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