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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources:

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

 

 

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Often a group of streets will be named after a theme.  This is often seen when a developer may name a bunch of streets after his family members or friends.  Many people know that Washington, DC has streets named after all 50 states to form the City’s grid (crossed by alphabetic and numbered streets).   The City of Buffalo has streets named after 32 of the 50 states.  Many of these state street names originated in one of Buffalo’s original street grids.

Map of Village of Black Rock, 1816 Source:  New York State Archives

Map of Village of Black Rock, 1816
Source: New York State Archives

Many of the streets named after streets are located in what was the original development of the Village of Black Rock.  The Black Rock streets were originally laid out  two years before Joseph Ellicott came to Buffalo!  New York State purchased a one mile strip of land along the Niagara River known as the New York State Reservation in 1802.  The State laid out the streets of the Village of Black Rock.  For 20 years, Black Rock would serve as Buffalo’s rival.  In 1825, Buffalo won its fight to be the terminus of the Erie Canal, became a booming city, and annexed the Village of Black Rock in 1854.

State named streets in Black Rock include Georgia, Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Jersey, York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Hampshire.  All of the original 13 colonies are represented by these streets, other than Delaware, which was originally located where Hudson Street is today.  When Buffalo and Black Rock merged, duplicate street names were changed to prevent confusion.  These streets all lay parallel to each other in what is now the West Side of the City of Buffalo, but was originally known as the South Village of Black Rock or Upper Black Rock.  When originally laid out, these streets formed a grid with numbered streets.  The streets were laid out by Lemuel Forester, a Surveyor for New York State.  You can read about the numbered streets in Buffalo by clicking here.  These streets form what was known as Upper Black Rock.  Peter Porter was an important person in the early days of Black Rock.

It is important to note that it is difficult to differentiate between states such as North and South Carolina or Virginia and West Virginia, as the cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) are used in street naming conventions.  Early maps of Black Rock show Jersey, York and Hampshire as New Jersey, New York and New Hampshire, but as time elapsed, the convention to name streets “New” to differentiate between different alignments of a street which changed over time, of which the alignment’s name may be “New _____ Street” or “Old ______ Street”.

Streets in Buffalo Named After States

Streets in Buffalo Named After States  (click to view larger image)

The City also has streets named after the following states:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • North and South Dakota (as Dakota Street)
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

There are several streets named after states that used to be located in Buffalo.  These streets names have been removed for various reasons:

Portion of 1900 Sanborn Map depicting locations of Idaho and Arizona Streets.

Idaho Street and Arizona Streets– were located in North Buffalo off Military Road, north of Sayre Street.  The Buffalo Foundry was located here, and industrial facilities eventually absorbed the streets.

1951 Sanborn Map showing the former location of Indiana Street

 

Indiana Street was located near the foot of Main Street.  The street was eliminated when Crossroads Arena (aka Marine Midland, aka HSBC, aka First Niagara Center) was built.  The street is currently buried under First Niagara Center.

1925 Sanborn Map Showing Alaska Alley

1925 Sanborn Map Showing Alaska Alley

Alaska Alley  – was closed on February 24, 1960.  This was a small alley off of Chippewa near Genesee and Washington.   The block where Alaska and Seward Alleys were located is now parking for the Electric Tower building.

Iowa – used to be the part of LaSalle Avenue from Bailey to Eggert (near Minnesota Avenue).  However, they changed the name when they wanted to rename Perry Street to Iowa Street.  They then decided that Perry was too important to change the name of the street.  At this time, they also tried to change the name of Fulton Street to Oklahoma, but also decided that Fulton was too important of a person to change the name of the street.

In 1901, the City wanted to rename Indian Church, Hudson or South Division Street to Missouri.  Residents complained because it sounded like “Misery” to them, and they did not want to live on “Misery Street”.

There is no Maine Street, because it would be confusing because it sounds like Main Street.

I was unable to find evidence of streets in Buffalo named after the following five states:

  • Kansas
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • Utah
  • Hawaii

Buffalo Ex-Pats living in the Washington, DC area will be happy to know that Columbia Street, in the Cobblestone District near the arena, is named after the District of Columbia.

To answer the “which street named after a state is your favorite?” question – mine is York Street.  My dad moved to Buffalo (from Central New York….and after time spent in the Navy) in 1978 and his first apartment here was on York Street.  My parents lived there when the first got married.  This is where my branch of the Keppel family started in Buffalo.  🙂

To read about other streets, click the Street Index.

Sources:

  1. “Many Changes Made in Names of Streets Here” Courier Express, August 26, 1928
  2. “New Names for Streets” Buffalo Express Oct 7, 1901
  3. “Council Closes Alaska Alley” Buffalo Courier Express, February 24, 1960.

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