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Posts Tagged ‘Niagara Falls Boulevard’

Note from Angela:  This week marks eight years since I started researching and writing this blog.  In honor of the anniversary, I decided to have someone else write a post for me.  Today’s post is written by Natasha Davrados.  Natasha is a recent Masters in Urban Planning graduate from the University at Buffalo who has an interest in history and historic preservation.

Niagara Falls Boulevard was conceived, in the late 1880s, as a scenic connector between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. There was a need, largely due to increasing tourism, for a continuous, paved route to the Falls. Prior to the Boulevard there were travelling guides and digests that included confusing, quickly outdated written directions with zigzagging paths. Want for the route to include panoramic views posed some issues in the fast developing region causing the alignment of Niagara Falls Boulevard to change several times before settling where we know it today.

1917 nfb

1917 Map of Niagara Falls Blvd (Source: Automobile Journal Vol. 63 )

One of the first attempts was on the Niagara River waterfront along River Road. Conceivably, it would provide idyllic views of the river and the green shores of Canada and Grand Island but steam engines and streetcars had gotten there first. Not only did the fast-moving vehicles spoil the view and experience but they were dangerous too. One man, upset at the 20 mph speed of the streetcars, said “What good is the scenery going to do you if one of those cars hits you? You won’t even have time to sneak a glance at the river while they keep whizzing by.” Next, an inland option was proposed using Colvin Street, now Colvin Avenue, but with residential development quickly closing in, the Boulevard changed paths again. Moving further inland to the more bucolic Town Line Road, today Niagara Falls Boulevard, the third route would follow Ellicott, Sawyer’s, and Cayuga Creeks. This would continue to Pine Street in Niagara Falls as the permanent route. Almost. The Boulevard would make two more minor adjustments on Sawyer’s Creek and near Bergholtz.

 

goatisland

Visiting the spring on Goat Island (circa 1901)
(Source: Niagara Falls Public Library)

Thanks to the romanticism movement, which produced art and literature glorifying the American landscape, the northeast saw the rise of tourism in the 1820s. Travelling to escape the city, most well-to-do travelers sought out natural settings like mountain villages, hot springs, lakes, and beaches. They followed itineraries from fashionable guides and periodicals that outlined grand tours of the northeast that took weeks or even months. They included scenic views of the Hudson River and the Catskills with layovers in places like Saratoga Springs. Niagara Falls quickly became one of the most famous destinations of the nineteenth century. Shortly thereafter, the Falls became a popular destination for honeymooners earning it the moniker “honeymoon capital of the world.”

campauto

Example of family auto camping (circa 1915-1923)
(Source: Library of Congress)

By the 1920s, leisure travel and the Sunday drive were taking the place of grand tours. Private automobile ownership was on the rise making travel accessible to more people. As car ownership increased, the route to Niagara Falls developed roadside attractions. Among them were tourist camps and the establishment of public campgrounds that could accommodate auto-camping. The “tourist-” or “motor-court” was the transition from camping to something more hotel-like featuring cabins with winterizing and running water. By the 1940s, the Boulevard was home to around 88 tourist camps and courts. After World War II, the family vacation became accessible to the middle class. The motel, a term coined around 1924, came to play their part with the colorful neon signage and pools or playgrounds prominently placed to entice motorists and their children. The Boulevard once boasted at least 27 motels of varying sizes and styles catering to all types of travelers.

castle court

Castle Courts Motel postcard
(Source: The Cardboard America Archives)

rodeway

Former Castle Courts Motel is now the Rodeway Inn & Suites.
(Source:  https://www.booking.com/hotel/us/castle-motor-inn.html

taxpayerstrip

Example of a taxpayer strip (circa 1924)
(Source: University of New Mexico Library)

Commercial development on the Boulevard likely started as what was called the “taxpayer strip.” Much like the stripmalls that would come after them, taxpayer strips were made up of buildings constructed with cheap and efficient materials, going up quickly in order to begin making a profit as soon as possible. They were largely meant to be temporary but their presence influenced residential development and many became permanent fixtures with the first stripmalls, as we know them, appearing around the 1920s. The indoor shopping mall wouldn’t come to be until around 1956. The Boulevard gained its own shopping mall with the opening of the Boulevard Mall in 1963. The Buffalo Evening News explained that the mall would “not only provide Western New Yorkers with a new concept in shopping, but will launch a year-long program of community activities in the concourse of the spacious mall.”

12003889716_74100c747e_z

McDonalds on the Blvd, Amherst

Along with the rise of car culture came fast food restaurants which began to flourish on the Boulevard in the 1950s following the increasing suburban population. The afternoon or weekend drive to a fast food joint increased in popularity becoming a staple in many suburban households. The Boulevard was such a staple of car culture that the first McDonald’s in New York State opened on the Boulevard in 1958. This McDonald’s, though renovated, has maintained its signature double golden arch building design. There is also an Arby’s, opened a few years later, that still uses its original hat-shaped sign.

Niagara Falls Boulevard doesn’t seem like much of a tourist destination at the moment but it does present unique opportunities for both preservation and future development. It is very car oriented, somewhat to its detriment, but there are currently talks of part of the Boulevard being included in the light rail expansion. It will be exciting to see what the future has in store for the next chapter of development on the Boulevard.

Bibliography:

  1. Chiang and Shaffer, “See America First: Tourism And National Identity, 1880-1940.”
  2. “For A Boulevard To Niagara Falls”. Automobile Topics, 1908. 107-108.
  3. Jakle, John A. The Tourist: Travel In Twentieth-Century North America. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.
  4. “Niagara And The Great Lakes Country”. The Automobile Journal, 1917. 42-43.
  5. Ott, Bill, “Band to Play, Trans-Oceanic Phone Will Ring at Opening of the Boulevard Mall Wednesday,” Buffalo Evening News, March 12, 1963.
  6. Sullivan, T. John. “The Proposed Buffalo Niagara Falls Boulevard”. Good Roads Magazine, 1908. 219-221.
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