In April 1889, the congregation was ordered by the city to sell the property to Erie County Savings Bank to make way for the bank’s new office.  (the bank was located at Shelton Square until the 1970s, when it was demolished for construction of the Main Place Mall).

Sources:

  1. The Catholic Church in the United States of America:  Undertaken to Celebrate the Golden Jubilee of His Holiness, Pope Pius X.  Volume 3.  Catholic Editing Company, New York, 1914.
  2. DeMille, George.  St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo, 1817-1967:  A Brief History.
  3. Rote, David.  30-A Shelton Square.  1994.  accessed through City of Buffalo Website:  https://www.ci.buffalo.ny.us/Home/OurCity/Buffalo_My_City/Buffalo_My_City_Watercolors/30A_Shelton_Square_1994

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joseph ellicottThis is the third and final part in a series about Joseph Ellicott.  Click here to read Part One about Joseph’s family and his early life.  Click here to read Part Two, about Joseph’s days with the  Holland Land Company.  Today, I am going to touch on Joseph’s legacy throughout Western New York.

Mindful of Buffalo’s strategic location as a port, Joseph Ellicott was a strong advocate for a canal to be built from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. He served as one of the first Erie Canal Commissioners and was appointed in 1816 to supervise the canal construction.  He was also responsible for convincing Governor Clinton not to send to England for engineers to design the canal, but to use local talent instead.  He donated more than 100,000 acres of company land for the canal project.  He resigned from the Canal in 1818, due to his declining health.

Joseph worked hard to further the settlement of Buffalo by encouraging development on certain transects.   As hard as Joseph worked, his later years were not as bright.  He suffered from physical and mental health issues in his later days.  As early as 1816 he began to suffer from periods of depression and melancholy.  At the time, his condition was thought to have been brought upon by his lonely, unmarried life as well as the disappointments of the unrealized hopes and dreams.  In 1821, the Holland Land Company suggested that he was no longer needed and  Joseph retired.   He became a hypochondriac and was admitted to Bloomingdale Asylum in New York City by his family around 1824.  He died in 1826 by hanging himself.  He was originally buried in New York City, but was exhumed and reburied in Batavia in the Batavia Cemetery.

Joseph Ellicott's Gravestone

Joseph Ellicott’s Gravestone

Joseph’s grave was erected in 1849 by his sister Rachel Evans. and is engraved with the following:

“He was the first resident agent of the Holland Land Company for whom in 1798 he began the survey of the western part of the state then owned by them.  Even at that day his predictions of its future wealth and importance fell but little short what has since been realized.  For more than twenty years, he used with great judgement combined with liberality, the powers entrusted to him as one of the earliest and by far the most efficient advocate of the Erie Canal.  His name is a part of the history of New York.  His reputation among his fellow citizens as a man of the highest intelligence as well as the influence of his station gave his opinions great weight with every successive administration during the first twenty years of the present century, and in every portion of the tract once subject to his control may be seen marks of his foresight and generosity.  He was the founder of Batavia and Buffalo, NY.”

The following places were named after Joseph Ellicott:

  • Ellicottville, New York – a village in Cattaraugus County
  • Ellicott, New York – town in Chautauqua County
  • Ellicott Square Building – A ten story office building in Downtown Buffalo.  When it was built in 1896, it was the largest office building in the world.  The building was designed by Charles Atwood of Daniel Burnham & Company Architects.  The building sits on the lot that Joseph Ellicott originally owned.
  • Ellicott Street – in addition to the one in Buffalo, there’s an Ellicott Street in Batavia, and an Ellicott Road in Orchard Park
  • Ellicott Complex – dorms at University of Buffalo
  • Ellicott Creek – a creek that runs through Tonawanda and Amherst
  • Ellicott Elementary School  -in orchard park
  • Ellicott Run – in Sinnemahoning State Park in Pennsylvania
Joseph Ellicott's Plan for the Village of New Amsterdam

Joseph Ellicott’s Plan for the Village of New Amsterdam

If you look closely at Joseph’s plan from 1804 (click on the picture for a better view), you will notice that some of the streets have different names.  Joseph named the streets after the dutch investors and  members of the Holland Land Company.

The street changes occurred on July 13, 1825.  There was a battle between the Highway Commissioners of the City of Buffalo and Joseph Ellicott.   As discussed in Part Two, Joseph owned a large lot in Downtown Buffalo.  After the Highway Commissioners decided that Main Street needed to be re-routed to cut through his property, Joseph changed his will to avoid leaving the land for a park.  In order to spite Joseph, the Commissioners changed the names of the streets:

  • Willink Avenue and Van Straphorst Avenue became Main Street
  • Schimmelpennick Avenue was renamed Niagara Street
  • Stadnitski Avenue was named Church Street since it was the location of St. Paul’s Church
  • Vallenhoven Street was named Erie Street
  • Cazenovia Street became Court Street, because the Courthouse was located near where the Central Library is currently located
  • North and South Onondaga Streets were merged to become Washington Street
  • North and South Cayuga Street became Pearl Street
  • Franklin was renamed from Tuscarora Street
  • Busti Avenue became Genesee Street
  • Mississauga Street became Morgan Street (which is currently South Elmwood)

In March 1836, Crow Street became Exchange Street.  In the end, Seneca, Swan, Chippewa, Huron, Eagle and Delaware were the only street names given by Joseph Ellicott that remained.

The Highway Commissioners must have felt a twinge of regret, because the changed the name of Oneida Street to Ellicott Street, honoring the man who laid out our streets and helped the fledgling Village of Buffalo Creek become the City of Buffalo.

To learn about how other streets got their name, check out the Street Index.  If you want to be the first to know about new blog posts, subscribe to the blog and updates will be emailed to you.  And as always, if you have any questions about specific streets, leave them in the comments and I can see what I can do to add them to my queue.

Sources:
  1. “Joseph Ellicott”  Memorial and Family History of Erie County New York. Volume 1, Biographical and Genealogical
  2. Beers, F.W.  ”Our County and It’s People:  A Descriptive Work on Genesee County, New York.”  J.W. Vose & Co Publishers, Syracuse NY 1890.
  3. “Our Street Names:  They Tell Much of Buffalo’s History”.  Buffalo Express, November 14, 1897.
  4. Burns, Rosamond.  ”Paving the Way For Settlers:  The Rise and Fall of the Holland Land Co.”  Buffalo News, January 25, 2004.
  5. Houghton, Frederick.  ”History of the Buffalo Creek Reservation”.   Buffalo Historical Society Publications, Volume 24:  Buffalo, 1920.

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Holland Land Purchase

Holland Land Purchase

This is Part Two of a series on Joseph Ellicott, for whom Ellicott Street is named.  If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can read it by clicking here.

Following his time surveying in Washington, DC and along the Georgia-Carolina boundary, Joseph Ellicott began to survey some property in Western PA that a group of Dutch investors purchased.  The Dutch Investors had formed the Holland Land Company to invest in land in New York and Pennsylvania.  The Company also purchased a large tract of land in Western New York known as the Holland Purchase.  The Holland Land Purchase consisted of approximately 3,250,000 acres of land, stretching from 12 miles west of the Genesee River to the present western boundary of New York State.  Much of the land had been owned by Robert Morris, who had purchased it from the Senecas.  Between 1798 and 1800, the area was surveyed under the direction of Joseph Ellicott.  Joseph brought a crew of 11 surveyors, each with his own assistants to survey the property.  Joseph himself surveyed the east line of the purchase.   While Joseph laid out the site of Buffalo, there were many who doubted a city would establish there. Interference from the State and Buffalo Creek Reservations was calmed due to Joseph’s skills as a surveyor and diplomat.  He persuaded the Senecas to leave the Village’s location out of the reservation.  At the time, the Buffalo River as we know it was only a simple stream that ended in a marshland.  Joseph foresaw that Buffalo would be important as a port due to the convergence of Buffalo Creek on Lake Erie.  In Spring 1798, Joseph opened the first wagon track in Erie County, improving the trails from East Transit to Buffalo, and from Buffalo to Batavia.

The Holland Land Company had purchased the land, intending to sell large tracts of lands to investors for a profit. The bankers were unable to sell large tracts of land and began to sell directly to settlers looking to build homes.   Holland Land Company bought the land for 35 cents per acre and sold it for $2-2.50 per acre.

Holland Land Office in Batavia (now a museum)

Holland Land Office in Batavia (now a museum)

Joseph Ellicott was appointed Resident Agent of the Holland Land Company and opened an office in Batavia in 1801.    He oversaw the surveying crews to complete the subdividing the land into townships , each six square miles.  The townships were then subdivided into lots.  The officers of the Holland Land Company had an extensive program to build roads, lay out towns and attract settlers to the area by selling small tracts of land on liberal terms and providing loans to help businessmen set up shops.  The typical agreement was a down payment of  5-25 percent to be paid in 4-8 years at 7 percent interest.  During that period, the settlers were required to clear several acres of land, erect a dwelling and fence in a portion of his property.   Pioneers purchasing land here faced the hard task of relocating.  It took weeks or months to navigate over muddy, rugged roads.   The area was primarily a primeval forest.   A typical settler would have to clear about 50 trees to build a modest log cabin.

The first map of Buffalo was made by Joseph in 1804, calling it the Village of New Amsterdam, to honor the Holland Land Company.   The fledgling Village had a population of about 25 at the time, including a blacksmith, a silversmith, and half a dozen houses.  While Ellicott wanted to call it “New Amsterdam”, the residents preferred the name of Buffalo Creek, so their name stuck, which was then later shortened to Buffalo.  He is responsible for the radial street plan of the City of Buffalo.  He named most of the streets after members of the Holland Land Company.

Buffalo Lots in 1805

Buffalo Lots in 1805
(Lot 104 can be seen in the center of the map)

Joseph Ellicott also purchased his own share of Downtown Buffalo, a 100-acre tract of land known as Outer Lot 104, bounded by the current Main Street, Swan Street, Eagle Street and Jefferson Avenue.  There was a half-moon shaped piece of land along the Main Street frontage of Joseph’s property, from which Niagara, Church and Erie Streets radiated.  Joseph planned to build a mansion on this half-moon; however, in 1809, the Village authorities decided to straighten Main Street.  Ellicott abandoned the idea of building on the lot and during his lifetime, no development occurred on Outer Lot 104.   Also, Ellicott changed his will, which had been drawn to leave the tract of land to the City for a public park.   Today, the Ellicott Square Building sits on the Main Street part of the lot, a fitting reminder of Ellicott’s influence in Buffalo.

Many of the settlers were unable to pay back for their land; however, Joseph was lenient with them and allowed them to extend their payments.   After 10 years, the Holland Land Company opened an office in Mayville in Chautauqua County. This allowed them to better serve the pioneers by ridding them of the burden of travelling all the way to Batavia to make payments.

During the War of 1812, the Holland Land Company allowed settlers to make payments in goods instead of cash.  They mostly accepted black salt, which they would then make into pearl ash to sell to Montreal.

In 1833, New York State laws changed, forcing foreign owners to be taxed the same as residents.  The Holland Land Company began to enforce their payment schedules and were no longer as lenient with settlers.

Holland Land Company Vault postcard, Mayville NY

Holland Land Company Vault postcard, Mayville

In 1835, the Holland Land Company sold its remaining holdings in Chautauqua County to Trumbell Cary, George Lay, Jacob LeRoy and Herman Redfield.  They instituted a new policy called the “Genesee Tariff”, forcing those who still owed to pay a penalty of a specific amount per acre in additional to the original price paid for the land.  They also threatened to sell the land to another purchaser if payments were not made.  The settlers fought back against the Genesee Tariff.  In 1836, 500 men gathered in Hartfield, rioted and marched to Mayville to destroy the Land Office.  The building and furniture were destroyed and the company’s books were burned in a bonfire.  The company salvaged what they could and reopened an office in Westfield.   William Seward was made the Land Agent of the new office, and was able to renew peace.  Seward later went on to become Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, and is best known for “Seward’s Folly”, aka the purchase of Alaska.  A stone vault near the present day County Courthouse is the only visible landmark of the Holland Land Company’s presence in Chautauqua County.

In 1839, the Holland Land Office in Batavia closed.  The last holdings of the company were sold in 1846 at little profit.  The building, which was built in 1815 to replace the original log cabins is still standing in Batavia.   The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The building was saved by a Batavia High School teacher, John Kennedy, and the Class of 1894.  The site currently operates as the Holland Land Office Museum.

For more on Ellicott’s legacy in Western New York, check out Part Three by clicking here.

Sources:

  1. “Joseph Ellicott”  Memorial and Family History of Erie County New York. Volume 1, Biographical and Genealogical
  2. Beers, F.W.  “Our County and It’s People:  A Descriptive Work on Genesee County, New York.”  J.W. Vose & Co Publishers, Syracuse NY 1890.
  3. “Our Street Names:  They Tell Much of Buffalo’s History”.  Buffalo Express, November 14, 1897.
  4. Burns, Rosamond.  “Paving the Way For Settlers:  The Rise and Fall of the Holland Land Co.”  Buffalo News, January 25, 2004.
  5. Houghton, Frederick.  “History of the Buffalo Creek Reservation”.   Buffalo Historical Society Publications, Volume 24:  Buffalo, 1920.

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ellicottEllicott Street is one of the main north-south thoroughfares in Downtown Buffalo.  As most people know, the street was named for Joseph Ellicott, the surveyor of the Holland Land Company who laid out the City of Buffalo.  Since Ellicott was such a prominent man, instead of making this post too long, I have decided to break it up into three posts.  Part 1 today is about Joseph’s early life.   Part 2 details Joseph’s work with the Holland Land Company.  Part 3 discusses Ellicott’s legacy.

Joseph Ellicott’s father, Joseph Ellicott, Sr. was founder of Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland in 1772 when he and his brothers set up a milling business there.  The elder Joseph Ellicott was instrumental in the farming of the area, by convincing the farmers to plant wheat instead of tobacco.  The farms flourished because he introduced fertilizer (using ground plaster of paris) to the area to help the depleted soil be revitalized.   After the Revolutionary War, they were growing enough wheat to build a mills and the town grew up around the mills.  Joseph Ellicott the elder had nine children.  Two of his sons, Andrew and Joseph Junior became surveyors.

Andrew Ellicott was born in 1754.   In 1784, Andrew was appointed to be a member of the survey group working to extend the survey of the Mason-Dixon line.   He also surveyed the “Ellicott Line” in 1786.  This is the line running north-south that forms the western boundary of Pennsylvania.  During his work, he met Benjamin Franklin.  Based on Franklin’s recommendations, Andrew was appointed by George Washington to survey the lands between Lake Erie and Pennsylvania to determine the border between Western New York and U.S. Territory.  He also made the first topographical study of the Niagara River.

Andrew Ellicott's Plan for Washington, D.C., 1792

Andrew Ellicott’s Plan for Washington, D.C., 1792

In 1791, Thomas Jefferson (then Secretary of State) selected Andrew to survey the boundaries of the Territory of Columbia, which became the District of Columbia (Washington, DC) in 1801.  During this time, he surveyed the future city of Washington, working with Pierre L’Enfant.   When L’Enfant disagreed with some of the commissioners, L’Enfant stepped down and Andrew took over the planning and revised the plans.  Andrew Ellicott’s plans, printed in 1792 were the first Washington city plans to receive wide circulation.

The Erie Triangle, Surveyed by Andrew Ellicott

The Erie Triangle, Surveyed by Andrew Ellicott

In 1794, Andrew plotted the road from Reading, PA to Presque Isle on Lake Erie.  He then laid out the City of Erie, PA and supervised the construction of Fort Erie.

In 1796, George Washington again commissioned Andrew for the commission to survey the border between the Spanish Territories in Florida and the United States.  He traveled via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.   He worked for four years on this survey and presented his final report to the government in 1800.  However, political administrations had changed and the Adams administration refused to pay Andrew for the work done on the survey.  He sold many of his possessions to support his family during this time.  When President Thomas Jefferson offered him the post of Surveyor General, Andrew turned it down due to his negative experience with the Adams administration.

Andrew’s brother, Joseph was born in 1760 in Bucks County, PA.   During Andrew’s survey of Washington, D.C., Joseph was Andrew’s chief assistant.  Following the survey of Washington, Joseph went to Georgia to survey the boundary line between Georgia and Carolina.  Following that survey, he returned to Pennsylvania, where he met up the Holland Land Company.

For more on Joseph’s days with the Holland Land Company, click here to read Part Two….

Sources:

  1. “Joseph Ellicott”  Memorial and Family History of Erie County New York. Volume 1, Biographical and Genealogical
  2. Beers, F.W.  “Our County and It’s People:  A descriptive Work on Genesee County, New York.”  J.W. Vose & Co Publishers, Syracuse NY 1890.
  3. “Our Street Names:  They Tell Much of Buffalo’s History”.  Buffalo Express, November 14, 1897.

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Perkins Drive is a little street coming off of Niagara Square, along the south side of City Hall.  It’s one of the streets in Buffalo that we drive on and most of us don’t realize it actually has a name.  It’s most well-known for showing up in google maps when you have directions starting from Buffalo.  When you list “Buffalo” as the starting point for directions, the first few steps normally get you onto the I-190 via Church Street using these steps:

  1.  Head South toward Perkins Drive
  2. Exit Traffic Circle onto Perkins Drive
  3. Turn Left onto S Elmwood Ave

Perkins Drive is named for Former Councilman Frank. C. Perkins.  He served as President of the Common Council.  He was considered a socialist at the time, but not a radical.  He was elected to the Council several times, but never spent more than $50 on a campaign.

Mr. Perkins was born in 1868 in Dunkirk, New York.  He won a scholarship to Cornell University and paid for the remainder of his education by publishing marketing booklets about the university   After graduating from Cornell, he studied electrical engineering in Germany and other European Countries.  He then opened an office in the Erie County Bank Building.  He conducted night school there to teach streetcar motormen and boys to learn the fundamentals of electricity.  Electrical equipment was still in its infancy at the time.  Mr. Perkins was published in electrical journals in the US, England and Germany.

He was the inventor of the first electric incubator to be patented.  He was well-known in the engineering community.  When he was elected to Council, he closed his consulting business.

Perkins Family House

Mr. Perkins and his wife lived at on Prospect Avenue near The Connecticut Street Armory.  Their house was the first house in Buffalo to be wired for electricity.  Mr. Perkins did all the wiring himself.  The Perkins Family was especially proud of an apple tree in their back yard which was 100 years old when they were living there.  The house is still standing today, I wonder if the apple tree is still there!

Mr. Perkins was a socialist, the type that was of the sort that advocated municipal ownership of electrical power plants to light the streets and asphalt plants to pave the streets.  He left the socialist party in 1920 after one of his appointments was rejected by the rest of the City Council.

For those of you who enjoyed yourselves at Larkin Square this summer might have heard about how the original proposal for Larkin Square was established in the earlier part of the century, but never built.  Here’s a post at the Hydraulics Press that explains a little more about that.

Mr. Perkins was known as “the watchdog of City Government”.  Shortly after his death, his fellow council members named the street after him.

 

Be sure to check out the Street Index to learn about other streets!

Sources:

  1. “Perkins Drive Memorial to Councilman”  Courier Express Apr 2, 1939, sec 5 p 2
  2. “Perkins Quits, Buffalo Local Socialists Are Not Surprised”  The New York Call, February 13, 1920, p3.

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Buffalo Skyway around 1956
(from WNY Heritage Website)

The Buffalo Skyway was originally known as “High Level Bridge”, a description of the function of getting the road over the Buffalo River.  The bridge opened in 1955 and was a marvel of modern engineering.  The bridge is fraught with controversy today, as many people see the skyway as a barrier to development of the waterfront.

The bridge eliminated the waits for railroad and lift bridges that plagued commutes between downtown Buffalo and South Buffalo/Lackawanna.    Plans for a bridge had been discussed amongst the Planning Commission as early as 1922.  Some early traffic planners had fought for a tunnel instead.  The tunnel idea was scrapped because the City would have been responsible for operation and maintenance costs for lighting, ventilating and other maintenance, which the City could not afford.  New York State is responsible for maintenance of the Bridge.

Some planners insisted that construction of either the bridge or a tunnel would be too expensive and not worthwhile.  The Skyway was built despite the fierce opposition and bitter criticism.  It was heralded as a triumph of development and engineering.

The highest piece of the bridge sits 120 feet above the River.  And the viaduct is 5,803 feet in length.  The Steel used to create the skyway was from the Bethlehem Steel plant, just down the road.  The girders were brought to the River via barge.   The Father Baker Bridge, further down the river, was built in similar fashion to cross the Union Slip Canal and opened in November the following year  The two plate girder spans measure 348 feet and at the time were the second longest on any structure in the United States (not sure if they still are).  The bridge was built by the Bates and Rogers Construction Corporation.  Approximately 10,000 cubic yards of concrete was used.  It is supported by 15 massive steel “bents”.  More than 10,000 gallons of paint were used to protect it from the weather.  The bridge incorporated 11,516 tons of structural steel that was fabricated by Bethlehem Steel.

The Street was named The Buffalo Skyway after a contest was held to name the bridge.  Mrs. Wallace E. Easter, of Lackawanna, submitted the name “Skyway”.  Mrs. Easter received a golden key to the City and $100 for her prize.  If you had to name the road, what would you have named it?

Officials on the Skyway
October 4, 1955
From The Buffalo News

The Bridge cost $12,000,000 (1955 dollars) and Opened on Oct 19, 1955.  The Ribbon Cutting Ceremony was held on October 19th and consisted of Mayor Pankow accompanying an inspection party of city and state officials on a tour by car and a ribbon cutting at the north abutment near Delaware and Church Street.  A reception was held following the ceremony at the Hotel Lafayette, which included an address by State Public Works Superintendent John W. Johnson.

The Skyway brought the start to some major transportation investment projects in Buffalo.  The following projects were announced as being funded during the reception (costs in 1955 dollars):

  • Union Slip Canal Bridge (aka the Father Baker Bridge…it has since been demolished) – $13,000,000
  • Kensington Expressway – $6,3,00,000 (for Section 1)
  • Broadway Viaduct Elimination (aka the Z-viaduct of the New York Central) – $2,4,00,000
  • Scajaquada Creek Expressway – $10,000,000.

These investments brought the City of Buffalo into a new time period.  A time where the car was king.   The state officials at the reception called the opening of the Skyway “so magnificent as to be unforgettable”.

Today, many people consider the Skyway to be a barrier to development of our waterfront.   Many public meetings regarding the waterfront, canalside, and other projects result in cries to remove the Skyway.  However, from a traffic perspective, it’s one of the best ways to move traffic.  It’s a key transportation artery in the City of Buffalo, carrying an average of 38,800 vehicles each day (according to 2011 data from GBNRTC).  The New York State Department of Transportation see the Skyway as “a safe, efficient sturdy roadway with another 40,50 years of life in it”.

Yesterday, a new article was published in Next American City which quotes the Congress for the New Urbanism stance that the Skyway as one of the top 12 roads that need to be removed.

Many argue that the accidents on the Skyway is a reason for its removal.  However, the rate of accidents on the Skyway is 0.61 accidents per mile, far below the statewide average for urban, divided four-lane highways, which is 1.52.

Some see the Skyway, with its smooth curves as graceful, while at the same time monumental and graceful.   The ride along the Skyway is unlike any other drive in Buffalo – these people see the climb, the descent, and the view as phenomenal.

So which side of the Skyway Debate do you fall on?

[To learn about other streets, check out the street index. ]

Sources:

  1. “Buffalo Skyway to Open” Oct 19 with a ribbon-cutting, Buffalo News 10-4-1955
  2. “Final River Span Lifted Into Place” , Courier Express 5-5-1955
  3. “Skyway Name Approved by Mayor” Buffalo News 10-6-1955
  4. “Traffic Streaming Over Skyway Heralds New Era For City”,  Buffalo News 10-19-1955
  5. “Skyway Called First Of Big Projects”,  Courier Express 10-20-1955
  6. “Skyway Celebrates 50th Year” Buffalo News, 10-21- 2005

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