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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.

Henry_Kendall_Smith,_mayor_of_Buffalo

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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wasmuthWasmuth Avenue runs between Genesee Street and Walden Avenue near Martin Luther King Jr Park on the East Side of Buffalo.  The street is named after one of the first female developers in Buffalo, Caroline Wasmuth.  Ms. Wasmuth was one of Buffalo’s pioneer business women.

Caroline Geyer arrived in America alone in 1845 at the age of 16.  The trip from Germany by boat took three months.  She got a job working for the Lautz (sometimes also spelled Lauts) family.   The Lautz family were an early Buffalo German family who manufactured candles and soaps as Lautz Brothers & Co.  She wasn’t able to continue her formal education in America, but learned to speak, read and write English. She enjoyed reading and educated herself through her books.  

Her first business experience began at her husband’s grocery store at Carlton Street and Michigan Avenue.  Ms. Wasmuth invested all of their savings into a savings and loan company.  During the 1880s, there was a land boom in Buffalo and she was asked to become a partner in the Buffalo Land Association.  The company developed the land in the Genesee-Walden district.  They later formed the Ontario Land Company to develop land in Cheektowaga.

She had a stand at the Elk Street market for 47 years, specializing in berries and fresh vegetables.   The Elk Street market was located on what is now South Park Avenue (you can read more about the change in street name here) You can also learn more about the Elk Street Market at this link, where Steve Cichon notes that it was the largest fruit and garden truck market in the United States.  During Ms. Wasmuth’s time, farmers were prohibited from bringing their produce into Buffalo.  She would walk to the City line to meet them and make her selection.  She could carry as many as five 30-quart trays of berries on her head from the City Line to the Elk Street market, likely about 4 miles!  She was known for having a kind heart towards anyone not being able to have food and a reputation for giving a meal to anyone who came to her door.  She was well known for her generous nature, particularly towards people who were struggling.

Ms. Wasmuth enjoyed singing and was a member of the Saengerbund, a well known German singing society, and the choir of St. Peters Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at the corner of Genesee and Hickory.  She was a member of the Women’s Society of that church.  She was also a member of the Seven Stars Rebekah Lodge No. 136, which was the women’s branch of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows who met at 145 High Street.  She was also a member of the Gertrude Lodge No 47, Daughters of Herman, which was a German aid society located at 260 Genesee Street. 

Ms. Wasmuth was noted for being unusual among early businesswomen because she did not try to dress like a man.  She loved her pretty clothes and jewelry.

She was known for adopting new inventions that could be useful to her.  Her husband, George Peter Wasmuth, was the first Buffalonian to  bottle horseradish.   She convinced her husband to buy one of the first foot-power machines for grinding horseradish, relieving the family of grinding horseradish for hours.  They used to buy from twenty to thirty tons of horseradish at a time.  Her nine children helped around the house.

During an interview during the 1940s, her son Fredrick said that many of the family members were still living on land originally purchased by Ms. Wasmuth.  However, he lamented that they would have been happier if they owned a piece of land she had passed on the purchase of – she could have bought the property where Buffalo Savings Bank stands downtown for $0.50 a foot.   The passed on the purchase, and bank was built.  We typically refer to the building today as the Gold Dome; the property would certainly be worth more than that today!

wasmuthMs. Wasmuth was married twice and had four sons and five daughters:  Frank, George, Maggie, Lillian, Anna, Caroline, John, Fredrick, and Charles.  The family lived on Michigan Street (now Ave) near Carlton Street, on what is now the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.  She was also one of the investors in the Pan American Exposition, having bought a subscription in 1899.  She died in 1904 at the age of 75.  She is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery. 

 

Sources:

  1. “Wasmuth Avenue Honors Business Woman” Buffalo Courier Express, Sunday January 28, 1940.  
  2. “Pan-American Subscriptions” Buffalo Evening News, Saturday January 28, 1899.
  3. 1880 United States Federal Census.  Accessed via Ancestry.com 

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vangorderVan Gorder Street is a short street located off of Fillmore Avenue in the Fillmore-Leroy neighborhood of Buffalo.   The street runs one block east of Fillmore Ave where it dead-ends at Burgard High School (PS #301).

greenleaf van gorderThe street is named after Greenleaf S. Van Gorder, a politician and banker.

Members of the Van Gorder family have lived in New York State for a long time.  In 1650, Gysbert Albert Van Gorder, one of the Greenleaf Van Gorder’s ancestors, came from Holland as a pioneer settler in Ulster County and his ancestors were prominent in the early affairs around Fort Orange (Albany).  Greenleaf was born in York, in Livingston County, New York, in 1855.  He attended Temple Hill Academy in Geneseo and Alfred University.   After graduating from college, he studied law in the office of Sanford & Bowen of Angelica, New York.  In 1877, at the age of 22, he was admitted to the bar.  For the first two decades of his career, he practiced law in Pike, a small town in Wyoming County, NY.  During that period, he was elected Town Clerk, County Supervisor, and State Assemblyman.  He then spent four years representing Wyoming, Genesee, Livingston and Niagara Counties in the State Senate.

Senator Van Gorder served as a member of the board of the Pike Seminary and President of the Bank of Pike. He was instrumental in establishing the Public Library of Pike.  He also worked hard to build a modern water system for Pike.  The town fathers kept postponing the installation of the water system.  During the 1880s there was a bad fire there and many businesses, churches and homes were destroyed.  The need for the water system was realized, as it could have been stopped easily with the right system.  Many of the maple trees along streets in the village were destroyed by the fire.  Senator Van Gorder worked to plant trees along the bare streets, calling for volunteers to assist him.  On the day they set aside for the planting, an early snowstorm hit, and only one man came to help in the efforts.  The Senator refused to let the man work in the snow, so Mr. Van Gorder planted the trees himself.  He also helped to transform a neglected cemetery by planting trees and shrubs.  He felt a strong connection to Pike, and even after moving to Buffalo, he kept a summer home there.  He also fought for many years to bring a railroad to Pike.  He worked with Frank Goodyear on the project, but Mr. Goodyear’s death stopped the progress and the railroad was never built.

Senator Van Gorder had a series of narrow escapes from death.  He owned a 300-acre dairy farm at Springdale, between Pike and Bliss.  One day on the farm, he almost died when a prize bull, who weighed nearly a ton, gored him.  During a storm near Cape Hatteras, his boat engine lost power and he drifted all night.  One night on Hodge Ave in Buffalo, he was held up by two men.  He threw the bag he was carrying at the men and was shot.  The bullet remained in his body the rest of his life, since it was so close to his heart and spine doctors did not want risk removal surgery.

Senator Van Gorder’s family also had some tough times.  His brother John Van Gorder and his half-sister, Anna Farnam were murdered at their home in Angelica, New York after a gristly struggle in 1904.  It was believed that they were killed by laborers working on the construction of the Pittsburgh, Shawmutt and Northern Railroad who had been at a campsite near the family’s farm.

He practiced law in Buffalo from 1895 to 1931.  He was a partner in the firm of Bartlett, Van Gorder, White and Holt.

Senator Van Gorder enjoyed travel and music, and was an avid piano player.  He was involved with the Fillmore Land Company, which developed the section of the City where his street is located.  The Fillmore Land Company was instrumental in getting the city to install the Fillmore Avenue sewer between Kensington and Dewey Avenues.   He was a member of the Republican party, the Presbyterian church, Triliminar Masonic Lodge No. 543, the Sons of the American Revolution, the Holland Society of New York and the Buffalo Historical Society.

Senator Van Gorder married Eve Lyon.  They had a daughter, Mary.  The family lived at 332 Ashland in the Elmwood Village.   Mary Van Gorder was secretary to the principal of School Number 54 at Main Street and Leroy Avenue.

Senator Van Gorder died in 1933.  He is buried in Pike Cemetery in Wyoming County.

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

Sources:

  1. Smith, H. Katherine.  “Van Gorder Street Memorial to Legislator-Educator-Lawyer”.  Buffalo Courier-Express, October 20, 1940 sec 6, p13.
  2. Douglass, Harry.  “Wyoming County’s Famous Sons and Daughters”.  The Wyoming County Times, Nov 7, 1935.
  3. “Brother and Sister are Stabbed to Death”.  The Culver Citizen, May 12, 1904, p3.

 

 

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