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emerson placeEmerson Place is a small one-block street that runs between Michigan Avenue and Masten Avenue in the Masten Park neighborhood on the East Side.  The Street is named for Henry P. Emerson, superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools.  The Emerson neighborhood and Emerson School of Hospitality are also named after Henry Emerson.  In Addition to the Emerson School on Chippewa, the Buffalo schools are about to start classes in a new location on West Huron, where the former CW Miller Livery was converted into classroom space and a new gymnasium was built on a parking lot.  The new school will be The Buffalo School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management, formerly known as Emerson Annex.  The school expansion project was one of Mark Croce’s projects.  Mark passed away earlier this month.  He was a friend of this blog and I always enjoyed talking with him about the history of his buildings.  Since there’s no Croce Street, I write this post in memory of Mark, as well as in celebration of the new space for the students!

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Henry Pendexter Emerson was born in Lynn Field, Massachusetts in 1847. He was the son of Oliver and Eliza (Weston) Emerson and is a relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He attended Phillips Andover Academy. in Massachusetts. He received his A.B. Degree in 1871 and A.M. in 1874. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. After graduation, he started teaching Greek and Latin at Potsdam Normal School.

Mr. Emerson came to Buffalo in 1874 to teach at Old Central (located on Niagara Square). After nine years, he became principal of the school. While he was principal, he obtained $60,000 in appropriations to enlarge the school. This was a very large appropriation at the time.

At the time, the superintendent of schools was a political office. Dr. Emerson ran for it in 1892 on the Republican ticket. He was elected for six successive four-year terms. After the office ceased to be an elected office, he was appointed to continue as superintendent by Mayor Louis Fuhrman. In 1919, Dr. Emerson retired.

Dr. Emerson married Mary Estey of Middleton, Massachusetts in 1874. They lived on Allen Street at the site of what is now the Allendale Theatre (Theatre of Youth) and later at 122 College Street in Buffalo.  The family returned to Middleton every summer and kept a home there on a lake. After retirement, they moved to Middleton full time. They returned to Buffalo every winter for more than a decade to reunite with his fellow teachers and friends.

While Dr. Emerson was superintendent, he was considered an education reformer. He often said, “Better schools make a Better Buffalo”.  Buffalo’s rapid growth had caused school problems at the time.  The population had more than doubled between 1870 and 1900 (from 117,714 to 255,000 people).  Schools were crowded and the quickest growing immigrant populations lived in areas where there were often no schools.  In 1900, almost 3/4ths of the school population was foreign-born or the children of foreign-born.  City services – such as garbage pickup, water supply, sewer, trolley service, etc had difficulty keeping up with the growth, and schools were no exception.  Classrooms at the time could be jammed with as many as 100 students assigned to a single teacher.  The schools were poorly ventilated and poorly lit, with inadequate seating.  Students learned by rote, reciting text together, and passed each grade with a written test, if they passed at all.  In 1890, 76% of children were in 1st and 2nd grade.  There was no school board, school policy was set by the City Council.  As superintendent, Dr. Emerson appointed and supervised the 700 teachers.  Many of the teachers at the time were poorly educated young women from politically connected families.  An October 1892 article in Forum, described the school system of Buffalo as an example of how not to run a public school system.

Dr. Emerson introduced free textbooks for public schools, the first local kindergartens and the first evening classes. He also introduced the first courses in home economics and industrial arts, from which Buffalo’s vocational schools developed. While he was superintendent, four public high schools were built – Lafayette, Masten, South Park and Technical. The Masten High School building is now City Honors. Technical High School was located at Cedar Street and Clinton Avenue (now school administration offices and storage). Technical High School merged with Hutchinson and Central High Schools and is now Hutchinson Central Technical High School (typically called Hutch Tech these days). Lafayette High School and South Park High School are also both still in operation, though Lafayette is now Lafayette International High School.

Dr. Emerson provided free medical and dental exams for students, as well as special classes for the physically and mentally handicapped.  He also introduced non-academic subjects such as music and art.  Dr. Emerson also founded the first local teacher training school. He published two books while he was here – a Latin textbook, “Latin in High Schools” in 1891 and an English grammar textbook “A Course in English For Schools” in 1905. The books were widely used in schools across the country for many years.

Dr. Emerson was president of three educators’ organizations – the Council of School Superintendents of New York State, the State Teachers’ Association, and the National Education Association. He was loyal to his students and encouraged them to finish high school and if possible, college. At the time, it was typical for many students to go into the world of work after they completed 5th or 8th grade, as opposed to completing high school.  For many, it was more important for the students to earn money to help the families than to go on to higher education.  In 1915, the number of students who reached 9th grade was five times more than in the 1890s.  Class sizes were smaller and teachers had better training.

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The Former Emerson Vocational School on Sycamore Street (now Harvey Austin School)

In addition to the street, Emerson Vocational High School is named after Dr. Emerson. The school had originally opened as Peckham Boys Vocational School in 1911, at the corner of Peckham and Townsend Streets. Peckham Vocational School was the first vocational school in Buffalo to have its own facilities. The school focused on upholstery, tailoring, cabinetmaking, machine shop, welding, drafting, painting, baking and culinary arts. The school was located at the corner of Sycamore Street and Koons Avenue from 1926 to 2002. It was named in Dr. Emerson’s honor in 1937. Emerson school became co-ed in 1975. In 2002, Emerson school moved to Chippewa Street and became Emerson School of Hospitality. The school at Sycamore and Koons was remodeled and became Harvey Austin Elementary School.  Emerson School operates Emerson Commons, also on Chippewa, a cafeteria-style restaurant operated by students.

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The former CW Miller Livery before renovations into classroom space for Emerson School (Source:  Buffalo Business First)

In addition to the Emerson School of Hospitality on Chippewa, Buffalo’s schools will be expanding its footprint very soon.  The Buffalo School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management will be in the renovated former CW Miller Livery on Huron.  Construction of an adjacent gymnasium building is being completed in what was a parking lot.  Students are expected to move in next week (January 2020).  The CW Miller Livery has had a fascinating history of its own – it was built as a “palace for horses” and was considered to be one of the finest stables in the United States.  It uses a unique construction as the floors were suspended from steel trusses at the top of the building.  It provided stalls for approximately 250 horses when it was built.  C.W. Miller was a businessman who had made his fortune providing horse transportation to Buffalonians.  After WWI, the livery was converted to a parking garage for cars.  The building was vacant for several decades before being renovated into the expansion of the school by a development team and the Buffalo Public Schools.

Dr. Emerson also donated Emerson Lodge to Camp Rotary, a camp near his home in Massachusetts that allowed poor boys an opportunity to enjoy outdoor life.  While Camp Rotary still exists, I was unable to determine if the lodge is still standing.

While at college, Henry met Frank Fosdick, who became a lifelong friend. They promised to name their children after each other. Frank Fosdick served as principal of Masten High School from 1914 until 1926. Masten High School was renamed Fosdick-Masten High School in Frank Fosdick’s honor in 1927.  Dr. Emerson had no children himself, but Mr. Fosdick kept his promise and named his first son Henry Emerson Fosdick.  Henry Emerson Fosdick was a prominent pastor, serving at First Presbyterian Church in the West Village, Manhattan and the historic, inter-denominational Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, Manhattan.  He was featured in a Time Magazine cover store on October 6, 1930.

Dr. Emerson died in 1930. He is buried in Oakdale Cemetery in Middleton, Massachusetts.

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Emerson Row Houses

Emerson Place is also known for its rowhouses.  It’s one of the only remaining sets of rowhouses left in Buffalo (it was never a common housing style here).  The rowhouses on Emerson were built in 1893 by Benjamine B. Rice.  Benjamin Rice was a real estate developer who developed several streets in the Masten Park neighborhood.  The Emerson rowhouses consist of two seven-unit row houses.  They became a City of Buffalo Local Landmark in 1981 and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

So the next time you grab lunch at Emerson Commons or are driving through Masten Park, think of Dr. Emerson and his attempts to reform our schools.

To learn about more streets, check out the Street Index.   Be sure to subscribe to the blog so that new posts are sent directly to you – you can do so on the right hand side of the home page.  You can also like my blog page on facebook at facebook.com/buffalostreets.

Sources:

  1.  Smith, Katherine H.  “Emerson Place Memorial to Long-Time School Head”.  Buffalo Courier Express.  November 16, 1941, sec6 p3.
  2. “Emerson High School Students Take Part in Funeral Services”.  Buffalo Courier Express.  April 23, 1937. p12.
  3. Motter, HL, editor.  International Who’s Who:  Who’s Who in the World:  A biographical dictionary of the world’s notable living men and women.  William G. Hewitt Press, Brooklyn NY, 1912.
  4. Seller, Maxine.   “The Education of Immigrant Children in Buffalo”,  April 1976.  Found in Institutional Life:  Family, Schools, Race and Religion. Shumsky, Neil Larry, editor.  .  Garland Publishing, Inc, New York.  1996.
  5. LaChiusa, Chuck.  “C.W. Miller Livery Stable”  Buffalo as an Architectural Museum.  https://buffaloah.com/a/whur/75/75.html (online January 2020)
  6. Buffalo City Directories
  7. Emerson Place Row.  Building Structure Inventory Form.  Accessed from NYS Office of Parks and Recreation via cris.parks.ny.gob (online January 2020)

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goodellstreetGoodell Street is an east-west street that runs Michigan Avenue to Main Street.  Goodell Street forms the northern boundary of the Central Business District and typically “south of Goodell” is used as a definition for what constitutes “Downtown Buffalo”.  North of Goodell Street is the Medical Campus and the Fruit Belt neighborhood.  Until the 1950s, Goodell Street ran thru to an intersection with Cherry and Locust Streets.  The Kensington Expressway, which ends at Goodell Street, cut through the Fruit Belt.  I am currently working on a multipart series about the streets of the Fruit Belt and the historic development of the neighborhood.  Stay tuned!  Goodell Street is named for Jabez Goodell, one of the early residents of Buffalo.

Jabez Goodell was born in Holland, Massachusetts in 1776.  He was the only son of Icabod Goodell.  Jabez had three sisters – Huldah, Mary, and Persis.  Jabez came to Buffalo in 1806.  At the time, Buffalo had four shops, consistent mostly of Indian goods and a small drug shop, one blacksmith, one shoemaker, one carpenter and a joiner.  He purchased lands at their original price from the Holland Land Company.  His purchases were at the northern edge of the original layout for the Village of Buffalo.  Due to the growth of the city over the next half-century, his lands increased in value to create a substantial estate.

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Properties owned by Jabez Goodell

Mr. Goodell owned Outer Lots 135, 136, 137 and 145, 146, and 147.  This included properties along Genesee Street and the property where Goodell Street would eventually be laid out.  He also owned lot 33, west of Delaware Avenue near Tupper.

Goodell Street ran through Mr. Goodell’s property.  He operated the Broadwheel Tavern at the corner of Goodell and Main Streets.  The Tavern was located where the Sidway Building now stands.  It was said that his tavern “entertained man and beast”.  His house was burned during the War of 1812, along with the rest of Buffalo.  He rebuilt at Goodell and Oak Street.  His house was later owned by Mayor Solomon Scheu.

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The former St. Peter’s Evangelical Church

Mr. Goodell donated land on Genesee Street at Hickory to the German Evangelical Society of Buffalo in 1834.  The first worshiped on the site in a building that was originally built as the original First Presbyterian Church but was moved to the Genesee Street Site.  Their second church was the original St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which was moved to their property in 1850.  In 1851, they became St. Peters German United Evangelical Church.  In 1877, they built the current Victorian Gothic church that is located on the site.  The tower on the church was removed in 1991, along with small pinnacles that had been surrounding it.  The congregation moved in 1974 when they merged with Lloyd’s Memorial Church to become New Covenant Church of Christ.

Mr. Jabez was a stockholder in the Batavia Street Plank Road Company and served as President of the company.  Batavia Street became Broadway.   Plank roads were common in New York State during the late 1840s and 1850s.  A plank road is made of wooden planks or logs.  The wooden roads were easier and cheaper to maintain that McAdam roads, another common road type of the time period.  The first plank road in the United States was built in Syracuse.  The Batavia Street Plank Road Company controlled 2.5 miles of the roadway and invested $13,000 ($428,910 in 2019 dollars) of capital improvements into the road in 1850.  These road companies were organized and regulated under New York State law.

6Mr. Goodell died in September 1851 at 75 years old.  In death, he donated 10 acres and $10,000 (about $333,000 in 2019 dollars) to the newly formed Buffalo Female Academy to build a 30,0000 square foot school.  Ten months after he died, Goodell Hall opened at the school, just behind the Evergreen Cottage at the corner of Johnson Park and Delaware.  Classes had been held in Evergreen Cottage (Mayor Ebenezer Johnson’s former home) for the 1851 school year.  In 1852, the school moved into Goodell Hall and the cottage was used as a home for the Principal.  The Academy was renamed Buffalo Seminary in 1889 and they moved to their current location on Bidwell Parkway in 1909.

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Jabez Goodell Grave

Mr. Goodell married Diadamia Day, but they had no children.  After the donation to the school, he left his the remainder of his property and estate to be distributed to different societies as well as to religious, missionary and education associations of the Presbyterian church.  Mr. Goodell had been an elder at First Presbyterian Church.  The Goodell estate at his time of death was worth about $400,000 when he died.  That would be more than $13 Million today.  At the time of his death, he was the largest public benefactor who had lived in Buffalo.  He also left $500 ($16,672 in 2019 dollars) to his hometown of Holland, Massachusetts, to provide perpetual care of the cemetery.  He is buried in Forest Lawn, which opened only two years before he passed away.

The rest of the Goodell family was also prominent in Western New York and the Southern Tier.  The Goodell Family at the time was reportedly considered the way the Kennedy Family is in Massachusetts.  Robert Goodell was born in 1601 and immigrated from Dennington England to Massachusetts with his wife and children in 1634.  Jabez was a sixth generation Goodell in America.  Robert was his great-great-great grandfather.  The NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is a 12th generation Goodell and fourth cousin, six times removed to Jabez Goodell.

It is often said in Buffalo that the road is actually pronounced “GOOD-ul”, but because Roger Goodell’s branch of the family pronounces it as “Good-elle”, the pronunciation has changed as his career has risen in the NFL.  I’d love to hear from some Buffalo old timers, especially those who live in the Fruit Belt…how do you pronounce it?

To learn more about other streets, check out the Street Index.   Stay tuned for my upcoming series about more streets in the Fruit Belt area!  You can subscribe to the site on the homepage and new articles will be emailed to you as soon as they are posted.

Sources:

  1. Boltwood, Robert.  “St. Louis’ Pioneer Catholic Church, Enters 12th Decade”.  Buffalo Courier Express, Sunday August 27, 1939, p L7.
  2. “St. Peter’s to Honor Founding 102 Years Ago”. Buffalo Courier Express.  Feb 6, 1937, p 25.
  3. Graham, Tim.  “The Other Goodell:  How NFL commissioner’s dad ran afoul of Nixon”.  Buffalo News.  February, 3 2018.
  4. Ketchum, William.  An Authentic and Comprehensive History of Buffalo.  Rockwell, Baker & Hill Printers:  Buffalo NY.  1865.
  5. Severance, Frank.  “Jabez Goodell”.  As found in Lovering, Martin. History of the Town of Holland, Massachusetts.  The Tuttle Company:  Rutland, Vermont.  1915.
  6. “Batavia Street Plank Road Co”.  Daily Courier.  January 15, 1850.
  7. Zobel, Michael.  “Letter: Learn the correct pronunciation of Buffalo’s Goodell Street”.  Buffalo News.  April 29, 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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military road

Military Road’s modern alignment through the City of Buffalo and Town of Tonawanda

Military Road is a part of NYS Route 265, a 19.75 mile long state road that runs between Niagara Falls and Buffalo.  The portions called Military Road are located in the City of Buffalo/Town of Tonawanda and then again in Niagara Falls, NY.  The road dates back to 1801, when it was laid out as a road to connect Black Rock with Fort Niagara, near Lake Ontario.  The route begins at the intersection of Niagara Street and the Scajaquada Expressway.  It runs along Tonawanda Street through Black Rock, Amherst Street, then turns into Military Road where it runs for 4.3 miles until the City of Tonawanda border.  In the City of Tonawanda it is Main Street, in North Tonawanda it is River Road, in Niagara Falls it is Buffalo Ave before it turns back into Military Road through most of Niagara Falls where it ends at a junction with NY 104 (Lewiston Road) in Lewiston.  From Lewiston to Youngstown, the River Road that ran up to the Fort was already built, so that was used to connect the Military built road to Fort Niagara.

map of military road - from buffalo history gazette

Historic Map showing the route of Military Road Source: Buffalo History Gazette

Military Road was one of the first roads in the country planned for military purposes.  Roads for defense have been around for a long time and are still around in modern times – much of the United States Highway System was built as the “Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways”, designed for defense and modeled partly after the German Autobahn network that Eisenhower saw in Germany during WWII.  After the Revolutionary War, the federal government realized they needed a highway extending from the town of the Lewiston Escarpment to the bluff at Black Rock.  At the time, they were planning a large fort on the Black Rock bluff to guard the entrance to the Niagara River.  Most of WNY’s roads at the time were based on Native American trails and the trails of the earliest settlers.  These trails typically took the path of least resistance, to avoid things like creeks, marshes, or heavily wooded areas.  The highway would replace the old Portage Road, which was too winding, as it followed closely to the course of the river, rather than in a more direct line.  The Historic Map shows both the routes of the Military Road, which has a smoother path than the Portage route, which curves further to the west towards the Falls.

After the Revolutionary War, there were boundary disputes between New York and Massachusetts.  An agreement signed in Hartford, Connecticut in 1786 deeded the land once occupied by the Haudenosaunee to New York State, but Massachusetts maintained that they had a right to the area west of Seneca Lake once the Native American title was extinguished, except for a one-mile strip, which New York State reserved for itself.  The strip ran one mile inland along the Niagara River, from Buffalo to Stedman’s Farm (also known as Fort Schlosser, near where the water intakes are currently located along the Niagara Scenic Parkway/Robert Moses Parkway in Niagara Falls). Despite the State’s reservation of the parcel, the Seneca maintained that they retained the title to the Mile Strip, which was affirmed in the 1794 Pickering Treaty.   Massachusetts sold the rights to the surveyed portion of the land to Robert Morris in 1791.  Keeping a portion of the land for his own purposes, Robert Morris sold the rest of the land (which the exception of Grand Island and the Mile Strip) to the Holland Land Company, the company which Joseph Ellicott was the land agent.  You can read more about Joseph Ellicott and the Holland Land Company by clicking these links for Part One, Part Two and Part Three.  In 1798, Seth Pease surveyed the Mile Line for the Holland Land Company.  In 1802, the Seneca claim to the Mile Strip was extinguished by a treaty signed in Albany.  There had been little settlement in the area by the Seneca, only two Seneca families lived there year-round.  The treaty was initiated because the government wanted to construct a fort at Black Rock (also known as Upper Black Rock).  In 1803, the Deputy State Surveyor, Joseph Annin began to survey the Mile Strip into lots.  Fort Niagara was given 716 acres which were set aside for the Federal government.  The Stedman’s Farm/Fort Schlosser farm lot was set aside at 680 acres.  The Jones and Parrish tracts, which were each 640 acres, were also set aside and were given to Mr. Jones and Mr. Parrish who had been Haudenosaunee captives during the war.  The Jones and Parrish lots were near the Scajaquada Creek.  A total of 111 lots were laid out within the remainder of the Mile Strip, the majority of which were 160 acres in size, but due to the curve of the river, many were slightly larger.  One square mile was set aside at the southern end for the Village of Black Rock.  For more on the laying out of Black Rock, you can read about Peter Porter, the streets named after states, and the numbered streets.

In 1801, General Moses Porter, commander at Fort Niagara, was ordered by the War Department to use his troops to build the road.  I was unable to find out if General Porter was related to Mr. Porter of Black Rock during my research.  They called the road Military Road because it was built by the soldiers.  Between 1802 and 1805, the right of way for the road was cleared.  At the time, road building typically consisted of cutting trees and brush wide enough  to bring an oxcart.  Military Road was built in a strip 100-feet wide.  Marshy areas were made passable by laying logs down, which was often referred to as a “corduroy road”.  It was a tough task, as the road was built through forests and over swamp lands to cut a straight path.  Bridges were built in Tonawanda, but work was stopped and the road surface was not finished for seven years, due to disagreements between the State and the Federal Governments. In 1808-1809, New York State gave $1,500 (about $30,000 in 2018 dollars) to the project and the road was complete.

fort tompkins signThe large fort planned for Black Rock was never built, but a smaller one was built in 1807 and became Fort Tompkins in August 1812.  Fort Tompkins was also known as Fort Adams.  The fort was actually large mounds which were mounting points for seven guns.  It was technically a battery, which is a cluster of cannons in action as a group put into position during a battle of a fort or city.  Fort Tompkins was the largest of eight batteries that were built during the war.  It was located at the top of the bluff at the bend in Niagara Street.  The escarpment here allowed them to overlook the river, giving advantages over the attacks from the water.   The location was later the sight of railway barns.  A plaque was hung on the railway barn and still hangs on the building located at 1010 Niagara Street.  The more famous Fort Tompkins was located on Staten Island and was built in 1663.  They were both likely named for Governor Daniel Tompkins, Governor of New York from 1807 to 1817.  Fun fact for if you’re ever on Jeopardy:  Daniel Tompkins was later President Monroe’s Vice President and the only VP in the 19th century to serve two full terms.

Military Road Marker

Historic Marker near Amherst Street and Military Road

One of the only military uses of the road was during the War of 1812.  American General McClure lost Fort George after a significant battle.  General McClure then gave the notice to burn Fort George and the Village of Newark (now Niagara on the Lake) to deny shelter to the British.  The Americans then retreated to Fort Niagara.  The British reoccupied Fort George and planned an assault on Fort Niagara in retaliation for the burning of Newark.  General McClure claimed he had acted on Secretary of War’s order in the burning of Newark.  He had been told earlier in the year to destroy Newark if necessary but to give the residents several days notice to ensure they were not left destitute.  McClure had only given two hours notice, leaving residents without shelter or possessions during a heavy snowstorm.  This was against war conventions at the time.  McClure’s superiors disavowed his orders and McClure never again held command.

On December 19th, 1813, more than 500 soldiers crossed the Niagara River at a location known as Five Mile Meadows. They turned towards Youngstown and the Americans were taken by surprise and the story goes that they obtained the password to get into the fort by using a fake southern accent.  The British gained control of Fort Niagara and the British and their Native American allies marched upriver.  With the American Army gone, there were only civilian militias left to defend their land.  The British marched south, destroying farms and villages between Youngstown and Manchester (now Niagara Falls, NY).  The second British raid happened a few weeks later, December 31, 1813, which burned as far south as Black Rock and Buffalo.  General McClure retreated from Fort Niagara to Buffalo via Military Road after losing Fort Niagara.

The road fell into disuse and became overgrown, partly due to a debate between the state and federal governments as to who was supposed to maintain it.  Sections of it were used by local farmers.  Niagara County took over the road in 1820 and reconditioned it (at the time present day Erie County was part of Niagara County).  By 1832, it was cleared and repaired and became a state highway.

The idea behind the road was to facilitate travel of troops and munitions of war from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie.  Though the road was built for military function, it also helped to allow for commercial development of the area, with settlements occurring all along the Military Road.

In 1891, trolley service was extended along Military Road into the fledgling Village of Kenmore, allowing residents of Kenmore to arrive at the Military Road Station of the Belt Line, which would take them downtown for work.

miliatry marker sheridan drive

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Installation of the Boulder on Sheridan Drive, 1926. Source: Buffalo Courier Express

A boulder with a plaque honoring the Military Road was placed in Sheridan Drive by the Buffalo Chapter of the DAR in 1936.  It was part of a celebration of the centennial of the Town of Tonawanda.  The Centennial was held on exhibition grounds at the corner of Delaware Avenue and Sheridan Drive.  The dedication occurred on what was referred to as “Pioneer Day”.   New York State Historian, Dr. Alexander Flick, was on hand to give a speech and celebrate some of the oldest residents of Tonawanda.  Between 1906 and 1936, the Town had grown from 2,000 residents to 30,000.  Prizes were given to some of the residents including  the oldest married couple present, the oldest school teacher present, and the oldest male and female present.  Mrs. John Walters was unable to be present at the awards ceremony, but she had been a resident of Tonawanda for 93 years!

So the next time you drive along Military Road, think about the military history of WNY and remember the war fought right in our backyard, and the people who were determined enough to stay after their villages were burned to the ground.

Source:

  1. “Town Pioneers honor Guests and Centennial”.  Buffalo Courier Express, July 3 1936. p8.
  2. “Military Highway Will be Scene of Ceremonies” Buffalo Courier Express.  June 13, 1936, p13.
  3. Clinton Brown Architecture, pc.  Reconnaissance Level Historic Resources Survey:  Black Rock Planning Neighborhood.  November 2010.
  4. History of Old Fort Niagara.  https://www.oldfortniagara.org
  5. Lewis, Clarence.  “Evolution of Roadways in County Linked with Important Historical Happenings”.  Niagara Falls Gazette, July 29, 1954.
  6. Malloy, Jerry.  “Why is it Called Military Road?”  Buffalo History Gazette.  August 8, 2010.  http://www.buffalohistorygazette.net
  7. Percy, John & Graham Miller.  Images of America: Kenmore, New York.  Arcadia Publishing:  Charleston, South Carolina, 1998.

 

 

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gill alleyGill Alley runs between Breckenridge Street and Auburn Avenue in the Elmwood Village.  Gill Alley is one of a common type of alley that exists in Buffalo, particularly around the West Side.  These alleys give access to carriage houses and garages via the rear of the properties along the adjacent streets.  Housing ads in the early parts of the 1900s used frontage along the alleys as a selling point for homes.  Many of these carriage houses have now been converted into apartments.

Gill Alley is named in honor of Helen Gill.  Mrs. Gill was the daughter of Guy C. Martin, who came to Buffalo from Vermont via canal boat.  He lived in Griffins Mills, a hamlet in the Town of Aurora.  There, he began working at the Rumsey tanneries.  He became superintendent of the Rumsey tannery in Holland and later of their Louisiana Street tannery.  He died in 1921 at the age of 102.  Helen was born in 1845, one of nine children.

Helen married Thaddeus S. Gill, the superintendent of Bush & Howard Company, a tannery that was located at Chicago and Scott Streets.  The family lived on North Division Street, when Mr. Gill passed away in 1888 at the age of 44.  Shortly before his death, the family had been discussing building a house further out of the congested areas of the city, in the new residential sections being developed north of downtown.  Between 1880s and 1900, the Elmwood area was being developed as a streetcar suburb, allowing residential living away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.

Helen decided after Thaddeus died that she would still build the house, despite her husband’s death.  She lived in a time when a woman’s place was considered to be in the home, but the man was the master of the house.  She purchased the property herself and even sketched out the original plans of the house.  The architect in charge of the construction only made minor changes to her design.

The Gill house is located at 482 Ashland Avenue.  When the Gill’s family home was built, the area was a part of John J Albright’s cow pasture.  Wild blackberry bushes grew around the pasture, which Mrs. Gill baked into pies.

helen gill graveMrs. Gill developed a large garden in the rear of her home.  She was a member of Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church and a Vice President of the Crippled Children’s Guild.  She lived for nearly thirty years in the home she had built for herself.  She died in 1919 and is buried in Forest Lawn.

Helen’s son, Howard M. Gill, was born in the North Division Street house, and continued to live in the Ashland house after his mother died.  He attended West Side School on School Street and Masten Park High School.  He worked for the New York Central Railroad, American Car & Foundry, and Goodyear Rubber Company.  He managed his mother’s estate following her death.

To learn about other streets, check out the Street Index

Source:  Buffalo Courier-Express, June 2, 1940. p 14-W.

 

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abbott.jpgAbbott Road is a road that starts in the City of Buffalo at an intersection of Bailey Avenue and South Park Avenue and runs to an intersection at Bayview Road/Armor Duells.  Abbott Road is about 9 miles in length and runs through not only the City of Buffalo, but also the City of Lackawanna and the Town of Orchard Park.   Abbott Road used to continue north across the Buffalo River towards the First Ward neighborhood, but that portion of the road was changed to South Park Avenue during the 1930s.

Brothers Samuel and Seth Abbott helped to build Abbott Road in 1809.  Seth Abbott lived at Abbott’s Corners and was interested in constructing a road to lead into Buffalo.  Samuel was one of the earliest settlers in Orchard Park.  The brothers helped clear the road of huge primeval trees, using their teams of oxen brought here from Vermont in 1807.  The road still follows, with only slight deviations, the same path that the brothers originally cleared.

The brothers’ ancestors came from England to Massachusetts in 1646.  Another ancestor, Timothy Abbott, was one of the first settlers of Rutland, Vermont.  From Vermont, Seth and Samuel made their way through the forest and ended in the vicinity of Orchard Park and Armour (a hamlet on the boundary between the towns of Hamburg and Orchard Park).  Armour was originally known as Abbott’s Corners after the Abbott brothers.  Abbott Road was originally known as Abbott’s Corners Road.  Often on the journey, they would have to leave their ox carts to go ahead to clear passages through the forest by hand before being able to bring the cart through the forest.

The Abbott brothers invested in large amounts of land.  Samuel was a farmer and surveyor and surveyed most of the principal early roads of Erie County.  In 1812, Samuel was first overseer of highways and fence viewer for District 10, East Hamburg.  During the war of 1812, Samuel Abbott and his wife, Sophia (Brown) Abbott were afraid that the British would continue south and burn them out.  They hid their most valuable possessions in the well next to their home.

samuel abbott house.jpg

Samuel Abbott’s house in Orchard Park circa 1915 (source:  Orchard Park Bee)

Samuel was also the second supervisor of the Town of Hamburg in 1813.  He then moved to the Town of Boston, where at the first town meeting in 1818, he was elected first supervisor of the Town of Boston.  Around 1825, he returned to East Hamburg (now Town of Orchard Park) and built a home on East Quaker Road in front of the log cabin he had built ten years prior.  After Samuel died, his son Chauncey Abbott and wife Charlotte moved from Buffalo to the Hamburg house in 1851.  The house is at the corner of Franklin Chauncey Lane and Franklin Street were named after Chauncey and Franklin Abbott, sons of Samuel.

Seth and his wife Sophia (Starkweather) Abbott lived in Amour, formerly Abbott’s Corners.  Before Seth settled in the area, it was known as Wright’s Corners.  From 1812 until about 1850, Abbott’s Corners was the business center for Hamburg, also being the location of the post office.  In 1891, an influential resident Mr.  Louis Hepp, proposed renaming Abbott’s Corners to Armour, supposedly after the Armour Meat Packing Company after a trip to Chicago.Seth opened a tavern in 1820.  The tavern went by several names and had several owners before being destroyed by fire in 1912.   A new building containing a tavern and an inn was built in it’s place.  In April 1824, a meeting of concerned citizens was held at Seth Abbott’s home.  As a result of the meeting, the first public library in Southern Erie County was established.  The library opened in 1824 with $102 in seed money, selling subscriptions to fund the project.  Little else is known about this early library in Hamburg.

seth abbott graveSeth Abbott died on June 8, 1831 and is buried in Hillcrest Cemetery in Hamburg.

 

samuel abbott graveSamuel Abbott died on October 2, 1846 and is buried in Deuel Cemetery in Orchard Park.

 

 

 

 

To learn about other streets, check out the Street Index.

Sources:

  1. “Abbott Brothers Helped Build Road of that Name.”  Courier Express July 10, 1938, section 6 p. 10
  2. White, Truman, ed.  Our County and Its People:  A Descriptive Work on Erie County, New York, Volume 2.  The Boston History Company:1898.
  3. Kulp, Suzanne and Joseph Bieron.  Images of America:  Orchard Park.  Acadia Publishing, Portsmith, NH:  2004.
  4. Kulp, Suzanne.  History of Orchard Park.  http://orchardparkny.org/content/history  accessed February 24, 2018.
  5. “Seder’s Armor inn, historic site of Seth Abbott’s original hotel, later become Hook’s Armor Inn”.  Hamburg Sun.  December 17, 2009.

 

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