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Coit Street

Coit Street

Coit Street is a street in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood on the east side of Buffalo, running between Broadway and Howard Street.  The street is named after George Coit, and is only a few streets away from Townsend Street, named after George’s good friend and business partner Charles Townsend (we’ll learn a little about Charles today, and more about him later).  George Coit was called “one of the eminent fathers and founders of Buffalo”.  He resided in Buffalo from June 1811 until his death in May 1865, watching the pioneer settlement rise into a village, rebuild after wartime burning, and grow into a great city.

gcoitThe Coit family arrived in America between 1630 and 1638.  George Coit was born on June 10th, 1790 in Norwich Connecticut.  He learned the druggist business and worked as a clerk in a store with Mr. Townsend (later Judge Townsend) in Norwich.   They came to Buffalo together in 1811 to run a drug store.  For more than 40 years, Mr. Coit & Mr. Townsend worked together in co-partnership.  They quickly were able to buy property at Swan and Pearl Streets, where the built a store.   The day before the Burning of Buffalo, Mr. Coit drove with Mr. Townsend and a wagon full of their goods into Williamsville.  When they arrived back in Buffalo following the burning, they procured a small wooden building on Erie Street which had survived the burning. Their store was in business until 1818, when they sold the business to Dr. John E. Marshall and they entered the shipping business.  They successfully operated several businesses involved in shipping and trade, along with Buffalo Car Works. Their first warehouse was at the foot of Commercial Street, at the mouth of Little Buffalo Creek, where they built a dock and a frame building.  Mr. Coit married a sister of Mr. Townsend, Hannah, on April 4th, 1815.  Hannah and George had eight children:  Sarah Frances, Charles, George, John, Frances, Nathaniel, Eliza, and William.

Wedding of the Waters at the Buffalo History Museum...depicting Governor Dewitt Clinton with Samuel Wilkeson, George Coit and Charles Townsend at the opening of the Erie Canal

Wedding of the Waters at the Buffalo History Museum…depicting Governor Dewitt Clinton with Samuel Wilkeson, George Coit and Charles Townsend at the opening of the Erie Canal

In 1818, Mr. Coit, along with Mr. Townsend, Samuel Wilkeson and Oliver Forward, secured a bond and mortgage for a state bond for the construction of the Buffalo Harbor.  By 1821, the channel was deep enough to allow for vessels, proving the Buffalo Harbor was successful, despite many people’s concerns about their experiment to build the harbor.  The four men worked together to build the harbor and lobby the legislature to ensure that Buffalo would be the terminus of the canal, not Black Rock.

During the Canal-era, the Buffalo waterfront was a slew of various slips, many owned by private businesses.  The Coit Slip was located near the end of the Erie Canal.approximately parallel to Erie Street.  The slip was filled in when the Erie Canal was filled in during the 1940s, but a portion remains behind Templeton Landing (formerly Crawdaddy’s/Shanghai Reds).  The land around the Coit Slip was owned by Mr. Coit and Mr. Townsend.  The Coit Block/Coit Building (also referred to as the McCutcheon Building) was located at the southern end of Commercial Street adjacent to the western edge of the Commercial Slip.  The Coit Building was located there from pre-1840 until its razing around 1947.  Portions of the Coit Building’s foundations and other features were uncovered during the archaeological investigations during the Erie Canal Harbor project (which created the Commercial Slip and Canalside).  The recreated building housing the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park and Museum was built on the site in 2008.

Map Showing Different Canal Era Slips. For reference, Erie Street's alignment has shifted towards the south. Commercial Slip is the one that has been uncovered at Canalside (click to view at higher resolution)

Map Showing Different Canal Era Slips. For reference, Erie Street’s alignment has shifted towards the south. Commercial Slip, near the center of the map, is the one that has been uncovered at Canalside 
(click to view at higher resolution)

Mr. Coit was a member of the Buffalo Historical Society, the Buffalo Board of Trade, the Buffalo Water Works Company, as well as other organizations.

George Coit's Grave

George Coit’s Grave

Mr.  Coit died in May 1865 and is buried at Forest Lawn.  More than 50 Coit relatives are buried in the plot near George’s grave.  At a memorial before the Buffalo Historical Society in July 1865, Mr. William Ketchum said this about Mr. Coit:  “Although Mr. Coit had lived to see Buffalo grow up from an insignificant village to become a large and populous city, his own chosen dwelling being, as it were, in the very heart of business, he preferred to remain in his old home, and continued to occupy his plain, unpretending residence on the corner of Pearl and Swan Streets, where he had first pitched his tent more than 50 years ago”

Coit House

The Coit House on Virginia Street

The house which Mr. Coit had built is still standing here in Buffalo today and is considered to be the oldest house in Buffalo.  The Coit House is estimated to have been built around 1818, shortly after the Burning of Buffalo in 1813/1814.  The house was originally located at 53 Pearl Street.  The house was moved around 1867 to its current location on Virginia Street between Delaware and Elmwood Avenues.  The house had seem some changes over the years, including being converted into apartments, but has been restored to relatively close to the original layout of a single family home.

In May of 1962, the Coit House was improved by a group who wanted to help the neglected building.  Organizations such as the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce and the City of Buffalo Division of Conservation worked with volunteers to repair clapboard, paint the building and trim the trees.   During the late 1960s, the building was slated for demolition as a part of the Allentown-Lakeview urban renewal project.  This prompted the creation of the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier in May 1969.  The Landmark Society worked to restore the building and then help to sell the building to a new owner with a deed stipulation that would prohibit modification of the historic restoration of the building.   The house was purchased by Henry and Linda Priebe, who lived there for nearly 30 years.  The house went back on the market in 1999 when it was purchased by the Allentown Association.  Major renovations were completed on the building, which was then purchased by Gerhart Yakow, and is now owned by Tim Boylan and Sue-Jolie Rioux Boylan.  It’s a beautiful building and if you get a chance to visit, you should take the opportunity!  The wide plank boards in the floor on the third floor will make anyone interested in history and/or architecture swoon.  The Boylans are wonderful stewards of the building, you can tell they care very deeply about the history and heritage of the house.

One of the best parts about writing this blog is the feedback I receive from my readers.  While I can’t always respond to it all, I appreciate every single one of the comments, messages and feedback I receive.  I’ve had descendants of some of the families reach out to me; I’ve had people email me photos, mail me prints, and I love all of it.

I first “met” Coit family member Susie Coit Williams about four years ago, when she first commented on my blog.  We’ve emailed back and forth, as she was trying to get a historic marker at the Coit House.  The marker finally was installed and was dedicated during an unveiling ceremony on May 21st, 2016!  Here are some photos from that event!

Mayor Brown and Councilman Fronczyk proclaiming it George Coit Day in Buffalo!

Mayor Brown and Councilman Fronczyk proclaiming it George Coit Day in Buffalo!

 

Susie Coit Williams unveiling the historic marker

Susie Coit Williams unveiling the historic marker

Coit House finally has a historic marker!

Coit House finally has a historic marker!

It was a great opportunity to celebrate the history of George Coit, whose story is so ingrained in the fabric of the City of Buffalo!  It’s excited to know that the house is in good hands for the future, and that Mr. Coit’s life is remembered for all who pass down the street!  Take a walk by and check out the marker and think for a moment on Mr. Coit and the life he lived here in Buffalo.

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

 

Sources:

  1. Smith, H. Perry.  History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County.  D. Mason & Co Publishers:  Syracuse.  1884.
  2. Brown, Christopher.  The Coit House Mystique.  June 2007.
  3. Grasso, Thomas.  The Erie Canal Western Terminus – Commercial Slip, Harbor Development and Canal District.  Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation.

 

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Through my research, I have learned that street names often change over time.  Street name changes often come for a variety of reasons.   Some of Buffalo’s street names changed as early as 1825 after Joseph Ellicott left town. Other streets change as neighborhoods change.  For example, Lovejoy Street was named after a family of early Buffalo settlers during the War of 1812.   The neighborhood centered around Broadway and Fillmore was settled mostly by German and Polish immigrants.  When Central Terminal opened in 1929, it cut Lovejoy Street in two pieces.  The piece located in the polish neighborhood was named Paderewski Drive, after a Polish pianist and activist for Polish national freedom.

Over time, the neighborhood by the Central Terminal has changed again.  During the 40s and 50s, many of the German and Polish families moved away from the East Side of Buffalo towards suburbs, such as Cheektowaga.  Some of this move was financial – due to new Federal Programs making it easier for people to chase the “American Dream” of a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence.  Other reasons for leaving was the growing African-American presence in the city, which is referred to as “white flight”.   Perhaps now that the neighborhood has changed, we should think about changing the name of Paderewski Drive again?

clybourneRoad Less Traveled Productions will be putting on the play Clybourne Park from November 8th – December 1st.   Clybourne Park is a commentary  on the history of a house in an evolving neighborhood.   The play deals with segregation, white flight and cultural insecurities.

As part of promotion for the play, Road Less Traveled is encouraging Buffalonians to share their stories on neighborhoods they’ve lived in.   What was your neighborhood like?  Why did you move away?  Why did you stay?  You can visit the website and add your story to the map to help tell the story of Buffalo’s neighborhoods.  Click here to go to the website.  Many viewers of my blog have shared their wonderful stories with me; please share them on the website and let other people read about what life was like for you and your family in Buffalo.

The play is being performed at 710 Main Theatre (the old Studio Arena), from November 8th to December 1st.  You can buy tickets here.  Showtimes are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons.   I encourage you to support Road Less Traveled’s tenth anniversary season and go see the play!   I also encourage you all to go to the Clybourne Park Buffalo website to share your stories, and talk with your friends and neighbors to share your stories.  Our stories are what make up our City.   While I focus mostly on this blog about telling the stories of people who may be long gone, those of us still here have stories to tell and our stories are important too!

We’ll be back to the regular streets posts with the next post!

 

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Sanborn Map depicting Polonia Park in 1925

While researching Curtiss Street, I noticed that there was Polonia Park marked on some of the maps.  I have a great interest in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood and the area around the Central Terminal in particular, and I had never heard of this before.  I got sidetracked from my street researching and ended up finding out some interesting stuff which I would like to share with you all.  I know it’s not a street history, but hopefully you all will enjoy these tidbits of information as much as I do.

Polonia Park was located on Curtiss Street prior to the Central Terminal’s construction.  The park was purchased by the City in 1913 at the same time as the land for Schiller Park, Willert Park, an extension to Riverside Park and an addition to Lanigan Park.

In June 1916, the Buffalo Live Wire (a publication published monthly by the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce) posted that “A well-prepared city plan is indispensable to the intelligent acquisition of park properties, and if we enjoyed the guidance of a city plan in our recent campaign for additional parks, we would not now be wondering why we purchased, at a cost of $60,000, Polonia Park, consisting of lands useful for neither park nor playground.”

The article did not elaborate on this, but my guess is that because the land had been part of the railroad corridor, it was ill-suited for parkland.  Railroads use a great deal of pesticides to keep foliage from blocking the tracks, as can be seen when abandoned railroad corridors are still free from most grasses and shrubs long after the trains stopped coming through.  The West Shore Railroad, which connected Buffalo to New York City formerly cut through this park, following approximately the path which Memorial Drive follows today.

Despite the reports that the land was not useful as a park, the park was used during the early 1920s, as there are reports in the newspapers of baseball scores for games played in Polonia Park.

August 24, 1924
Buffalo Morning Express

By March of 1925, the property was owned by the Buffalo Board of Education as the intended site of the Peckham Vocational School.   Peckham Vocational was located at the corner of Peckham and Townsend, however they originally started out in the Adam Mickiewicz Library on Fillmore while the original school was being constructed.   As this ad from the Buffalo Morning Express, August 29, 1922 shows, there were four vocational schools in Buffalo at the time.  This was the time when many students would go out in the world to work after they completed 8th grade.  Vocational schools were a way to continue your education, while also learning a useful trade.

Ad for Vocational Schools
Buffalo Morning Express, August 29, 1922

Peckham Students

Peckham Vocational was a source of pride for Buffalo’s polish community.  The residents of Polonia were concerned that the high schools located in Buffalo were overlooking their community, so the residents rallied successfully to open a school in their neighborhood.  Peckham Vocational opened in 1911.  Board of Education had plans to build a new school and was about to let the contract to build when the railroad approached them to purchase the property to build what at the time was being called the “Fillmore Station”.   In exchange for the Polonia Park property, the Board fo Education received the property at the corner of Sycamore Street and Koons Avenue.  Peckham Vocational School was renamed Emerson Vocational School in 1937, after the school’s superintendent.  The school operated at its Sycamore Street address for 62 years until 1999.  Since then, the building has been remodeled and renamed Harvey Austin Public School 97, and operates as an elementary school.

After I posted my post on Curtiss Street, Marty from Forgotten Buffalowas kind enough to share these pictures of another planned park in Polonia.  It was clear that the people who lived in this neighborhood wanted a park, since they used the land that the chamber of commerce called unsuitable for a park as a park, and then plans were development for this park around 1938.  For reference, this map north is towards the bottom.  This land is currently the residential neighborhood between the Central Terminal and Broadway.

New Park Design For Park North of Central Terminal

Sadly, this park was never built.  While the residents of Polonia had successfully rallied to get a school built in their neighborhood in 1911, it seems that they were unable to rally enough support to build a neighborhood park.  Perhaps because it would have involved tearing down houses?

Recent efforts have occurred at the Central Terminal to build an urban habitat in the vicinity of the former Polonia Park.  The Urban Habitat Restoration project is working to reclaim the land which was used as a parking lot during the height of the Central Terminal’s use as a train station.  This project is working to restore some of the landscape, using native plants and green sustainable methods.   For more on this project, check out the Central Terminal Website here.

Over the course of  the past 100 years, this piece of property has transformed from railroad corridor, to park, planned use as school, to use as a parking lot, and now is being restored back to natural landscape.  Not too shabby of a history for our little piece of land that was once known as Polonia Park.

 

Learn about the history of other streets in Buffalo by checking out the Street Index.

 

Sources:

  1. “Buffalo’s Towering Temple of Transportation”, Greg Jandura.  accessed online, July 25, 2012:  http://www.trainweb.org/wnyrhs/nyctermpt1.htm
  2. “Council Wants Action on New School Tract”  Buffalo Morning Express March 21, 1925, pg 11
  3. Buffalo Live Wire, Vol. VII, No. 6,  June 1916, published by the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce.
  4. “Again Central Secures Delay” Buffalo Express Dec 14, 1905
  5. http://www.buffaloschools.org/m/content.cfm?subpage=39590
  6. Bucki, Carl,  “Polish Vocational School Was The Source Of Community Pride”.  Am-Pol Eagle.  Access online: http://ampoleagle.com/polish-vocational-school-was-br-the-source-of-community-pride-p5222-147.htm
  7. Plans for park designed by Joseph Fronczak provided by Marty Biniasz.

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Curtiss Street
Present Day Alignment

Curtiss Street is runs along the railroad tracks near the Central Terminal.  The street follows the curves of the railroad, which has been there since at least the 1880s.  The streets in the vicinity of the Terminal have changed a bit in the last 100 years.  More information about other streets will be coming in other blog posts.  Since the construction of the Central Terminal, Curtiss Street has run underneath the Terminal at the curve.  (click photos to enlarge for easier reading)

Curtiss Street in 1889

Curtiss Street in 1925

Curtiss Street in 1950

People often believe the street is named after Glenn Curtiss, known for Curtiss Aeroplane Company.  However, Glenn Curtiss wasn’t born until 1878, and the street was named by at least 1889.  While it would have been very interesting if the street had been named in honor of an 11-year-old who ended up being as remarkable as Glenn Curtiss, this was not the case.   I was unable to find any concrete evidence linking Glenn Curtiss to the other Buffalo Curtiss family.  If anyone has any information of their linkage, please let me know in the comments.  But no, Curtiss Street is NOT named for Curtiss-Wright airplanes.

Curtiss Street is named for Charles Gould Curtiss.  Mr. Curtiss was an officer of the Lancaster and Depew Land Company, which developed Curtiss Street and several other streets in its vicinity.

Mr. Charles Gould Curtiss was born in 1827 and grew up in Utica, New York.  He ran the news stand at the Utica Rail Station while he was a boy, and eventually became a produce salesman.  At the age of 23, he formed a connection with a wholesale grocer, which brought him to New York City.  He made many connections while in New York. For a short time, he became an executive of Breckinridge County Coal Oil Company in Louisville Kentucky.  He worked to substitute coal oil for sperm oil. The discovery of petroleum caused the business to fail, as the coal oil was no longer necessary.

In 1857, Mr. Curtiss came to Buffalo to join Levi Willard in the insurance business.  In 1873, he organized a barley and malt firm that continued to operate for nearly half a century.  Charles and his wife Amelia lived in a large stone house at 63 West Huron Street.  He kept his horses at Efner’s Livery Stable at Franklin and Chippewa, and it is said that he rode his horses through Delaware Park on a daily basis.  At the time, the roads were only paved as far as North Street, so riding to the park was a ride out to the country.

In 1882, Charles was a delegate to the Democratic Convention where his friend Grover Cleveland was nominated for Governor.  After his election, Cleveland appointed Mr. Curtiss to the Board of Trustees of the Buffalo State Hospital for the Insane.  The Curtiss family also kept a farm at Delavan and Main Street where he raised chickens and kept a cow.  He felt that “the country was the best place for growing boys”, so he spent a great deal of time on the farm with his sons Harlow and Alexander.   Although his own schooling was limited, Charles felt an education was important, so he sent both sons to college.

Alexander Curtiss House
(currently the Ronald McDonald House)

Alexander studied medicine at the University of Rochester after coursework at Cornell.  Dr. Curtiss (Alexander) was in charge of the first hospital established in Denver, Colorado.  Following the birth of his first son, Colman, Dr. Curtiss returned to Buffalo and became a surgeon for Buffalo State Hospital.  Colman eventually ran his grandfather Charles’ barley and malt firm.  Colman was president of the company when it went under due to prohibition.  Following the closure of the malt firm, Colman worked in insurance for John Hancock Life Insurance Company.  Colman married Sally Cary, daughter of Trumbull Cary (another prominent Buffalonian).  Alexander and his family lived at 780 West Ferry, the house which is better known today as the Ronald McDonald House.

Ethel Mann Curtiss House
(100 Lincoln Parkway)

Harlow was a graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and studied law under Grover Cleveland.  Harlow became a lawyer and became an extensive real estate owner throughout the City.  Harlow and his wife Ethel were prominent in Buffalo during the early 1900s.  Ethel was originally Ethel Mann, the daughter of Matthew Mann, the doctor who operated on President William McKinley after he was shot on the Pan-Am grounds in 1901.  Harlow was influential in the development of the Curtiss Building at the corner of Franklin and Huron.  Ethel was considered a community leader as well, she worked with the Buffalo Council of Campfire Girls and conducted programs to develop leadership skills for women.  Ethel and Harlow lived at 100 Lincoln Parkway.

Curtiss Building
Franklin and Huron Streets

The Curtiss Building at Franklin and Huron Streets was designed by Harlow’s brother-in-law, Paul Mann, and was built in 1912.   The building is also known as the King & Eisele Building due to a jewelry firm which located in it during the 20s and 30s.  It was later known as the Hoelscher Building after the Hoelscher Building Corporation which was located there from the 1940s until the 1990s.  Mark Croce currently owns the building and had plans for a boutique hotel about 5 years ago.  However, the project appears to be at a standstill.

COMING SOON:   I became intrigued by the old maps when I saw the land where the Central Terminal now sits was once a park.  Coming later this week:  What was Polonia Park?

Sources:  “Curtiss Street Memorial to Trade Board Head, Developer” Courier Express Oct 22, 1939 sec. 6. p 10.

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Woltz Avenue is a street running about three-quarters of a mile between Walden Avenue and Broadway in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood.   The street is named after a family that had three generations who all held public office in the City of Buffalo!

Woltz Avenue is technically named for Charles Woltz, who was on the Council at the time when the street was named.  The street was originally named Bowen Street.  The German residents of the neighborhood would confuse Bowen with Bone, so many of them called the street knoche, which is the German word for bone, leading to confusion.  So while Charles was president of the Council (1893-1895), a petition was drawn up to change the street name, however the petitioners failed to give suggestions for what to name it.  When the Council granted the petition, they opted to name the street after their President.

Charles was born in Alsace-Lorraine in 1853.  When the Germans acquired that territory in 1870, he came to America because of his aversion to German militarism.  Years later, when he returned to visit his brother, he was immediately thrown into jail for evading compulsory service in the German army.  His brother effected his release, however Charles never returned to his homeland again.

Charles was secretary of the Erie Land Company, which developed Woltz Avenue, Loepere and Mills Streets.  He was also an officer of the Genesee Land Company, which developed Montana, Colorado and Nevada Streets.  He was active in the Republican Party and was a delegate to the National Republican Convention which nominated William Howard Taft for the presidency.

Charles wife, Eva, came from Germany in a sailing vessel that took forty days to cross the Atlantic.  Charles and Eva lived at 1125 Genesee Street, which is near the street that would bear the Woltz name.  In 1890, the Woltz home is listed in the Buffalo City Directory as “Woltz Saloon”.  Charles enjoyed fishing, and he would often take trips to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the day with his neighbors to go fishing.   Charles died in 1924 and is buried in Forest Lawn.

Charles and Eva had two sons, Charles J. and George.  Charles J. was born in 1878 and was a graduate of Buffalo Law School and continued the real estate business established by his father.  George was born in 1886.  In 1901, George began his career as an office boy, and worked his way up and became a Judge.  He served for 11 years as Assistant District Attorney, and then served more than 20 years on the bench.  He was affiliated with 32 clubs and organizations in Buffalo, including Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church, Buffalo Consistory and Shrine, the Buffalo Athletic Club, the Elks, Oddfellows, Orioles, the Humboldt Club, Republic organizations and four German singing societies.  George lived at 755 Best Street.

George’s daughter (Charles’ granddaughter), Eva Woltz, was born in 1906 and became an attorney and clerk of the City Court.  Eva passed away in 1965 and is buried in the family plot alongside her father George and her sister Emilie.

Source:  “Three Generations Memory” Courier Express July 23, 1939, sec 5 p 5.


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