Grosvenor Street is a street on the near East Side of Buffalo. The street currently runs two blocks, between South Division Street and Eagle Street. Historically, the street continued south to Seymour Street, and changed name to Heacock after crossing the railroad tracks. When at-grade rail crossings were removed, the street was shortened, and Heacock Street was later changed to Larkin Street. The street is named after Seth Grosvenor, who only was in Buffalo for a short while, but left an important impact on the City. Heacock Street was named after family friend, business partner, and brother-in-law of Mr. Grosvenor, Reuben Heacock (we’ll learn more about him later). The name is pronounced Grove-nor, with a silent s. There is also a Grosvenor Road in the Town of Tonawanda. The name also lives on in the Grosvenor Room at the Buffalo Library, which happens to be where I do most of my research for this blog!
Seth Grosvenor was born on Christmas Day, December 25, 1786, in Pomfret, Connecticut. Seth’s family consisted of sixteen children – Abigail, Lucia, Roswell, Marcia, Godfrey, Martha, Mary, Polly, Betsey, Eliza, Thomas, Abel, Peggy, George, Seth, Stephen. The family moved to Columbia County, New York around 1800. Little is known about when Seth Grosvenor arrived in Buffalo, as reports from the times tell conflicting stories. It is believed that Seth Grosvenor arrived in Buffalo in late 1812/early 1813 to settle his brother Abel’s estate and run his store following Abel’s death. Abel had been attacked by a mob of volunteer troops from Baltimore who mistook Abel for Mr. Ralph Pomeroy, the keeper of the hotel at Main and Seneca Streets. The story goes that Mr. Pomeroy offended the folks from Baltimore by stating he was a friend of the British, and a mob set out to kill Mr. Pomeroy. They saw Abel and mistook him for Mr. Pomeroy and attacked him instead. Abel Grosvenor left Buffalo with his family but died from his injuries a short time later. It is believed that Seth came to town shortly thereafter, but some reports indicate that Seth had arrived earlier to help his brother at the store.
On December 31, 1813, during the Battle of Buffalo, Seth Grosvenor organized a group of 20 to 30 men to defend the village against the British and Native American Troops, by taking a stand at the corner of Main and Niagara Streets. During the Battle of Buffalo, the Grosvenor store and all its merchandise were burned to the ground on December 31, 1813. Four days later, on January 4th, Seth advertised that he was back in the dry goods business, selling out of the Harris Tavern in Clarence. One of the amazing things about Buffalo’s resilience following the burning of Buffalo is the quickness with which people and businesses returned to the fledgling village. On April 5th, the Gazette read: “Buffalo village which once adorned the shores of Erie and was prostrated by the enemy, is now rising again; several buildings are already raised and made habitable; contracts for twenty or thirty more are made and many of them are in considerable forwardness. A brick company has been organized by an association of most enterprising and public-spirited citizens, with sufficient capital for the purpose of rendering the price of brick so reasonable that the principal streets may be built up of that article”. Mr. Grosvenor was a member of the brick company. By May 24th, the Gazette reported the following completed structures: “23 houses occupied by families, 3 taverns, 4 dry goods and grocery stores, 12 grocery and other shops, 3 offices, 39 or 40 huts (or shanties).” Mr. Grosvenor had also returned to Buffalo from Clarence by April 24th advertising that he can be called upon “at the new house situate where the Printing Office of Salisburys’ stood, will find him opening an assortment of dry goods, groceries, hardware, cigars and tobacco.” His shop was located at the northwest corner of Pearl and Seneca Streets, which is where the Pearl Street Brewery is now located. Later that year, Mr. Grosvenor went into business with his youngest brother, Stephen.
It is said that Mr. Grosvenor remained a bachelor all his life due to a bad romance between himself and Mary Merrill of Buffalo. Before the Battle of Buffalo, Mary was said to be engaged to Mr. Grosvenor. Following the Battle, many Buffalonians sought shelter and safety at Harris Tavern in Clarence. Miss Merrill was said to have been affected by the charm and heroics of Captain Harris. Two months later, in February 1814, Mary Merrill became Mrs. Harris. Their breakup is also said to be one of the reasons Mr. Grosvenor left Buffalo for New York City in 1815, after teaching his brother Stephen the ins and outs of business and leaving Stephen in charge of the business. Stephen Keyes Grosvenor was an active member of the Whig Party, and later served as Justice of the Peace in Buffalo. Despite Seth only spending two years here, he had established many close ties during those years, and he kept close to Buffalo even after he left. Mr. Grosvenor lived at 39 White Street in Manhattan. Following his death, his estate expanded the home and later built a new building, which still stands on White Street.
Mr. Grosvenor died in October 1857 and was originally interred in Manhattan at New York Marble Cemetery. His remains were later removed and re-interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn in 1862. He is buried next to his sister Eliza.
Mr. Grosvenor is often referred to as the “City’s greatest benefactor”. He donated money to build the Grosvenor Library in Buffalo (as well as money for the New York Historical Society and Library in NYC). In 1857, while living in New York City, he announced that he was leaving $40,000 to the City of Buffalo, to be paid two years after his death. The first $10,000 was to be used to purchase a lot and build a building for a public library. The remaining $30,000 was given, to be invested forever, and its income to be used for the purchase of books, to be kept open for the use of the public, and the books not to be lent out nor rented, only used for reading within the building.
The City accepted the bequest in 1865. The library first used in space within the Buffalo Savings Bank Building at Broadway and Washington Street, and the library was opened to the public in 1870. The City set aside $4,000 a year to operate the library. Over time, a building fund was put together, and in 1891, the trustees erected the Grosvenor Library at the corner of Franklin and Edward Streets. In 1897, the library was passed into the control of the City of Buffalo and by 1908, the library contained more than 75,000 books and 7,000 pamphlets for reference use. The library operated for free use for citizens of Buffalo, temporary residents and strangers alike. By 1920, the collection had grown to 162,000 volumes and the library was open from 9 am to 10 pm Monday through Saturday and 2pm to 6pm on Sundays.
The Grosvenor Library was open until 1956. Of note are the Grosvenor Library’s collection of music as well as one of the largest genealogy collections in the country~ At the time, there were three different libraries in the Buffalo area – the Grosvenor Library, the Erie County Public Library – which was founded in the 1940s and provided bookmobile services to rural towns and villages, and the Buffalo Public Library – which developed out of the Young Men’s Association as early as 1836. In 1953, the three institutions were combined by an act of the New York State legislature, creating the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. In 1963, the collections of the Buffalo Public and the Grosvenor Library were integrated on the shelves in the new Central library, which opened at Lafayette Square in October of 1964. The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library inherited the collections, which form the core of the Grosvenor Room at the Downtown Buffalo Library. The Grosvenor Library Building was demolished in 1974.
Want to learn about other streets? Check out the Street Index.
- Rooney, Paul M. 150 years, 1836-1986 : Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. [Buffalo, N.Y. : Grosvenor Society, 1986].
- “Grosvenor Street Reminds City of Donor of Library” Courier Express Jan 11, 1942, sec. 5 p 5
- “Seth Grosvenor and Buffalo” Grosvenor Library Bulletin, Volume 3, Number 4. June 1921
- A History of the City of Buffalo: It’s Men and Institutions. Buffalo Evening News, Buffalo. 1908.
- Grosvenor Library Bulletin, Vol III. September, 1920.
- “History of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library”. Buffalo and Erie County Library. 175th Anniversary of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.
- “The Grosvenor Family in Connecticut”. Grosvenor Library Bulletin, Volume 1.