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Hi friends! I started this blog ten years ago this week!!  As most of you may know, I started researching streets because I wanted to know how Keppel Street got its name, since that’s my last name.  As I learned about other streets, I knew I needed to share the stories I was uncovering.  I created this blog to be able to have a medium to share those stories.

IMG_20200310_123744In ten years time, I’ve written 139 posts and we have covered 206 streets!!!  I’ve given more than 100 talks around Western New York on streets and other local history topics.  The blog somehow has more than 8,500 followers!  When I started, I thought maybe I’d have around 12 followers. I am continually blown away by all the interest and support I have received.  Over the last decade, it seems like interest in Buffalo’s history has grown exponentially.  It’s an exciting time to be a historian in Buffalo!    

I am often asked how I do my research.  I spend hours and hours in my favorite place – the Grosvenor Room at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.  There are stacks and stacks of books about Buffalo’s history there.  If you’ve never been, I highly recommend.  The librarians there are top notch and can help you begin your quest.  It’s easy to get lost in the old books, discovering new things.  Loyal blog readers will know that the Grosvenor Library was originally a separate library, named after Seth Grosvenor.  Interestingly, in the past year, I was contacted by someone from Seth Grosvenor’s hometown who was doing some research.  Felt like a full circle moment for sure!  I felt quite lost during the months last year when the library was closed during the pandemic.  I am happy to be back researching at the library!  

IMG_20210407_152507_504Historic research can be hard!  There are no easy answers.  Someone asked me once if there was a website that listed who all the streets were named after that I use.  The website is this site here, the one I created!! Research comes from hours and hours of searching through old books and microfilm! You hit a lot of dead ends sometimes when researching.  You’ll think you found a source that will answer your question, but then you open in and it’s not about what you thought it was.  But sometimes, you’ll turn the page and find new information about something you didn’t even know you were looking for!  Research is frustrating and rewarding and exhausting and exiting and so many emotions all at the same time.  

Over the last decade, I think I have gotten better at research. I take great pride in trying to post the most factual information I can find.  While there has been a lot of renewed interest in Buffalo’s past, I have also found there has also been a lot of misremembering.  Often it’s no-one’s fault….I picture Buffalo like a giant game of telephone!  You remember telephone?  The old camp game where you whisper something into someone’s ear and they pass it along the line of people.  By the end of the line, the message sometimes gets a little twisted.  Especially with social media, it’s easy for those stories to travel quickly and myths to get widely dispersed around town.  I try to verify the information I find, and always list my sources.  I like to think my elementary school librarians and teachers who taught me the fundamentals of research would be proud.  I promise that I will never post information that I cannot verify.  

As a result of my increased research skills over the last decade, my posts often end up being longer and take more time to write.  My average words per post has gone up significantly from my first posts.  I really enjoy being able to take a deeper dive into some of the subject matter.  If people are interested, I am go back and write more about some of the earlier street names, to cover information I may not have uncovered the first time around.  Let me know if that’s something you’re interested in reading.   I am especially proud of the work I did this past year about urban renewal in regards to JFK Park and North Oak Street.  I also finally wrote about my hero Mary Talbert…it took me three parts to tell her story!

69220510_2797217353640960_1905424552532377600_nI am proud to announce that I will be kicking off walking tours again this summer!  My first one will be “Discovering Downtown – Then and Now” on Sunday July 25th. This will be the same tour I gave in Summer 2019, but I hope to branch out and do some additional tours as well, so stay tuned.  More information about the tour can be found at the Discovering Buffalo, One Street at a Time facebook page.  I hope to do tours monthly.  Additional tour dates will be posted over time, so follow along on facebook for more info.  The tours will be free, but donations will be graciously accepted.  All proceeds will be used to build up my blog and invest back into my research.  Interested in donating but can’t come on a tour?  You can send a donation to me through paypal here:  https://paypal.me/akepps?locale.x=en_US

I will also be doing a virtual talk through Erie County Senior Services University Express Program.  Discovering Buffalo One Street at a Time Part 4 will be at 10am on July 7th.  You can register for that by clicking this link.  You can also find Parts 1, 2 and 3 archived on their website here.  

Thank you to everyone who has followed my blog, shared their stories with me or shared my blog with their friends and family.  I really appreciate you all from the bottom of my heart.  While I don’t always have time to reply to every single message or comment, I promise I read them all and try to reply to as many as I can.  I’d love to know – what’s your favorite street I’ve written about?  or maybe that I haven’t written about?  

Want to see a list of all the streets I’ve written about?  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.

So here’s to ten years!  Ten years and I still don’t know how Keppel Street got it’s name.  They named 150 streets the day they named Keppel Street!  It’s one of those things I wonder if we’ll ever actually know.  But I love this crazy hobby of mine, so I’ll keep looking.  I love being the Buffalo Streets Girl and telling you all the stories of all the other streets!!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Take Care,

Angela Keppel

 

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Happy Women’s History Month!!  As any good reader of this blog knows, our streets are often named after rich white men.  So, in honor of Women’s History Month, I thought we’d highlight some of our street named after women.  

Mary B Talbert

Mary Talbert

  • Mary Talbert Blvd – Mrs. Talbert was the “most famous colored person in the country” during her time.  Read about her here in Part One, Part Two and Part Three.
  • Lovejoy Street – Sarah Lovejoy was the only woman killed defending Buffalo during the War of 1812.  You can read about her here.  
  • St. John’s Place – Margaret St. John’s home was the only house spared during the Burning of Buffalo during the War of 1812.  You can read about her here.  
  • Ripley Place – Mary Ripley was a teacher at Central High School.  She was charged with taming the boy’s study hall classes, which were the source of riots and police calls during the 1860s.  You can read about her here.
  • Lovering Ave – Sarah Lovering Truscott, along with her niece and daughter give this street its name.  Her niece, Mary Lovering, was one of the first society women in Buffalo to earn her living outside of the home.  You can read about them here.  
  • Gill Alley – Helen Gill decided to build a home in the Elmwood Village after her husband died.  This was unusual at the time, since most Victorian era homes were run by the man of the house.  You can read about her here.  
  • Gladys Holmes Blvd and Mary Johnson Blvd – Gladys and Mary were community activists on the East Side of Buffalo, living in the Talbert Mall.  You can read about them here.  
  • Minnie Gillette Drive – Minnie Gillette was our first Black County Legislator and helped to save the Old Post Office in Downtown (now ECC City Campus).  You can read about her here.  
  • Ora Wrighter Drive – Ora Wrighter was a community activist on the East Side of Buffalo.  You can read about her here.  
  • Wasmuth Avenue – Caroline Wasmuth was the first female land developer in Buffalo, back in the 1880s.  You can read about her here.  
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    Lavinia Austin

    Austin Street – While the street is named after her husband, Livinia Austin took over his business (with her daughter Delia) after his death and did some developing of her own, including converting the Unitarian Church at 110 Franklin Street from a church into commercial space.  The county is currently rehabbing the building for use once again, calling it the Lincoln Building.  You can read about Livinia and the Austin family, here. Lavinia Austin
  • Many of the streets with women’s names were named after the children of a developer or land owner.  Examples of some of these streets that I’ve written about here include – Alice, Edith, Fay, Gail, Janet, Kay, May, Phyllis and Millicent. 

Of course, I have to give a shout out to the original Buffalo Streets girl herself, H. Katherine Smith.  She was a reporter for the Buffalo Courier for more than 40 years, and she was blind!  Her story inspires me every single time I read one of her articles.  

Of course, these women are just a few examples of some of the great Buffalo Women over the years!  In the comments, feel free to tell me your favorite stories about your favorite Buffalo Women!   I’ll start – my favorite is Louise Bethune, one of the first female architects. She designed the Hotel Lafayette, which has been my home for the last nine years, so I am forever grateful to her.  Who’s your favorite female Buffalonian?

 

 

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This week marks 9 years of writing this blog.  Where has the time gone?  In those nine years, I got rid of my car, moved twice, and have had four different jobs!  In June of 2011, I decided I needed to find out how Keppel Street got it’s name.  So I started doing research.  Funny how such a little question I had turned into all of this!  So far, we have covered information about 183 streets.  Can you believe it?

89846546_1781223202012043_4603468453204983808_oIn the past year, I’ve had some great opportunities – I gave a bunch of University Express presentations which has been great fun!  In the fall, we covered “Which Side of the Skyway Are You On?”  It was really fun to discuss the history of the Skyway and differing opinions on it.  This spring, we switched to online classes, and I’ve done “Discovering Buffalo One Street at a Time” Parts 1, 2 and 3 so far!  You can find them on Erie County’s website here.  Stay tuned, we may be doing a Part 4 at some point.  Last summer/fall, I tested out some ideas for tours.  I’m definitely planning on doing more once it’s safe to congregate in groups again!  In March, I spoke at the Library as part of the Imagine Greater Buffalo series.  Since it was Women’s History Month, I spoke about streets named after women.  WBFO got wind of it and I was then interviewed for a story about streets named after women.

I hope you all have been enjoying my current series about streets named after African Americans.  I intend to continue those pieces through the summer at least.  I have several more in the works that will be coming very soon – including Mary Talbert, who is one of my all time favorite Buffalonians.  When I was in Arkansas in March (just before pandemic hit), I was able to visit some of the places associated with her when she lived there before she moved to Buffalo.  It was very special to me.  I’m actually ashamed I haven’t written about her on here yet!

As most of you know, this is truly a passion project for me.  I love sharing stories about our city and regional history.  I’m so thankful for all of you who have followed along over the last nine years.  When I started writing this, I thought I’d only have like 12 followers….boy was I wrong about that!

Just for fun, here are some some things that were also happening in Buffalo in June 2011:

  1. Terry Pegula had just purchased the Sabres a few months earlier.   The Sabres had just played in the playoffs for the last time since that year.  Lindy Ruff was still coach.  Thomas Vanek was our best player.
  2. Chris Collins was still our County Executive.  Mark Poloncarz was still just our trusty County Comptroller, but was about to be elected County Executive in the fall
  3. Byron Brown was in his second term as Mayor.  Andrew Cuomo was six months into his first term as Governor.
  4. Thursdays in the Square moved from Lafayette Square down to the Central Wharf and became Thursdays at Canalside.  The first concert at Canalside was June 30th, 2011 and was Lowest of the Low and Ron Hawkins and the Do Good Assassins.
  5. Canalside was just the property south of Marine Drive and west of Main Street.  The portion near Main Street wasn’t even grass yet (Pegula donated the sod to fill in the grass there).  There were no restaurants or buildings yet.  The New Naval Park Museum and Liberty Hound would open in 2012.  One Canalside was still the State-owned Donovan Building; HarborCenter was just a city-owned parking lot, and the Aud Block was just a giant pit.
  6. The Construction was just wrapping up at the old Dulski Federal Building – now the The Avant/Embassy Suites.
  7. Larkin Square and Larkinville were still just a twinkle in the eye of Howard and Leslie Zemsky.  Larkin Square and the Filling Station would open in 2012.  Food Truck Tuesday wasn’t really a concept we knew about yet. Our first food truck, Lloyd, had just started serving burritos a year before and food trucks were new on the scene!
  8. The tower at the end of Main Street was still known as HSBC Tower and it was still used by bank employees for another two years.
  9. The Hotel Lafayette was still vacant.  We still had to drive to Rochester for Dinosaur BBQ.  Toutant, Big Ditch, Tappo, Thin Man….none of them existed.
  10. Buffalo was preparing to be the location of the National Trust Preservation Conference in the fall.  During that conference, the Richardson Building was open to the public for the first time.  It would still be two years before construction began on Hotel Henry.

Years ago (maybe in 2011) there was a Sabres blog I used to follow that would do a summary of things people search for to find your blog.  I always enjoyed reading those updates.  Many people search for generic things like “streets of Buffalo History”, “buffalo streets blog” or “Angela Keppel”.  It’s weird to see that people search my name so often, but also kind of cool.

Here’s the top ten things people searched for to find my blog this past year.  If you click the link, it will take you to the associated articles:

  1. Canal District -including things like “central wharf”, “dante place”, and “end of erie canal in buffalo history”.  I have been doing some research about the Canalside area lately for a project we’re doing at work, so hopefully I’ll have some more coming about this in the future!
  2. Church Street – people are really interested in the downtown churches of Buffalo (and there used to be many more before they moved out of Downtown), and they search for the three churches on Church Street often, for the location of Old First Presbyterian Church…perhaps those are people who went on a tour of First Pres and are curious about where they used to be?
  3. Rumsey– people are continually interested in the Rumsey Family and learning about Rumsey Park….many of the Rumsey Park contemporaries probably were curious too – those who didn’t get invites to parties there surely gawked at the properties as they walked by or rode by in their carriages.
  4. Kelly Island – I don’t even have a post about this yet and it’s consistently in the top list! There was an announcement in the news a few months ago regarding a property on Kelly Island…and my blog was one of the few places that mention the Island….although it’s just an offhand mention because Ganson Street is located on Kelly Island.  I have more research to come about the Island (which is where General Mills and Riverworks are today).  I hope to learn more about the name soon.
  5. Lovejoy– Sarah Lovejoy and her son Henry are something people search for often.  I’m glad her story continues to be told.  Her bravery protecting her home inspires me.
  6. Ellicott– people are often searching for more about Joseph Ellicott and the Holland Land Company.  Joseph is the reason for Buffalo’s existence as we know it, so I’m glad people are still looking for more information about him.
  7. Tifft– people have been coming across the blog from searching for “Tifft House”, which was a great building on Main Street, as well as searching for George Washington Tifft himself and “Tifft Farm”.  Sometimes, I wonder if a few of the Tifft searches are looking for directions or info about operations at Tifft Farm Nature Preserve….if so, I’m sorry you got to my blog, but I hope you enjoyed learning the history of the site!
  8. Exchange– people searched for “what businesses were on exchange street in the 1800s”, “New York Central station on Exchange Street”, as well as searching for the other stations that were on or near Exchange Street historically.  I think people have a renewed interest due to the new Amtrak Station that is under construction now.
  9. Scajaquada– this is of course a common search item for people in Buffalo.  There’s been lots of news and lots of debates about if we should change the expressway to a parkway, etc.  I also like that some people have found my blog by searching for “Kenjockety” or some of the other spelling of his name.
  10. Central Park – when this first started showing up in my search terms, I was convinced that people were trying to find Central Park in New York and were probably super confused when they found an article about Lewis Bennett.  But lately, there have been more searches for things like “former stores in central park plaza” and “history of central park plaza” so I think it’s Buffalo related.  The Central Park neighborhood and the Central Park Plaza are an interesting part of Buffalo’s history and it seems like more and more people are interested in it!

So, how did you find my blog?  Do you have a favorite street history you’ve learned about?  Let me know in the comments!  My favorite fact that I’ve learned is still about how handsome Bishop John Timon was in his youth!

I hope you are enjoying what is going to be a very different summer for us all.  We’ll have to have a big party next year to celebrate 10 years.  New posts coming soon!

Love,

Angela “9 Years & I still don’t know how Keppel St got its name” Keppel

 

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May 2020 Update

Hello fellow street history fans!  I just wanted to write a quick post to check in and see how everyone is doing during this pandemic?  I am healthy and working from home these days.  I try to get out and walk every day around my neighborhood, which I’ve been enjoying when it’s not snowing!  For those not in Buffalo, today – May 8th- it is snowing!  I like winter, but I am ready for some warmth!

I really miss writing blog posts!  I have some research I can do online, but many of you know that a lot of my research takes place using old books and microfilm in the Grosvenor Room at the Buffalo Central Library.  I take pride in trying to find as many sources as I can to verify facts before I publish information, which is tricky when my sources are all locked up for public safety!  I’m hoping to pull together some new posts soon, piecing together some of the research I do have access to at this time.

Some of you may know that I have been a long time speaker with the Erie County Department of Senior Services University Express Program.  University Express brings courses to Seniors across Erie County.  Since we can’t meet in person now, I have partnered with the county to do some of my programs as virtual courses.  Two have been posted so far:

“Discovering Buffalo, One Street at a Time” Part 1 is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=au0PB_iL5oE

“Discovering Buffalo, One Street at a Time” Part 2 is available here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZxjQKknCjs

To see more great courses by other great speakers, you can check out the County’s page.  They are posting new content each week, so keep checking back for more on their site here:  https://www2.erie.gov/universityexpress/index.php?q=current-classes

I had been hoping to launch my history walking tours this summer.  I had a lot of fun last summer with my two test tours!  It’s still undetermined if we’ll safely be able to meet up in groups over the summer, so it’s looking like that may not happen.  I may toy around with putting some of the tour content online…perhaps using Instagram stories.  Is this something you may be interested in?  Please leave a comment below!

Keep in mind that we’ve covered a lot of streets on here, so if you’re bored, you can always check out the Street Index to read up on all the streets we’ve covered here!

I hope you all are staying well.  To all the mother’s out there – Happy Mother’s Day this weekend!

Thank you as always, for all of your support,

Angela Keppel

 

 

 

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blossomBlossom Street is a street in Downtown Buffalo that runs between East Huron Street and Broadway.  It is cut in half by Hersee Alley.  It functions mainly as an alley for buildings along Ellicott and Oak Streets these days, but it is still designated as a street by the City of Buffalo.  Buildings along the street have windows and doorway entrances that once looked out onto Blossom Street, but are now bricked over.

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Street sign that has seen better days

 

20200301_154105It is not named for flowers, but for Ira Allen Blossom.  Mr. Blossom served as right hand man to Joseph Ellicott. Mr. Blossom’s family were pioneers in Monmouth, Maine, where Ira was born in 1789.  In his 20s, Ira moved to Meadville Pennsylvania for work.  When he was 26, he came to Buffalo as Joseph Ellicott’s assistant.

Mr. Blossom started as Joseph Ellicott’saide in 1821 and was later a Subagent for the Holland Land Company following Joseph’s resignation.  Mr. Blossom was connected to the Holland Land Company until the company was sold to the Farmer’s Loan & Trust Company in the 1840s.  He was then appointed receiver of the Buffalo branch of the United States Bank.  He was also made receiver of the Commercial Bank.  While working for the Holland Land Company and the banks, he was known for being lenient with giving credit to promising young men to start their businesses.  A number of businessmen in Buffalo attributed much of their success to Mr. Blossom’s confidence in them and expressing his confidence through credit.

 

Mr. Blossom partnered with Mr.Lewis Allen to lease what is now the site of the Ellicott Square Building.  In May, 1829, they secured a 63 year lease for the property bounded by Main, North Division, Washington and Swan Streets.  They were able to get the lease at a bargain.  This land had been set aside for Joseph Ellicott by the Holland Land Company in 1816 to build his home, but the Village Trustees interfered and straightened the path of Main Street.  Joseph was disgusted and gave the land to Joseph Ellicott the younger, his nephew.  For the first 21 years, they paid only $700 ($16,000 in today’s dollars) per year, for the second 21 years $850 ($19,000) a year, and for the third 21 years, they paid $1,000 ($23,000) a year.

It was written of Mr. Blossom and Mr. Allen at the time, “the magnitude of their enterprise frightened every conservative in town.” They saw the potential of the site and built a block of fourteen 2-story buildings on the site.  The first legitimate theater in Buffalo was built on the site in 1835.  This theater, William Duffy’s Theater, was on South Division Street between the alley at Washington Street.  It burned down in the 1840s.  The Young Men’s Association (which became the Buffalo Public Library) leased and occupied the upper part of the Theater building.  Reverend Cicero Stevens Hawkins worshiped in the theater in the late 1830s with a group of Episcopalians.  These worshipers later formed Trinity Church, on Delaware Avenue.  Other buildings on the site were filled with businesses as well.

20200301_151957

Buildings located at what is now the Ellicott Square Building

Mr. Blossom and Mr. Allen’s lease on the Ellicott Square ran out in 1892, after both men had died.  On March 1, 1893, the properties were all purchased by the Ellicott Square Company for a fee of $1,080,000 (about $33,583,730 today).   By 1895, when they were planning to construct the Ellicott Square Building, the buildings on this property were described as “the sorriest exhibit of business buildings in the city.”  The planned Ellicott Square Building was expected to cost 2 Million to construct.

Mr. Blossom married Eunice Hubbard.  They lived at the triangle at Franklin, Swan and Erie Streets, across from St. Joseph’s Cathedral.   The famous naturalist Audubon was a guest at their home.  Mr. Audubon was thought to have painted portraits of the Blossoms in 1825, which the family treasured.  The house stood in a garden and was framed by majestic trees of the primeval forest.  The Blossoms had one daughter, Anna.

In 1831, Mr. Blossom, along with John Beals, Samuel Callendar, Elizah Einer, James McKay and Noah Sprague met to organize a parish of the Unitarian church.  The congregation grew and constructed its first building in 1833, at the corner of Franklin and Eagle Street.  The building is still standing today, having been remodeled into a commercial building by the Austin Family. 

In 1832, Mr. Blossom was elected to Buffalo’s first Board of Alderman.  For two terms, he represented the old Third Ward on the board.  He was offered other public offices, but he declined them.  He helped to incorporate the University of Buffalo and was on the university’s first council.

He also was known for giving generously to public projects he believed would benefit Buffalo.  He was known for his hospitality.  He was also known for taking care of the poor, at a time when the indigent were not considered a general public responsibility; his gifts and kindness helped many families.

blossom grave 2He died in 1856.  Mr. Blossom’s tombstone read “a man who never turned his back on his honor, a loyal citizen, a generous friend.”  He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

After Mr. Blossom died, living across from the Cathedral and hearing it’s carillon inspired Mrs. Blossom to become a Catholic.  She gave the house to the church.  On the site of the house, St. Stephen’s Hall was built.   Mrs. Blossom and Anna moved to New England.  When Mrs. Blossom died in 1875, she was buried along with her husband in Forest Lawn.

Portraits of Mr. Blossom can be found in the collection of the Albright Knox Art Gallery and the Buffalo History Museum, both portraits are the same painting.  The portrait in the Albright Knox Collection was attributed to John James Audubon and was believed to have been painted in 1825. The Albright’s  portrait was donated, along with a portrait of Mrs. Blossom, in 1943 by the grandson of the Blossoms, Ira A.B. Smith.  The second portrait, was donated to the Buffalo Historical Society at a later date by the estate of one of Mr. Blossom’s associates in the Holland Land Company office.  This second portrait was accompanied by Mr. Blossom’s journals.  The 1835 journal reveals that an associate (Mr. Johnson) commissioned the painting, along with a copy, for his colleague in 1835.  The paintings are both believed to have been done by Samuel Bell Waugh and not by Audubon as had been originally thought.  Both museums attribute the painting to Waugh now.  The picture of Mr. Blossom in this article is a newspaper copy clipping of the painting.

To learn about other streets, check out the Street Index.   Be sure to subscribe to the blog so that new posts are sent directly to you – you can do so on the right hand side of the home page.  You can also like my blog page on facebook at facebook.com/buffalostreets.

Sources:

  1. Winner, Julia Hull.  “The Puzzle of Buffalo’s Two Ira Blossom Portraits that Look Just Alike”.  Buffalo Evening News Magazine.  December 1, 1962, p 1.
  2. “Centennial Planned for Unitarian Church”.  Buffalo Evening News.  November 21, 1931.  p 4.
  3. Buffalo Changes:  The Old Buildings Now on Good Business Sites, and the New Structures which are to Replace Them.  Buffalo Express.  Feb 3, 1895.
  4. Audubon Works Are Acquired by Art Gallery.  Courier Express , Nov 19, 1939, sec 5 p3.
  5. Goldberg, Arthur.  The Buffalo Public Library:  Commemorating its first century of service to the citizens of Buffalo – 1836-1936.  Privately Printed, Buffalo New York, MCMXXXVII (1937).
  6. Smith, Katherine.  Named for Ira Blossom. Courier Express Nov 19, 1939, sec. 5, p3.

 

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ramsdellToday’s post is about two streets – Ramsdell Street and Eugene Avenue.  Ramsdell Street is an east-west street running between Delaware Avenue and Grove Street in North Buffalo. At the end of the street is a park, Ramsdell Park.

ramsdell

The street is named for William Mayhew Ramsdell. Mr. Ramsdell’s parents, Henry and Mary Ann came to Buffalo from New London Connecticut in the early 1850s via the Erie Canal. The family is descended from Elder Brewster of Mayflower fame. William was born in July 1864 at 49 Mariner Street. At the time, Mariner Street ran from Virginia Street into the”North Street woods”. Between Virginia Street and the Ramsdell Home, there was a large vacant lot. Mr. Ramsdell attended the old School 36 on Day’s Park and the Old Central HIgh School.

In 1879, at age 15, Mr. Ramsdell began delivering the Buffalo Express along the waterfront. Two years later, he applied for a job in the office of the newspaper. His job was a combination of office boy and printer’s devil – an assistant to the printer. He quickly advanced through the ranks, serving as collector, cashier, assistant business manager, advertising manager, business manager and in 1901, he became publisher of the Buffalo Express. He remained with the Express as publisher until the merger with the Buffalo Courier, at which time he retired.

In 1893, he founded the first newspaper travel bureau in the state outside of New York City. Mr. Ramsdell enjoyed traveling himself. He made seven trips to Europe between 1907 and 1937. In 1912, while in Europe, he met Rudyard Kipling (author of the Jungle Book). Mr. Ramsdell and Mr. Kipling corresponded for many years. mr. Rasmdell was also an acquaintance of Presidents Cleveland, McKinley, Taft, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover.

Mr. Ramsdell married Margaret Scott Adam in 1894. Margaret was the adopted daughter of Robert B. Adam of AM&As. They had one son, Robert, and three daughters: Margaret, who married Dexter P Rumsey Jr; Gay, who married John L Kimberly; and Jean, who married Luther E. Wood. The family lived for 11 years at 54 Ashland Avenue and for 31 years at 1132 Delaware Avenue (now an Amigone Funeral Home). After retirement, the Ramsdells lived in the Windsor Apartments on West Ferry Street.

Mr. Ramsdell was known for his sense of humor. When asked on forms where a space was listed for “college degree”, he’d write that he “once lived at 48 College Street.”

southkenmore

View from Eberhardt Mansion (large building at NW corner Delaware and Kenmore Ave)

Mr. Ramsdell was a member of the Delaware Avenue Land Company, which bought and developed a tract of land from Delaware Avenue to Military Road, north of the Beltline Railroad. They purchased the land in the 1890s. At the time, Mr. Ramsdell stated “that property seemed so far from the center of town that we owners were considered very optimistic in our expectation that homes and factories would be built there”. The land company ended up struggling to develop the land and sold it for barely more than what they had paid for it. The land company dissolved in 1898, the same year the electric street car first extended to Kenmore, with the Village of Kenmore incorporating in 1899. If they had held on a little longer, they may have been able to make more money from the land.

In the early days of Kenmore, they referred to this section of North Buffalo as “South Kenmore”. There was a two room school house built on Ramsdell Avenue that accommodated 40 students. The school was also used by the Baptist Congregation of Kenmore. The school later suffered a fire and remodeled as a home, still standing at 29 Ramsdell Avenue.

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Mr. Ramsdell was a life member of the Wanakah Country Club, the Buffalo Academy of Fine Arts, the Buffalo Public Library and the Fort Niagara Association. He attended Westminster Presbyterian Church. Mr. Ramsdell died in 1948 and is buried in Forest Lawn.

eugeneEugene Avenue is a north-south street running from Washington Avenue in Kenmore to a dead end near Delaware Consumer’s Square (Target Plaza).  One of Ramsdell’s partners in the Delaware Avenue Land Company was Eugene Fluery. Eugene Street is named after him. Mr. Fleury was a former music critic and cirulation manager at the Buffalo Express, working with Mr. Ramsdell there. Mr. Fleury was born and educated in New York City. He was associated with newspapers of Cleveland and other cities before coming to Buffalo. He worked for the Express for 17 years. He lived on Linden Avenue and died on December 8, 1903.

If you’d like to learn about additional streets, check out the Street Index.  Be sure to subscribe to the blog so that new posts are sent directly to you.  You can do so on the right hand side of the homepage.  You can also like the page on facebook at facebook.com/buffalostreets .

Sources:

  1. “Descendant of Elder Brewster has a Street Bearing His Name”. Buffalo Courier-Express. July 7, 1940. 4L.
  2. “W.M. Ramsdell, 83, is Dead; Ex-Carrier Rose to Publisher”. Buffalo Evening News. Jan 2, 1948,33.
  3. “Land Company Dissolution”. Buffalo Evening News. October 21, 1898.
  4. “Eugene Street Carries Given Name of Express Music Critic”. Buffalo Courier Express. February 2, 1941. 2, sec 6.
  5. Parkhurst, Frederick. History of Kenmore, Erie County, New York. Village of Kenmore, New York, 1926.
  6. Percy, John and Graham Miller.  Images of America:  Kenmore, New York.  Arcadia Publishing.  Charleston South Carolina, 1998.

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smithSmith Street is a 2 mile long road on the East Side of Buffalo running from the Buffalo River to Broadway. Smith Street is one of the interchanges from the I-190 Thruway, Exit 4.

Henry Kendall Smith was born on the island of Santa Cruz (now Saint Croix) on April 2, 1811. His parents were Jeremiah Smith and Jane Cooper Smith, who were of English origin. At the time of his birth, the island was in possession of the English during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1815, following the peace between Britain and France, the island was once again a Danish territory. Mr. Smith, Henry’s father, was an architect and builder. While the English had occupied the Island, there had been prosperity. When Denmark returned to power, property values depreciated greatly and many plantation owners were ruined. The change in government caused Mr. Smith to lose a great deal of money. However, his social standing allowed him to achieve the rank of major in the Danish provincial army, which allowed him an income as opposed to financial ruin. One day, while passing through a fort, some quicklime was accidentally throw into his face. Following the accident, he was confided to bed for weeks and blinded for life. At the time, the family consisted of Jeremiah and Jane, along with two sons and two daughters. The family struggled to make ends meet. Mrs. Smith, was not discouraged by the family’s misfortune, and helped her children to look towards the future. A long litigation took place revolving around the accident. Eventually, rather than continue the ligation to get his fair share due to him, Henry’s father accepted a settlement of $1,500 from the party responsible for his injuries, in order to be able to educate Henry.

At the age of 8, Henry was sent to Baltimore to study under Reverend Dr. Berry, a minister of the Church of England and a scholar. When Henry left for Baltimore, his father told him that he would now have to take care of himself and that it was his responsibility as to whether he would sink or swim. Henry reported replied that he would swim, and left behind his family forever.

For those who have seen the musical Hamilton, or know Alexander Hamilton’s history, Henry’s story will sound familiar. Alexander Hamilton was also from St. Croix, and was sent to America to receive an education after experiencing poverty early in life.

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Henry Smith’s Mayoral Portrait

At age 17, he became a clerk at a wholesale dry goods store in New York City. In his free time, he would continue his studies of the classics, believing that there was another occupation out there for him, and that he would not be a clerk forever. One day, his employer told Henry that he was acting like a woman or a “clumsy boor”. So Henry told his employer that he could do the work himself, and left the store. Shortly prior, he had met Daniel Cady of Johnstown, New York. who was engaged in a trial in New York. After listening to Cady’s arguments and the reply by Ogden Hoffman, Henry was inspired and decided he would become a lawyer.

Henry traveled to Johnstown, found Mr. Cady, and asked to enter his office as a law student. At the time, lawyers did not go to law school, but rather learned the trade in a law office. Mr. Cady welcomed Henry into his office. Henry was devoted to his books and continued his studies under Mr. Cady until he was ready for his examination. While he was studying, he earned an income by teaching at a school. Henry was admitted to the bar in May 1832 and continued to practice in Johnstown. In October of that year, the Young Men’s State Democratic Convention met in Utica, and Mr. Smith was one of the delegates from Montgomery County. During the convention, he delivered a speech regarding the nomination of a gubernatorial candidate which gave him the reputation of an accomplished and logical speaker. At the convention, Henry met Honorable Israel T. Hatch, from Buffalo, who invited Henry to come to Buffalo.

Henry moved to Buffalo in spring of 1837, to form a partnership with Mr. Hatch. After working with Mr. Hatch, Henry also worked with George W Clinton, Mr. Williams, Isaac Verplanck and others in Buffalo.

At the breakout of the Patriots War in 1837, Henry was made Captain of one of the five companies of volunteers formed by citizens for the protection of Buffalo. He continued in the militia service for some time, passing through the ranks until he attained the rank of Colonel. When he was made Colonel, he was given a gold watch that had the inscription, “The citizens of Buffalo to Hon. Henry K Smith, the eloquent and efficient advocate of the Erie Canal and the rights of the City.”

In 1838, Mr. Smith was appointed District Attorney for Erie County. He resigned after seven months, because he was being requested so often for other civil business as a lawyer.

In 1844, he accepted the office of Recorder of the City of Buffalo, an office he held for four years. Subsequently, in 1846, he was appointed postmaster of Buffalo and held the office for two and a half years. In 1850, he was elected Mayor of Buffalo. He was nominated for state assembly, state senate and congress. In 1840 he was a delegate to the national convention which re-nominated Martin Van Buren for president (Van Buren lost that election to William Henry Harrison).

Mr. Smith married Miss Vorhees in spring of 1834. She was the daughter of a wealthy merchant of Johnstown. Unfortunately, she passed away shortly after their marriage. In 1838, he married Miss Sally Ann Thompson, the daughter of Shelton Thompson of Buffalo. After 18 months, she too passed away, leaving behind a son, Sheldon Thompson Smith. Henry suffered greatly after the death of both of his wives. To deal with his grief, he focused on the care and education of his son, on his professional duties and politics.

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Mr. Smith had considerable musical talents. He taught himself to play the violin. He would often be found singing with his family and would sing the Star Spangled Banner, God Save the King, and other patriot songs on festive occasions such as the Fourth of July or St. Patrick’s Day. He was a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal, during the time of Rev. Shelton, for whom Shelton Square was named.

Mr. Smith died on September 23, 1854, at age 43. He is buried in Forest Lawn.

During the 1950s and 1960s, there was a Proposed East Side Expressway that went through several iterations. The Expressway was originally planned to start at the Kensington Expressway at an interchange at Best Street, run along the south side of Humboldt Park, now MLK Park, and to continue along Walden Avenue. They then decided to shift the expressway south of Walden in order to preserve the Walden Business Corridor. The Expressway was going to run 2.6 miles and end at Walden Avenue near the City Line. The Expressway was included in New York State Highway Law 1957. In 1958, they decided that it would be better if they were also able to connect the Thruway I-190 to the Expressway with an additional route. This highway was thought to be beneficial to the planned opening of the Thruway Industrial Park and to help bring people into the struggling Broadway-Fillmore shopping district. At the time, Broadway-Fillmore was the 2nd most dense area, second only to Downtown in both size and value.

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One of the plans for the East Side Expressway and Smith Street Spur

The Proposed Smith Street spur would start at the East Side Expressway with an interchange at Miller Avenue, and continue southwest along Memorial Drive to Fillmore Avenue, then would follow Fillmore to Smith to the Smith Street interchange of the I-190. Reports at the time said that this spur of highway was “essential to the lifeblood of the East Side”. More than 300 houses were planned to be demolished as part of this Smith Street Spur proposal. The plan was debated for many years, with various alignments discussed and fought over. Elmer Youngmann, the District Engineer for the New York State Department of Public Works (for whom the Youngmann Expressway – I 290- was named) was against putting the spur down Memorial Avenue due to the high costs of the road due to the private properties along the route. Neither the East Side Expressway in this alignment nor the Smith Street Spur were ever built.

Want to learn about other streets? Check out the Street Index!

Sources:

1. Proctor, L.B. “Sketches of the Buffalo Bar: Henry K. Smith”. Published in Buffalo Courier & Republic, 1869.

2. Viele, Henry K. “Sketch of the Life of Hon. Henry K. Smith”. Published in Buffalo Courier & Republic, May 25, 1867.

3. Rizzo, Michael. Through the Mayor’s Eyes. Lulu Enterprises, Inc. 2005.

4. The Proposed East Side Expressway and Proposed New Arterial Route. Buffalo: 1961.

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Note from Angela:  This week marks eight years since I started researching and writing this blog.  In honor of the anniversary, I decided to have someone else write a post for me.  Today’s post is written by Natasha Davrados.  Natasha is a recent Masters in Urban Planning graduate from the University at Buffalo who has an interest in history and historic preservation.

Niagara Falls Boulevard was conceived, in the late 1880s, as a scenic connector between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. There was a need, largely due to increasing tourism, for a continuous, paved route to the Falls. Prior to the Boulevard there were travelling guides and digests that included confusing, quickly outdated written directions with zigzagging paths. Want for the route to include panoramic views posed some issues in the fast developing region causing the alignment of Niagara Falls Boulevard to change several times before settling where we know it today.

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1917 Map of Niagara Falls Blvd (Source: Automobile Journal Vol. 63 )

One of the first attempts was on the Niagara River waterfront along River Road. Conceivably, it would provide idyllic views of the river and the green shores of Canada and Grand Island but steam engines and streetcars had gotten there first. Not only did the fast-moving vehicles spoil the view and experience but they were dangerous too. One man, upset at the 20 mph speed of the streetcars, said “What good is the scenery going to do you if one of those cars hits you? You won’t even have time to sneak a glance at the river while they keep whizzing by.” Next, an inland option was proposed using Colvin Street, now Colvin Avenue, but with residential development quickly closing in, the Boulevard changed paths again. Moving further inland to the more bucolic Town Line Road, today Niagara Falls Boulevard, the third route would follow Ellicott, Sawyer’s, and Cayuga Creeks. This would continue to Pine Street in Niagara Falls as the permanent route. Almost. The Boulevard would make two more minor adjustments on Sawyer’s Creek and near Bergholtz.

 

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Visiting the spring on Goat Island (circa 1901)
(Source: Niagara Falls Public Library)

Thanks to the romanticism movement, which produced art and literature glorifying the American landscape, the northeast saw the rise of tourism in the 1820s. Travelling to escape the city, most well-to-do travelers sought out natural settings like mountain villages, hot springs, lakes, and beaches. They followed itineraries from fashionable guides and periodicals that outlined grand tours of the northeast that took weeks or even months. They included scenic views of the Hudson River and the Catskills with layovers in places like Saratoga Springs. Niagara Falls quickly became one of the most famous destinations of the nineteenth century. Shortly thereafter, the Falls became a popular destination for honeymooners earning it the moniker “honeymoon capital of the world.”

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Example of family auto camping (circa 1915-1923)
(Source: Library of Congress)

By the 1920s, leisure travel and the Sunday drive were taking the place of grand tours. Private automobile ownership was on the rise making travel accessible to more people. As car ownership increased, the route to Niagara Falls developed roadside attractions. Among them were tourist camps and the establishment of public campgrounds that could accommodate auto-camping. The “tourist-” or “motor-court” was the transition from camping to something more hotel-like featuring cabins with winterizing and running water. By the 1940s, the Boulevard was home to around 88 tourist camps and courts. After World War II, the family vacation became accessible to the middle class. The motel, a term coined around 1924, came to play their part with the colorful neon signage and pools or playgrounds prominently placed to entice motorists and their children. The Boulevard once boasted at least 27 motels of varying sizes and styles catering to all types of travelers.

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Castle Courts Motel postcard
(Source: The Cardboard America Archives)

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Former Castle Courts Motel is now the Rodeway Inn & Suites.
(Source:  https://www.booking.com/hotel/us/castle-motor-inn.html

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Example of a taxpayer strip (circa 1924)
(Source: University of New Mexico Library)

Commercial development on the Boulevard likely started as what was called the “taxpayer strip.” Much like the stripmalls that would come after them, taxpayer strips were made up of buildings constructed with cheap and efficient materials, going up quickly in order to begin making a profit as soon as possible. They were largely meant to be temporary but their presence influenced residential development and many became permanent fixtures with the first stripmalls, as we know them, appearing around the 1920s. The indoor shopping mall wouldn’t come to be until around 1956. The Boulevard gained its own shopping mall with the opening of the Boulevard Mall in 1963. The Buffalo Evening News explained that the mall would “not only provide Western New Yorkers with a new concept in shopping, but will launch a year-long program of community activities in the concourse of the spacious mall.”

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McDonalds on the Blvd, Amherst

Along with the rise of car culture came fast food restaurants which began to flourish on the Boulevard in the 1950s following the increasing suburban population. The afternoon or weekend drive to a fast food joint increased in popularity becoming a staple in many suburban households. The Boulevard was such a staple of car culture that the first McDonald’s in New York State opened on the Boulevard in 1958. This McDonald’s, though renovated, has maintained its signature double golden arch building design. There is also an Arby’s, opened a few years later, that still uses its original hat-shaped sign.

Niagara Falls Boulevard doesn’t seem like much of a tourist destination at the moment but it does present unique opportunities for both preservation and future development. It is very car oriented, somewhat to its detriment, but there are currently talks of part of the Boulevard being included in the light rail expansion. It will be exciting to see what the future has in store for the next chapter of development on the Boulevard.

Bibliography:

  1. Chiang and Shaffer, “See America First: Tourism And National Identity, 1880-1940.”
  2. “For A Boulevard To Niagara Falls”. Automobile Topics, 1908. 107-108.
  3. Jakle, John A. The Tourist: Travel In Twentieth-Century North America. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.
  4. “Niagara And The Great Lakes Country”. The Automobile Journal, 1917. 42-43.
  5. Ott, Bill, “Band to Play, Trans-Oceanic Phone Will Ring at Opening of the Boulevard Mall Wednesday,” Buffalo Evening News, March 12, 1963.
  6. Sullivan, T. John. “The Proposed Buffalo Niagara Falls Boulevard”. Good Roads Magazine, 1908. 219-221.

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military road

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

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

map of military road - from buffalo history gazette

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

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

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

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

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

Military Road Marker

Historic Marker near Amherst Street and Military Road

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

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

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

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

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

miliatry marker sheridan drive

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

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

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

Source:

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

 

 

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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.

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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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