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Posts Tagged ‘elk street market’

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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