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Today’s post doesn’t deal with a street, forgive me. It’s the seventh anniversary of Discovering Buffalo, One Street at a Time! This blog started as a research project for me to find out how Keppel Street got its name since that’s my last name. Seven years ago this week, I began researching in earnest and I realized I was learning all these cool stories.  By the first week in July, the blog posts started. In honor of the anniversary, I have decided to write about the woman who came 75 years before me, as the Original Buffalo Streets Girl, H. Katherine Smith.  She has basically become my new favorite Buffalo Gal!

highlight-for-xml.jpgHelen Katherine Smith was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. She went professionally by H. Katherine Smith and was known as Kate to her friends. Miss Smith’s paternal grandfather was director and general manager of the original Gas Company in Wilkes-Barre and her maternal grandfather was a founder and director of the Wilkes-Barre Deposit and Savings Bank. The family noted that Miss Smith got her business sense and drive from her grandfathers and that if she ever got tired of writing, she’d have made a wonderful business executive. Miss Smith’s first writing was to write rhymes for greeting cards, which she would sell with her father’s help as a young girl, for 25 cents a card.

Miss Smith was hired by the Buffalo Courier-Express in June of 1928. She had just graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College with a degree in journalism. Her most well known Sunday column was titled “Buffalo’s Good Listener”, a series that began in 1936. Published on Sunday’s, her articles were considered to be as important to Buffalonians as going to church. Other columns written by her were “Men You Ought to Know”, “Women of Achievement” and “Who’s Retired”.

Miss Smith also wrote a series of articles where she interviewed the descendents of families for whom Buffalo’s streets were named. These are one of the sources that I use as the first step of my research for this blog. This website is literally indebted to Miss Smith…if I hadn’t been referred to her articles seven years ago by the Research Librarian at the Buffalo History Museum (Cynthia Van Ness), none of what I’ve accomplished so far would have been possible. I like to think MIss Smith would be proud of the silly Buffalo Gal who found inspiration in her articles, seventy-five to eighty years after they were written. She was about my age when she was writing them too!

Miss Smith’s biggest accomplishment – she did it all while blind. She had been inspired by a journalism professor and decided that she wanted a newspaper job. After she graduated, she and her widowed mother had planned to travel from city to city to find a way to make it happen. Her father had passed away in 1913. Their first stop, five days after graduation, was in Buffalo and she got the job. Unknown to Miss Smith at the time, the same day she met with Courier Editor, the newspaper had run an editorial about her accomplishment of graduation with honors despite her blindness, commending her courage and success despite her obstacles and wished her luck in all her endeavors. She arrived in the editor’s office later that day and was hired. She found a niche at the Courier Express and produced many, many articles. By the end of her first nine years, she had already conducted more than 1,000 interviews.

She worked with the Courier-Express for more than 48 years, until her retirement in 1976, when she moved to Florida. In all the interviews she did over the years, she said “men are often easier to interview than women, for they are more certain of what they want to tell you, while women have a better memory for picturesque details”.

Most of her articles revolved around her interviews with people, in Western New York and beyond. She traveled to Hollywood, Europe, and South America. In her travels, she flew in a glider, floated down a river in Ecuador on a balsa raft, and raced across Lake Erie on an experimental hydro-skimmer. She covered press conferences in Washington, DC, during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In 1936, she covered South America and preparations for the Pan-American Peace Conference in Buenos Aires that fall. She sailed from New York and visited universities at Santiago, Chile, Lima, Peru, and Quito, Ecuador. She took two years of Spanish in college, and studied with a private tutor and became competent in Spanish. At the start of World War II, the President of Peru was in Buffalo for a press conference. All of the press were provided with the same summary sheet. Because of her Spanish skills, she was able to quickly ask him about Peru’s efforts to help the US War Effort while he shook all the reporters’ hands. She was the only reporter with the scoop because she was the only reporter to understand his response (in Spanish). In addition to her Spanish language skills, she minored in French in college and was an active member of the French Club of Buffalo.

TKRSummer1936_Page_21.jpg
Miss Smith lived in a second floor flat with her dog and her mother. Each day, one of her five volunteers would read her the local papers, which she would use to gather ideas for articles about personalities around the region. Many of her leads came from friends or readers. Often, the people she would interview would come to her home, otherwise, she would have someone drive her to their house or office. Her mother would often accompany her to the interviews, as a silent partner, reading silently while Miss Smith did her work. Sometimes, before the interview began, her mom would whisper to her details of the room that could serve as a lead in a story – for example, a picture of Lincoln over the fireplace or a stamp collection on the desk. Her mother would often read aloud for entertainment at home, as at the time, less than 1 percent of books were available in Braille and books on tape did not yet exist.

All of Miss Smith’s notes were taken in braille, which she learned at age 4, when she started kindergarten. The teacher herself taught herself braille and used the method to teach her. She had a private teacher for five years and then attended the Wilkes-Barre Institute before she attended Vassar. In 1969, she bought a tape recorder to help use during interviews when there were technical terms she was unfamiliar with. She always preferred not to use the tape recorder. After she’d type her story on her braille typewriter, she’d have someone read it to her for corrections before it was mailed in to the newsletter. Editors noted that her work was typically free from typographical errors.

She was active outside of her journalism work. She swam every morning at the Buffalo Athletic Club. She played bridge and may have been the only player to compete in championship tournaments while openly using marked cards. She won at least two tournaments in the Niagara Frontier. She had been a Camp Fire Girl and was awarded the Women of Achievement Medal from the Camp Fire Girls in 1939.

She was in demand as a speaker for many women’s and civic groups. One of her most popular presentations was titled “Adventures in Newspaper Writing”.

In addition to her journalism work, she also worked as a tutor for the blind, teaching braille to many students. She was an advocate for self-reliance for the sightless. Stating that she did “not believe that sightless people should be much together”. She felt that anyone that has to deal with adjustments to live is: “They must assume their own responsibility. They must bear extra expense and they must do extra work; it simply means working harder.” And Miss Smith surely worked hard to accomplish all she did. She was often invited to speak at schools for the blind. At one graduation, she said, “I was able to do it and I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to go ahead and make a mark for yourself. Of course, it requires courage”

I’ve really been inspired by Miss Smith’s story lately. I have had some difficulties with a condition called uveitis, which has led to a few bouts of temporary blindness. I am currently in one of those flares right now. It’s been a struggle, but I think to the example of Kate and everything she accomplished, and the prospect of my issues becoming permanent don’t seem quite as scary. It tends to put a damper in my ability to write for this blog at times, because so much of my research is done reading old books and microfilm, which aren’t exactly optimized for the visually impaired. It’s tough, but I know I’ll get through this.
Screenshot_20180604-211540.pngIn an interview after her retirement, Miss Smith said her favorite food was Italian eggplant (eggplant parmesan). She enjoyed cooking, but she didn’t like to bread the eggplant, because it’s too much work. A newspaper in Florida published her recipe for Italian eggplant, and I intend to add it to my repertoire. As those who know me know, eggplant parm is my favorite meal and a staple of my diet. I often will buy three eggplant at the farmer’s market and spend the afternoon breading them all at once and freeze the slices, because I also hate breading it too! I like to think Miss Smith and I would have been good friends. I can’t wait to sit around and chat with her in the great hereafter….imagine the two of us as a tag-team of interviewers! We’d be able to write-up some interesting stories for sure.

I still can’t believe I’ve been writing here on this blog for seven years! We’re a growing group of Buffalo History fans.  Thank you, thank you, thank you to every single one of you. It makes me so happy to share these stories and to hear your stories in return. I wish I could have a get together with all 6,800 of you and talk about history and Buffalo and everything else. Thank you to everyone who has read my posts or come to any of my lectures.  Please continue to share my posts with your friends, because the more the merrier.  I love writing these posts and I hope you all have gotten something from them too.   In addition to my regular streets presentations, I have a new presentation that I’ve been giving called “Which Side of the Skyway Do You Stand On?” about the history of the skyway; please contact me if you’re interested in having me give a presentation to your group.   I also have plans down the road to create a downtown walking tour to mesh together my love of history with my career as an urban planner.  So stay tuned, there’s always more to come.  We have covered close to 175 street names in the past seven years!   We’ve got a lot more yet to come!  Want to start back at the beginning?  Check out the street index to read all of the entries.  And again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!

Sources:

  1. Ritz, Joseph. “The Good Listener: Chatty for 33 Years” The Braille Monitor. January 1970. Inkprint Edition. National Federation of the Blind, Berkeley California..
  2. “Intrepid Reporter” The Key Reporter: The Phi Beta Kappa News Magazine. Summer 1936. Published by the United Chapters.
  3. “Journalism A Career of Rewards”. Palm Beach Post. Feb 22, 1980.
  4. Camp Fire Girls of Buffalo and Erie County , “Camp Fire Girls Women of Achievement Project, Helen Katherine Smith, 1939,” Digital Collections – University at Buffalo Libraries, accessed June 1, 2018, https://ubdigit.buffalo.edu/items/show/55927.
  5. “Katherine Smith, Blind Journalist, Great Personage”. The Post, Ellicottville NY July 18, 1934.
  6. Lyon, Jean. “A Newspaper Feature Writer Takes Notes in Braille” Perkins School for the Blind Bound Clippings: Occupations, 1908-1937.
  7. Winn, Marcia. “Buffalo Woman Tells of Her Work Here”. Perkins School for the Blind Bound Clippings: Occupations, 1908-1937.
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gill alleyGill Alley runs between Breckenridge Street and Auburn Avenue in the Elmwood Village.  Gill Alley is one of a common type of alley that exists in Buffalo, particularly around the West Side.  These alleys give access to carriage houses and garages via the rear of the properties along the adjacent streets.  Housing ads in the early parts of the 1900s used frontage along the alleys as a selling point for homes.  Many of these carriage houses have now been converted into apartments.

Gill Alley is named in honor of Helen Gill.  Mrs. Gill was the daughter of Guy C. Martin, who came to Buffalo from Vermont via canal boat.  He lived in Griffins Mills, a hamlet in the Town of Aurora.  There, he began working at the Rumsey tanneries.  He became superintendent of the Rumsey tannery in Holland and later of their Louisiana Street tannery.  He died in 1921 at the age of 102.  Helen was born in 1845, one of nine children.

Helen married Thaddeus S. Gill, the superintendent of Bush & Howard Company, a tannery that was located at Chicago and Scott Streets.  The family lived on North Division Street, when Mr. Gill passed away in 1888 at the age of 44.  Shortly before his death, the family had been discussing building a house further out of the congested areas of the city, in the new residential sections being developed north of downtown.  Between 1880s and 1900, the Elmwood area was being developed as a streetcar suburb, allowing residential living away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.

Helen decided after Thaddeus died that she would still build the house, despite her husband’s death.  She lived in a time when a woman’s place was considered to be in the home, but the man was the master of the house.  She purchased the property herself and even sketched out the original plans of the house.  The architect in charge of the construction only made minor changes to her design.

The Gill house is located at 482 Ashland Avenue.  When the Gill’s family home was built, the area was a part of John J Albright’s cow pasture.  Wild blackberry bushes grew around the pasture, which Mrs. Gill baked into pies.

helen gill graveMrs. Gill developed a large garden in the rear of her home.  She was a member of Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church and a Vice President of the Crippled Children’s Guild.  She lived for nearly thirty years in the home she had built for herself.  She died in 1919 and is buried in Forest Lawn.

Helen’s son, Howard M. Gill, was born in the North Division Street house, and continued to live in the Ashland house after his mother died.  He attended West Side School on School Street and Masten Park High School.  He worked for the New York Central Railroad, American Car & Foundry, and Goodyear Rubber Company.  He managed his mother’s estate following her death.

To learn about other streets, check out the Street Index

Source:  Buffalo Courier-Express, June 2, 1940. p 14-W.

 

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abbott.jpgAbbott Road is a road that starts in the City of Buffalo at an intersection of Bailey Avenue and South Park Avenue and runs to an intersection at Bayview Road/Armor Duells.  Abbott Road is about 9 miles in length and runs through not only the City of Buffalo, but also the City of Lackawanna and the Town of Orchard Park.   Abbott Road used to continue north across the Buffalo River towards the First Ward neighborhood, but that portion of the road was changed to South Park Avenue during the 1930s.

Brothers Samuel and Seth Abbott helped to build Abbott Road in 1809.  Seth Abbott lived at Abbott’s Corners and was interested in constructing a road to lead into Buffalo.  Samuel was one of the earliest settlers in Orchard Park.  The brothers helped clear the road of huge primeval trees, using their teams of oxen brought here from Vermont in 1807.  The road still follows, with only slight deviations, the same path that the brothers originally cleared.

The brothers’ ancestors came from England to Massachusetts in 1646.  Another ancestor, Timothy Abbott, was one of the first settlers of Rutland, Vermont.  From Vermont, Seth and Samuel made their way through the forest and ended in the vicinity of Orchard Park and Armour (a hamlet on the boundary between the towns of Hamburg and Orchard Park).  Armour was originally known as Abbott’s Corners after the Abbott brothers.  Abbott Road was originally known as Abbott’s Corners Road.  Often on the journey, they would have to leave their ox carts to go ahead to clear passages through the forest by hand before being able to bring the cart through the forest.

The Abbott brothers invested in large amounts of land.  Samuel was a farmer and surveyor and surveyed most of the principal early roads of Erie County.  In 1812, Samuel was first overseer of highways and fence viewer for District 10, East Hamburg.  During the war of 1812, Samuel Abbott and his wife, Sophia (Brown) Abbott were afraid that the British would continue south and burn them out.  They hid their most valuable possessions in the well next to their home.

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Samuel Abbott’s house in Orchard Park circa 1915 (source:  Orchard Park Bee)

Samuel was also the second supervisor of the Town of Hamburg in 1813.  He then moved to the Town of Boston, where at the first town meeting in 1818, he was elected first supervisor of the Town of Boston.  Around 1825, he returned to East Hamburg (now Town of Orchard Park) and built a home on East Quaker Road in front of the log cabin he had built ten years prior.  After Samuel died, his son Chauncey Abbott and wife Charlotte moved from Buffalo to the Hamburg house in 1851.  The house is at the corner of Franklin Chauncey Lane and Franklin Street were named after Chauncey and Franklin Abbott, sons of Samuel.

Seth and his wife Sophia (Starkweather) Abbott lived in Amour, formerly Abbott’s Corners.  Before Seth settled in the area, it was known as Wright’s Corners.  From 1812 until about 1850, Abbott’s Corners was the business center for Hamburg, also being the location of the post office.  In 1891, an influential resident Mr.  Louis Hepp, proposed renaming Abbott’s Corners to Armour, supposedly after the Armour Meat Packing Company after a trip to Chicago.Seth opened a tavern in 1820.  The tavern went by several names and had several owners before being destroyed by fire in 1912.   A new building containing a tavern and an inn was built in it’s place.  In April 1824, a meeting of concerned citizens was held at Seth Abbott’s home.  As a result of the meeting, the first public library in Southern Erie County was established.  The library opened in 1824 with $102 in seed money, selling subscriptions to fund the project.  Little else is known about this early library in Hamburg.

seth abbott graveSeth Abbott died on June 8, 1831 and is buried in Hillcrest Cemetery in Hamburg.

 

samuel abbott graveSamuel Abbott died on October 2, 1846 and is buried in Deuel Cemetery in Orchard Park.

 

 

 

 

To learn about other streets, check out the Street Index.

Sources:

  1. “Abbott Brothers Helped Build Road of that Name.”  Courier Express July 10, 1938, section 6 p. 10
  2. White, Truman, ed.  Our County and Its People:  A Descriptive Work on Erie County, New York, Volume 2.  The Boston History Company:1898.
  3. Kulp, Suzanne and Joseph Bieron.  Images of America:  Orchard Park.  Acadia Publishing, Portsmith, NH:  2004.
  4. Kulp, Suzanne.  History of Orchard Park.  http://orchardparkny.org/content/history  accessed February 24, 2018.
  5. “Seder’s Armor inn, historic site of Seth Abbott’s original hotel, later become Hook’s Armor Inn”.  Hamburg Sun.  December 17, 2009.

 

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kimmelKimmel Avenue is a short street, running two blocks between Abbott Road and Cazenovia Creek in South Buffalo.  The street is named after Christian Kimmel, an inventor.

Christian Kimmel was born in Hennigen, Wurttemberg, Germany in 1842.  At age 20, he came to America with his brother, George, and they settled in Cleveland.  He began working with the Big Four railroad.  While he was in that job, he realized there was a large amount of waste in the oil refinement process.  The brothers would experiment to try to find a way to change the process and reclaim the sulfuric acid.  They worked in a barn with kettles and spoons.  After four years of experiments, they were successful in 1876 and patented their process.

With a patent in hand, they arrived in Buffalo to open a large reclaiming plant on Seneca Street near the Erie Railroad tracks.  By 1892, Standard Oil bought their patent and the brothers were able to retire.  Christian was 50 at the time.

After retirement, he became active in Republican politics in the Fifth Ward (what we’d consider South Buffalo today)  He served as a Committeeman and was considered to be a man of influence in his neighborhood.  His main concern was the floods that happened every spring when the Buffalo River overflowed its banks.  He was instrumental in the enlargement of sewers and outlets from the Buffalo River to the lake.  He also worked hard to get the Stevenson Street bridge built.

Mr. Kimmel married Christiana Kress of Cleveland.  The Kimmels had three daughters and three sons. They lived at 256 Babcock Street.  The rear section of the house was built by the Native Americans in the late 1700s.  Mr. Kimmel’s daughter moved into the house, and the rest of the Kimmels moved into a new home, built at 1869 Seneca Street.

kimmel graveMr. Kimmel owned much of the real estate on the street that now bears his name.  In addition to real estate and politics, he enjoyed working in his yard and garden and was proud of his horses, which he’d drive around town on their carriage.

Mr. Kimmel died in March 1903.  He is buried in Forest Lawn.

 

To learn about other streets:  check out the Street Index.

Sources:

  1. Courier Express Jan 26, 1941, sec 5 p 4
  2. Kimmel Family genealogy.  Found online at:  http://www.kimmelfamily.net/1800.htm

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exchangeExchange Street has been an important street in Buffalo since the early days of settlement.  Exchange Street runs approximately 1.75 miles from Main Street in Downtown to Selkirk Street, near the Larkin District of the East Side of Buffalo.  Exchange Street was one of the first streets in Buffalo, originally a pathway that was traveled by Red Jacket and other members of the Seneca Nation as they came into Buffalo from the Buffalo Creek reservation. Joseph Ellicott incorporated the path when he laid out the original street plan for Buffalo.  The street was originally named Crow Street.  Exchange Street was particularly important during the railroad era of Buffalo’s history.

Map Showing the Inner Lots of Buffalo. Source

Map Showing the Inner Lots of Buffalo.  Source

John Crow arrived in Buffalo around 1801 or 1802, coming from Whitestone in Oneida County, New York.   Mr. Crow occupied a house on Inner Lot No. 1, the southwest corner of Washington and Crow Streets.  The log house had been built by Mr. Johnston, an Indian agent and interpreter who served for the British government and remained here until the Holland Land Company arrived.  Mr. Johnston had received land from the Native Americans in exchange for providing them with boards and planks from the timber on his land.  Legally, Mr. Johnston’s  land hold was not binding.  In negotiations with the Holland Land Company, Mr. Johnston gave up a portion of his land in exchange for keeping a portion along Buffalo Creek where he had his lumber mill separate from the Buffalo Creek Reservation.  Mr. Crow built an addition to the house with a tavern.

When Erastus Granger arrived in Buffalo to serve as postmaster, he set up shop in Mr. Crow’s tavern.  The tavern was also the first place of lodging for Samuel Pratt when he arrived in Buffalo.   You can visit a replica of the Crow Tavern and Mr. Granger’s post office in the Pioneer Gallery at the Buffalo History Museum.  At the time, Exchange Street only ran from Main to Washington, as no streets at the time had been laid out beyond those early streets.   In 1806, Buffalo had 16 houses (8 on Main Street, 3 on the Terrace, 3 on Seneca Street, and 2 on Cayuga-now Pearl Street), two stores – a contractor’s store and a drug store, two taverns, and two blacksmiths.  Mr. Crow stayed in Buffalo until 1806, when he moved to Hamburg and later Pennsylvania. Mr. Crow died in Waterford, PA in 1830.

In 1809, Crow’s Tavern became Landon’s, which burned down in 1813 during the Burning of Buffalo. It was rebuilt by Mr. Landon after the war, and was operated by him until 1824.  In 1825, Phineas Baron took over and renamed it the Mansion House.  Mansion House was in business until 1929!

Source: Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo

Source: Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo

The street was named Crow until many “gentleman” of the city felt that Crow was a vulgar name, since crows were considered to be vulgar, dirty birds, so the street was changed to Exchange Street in 1836.  By 1839, there were several unsuccessful petitions to try to change the name back to Crow.

ex-post

Exchange Street Terminal – NY Central

Many train stations were located along the Exchange Street corridor as early as the 1850s.  The New York Central Exchange Street Terminal was built in 1870, with expansions in 1885, 1900, 1901, 1906 and 1907.  The station was the starting point from where most people entering the City of Buffalo.  For 58 years, the station was the arrival point of most people coming to Buffalo.  Exchange Street was the first thing most people saw when they arrived.

In 1929, New York Central transferred its base of operations to the Curtiss Street Terminal (what we refer to today as Central Terminal) in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood of Buffalo.   They all closed their doors after the new terminal was built.  The Exchange Street station was still used by some commuters but they did not provide the neighborhood with enough spending to support businesses, as they rushed from their train to their office for work. The majority of the station was boarded up and only the western entrance was open.  The station restaurant and newsstand closed, and only one door was opened for coming and going.  Only two ticket windows remained open.  The offices over the station closed because most of the personnel went to Curtiss Street.

Central Terminal Under Construction

Curtiss Street Terminal (Central Terminal) Under Construction

Before the station closed, the Exchange Street corridor was one of the most important thoroughfares.  The street was busy with manufacturing, railroad terminals, hotels, and stores.  The Courier-Express said of the street’s heyday, “Exchange Street took off its hat to none of its rivals.”  There were shops for souvenirs and postcards, neighborhood restaurants and lunch counters, and cafes.  Trains arrived at all times of the day and night, so there was a constant flurry of mail trucks, express trucks, delivery vehicles, and people.  One hundred trains a day stopped at the old station.  A story goes that while Grover Cleveland was President, he was on a train heading to a funeral and a friend was staying at the European Hotel at the northwest corner of Washington and Exchange.  President Cleveland asked the train to stop so he could visit with his friend.  The hotel was then renamed the Washington Hotel in order to capitalize on its presidential connection.  The Exchange Street depot was the starting point of the Buffalo Belt Line railroad in 1883, which circled the city and allowed development of the City of Buffalo outside of the downtown core.

Once the NY Central train station closed, Exchange Street was left “looking something like Goldsmith’s deserted village.”  The popular Mansion House hotel, with its roots stretching back to Crow’s original tavern, closed after the train station left.  Between Michigan Avenue and Main Street, there had been a dozen barber shops which all closed.

eriedepot.jpg

Erie Railroad Depot

In addition to the NY Central station, there was also the Erie Station at Michigan and Exchange Street, and the Lehigh Valley Station was nearby on Washington Street.  In 1935, the NY Central Exchange Street Depot was torn down.  Also that year, the Erie Railroad Station was abandoned, when they moved their facilities into the DL&W Terminal on the Waterfront.   This was considered by some to be the end of Exchange Street as a bustling corridor.

The Lehigh Valley station and the right-of-way was purchased in 1954 by New York State to build the Niagara Section of the New York State Thruway.  In 1955, the Buffalo News purchased some of the surplus lands from the State to build their current building (1 News Plaza). The Thruway was built through this section of Downtown Buffalo and opened in 1960.  The six-mile-long Downtown Buffalo part of the Niagara Section was the last portion to be completed of the 559 miles of the New York State Thruway System.

The Exchange Street Terminal continues to serve trains today.  A new, significantly smaller Exchange Street station was built on Exchange Street in 1952.  This station served 21 trains a day and the station used two platforms that were connected via a walkway.  Passenger railroad traffic continued to decline and the station closed in 1962 when service to Niagara Falls was suspended.  Buffalo Central Terminal closed on October 28, 1979 and Amtrak service switched that morning back to Exchange Street where a new station was being built, which opened in 1980.  The Amtrak station currently serves eight trains a day at Exchange Street.

For more than 150 years, railroads were a huge part of the life of the Exchange Street corridor.  There is current talk (2016) about building a new train station in Buffalo.  The One Seneca Tower, with its one million square feet of vacant commercial space, sits ready for redevelopment at the end of Exchange Street at Main Street.  At the other end of Exchange Street, recent developments in the Larkin District are rejuvenating that area.  What’s next for Exchange Street?  It’s yet to be seen.  What would you like to see there?

To learn about other streets, check out the Street Index!

Sources:

  1. “Rebirth Awaited”. Buffalo Courier Express.  August 6, 1935
  2. Ketchum, William.  An Authentic and Comprehensive History of Buffalo, Vol. II.Rockwell, Baker & Hill, Printers, Buffalo NY, 1865.
  3. “Old Railroad Station Once City’s Busiest Spot”.  Buffalo Times, October 25, 1931.
  4. New York State Thruway Authority Records
  5. “As Silence Reigns in Old Exchange Street” Frank L. Blake.  Buffalo Times, Sept 1, 1929
  6. “Terrace Program Revives Memories of Exchange Street’s Famous Days” Buffalo News. Feb 25, 1950.  Streets Scrapbook Vol 1 pg 43

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rileystRiley Street is a street in the Masten Neighborhood of the East Side of Buffalo, running from Main Street to Fillmore Avenue.  The street is named after Major General Bennet Riley.  Note 1:  sometimes his first name is spelled Bennett, but his gravestone says Bennet, so I’m using that spelling.  Note 2:  There was another famous General Riley in Western New York, General Aaron Riley, whose house still stands in East Aurora.  As far as I can tell, the two men are not related.  Riley street in East Aurora is named after Aaron Riley and Riley Street in Buffalo is named after Bennet Riley.

19547819_122948017206Bennet Riley was born in St. Mary’s, Maryland in 1787.  He served as an apprentice in a cobbler shop as a young man, later serving as a foreman in a shoe factory.

Riley volunteered for service in the War of 1812.  In January 1813, he was appointed Ensign of Rifles.  He saw action at Sackets Harbor, New York, in the second of two battles to control the shipyards on Lake Ontario.  He was promoted to first lieutenant in March 1817.  He later advanced to captain in the 5th US Infantry and in 1821, he was transferred to the 6th US infantry.  He was promoted to brevet major in 1828 and lead the first military escort along the Santa Fe Trail in 1829.

Mr. Riley married Arabella Israel of Philadelphia in 1834.  They had eight children, including  twins William and Samuel who died in Fort King, Florida in 1841 and Bennet, Jr. who served in the Navy and died aboard the war-sloop USS Albany which disappeared with all hands in 1854. In Buffalo, the Riley Family lived in a frame house at Main and Barker Streets (1238 Main Street – where Delta Sonic is now located).  The house was later known as the Cobb Mansion, was home to St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in 1897 before they moved to Kenmore Avenue, and the site was then the location of Bishop Fallon High School.  It is said that Riley enjoyed purchasing second-hand furniture to furnish his house, and he purchased so much that while he was away, Mrs. Riley would send it downtown to be sold at auction.  One story survives that says that General Riley returned home and attended a sale, and ended up buying back many of his items, without an inkling that he was actually purchasing items that he had previously owned!

In 1837, Riley served as major of the Fourth Infantry and was stationed at Fort Gibson on the Arkansas River.  From Fort Gibson, he was ordered to Florida, where he was an active part of the Seminole War.  In 1842, at the close of the war in Florida, he was ordered to Buffalo, where he served at the Buffalo Barracks.

1840 Map showing the Buffalo Barracks. Source: National Parks Service, Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site

1840 Map showing the Buffalo Barracks.
Source: National Parks Service, Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site

The Buffalo Barracks was built near what was then the northern edge of the city in the fall of 1839.  The federal government leased the land from Ebenezer Walden to use eighteen acres of land, bounded by Main, Allen, Delaware and North Streets.  Buildings were erected and were occupied during winter 1839.  The Barracks was built in response to the Patriot’s War with Canada in 1837.  At the time, Buffalonians still remembered the Burning of Buffalo during the War of 1812, which had occurred just 25 years earlier during the winter of 1813-1814.

The facility was also known as the Pointsett Barracks, named after the Secretary of War, Joel Pointsett.  The buildings formed a rectangle around the parade grounds on the northern end of the barracks.  Buildings included company quarters (enlisted men’s housing), officer’s quarters, storehouses, a guardhouse and stables.  The first regiment to occupy the barracks was Col. James Bankhead’s 2nd Artillery.  And was later occupied by Lt. Col. Crane’s 4th Artillery, and then by Bennet Riley’s 2nd Infantry.  The military post became a center of social life in Buffalo, who enjoyed watching military parades and listening to the military band.  Many of the officers became an important part of Buffalo social society and ended up marrying Buffalo women.

In December 1839, Riley is promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd Regiment of Infantry.  His officers quarters are located near where Allen Street and North Pearl Street now meet.  In mid-1840, the officer’s quarters were likely moved to the Barracks property.  In 1841, Lt. Colonel Riley is promoted to full Colonel, becoming the 4th and final Commandant of the Buffalo Barracks.   In Mid 1845, Col. Riley and his 2nd infantry are ordered to the Mexican Border.  The government abandoned the post at the Buffalo Barracks shortly after, breaking its lease with the land.  Relations with Canada improved by the mid-1840s and Fort Porter opened in 1845, rendering the barracks redundant.  The property was sold for $2,250 and the buildings were demolished, except for the quarters that house the Commandant and the Post Surgeon.  This building is now the front portion of the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site.  The quarters made up the portion of the house that includes the present-day library and exhibit room and the second floor above.  The house was originally one of a row of three identical houses, each designed as duplexes to house two officers and their families, one on each side.  The house was renovated into a single family house by Judge Masten and his family.

californiaIn summer of 1846, Riley was ordered away to Mexico to join the army of General Taylor.  After the war with Mexico, Riley served at Fort Hamilton, New York in 1848.  He then commanded the Military Department in Upper California in 1849 and 1850.  He served as the provisional Governor of California.  At the time, congress was debating on the issue of California statehood, which made his role complicated.  The California Territory was transitioning from Mexican to American lawn and the Gold Rush at the time was violent.  Riley commanded eight companies of infantry, two artillery and two dragoons between San Diego and San Francisco.  The military had a hard time preventing the slaughter of California’s native population and was unable to suppress the violence in the often lawless gold camps.

riley grave forest lawnAfter the administrative service concluded in California, Riley was next sent to a regiment on the Rio Grande.  His declining health prevent his further military service, so he retired. He returned to his home in Buffalo, where he was greeted with a grand ovation.  The Mayor and a committee of citizens received him, along with a military escort and a procession of civil societies and citizens.  Of his return, it was recalled in 1892, “flags and banners flying, everything conspired to give a festal appearance to the city”.   There was some talk that he should be nominated to be President (a member of the Whig party).  He claimed that he “never got the presidential bee in his bonnet” and that he ” was far too sensible for that”.  He died of cancer on June 9, 1853.  He had a full military funeral, escorted by the 65th Regiment and the Independent Guard, commanded by Major Bidwell.  He is buried at Forest Lawn.  Riley Street was laid out in 1859 and dedicated in commemoration of his death.

Major General Riley is one of only three generals for whom military posts were named.  In June 1852, Camp Center (Kansas Territory) was renamed Fort Riley in Bennet Riley’s honor.  Riley County, Kansas is also named in his honor.

 

Sources:

  1. “Souvenirs of Major General Bennet Riley.”Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society, Volume 25.
  2. https://www.nps.gov/thri/buffalobarracks.htm
  3. “Streets Have Historical Link”.  Buffalo Courier Express, Sunday December 7, 1952.  p 7.
  4. “An Old Buffalonians Recollections of Gen. Bennett Riley”.  Buffalo Evening News.  April 16, 1892.  p4.

 

 

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This week marks five years since I started Discovering Buffalo, One Street at a Time.  I started this blog in part because some of my friends were sick of me constantly telling them about the history of Buffalo.  I needed an outlet to share the stories, so the blog was born.  My little hobby has grown and I love the community we have built.

Here are some stats from the last five years:

  • The blog has covered 144 streets.
  • There are 5,627 people who follow the blog.
  • The blog has had 181,839 views.  That is an average of about 100 views a day!
  • I was able to purchase the buffalostreets.com domain.
  • Early in 2014, I started giving presentations of the streets research.  I have presented at Forest Lawn, to church groups, at Senior Centers (via Erie County University Express), on Winging It on WIVB-TV, on the Penny Wolfgang show on the radio, and to other various groups.

I appreciate all of you so much!  Thanks to everyone who sends me comments and emails, and everyone who shares their stories with me.  I hope you all know how much I appreciate hearing your ideas and memories of things just as much as I love giving you the facts.  One of the highlights of my life as a history blogger was when I was recognized as the streets girl by a former congressman!

I may not have time to reply to every single comment – but I do read and appreciate them all.  I notice when you share blog posts on facebook or twitter, and I appreciate that as well.  Sometimes, if I don’t reply, it’s because you piqued my interest and I’m trying to do some research for you before I reply.  Buffalo’s history is a rich fabric and it’s likely we’ll never completely know everything.  But I’m happy to be a part of it all and sharing what I can.  I wish I had time to post more often, but this is still just a hobby for me.  A wonderful, rewarding, satisfying hobby that I will keep up for a long time.

A question I often get is “will you write a book?”  This is on my long range plan.  It may be a long, long, long range plan, but hopefully eventually I will find a way to make it happen.  Until then, I’ll keep plugging away, and discovering Buffalo, one street at a time.

Lots of Buffalove,

Angela Keppel

PS.  Sneak Peak:  The story of Maj. General Riley and what was at the Teddy Roosevelt site before it was the Teddy Roosevelt site will be coming soon!

 

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