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porterThe Porter family was very influential in Buffalo/Niagara during its formation and early years of settlement.  There is Porter Ave in Buffalo, Porter Road in Niagara Falls, a Town of Porter in Niagara County and the Porter Quadrangle complex at University of Buffalo.   Porter Avenue is located in the Front Park neighborhood on the West Side of Buffalo and is an Olmsted Parkway.   The street was originally known as Guide Board Road and predates Joseph Ellicott’s time in Buffalo.  It was an Indian Trail used during the Revolutionary War to a ferry which led to Canada.

Guide Board Road sign, on North Street near Franklin Street

Guide Board Road sign, on North Street near Franklin Street

The original street alignment went straight west towards the Niagara River.  When Frederick Law Olmsted designed the City’s parkway system, he decided to turn a portion of York Street into Porter Avenue, in order to connect to Front Park and Fort Porter.  This allowed the connections between parks that completes our parks system.

Castle at Fort Porter Postcard

Castle at Fort Porter Postcard

The former Fort Porter was located on the Lake Erie shoreline just north of Front Park.  Olmsted included the Fort’s grounds into his original plans for Front Park.  The Fort was torn down to build the Peace Bridge.  The Porter Family included Augustus and Peter Porter.  Augustus was prominent in Niagara Falls, living on and owning Goat Island  His brother Peter Porter was prominent in Black Rock/Buffalo.  

Peter Porter

Peter Porter

Peter Buell Porter was  born on August 14, 1773 and was raised in Connecticut.  He attended Yale and Litchfield Law School.  He moved west to Canandaigua for his law practice in 1793.  He served as Clerk of Ontario County from 1797 to 1804 and was elected to the New York State Assembly, representing Ontario and Steuben Counties in 1802.    

While in the Assembly, Peter Porter was influential in working with Joseph Ellicott to promote road construction in Buffalo.  However, shortly thereafter, Peter Porter began to develop a community two miles north of Buffalo called Black Rock.  At Black Rock, there was what was called a “safe and commodious” natural harbor, and the land was owned by New York State, unlike the majority of Western New York which was owned by the Holland Land Company.   Peter purchased land with his brother Augustus and Benjamin Baron to form Porter, Barton and Company.  New York State gave their trading firm a monopoly of the transportation business on the portage around Niagara Falls and it handled much of the trade on the Upper Great Lakes.

Around 1797, Joseph Ellicott tried to convince Porter and his friends to purchase property from the Holland Land Company.  Instead, they bought state lands along the Niagara River.  The laid out a town site, built warehouses and other trading facilities, establishing Black Rock.  This angered Paul Busti and other Holland Land Company agents, who then tried to purchased land from the State for the Holland Land Company in order to sabotage Porter’s plans.   As the town of Black Rock developed, the Holland Land Company tried hard to push Buffalo’s interests by using political influence in Albany.  However, Porter was equally determined to make Black Rock successful and had his own power in Albany.

Peter Porter moved to Black Rock in 1809 and was elected to the US House of Representatives, furthering his influence from Albany down to Washington, D.C.   He was so influential as a congressman that he convinced President Madison to move the customs house from Buffalo to the smaller Black Rock during summer (the more active) months. 

Map of Black Rock prior to the War of 1812

Map of Black Rock prior to the War of 1812

During the War of 1812, General Porter served in the New York State Militia.  In congress, Porter was labelled a War Hawk as he fought for security of the Niagara Frontier as the conflict leading up to the war became heated.  He found strong allies in Henry Clay and John Calhoun and was named  chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.  Porter was presented a gold medal from Congress on November 3, 1814 for “gallantry and good conduct” during the Battle of Chippewa, Battle of Niagara and Battle of Erie.

Following the War of 1812, Porter was able to assist in getting the War Department to use federal troops to repair and improve roads between Fort Niagara and Black Rock which were damaged during the war.  Porter also brought federal funds to the area to build roads and canals.  Porter and his supporters also wanted the federal government to build roads from the “Buffalo Frontier” to Washington to foster trade between the federal capital, the Atlantic Coast and the Great Lakes.  This led to conflicts between Black Rock (which was Peter Porter, because of his vast real estate holdings and commercial enterprises) and Buffalo’s leaders – including Samuel Wilkeson, Albert Tracy, David Day and Oliver Forward.  Buffalo’s leaders were on the side of Dewitt Clinton, Mayor of New York City at the time.  Porter and his friends were on the anti-Clinton political faction.

General Peter served as Secretary of State of New York from 1815 to 1816.   During a special election after the resignation of Governor Tompkins, Tammany Hall printed ballots with Porter’s name on them.  Porter received 1300 votes, despite not running for office.  Governor Dewitt Clinton won that election, despite Tammany Hall’s efforts.

General Porter was appointed to the Canal Commission created to examine possible canal routes.  Governor Clinton opted for a Hudson River to Lake Erie straight across the state.  General Porter preferred two canals, one joining the Hudson River with Lake Ontario and one around Niagara Falls, joining Lake Erie and Ontario.  Buffalo Leaders and Joseph Ellicott preferred Clinton’s ideas, but in 1814, it seemed that the Canal Commission might adopt Porter’s suggestions.   By 1816, Porter had not been reappointed to the Canal Commission as he had accepted the office of boundary commissioner to clarify the disputed sections of the US-Canada Border.  Joseph Ellicott replaced Porter on the Commission, Dewitt Clinton had been elected Governor, and the Erie Canal took the alignment we are familiar with today.

The rivalry then shifted to whether Buffalo or Black Rock would be the western terminus for the Erie Canal.  Black Rock had a large, natural harbor which would be easy to expand and for years it had been the center of east-west trade and was used even by the merchants in Buffalo.  Black Rock also provided an escape from the turbulent winds and swells coming across Lake Erie.  It also would shorten the canal a few miles, lowering construction costs.  Buffalo had advantages too:  it was out of the range of British canons on the Canadian Shore (which was important given the recent War with Great Britain).  Higher water levels meant the canal would feed better in Buffalo.  Samuel Wilkeson led the charge, along with a group of enterprising men, determined to make Buffalo the canal terminus.  A report by engineers stated that the terminus should be located in Buffalo as the Black Rock harbor was too vulnerable to British attack, too exposed to ice damage and too expensive to develop.  While several later reports supported Black Rock, the Canal Commission designated Buffalo as the canal terminus in 1822, on the advice of four out of five of its engineers.  Efforts by Porter and his friends to alter the decision were fruitless, and bills were passed in the legislature for a canal link from Tonawanda to Buffalo, completely bypassing Black Rock.

Porter House facing Niagara Street circa 1880s when Lewis Allen owned the house

General Porter built a house at 1192 Niagara Street (between Breckenridge and Ferry) in 1816.  He Porter married Letitia Breckenridge of the prominent Breckenridge family.   Breckenridge Street, which was originally called Commerce Street, is named after her.     When Grover Cleveland moved here to Buffalo, he lived in the Porter house, with his Aunt and Uncle, the Allens.   Peter and Letitia’s son Peter A. Porter went on to become a Civil War Colonel, killed in the Battle of Cold Harbor in 1864.  

General Porter donated the land for the Union Meeting House Church across the street from his house.  The church is located at 44 Breckenridge and is also known as the Breckenridge Street Church.  

Peter Porter was also President of Jubilee Water Works, the first company to bring water into people’s homes.  The water came from the jubilee spring (located in present day Forest Lawn…Crystal Lake is formed from waters from the spring) and was pumped through wooden pipes.  Some of Buffalo’s wooden water pipes still exist.

porter grave

Peter Porter’s Grave

In 1837, Black Rock was dealt another blow when General Porter sold his interests there and moved to Niagara Falls where he built a new home.  Peter Porter died in 1844, and Fort Porter was named in honor of the businessman-politician-soldier.  Peter and Augustus Porter are both buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls.  Nine years after his death, Porter’s beloved Black Rock was annexed to a thriving, expanding Buffalo.   Black Rock became a neighborhood in the City of Buffalo.

The next time you’re driving down the 190 along the Niagara River or driving through Black Rock, think about Peter Porter and what our region might look like if we lived in the City of Black Rock and the Erie Canal went from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario!

Learn about other streets by checking out the street index.

 

Sources:

  1. Courier Express, July 24 1938, sec 6, p.4.
  2. Grande, Joseph.  Peter B. Porter and the Buffalo Black-Rock Rivalry.  Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society Publications.

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Dart Street is a 0.5 mile street running between Forest Avenue and the Scajaquada (198) between Grant and Niagara Streets.  The short street is located in an industrial area that used to be used for manufacturing purposes, which is fitting because the street is named after the man who helped Buffalo to become an industrial powerhouse.

Joseph Dart invented the grain elevator.  Mr. Dart was born in Connecticut in 1799,  He came to Buffalo in 1821, when the Village had a population of approximately 1800.  He became a partner in the hat, cap and fur business with Joseph Stocking.  He learned the languages of the Native Americans in order to expand his business.  His store was located on the southeast corner of Main and Swan Streets.  During his downtime at his shop when the fur trade was slow, he toyed around with the idea to move grain from a ship to the land by a machine into an elevator.

Model of the Dart Grain Elevator

In 1841, he completed his blueprints and the first grain elevator was built on the banks of the Buffalo River.   Once his elevator was successful, elevators popped up all along the shores of the Buffalo Harbor and Buffalo River, giving rise to the grain industry which helped build Buffalo as an industrial powerhouse in the early 1900’s.  A historic marker is located on the spot where the elevator was located, close to where the entrance to the Erie Basin Marina is currently.

Mr. Dart refused to patent his invention, choosing instead to let it be a gift to all.  Most modern elevators still use Dart’s technology today.  However, the modern ships are a bit more automated, removing the need for grain scoopers.  The last scooper unloaded a ship in Buffalo in 2003.    You can watch a video of the last scooping in Buffalo here:

Mr Dart was also a prominent Buffalo citizen, involved in the Buffalo Water Works, a founder oft he Buffalo Female Academy (currently Buffalo Seminary), a member of the Buffalo Historical Society and active in the First Presbyterian Church.   The Dart Family, which included Joseph, his wife and seven children,  lived in a Mansion on the northeast corner of Niagara and Georgia Streets.  The Darts owned the first piano in Buffalo.  Joseph Dart died in 1879 at the age of 80.

I took this photo during the demolition of the GLF elevators, about two weeks before the one in the center collapsed this fall.

As a personal aside, the grain elevators are one of my favorite things in Buffalo.  They’re a huge part of our history, and these concrete mega structures are amazing.  I’ve been on several tours inside the elevators, and have a whole new appreciation for them.  A fact that many people don’t realize is that several of the elevators are still in use today, however, because they don’t show a lot of activity, they look vacant to most people.  Many of the vacant ones can be reused.  We currently allow salt and sand to sit on our waterfront, both of which could be stored in an elevator, protected from the elements.  To learn more about Joseph Dart and the grain elevators, I highly recommend the book Elevator Alley by Michael Cook, and the Buffalo Industrial Heritage Committee website.  There’s a wealth of information and lots of pictures of early Buffalo on their site.  Additionally, I recommend the walking tour given led Jerry Malloy, he is highly knowledgeable, and the tour is a must-do for people interested in learning about this important and fascinating part of our history.

Source:  “Dart Street Named in Inventor’s Honor” Courier Express Dec. 11, 1938 sec 5 p2

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Johnson Park consists of two parallel streets that create a court between Delaware and a park that shares its name with the road.  The “park” in Johnson Park is named after the estate of Ebenezer Johnson, the City of Buffalo’s first mayor!

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Lafayette Avenue runs approximately 2 miles from west to east across the center of Buffalo, from Main Street to Niagara Street.  Lafayette Avenue crosses both Gates Circle and Colonial Circle.  The street was originally named Bouck Avenue.   There was a Governor of New York, William Bouck, but don’t quote me on it being named after him.  Before he was Governor, Bouck was involved in the building of the Erie Canal; his job was to bring the money to the workers in the western portion of the state.

Lafayette Square, located at Main Street between Broadway and Clinton, was originally laid out by Joseph Ellicott in 1804.  Lafayette Square was known in those days as Courthouse Square.  The Courthouse was located where the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library is currently located.

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This post is at the request of John Fell.  Don’t forget, if you have any requests for specific streets- leave them in the comments or send me an email at buffalostreets (at) gmail (dot) com!

Fell Alley is a small,  two block alley running between Niagara Street and Prospect Avenue, from Carolina to Virginia Street.

Fell Alley was named for Dr. George Edward Fell.  Dr. Fell was the inventor of the Fell motor, a submarine life-preserver, and co-inventor of the electric chair.  The Fell motor is a device used for mechanical respiration and was used until the invention of the pulmotor in 1911.   The first Fell motor was invented in 1887, and used bellows, piping and a breathing valve to resuscitate unconscious patients.  At the time, the restoration of respiration was believed to be impossible, however Dr. Fell made it possible and saved many lives.    The submarine life-preserver not only kept you afloat,  it also provided an air supply to allow easier breathing should you go overboard.

Dr. Fell was a professor of  microscopy in the medical department of Niagara University (which is now the UB Medical School).    George Fell also worked as a surgeon.   While he was opposed to capital punishment, his work on the creation of the electric chair was intended to minimize the pain of the death penalty.

While he attended medical school in the evenings, George Fell also had worked as a City Engineer from 1882-1883.  He worked on the installation of one of the break walls from the harbor along the south shore of Lake Erie to the South Buffalo Lighthouse.  When George Fell completed medical school, his brother Charles took his place in the Engineering Department and completed the break wall.    Charles Fell is responsible for many of the plans for the City’s sewer lines, although many of them were not built until after his death.

George Fell was also considered to be a great humanitarian.   Dr. Fell’s home and office was at 72 Niagara Street.  He had four daughters and a son.  He moved to Chicago in 1917 and died in 1918.

Sources:

  1. Essig, Mark.  Edison and the Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death.  Walker and Company:  USA, 2003.
  2. “Fell Alley memorial to Physician – Inventor” Courier Express May 19, 1940 sec 5, p7.
  3. Fell, George.  “A New Method of Saving Life at Sea:  The Fell Submarine Life Preserver”.  Buffalo medical journal, Volume 71.  August 1915
  4. Fell, George.  “The Influence of Electricity on Protoplasm.”  Physician and Surgeon 10.  October 1890,p 441-442.

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Putnam Street runs about 0.3 miles on the West Side of Buffalo, west of Richmond Avenue, between Lafayette Avenue and West Ferry Street.    The street was named for James O Putnam.

James Osborne Putnam was  a friend of Lincoln before he became president and worked on Lincoln’s election campaigns.  He was also appointed by President Garfield to represent the US as minister to Belguim.

Putnam’s relatives arrived in Salem, Massachusetts in the early 1600s.  James was related to the Revolutionary War general, Israel Putnam.  The Putnam family arrived in Western New York in 1817 and built a log cabin.  James O. Putnam was born a year later.  James studied law at Yale and came back to Buffalo to practice.  While waiting on clients, he spent his time writing a book of essays and biographical sketches of Buffalonians.  His book can be found  here.

The Putnams lived on Swan Street, but later moved into a brick house at 756 Washington Street (The Putnam House was used as a kindergarten and nursery school for years after his death).  James O Putnam owned a farm that covered most of the land west of Richmond Avenue including Putnam Street.  He bought the land as an investment, and subdivided it into building lots and sold them.   The trees on the east side of Richmond Ave from Colonial Circle to Breckinridge were planted by James O Putnam.  He was a perfectionist, and inspected the trees year after year.  The weakling trees would be uprooted and replaced throughout the years.   At the age of 80, Mr. Putnam was selected to present the flags to the Buffalo soldiers and sailors leaving for the Spanish American War.    He also served as Chancellor of the University of Buffalo.  He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Source:  “Named for James O Putnam”.  Courier Express Aug 28, 1938, Located in ECBPL Buffalo Streets Scrapbook, Vol 2.

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Hodge Avenue runs approximately a half-mile between Delaware Avenue and Ashland Avenue.  Like many of the streets in the Elmwood Village, Hodge Street is lined with beautiful homes and large stately trees.  It’s hard to imagine the City of Buffalo without it’s street trees.  Although, the trees might not even be there if it wasn’t for the Hodge family….

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Numbered Streets in Buffalo

One thing many people don’t understand is Buffalo’s numbered streets.  Sure, we don’t have a perfect numbered grid like New York City, but our radial street pattern and unique street names are important to the City of Buffalo’s identity.  (Also, it gives me a reason to blog).

While Buffalo does have some numbered streets, the numbered streets  seem not to make any sense at all.  They are scattered throughout the west side of Buffalo in a seemingly random fashion.  We have the following numbered streets:

  • 4th
  • 7th
  • 10th
  • 14th
  • 15th
  • 16th
  • 17th
  • 18th
  • 19th

Why do they start with number 4?  Why do they skip numbers?  Why don’t they make any sense?

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Did you go to the concert tonight on Bidwell Parkway?  Do you shop at the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmer’s market on Saturday mornings?   Bidwell Parkway is one of the Olmsted Parkways, designed as an entranceway into Delaware Park.  The Parkway serves as a meeting ground for the community in the vibrant Elmwood Village.

But do you know who Bidwell was?

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When I was in 5th grade, I was cast as Gracie Shinn, the Mayor’s daughter in The Music Man.  In my moment of theatrical glory, I got to run across the stage yelling “Daddy Daddy Daddy, the Wells Fargo Wagon is Coming”.  Talk of the Wells Fargo Wagon stirs up feelings of old-timey nostalgia for the days when you couldn’t just order things overnight delivery on amazon.com.  Waiting for the stagecoach must have been excruciating!    For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a video from the 2003 movie.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Did you know that Wells Fargo has its roots in Buffalo? (more…)

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