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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Ellicott’

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Otto Street Present Day

Otto Street is a small little street in the First Ward of Buffalo.  The street has had a front row to the changing transportation of Buffalo – in the 1880s, the north side of the street was a tannery and then the Hamburg Canal.  It then became the Lehigh Valley Rail Yard throughout the early 1900s.  And since the 1950s, the street has run along the southern side of the I-190.

Otto Street (top of map) in 1889

Otto Street (top of map) in 1889
(click to enlarge)

Otto Street in 1899

Otto Street in 1899
(Click to Enlarge)

Otto Street is named for Jacob S. Otto.  Mr. Otto took over for Joseph Ellicott following his retirement from the Holland Land Company.  For more on Joseph Ellicott, check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Mr. Otto was born in Swedesboro, New Jersey in 1778.  He graduated from Princeton in 1797 and practiced law in Philadelphia.  In 1821, he joined the Holland Land Company.  When he took over the Holland Land Company, things were difficult.  Many of debtors purchased land during the boom of 1816-1817.  A panic occurred in 1817, prices had fallen, and the company was owed more than $1,000,000 (approximately 13 million in today’s dollars!).  When Joseph Ellicott resigned, the Holland Land Company did not side with the local suggestions for his replacement and selected Mr. Otto, who was working in Philadelphia as a capable businessman.   Mr. Otto revived the Holland Land Company’s acceptance of produce in payment of interest.  This helped to calm some of the troubles throughout the Holland Land Purchase.

While Mr. Otto never lived in Buffalo, he was well known here.  He was important in the development of Allegany and Cattaraugus Counties.   He also opened up the Ellicott tract for development by laying out North Division from Main to Washington in 1827.  North Division was extended to Jefferson in 1831.

Mr. Otto tightened the requirements for settlers to pay off their debt.  He brought suit against many of the debtors.  The settlers reacted to this by starting protest meetings in Lockport in January 1827 and in Buffalo in February 1827.  A petition was sent to Albany, where a bill to tax land of non-residents passed in the fall.  The collection reports of the company for 1826 showed that of the six million debt, less than one-fiftieth had been collected.  This changed the policies of the Holland Land Company.

Mr. Otto died in 1827 when he contracted pneumonia after officiating the opening of the Erie Canal.  He is buried in Batavia.  Mr. Otto’s son, John Otto, came to Buffalo from Philadelphia after his father’s death and worked at Pascal Pratt’s Hardware Store.  In 1858, John Otto formed his own real estate firm, John Otto and Sons.  The Towns of Otto and East Otto are named for Jacob Otto.

During the waning days of the Holland Land Company’s prominence in Western New York, David Ellicott Evans took over as land agent following Mr. Otto’s death.   The Town of Evans, New York is named after Mr. Evans, who was Joseph Ellicott’s nephew.   Lewis Ellicott Evans, David’s brother, lived in a house in Williamsville which was known as the “Evans House”.  The Evans House was built on Main Street, east of Ellicott Creek, and was believed to have been the oldest house in Erie County.  The House was demolished in 1955. Evans Street continues the Evans family legacy in Williamsville.

Sources:

  1. “Otto Street Honors Ellicott Successor” Courier Express, Dec 18, 1938, sec 5 p4
  2. Silsby, Robert.  “The Holland Land Company in Western New York”.  accessed online at http://bechsed.nylearns.org/pdf/low/The%20Holland%20Land%20Company%20in%20Western%20New%20York.pdf
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joseph ellicottThis is the third and final part in a series about Joseph Ellicott.  Click here to read Part One about Joseph’s family and his early life.  Click here to read Part Two, about Joseph’s days with the  Holland Land Company.  Today, I am going to touch on Joseph’s legacy throughout Western New York.

Mindful of Buffalo’s strategic location as a port, Joseph Ellicott was a strong advocate for a canal to be built from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. He served as one of the first Erie Canal Commissioners and was appointed in 1816 to supervise the canal construction.  He was also responsible for convincing Governor Clinton not to send to England for engineers to design the canal, but to use local talent instead.  He donated more than 100,000 acres of company land for the canal project.  He resigned from the Canal in 1818, due to his declining health.

Joseph worked hard to further the settlement of Buffalo by encouraging development on certain transects.   As hard as Joseph worked, his later years were not as bright.  He suffered from physical and mental health issues in his later days.  As early as 1816 he began to suffer from periods of depression and melancholy.  At the time, his condition was thought to have been brought upon by his lonely, unmarried life as well as the disappointments of the unrealized hopes and dreams.  In 1821, the Holland Land Company suggested that he was no longer needed and  Joseph retired.   He became a hypochondriac and was admitted to Bloomingdale Asylum in New York City by his family around 1824.  He died in 1826 by hanging himself.  He was originally buried in New York City, but was exhumed and reburied in Batavia in the Batavia Cemetery.

Joseph Ellicott's Gravestone

Joseph Ellicott’s Gravestone

Joseph’s grave was erected in 1849 by his sister Rachel Evans. and is engraved with the following:

“He was the first resident agent of the Holland Land Company for whom in 1798 he began the survey of the western part of the state then owned by them.  Even at that day his predictions of its future wealth and importance fell but little short what has since been realized.  For more than twenty years, he used with great judgement combined with liberality, the powers entrusted to him as one of the earliest and by far the most efficient advocate of the Erie Canal.  His name is a part of the history of New York.  His reputation among his fellow citizens as a man of the highest intelligence as well as the influence of his station gave his opinions great weight with every successive administration during the first twenty years of the present century, and in every portion of the tract once subject to his control may be seen marks of his foresight and generosity.  He was the founder of Batavia and Buffalo, NY.”

The following places were named after Joseph Ellicott:

  • Ellicottville, New York – a village in Cattaraugus County
  • Ellicott, New York – town in Chautauqua County
  • Ellicott Square Building – A ten story office building in Downtown Buffalo.  When it was built in 1896, it was the largest office building in the world.  The building was designed by Charles Atwood of Daniel Burnham & Company Architects.  The building sits on the lot that Joseph Ellicott originally owned.
  • Ellicott Street – in addition to the one in Buffalo, there’s an Ellicott Street in Batavia, and an Ellicott Road in Orchard Park
  • Ellicott Complex – dorms at University of Buffalo
  • Ellicott Creek – a creek that runs through Tonawanda and Amherst
  • Ellicott Elementary School  -in orchard park
  • Ellicott Run – in Sinnemahoning State Park in Pennsylvania
Joseph Ellicott's Plan for the Village of New Amsterdam

Joseph Ellicott’s Plan for the Village of New Amsterdam

If you look closely at Joseph’s plan from 1804 (click on the picture for a better view), you will notice that some of the streets have different names.  Joseph named the streets after the dutch investors and  members of the Holland Land Company.

The street changes occurred on July 13, 1825.  There was a battle between the Highway Commissioners of the City of Buffalo and Joseph Ellicott.   As discussed in Part Two, Joseph owned a large lot in Downtown Buffalo.  After the Highway Commissioners decided that Main Street needed to be re-routed to cut through his property, Joseph changed his will to avoid leaving the land for a park.  In order to spite Joseph, the Commissioners changed the names of the streets:

  • Willink Avenue and Van Straphorst Avenue became Main Street
  • Schimmelpennick Avenue was renamed Niagara Street
  • Stadnitski Avenue was named Church Street since it was the location of St. Paul’s Church
  • Vallenhoven Street was named Erie Street
  • Cazenovia Street became Court Street, because the Courthouse was located near where the Central Library is currently located
  • North and South Onondaga Streets were merged to become Washington Street
  • North and South Cayuga Street became Pearl Street
  • Franklin was renamed from Tuscarora Street
  • Busti Avenue became Genesee Street
  • Mississauga Street became Morgan Street (which is currently South Elmwood)

In March 1836, Crow Street became Exchange Street.  In the end, Seneca, Swan, Chippewa, Huron, Eagle and Delaware were the only street names given by Joseph Ellicott that remained.

The Highway Commissioners must have felt a twinge of regret, because the changed the name of Oneida Street to Ellicott Street, honoring the man who laid out our streets and helped the fledgling Village of Buffalo Creek become the City of Buffalo.

To learn about how other streets got their name, check out the Street Index.  If you want to be the first to know about new blog posts, subscribe to the blog and updates will be emailed to you.  And as always, if you have any questions about specific streets, leave them in the comments and I can see what I can do to add them to my queue.

Sources:
  1. “Joseph Ellicott”  Memorial and Family History of Erie County New York. Volume 1, Biographical and Genealogical
  2. Beers, F.W.  ”Our County and It’s People:  A Descriptive Work on Genesee County, New York.”  J.W. Vose & Co Publishers, Syracuse NY 1890.
  3. “Our Street Names:  They Tell Much of Buffalo’s History”.  Buffalo Express, November 14, 1897.
  4. Burns, Rosamond.  ”Paving the Way For Settlers:  The Rise and Fall of the Holland Land Co.”  Buffalo News, January 25, 2004.
  5. Houghton, Frederick.  ”History of the Buffalo Creek Reservation”.   Buffalo Historical Society Publications, Volume 24:  Buffalo, 1920.

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Holland Land Purchase

Holland Land Purchase

This is Part Two of a series on Joseph Ellicott, for whom Ellicott Street is named.  If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can read it by clicking here.

Following his time surveying in Washington, DC and along the Georgia-Carolina boundary, Joseph Ellicott began to survey some property in Western PA that a group of Dutch investors purchased.  The Dutch Investors had formed the Holland Land Company to invest in land in New York and Pennsylvania.  The Company also purchased a large tract of land in Western New York known as the Holland Purchase.  The Holland Land Purchase consisted of approximately 3,250,000 acres of land, stretching from 12 miles west of the Genesee River to the present western boundary of New York State.  Much of the land had been owned by Robert Morris, who had purchased it from the Senecas.  Between 1798 and 1800, the area was surveyed under the direction of Joseph Ellicott.  Joseph brought a crew of 11 surveyors, each with his own assistants to survey the property.  Joseph himself surveyed the east line of the purchase.   While Joseph laid out the site of Buffalo, there were many who doubted a city would establish there. Interference from the State and Buffalo Creek Reservations was calmed due to Joseph’s skills as a surveyor and diplomat.  He persuaded the Senecas to leave the Village’s location out of the reservation.  At the time, the Buffalo River as we know it was only a simple stream that ended in a marshland.  Joseph foresaw that Buffalo would be important as a port due to the convergence of Buffalo Creek on Lake Erie.  In Spring 1798, Joseph opened the first wagon track in Erie County, improving the trails from East Transit to Buffalo, and from Buffalo to Batavia.

The Holland Land Company had purchased the land, intending to sell large tracts of lands to investors for a profit. The bankers were unable to sell large tracts of land and began to sell directly to settlers looking to build homes.   Holland Land Company bought the land for 35 cents per acre and sold it for $2-2.50 per acre.

Holland Land Office in Batavia (now a museum)

Holland Land Office in Batavia (now a museum)

Joseph Ellicott was appointed Resident Agent of the Holland Land Company and opened an office in Batavia in 1801.    He oversaw the surveying crews to complete the subdividing the land into townships , each six square miles.  The townships were then subdivided into lots.  The officers of the Holland Land Company had an extensive program to build roads, lay out towns and attract settlers to the area by selling small tracts of land on liberal terms and providing loans to help businessmen set up shops.  The typical agreement was a down payment of  5-25 percent to be paid in 4-8 years at 7 percent interest.  During that period, the settlers were required to clear several acres of land, erect a dwelling and fence in a portion of his property.   Pioneers purchasing land here faced the hard task of relocating.  It took weeks or months to navigate over muddy, rugged roads.   The area was primarily a primeval forest.   A typical settler would have to clear about 50 trees to build a modest log cabin.

The first map of Buffalo was made by Joseph in 1804, calling it the Village of New Amsterdam, to honor the Holland Land Company.   The fledgling Village had a population of about 25 at the time, including a blacksmith, a silversmith, and half a dozen houses.  While Ellicott wanted to call it “New Amsterdam”, the residents preferred the name of Buffalo Creek, so their name stuck, which was then later shortened to Buffalo.  He is responsible for the radial street plan of the City of Buffalo.  He named most of the streets after members of the Holland Land Company.

Buffalo Lots in 1805

Buffalo Lots in 1805
(Lot 104 can be seen in the center of the map)

Joseph Ellicott also purchased his own share of Downtown Buffalo, a 100-acre tract of land known as Outer Lot 104, bounded by the current Main Street, Swan Street, Eagle Street and Jefferson Avenue.  There was a half-moon shaped piece of land along the Main Street frontage of Joseph’s property, from which Niagara, Church and Erie Streets radiated.  Joseph planned to build a mansion on this half-moon; however, in 1809, the Village authorities decided to straighten Main Street.  Ellicott abandoned the idea of building on the lot and during his lifetime, no development occurred on Outer Lot 104.   Also, Ellicott changed his will, which had been drawn to leave the tract of land to the City for a public park.   Today, the Ellicott Square Building sits on the Main Street part of the lot, a fitting reminder of Ellicott’s influence in Buffalo.

Many of the settlers were unable to pay back for their land; however, Joseph was lenient with them and allowed them to extend their payments.   After 10 years, the Holland Land Company opened an office in Mayville in Chautauqua County. This allowed them to better serve the pioneers by ridding them of the burden of travelling all the way to Batavia to make payments.

During the War of 1812, the Holland Land Company allowed settlers to make payments in goods instead of cash.  They mostly accepted black salt, which they would then make into pearl ash to sell to Montreal.

In 1833, New York State laws changed, forcing foreign owners to be taxed the same as residents.  The Holland Land Company began to enforce their payment schedules and were no longer as lenient with settlers.

Holland Land Company Vault postcard, Mayville NY

Holland Land Company Vault postcard, Mayville

In 1835, the Holland Land Company sold its remaining holdings in Chautauqua County to Trumbell Cary, George Lay, Jacob LeRoy and Herman Redfield.  They instituted a new policy called the “Genesee Tariff”, forcing those who still owed to pay a penalty of a specific amount per acre in additional to the original price paid for the land.  They also threatened to sell the land to another purchaser if payments were not made.  The settlers fought back against the Genesee Tariff.  In 1836, 500 men gathered in Hartfield, rioted and marched to Mayville to destroy the Land Office.  The building and furniture were destroyed and the company’s books were burned in a bonfire.  The company salvaged what they could and reopened an office in Westfield.   William Seward was made the Land Agent of the new office, and was able to renew peace.  Seward later went on to become Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, and is best known for “Seward’s Folly”, aka the purchase of Alaska.  A stone vault near the present day County Courthouse is the only visible landmark of the Holland Land Company’s presence in Chautauqua County.

In 1839, the Holland Land Office in Batavia closed.  The last holdings of the company were sold in 1846 at little profit.  The building, which was built in 1815 to replace the original log cabins is still standing in Batavia.   The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The building was saved by a Batavia High School teacher, John Kennedy, and the Class of 1894.  The site currently operates as the Holland Land Office Museum.

For more on Ellicott’s legacy in Western New York, check out Part Three by clicking here.

Sources:

  1. “Joseph Ellicott”  Memorial and Family History of Erie County New York. Volume 1, Biographical and Genealogical
  2. Beers, F.W.  “Our County and It’s People:  A Descriptive Work on Genesee County, New York.”  J.W. Vose & Co Publishers, Syracuse NY 1890.
  3. “Our Street Names:  They Tell Much of Buffalo’s History”.  Buffalo Express, November 14, 1897.
  4. Burns, Rosamond.  “Paving the Way For Settlers:  The Rise and Fall of the Holland Land Co.”  Buffalo News, January 25, 2004.
  5. Houghton, Frederick.  “History of the Buffalo Creek Reservation”.   Buffalo Historical Society Publications, Volume 24:  Buffalo, 1920.

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ellicottEllicott Street is one of the main north-south thoroughfares in Downtown Buffalo.  As most people know, the street was named for Joseph Ellicott, the surveyor of the Holland Land Company who laid out the City of Buffalo.  Since Ellicott was such a prominent man, instead of making this post too long, I have decided to break it up into three posts.  Part 1 today is about Joseph’s early life.   Part 2 details Joseph’s work with the Holland Land Company.  Part 3 discusses Ellicott’s legacy.

Joseph Ellicott’s father, Joseph Ellicott, Sr. was founder of Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland in 1772 when he and his brothers set up a milling business there.  The elder Joseph Ellicott was instrumental in the farming of the area, by convincing the farmers to plant wheat instead of tobacco.  The farms flourished because he introduced fertilizer (using ground plaster of paris) to the area to help the depleted soil be revitalized.   After the Revolutionary War, they were growing enough wheat to build a mills and the town grew up around the mills.  Joseph Ellicott the elder had nine children.  Two of his sons, Andrew and Joseph Junior became surveyors.

Andrew Ellicott was born in 1754.   In 1784, Andrew was appointed to be a member of the survey group working to extend the survey of the Mason-Dixon line.   He also surveyed the “Ellicott Line” in 1786.  This is the line running north-south that forms the western boundary of Pennsylvania.  During his work, he met Benjamin Franklin.  Based on Franklin’s recommendations, Andrew was appointed by George Washington to survey the lands between Lake Erie and Pennsylvania to determine the border between Western New York and U.S. Territory.  He also made the first topographical study of the Niagara River.

Andrew Ellicott's Plan for Washington, D.C., 1792

Andrew Ellicott’s Plan for Washington, D.C., 1792

In 1791, Thomas Jefferson (then Secretary of State) selected Andrew to survey the boundaries of the Territory of Columbia, which became the District of Columbia (Washington, DC) in 1801.  During this time, he surveyed the future city of Washington, working with Pierre L’Enfant.   When L’Enfant disagreed with some of the commissioners, L’Enfant stepped down and Andrew took over the planning and revised the plans.  Andrew Ellicott’s plans, printed in 1792 were the first Washington city plans to receive wide circulation.

The Erie Triangle, Surveyed by Andrew Ellicott

The Erie Triangle, Surveyed by Andrew Ellicott

In 1794, Andrew plotted the road from Reading, PA to Presque Isle on Lake Erie.  He then laid out the City of Erie, PA and supervised the construction of Fort Erie.

In 1796, George Washington again commissioned Andrew for the commission to survey the border between the Spanish Territories in Florida and the United States.  He traveled via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.   He worked for four years on this survey and presented his final report to the government in 1800.  However, political administrations had changed and the Adams administration refused to pay Andrew for the work done on the survey.  He sold many of his possessions to support his family during this time.  When President Thomas Jefferson offered him the post of Surveyor General, Andrew turned it down due to his negative experience with the Adams administration.

Andrew’s brother, Joseph was born in 1760 in Bucks County, PA.   During Andrew’s survey of Washington, D.C., Joseph was Andrew’s chief assistant.  Following the survey of Washington, Joseph went to Georgia to survey the boundary line between Georgia and Carolina.  Following that survey, he returned to Pennsylvania, where he met up the Holland Land Company.

For more on Joseph’s days with the Holland Land Company, click here to read Part Two….

Sources:

  1. “Joseph Ellicott”  Memorial and Family History of Erie County New York. Volume 1, Biographical and Genealogical
  2. Beers, F.W.  “Our County and It’s People:  A descriptive Work on Genesee County, New York.”  J.W. Vose & Co Publishers, Syracuse NY 1890.
  3. “Our Street Names:  They Tell Much of Buffalo’s History”.  Buffalo Express, November 14, 1897.

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Here’s the deal, the City of Buffalo has approximately 1500 streets.  We drive, bike and walk over them every day.  Do you ever stop to think why Bird Street is called that?  (HINT:  It’s not because there were birds there)  Do you ever wonder why the Fruit Belt streets are named after Fruits?  I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a huge nerd when it comes to Buffalo history, and as an urban planner, I’m interested in discovering how cities grow and develop over time.  I take pride in knowing a lot about Buffalo’s heritage and history (I volunteer at the historical society, shameless plug).  I think it’s important to know where we came from in order to know where we’re going collectively as a city.    But sometimes I wonder, how did our streets get their names? (more…)

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