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smithSmith Street is a 2 mile long road on the East Side of Buffalo running from the Buffalo River to Broadway. Smith Street is one of the interchanges from the I-190 Thruway, Exit 4.

Henry Kendall Smith was born on the island of Santa Cruz (now Saint Croix) on April 2, 1811. His parents were Jeremiah Smith and Jane Cooper Smith, who were of English origin. At the time of his birth, the island was in possession of the English during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1815, following the peace between Britain and France, the island was once again a Danish territory. Mr. Smith, Henry’s father, was an architect and builder. While the English had occupied the Island, there had been prosperity. When Denmark returned to power, property values depreciated greatly and many plantation owners were ruined. The change in government caused Mr. Smith to lose a great deal of money. However, his social standing allowed him to achieve the rank of major in the Danish provincial army, which allowed him an income as opposed to financial ruin. One day, while passing through a fort, some quicklime was accidentally throw into his face. Following the accident, he was confided to bed for weeks and blinded for life. At the time, the family consisted of Jeremiah and Jane, along with two sons and two daughters. The family struggled to make ends meet. Mrs. Smith, was not discouraged by the family’s misfortune, and helped her children to look towards the future. A long litigation took place revolving around the accident. Eventually, rather than continue the ligation to get his fair share due to him, Henry’s father accepted a settlement of $1,500 from the party responsible for his injuries, in order to be able to educate Henry.

At the age of 8, Henry was sent to Baltimore to study under Reverend Dr. Berry, a minister of the Church of England and a scholar. When Henry left for Baltimore, his father told him that he would now have to take care of himself and that it was his responsibility as to whether he would sink or swim. Henry reported replied that he would swim, and left behind his family forever.

For those who have seen the musical Hamilton, or know Alexander Hamilton’s history, Henry’s story will sound familiar. Alexander Hamilton was also from St. Croix, and was sent to America to receive an education after experiencing poverty early in life.

Henry_Kendall_Smith,_mayor_of_Buffalo

Henry Smith’s Mayoral Portrait

At age 17, he became a clerk at a wholesale dry goods store in New York City. In his free time, he would continue his studies of the classics, believing that there was another occupation out there for him, and that he would not be a clerk forever. One day, his employer told Henry that he was acting like a woman or a “clumsy boor”. So Henry told his employer that he could do the work himself, and left the store. Shortly prior, he had met Daniel Cady of Johnstown, New York. who was engaged in a trial in New York. After listening to Cady’s arguments and the reply by Ogden Hoffman, Henry was inspired and decided he would become a lawyer.

Henry traveled to Johnstown, found Mr. Cady, and asked to enter his office as a law student. At the time, lawyers did not go to law school, but rather learned the trade in a law office. Mr. Cady welcomed Henry into his office. Henry was devoted to his books and continued his studies under Mr. Cady until he was ready for his examination. While he was studying, he earned an income by teaching at a school. Henry was admitted to the bar in May 1832 and continued to practice in Johnstown. In October of that year, the Young Men’s State Democratic Convention met in Utica, and Mr. Smith was one of the delegates from Montgomery County. During the convention, he delivered a speech regarding the nomination of a gubernatorial candidate which gave him the reputation of an accomplished and logical speaker. At the convention, Henry met Honorable Israel T. Hatch, from Buffalo, who invited Henry to come to Buffalo.

Henry moved to Buffalo in spring of 1837, to form a partnership with Mr. Hatch. After working with Mr. Hatch, Henry also worked with George W Clinton, Mr. Williams, Isaac Verplanck and others in Buffalo.

At the breakout of the Patriots War in 1837, Henry was made Captain of one of the five companies of volunteers formed by citizens for the protection of Buffalo. He continued in the militia service for some time, passing through the ranks until he attained the rank of Colonel. When he was made Colonel, he was given a gold watch that had the inscription, “The citizens of Buffalo to Hon. Henry K Smith, the eloquent and efficient advocate of the Erie Canal and the rights of the City.”

In 1838, Mr. Smith was appointed District Attorney for Erie County. He resigned after seven months, because he was being requested so often for other civil business as a lawyer.

In 1844, he accepted the office of Recorder of the City of Buffalo, an office he held for four years. Subsequently, in 1846, he was appointed postmaster of Buffalo and held the office for two and a half years. In 1850, he was elected Mayor of Buffalo. He was nominated for state assembly, state senate and congress. In 1840 he was a delegate to the national convention which re-nominated Martin Van Buren for president (Van Buren lost that election to William Henry Harrison).

Mr. Smith married Miss Vorhees in spring of 1834. She was the daughter of a wealthy merchant of Johnstown. Unfortunately, she passed away shortly after their marriage. In 1838, he married Miss Sally Ann Thompson, the daughter of Shelton Thompson of Buffalo. After 18 months, she too passed away, leaving behind a son, Sheldon Thompson Smith. Henry suffered greatly after the death of both of his wives. To deal with his grief, he focused on the care and education of his son, on his professional duties and politics.

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Mr. Smith had considerable musical talents. He taught himself to play the violin. He would often be found singing with his family and would sing the Star Spangled Banner, God Save the King, and other patriot songs on festive occasions such as the Fourth of July or St. Patrick’s Day. He was a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal, during the time of Rev. Shelton, for whom Shelton Square was named.

Mr. Smith died on September 23, 1854, at age 43. He is buried in Forest Lawn.

During the 1950s and 1960s, there was a Proposed East Side Expressway that went through several iterations. The Expressway was originally planned to start at the Kensington Expressway at an interchange at Best Street, run along the south side of Humboldt Park, now MLK Park, and to continue along Walden Avenue. They then decided to shift the expressway south of Walden in order to preserve the Walden Business Corridor. The Expressway was going to run 2.6 miles and end at Walden Avenue near the City Line. The Expressway was included in New York State Highway Law 1957. In 1958, they decided that it would be better if they were also able to connect the Thruway I-190 to the Expressway with an additional route. This highway was thought to be beneficial to the planned opening of the Thruway Industrial Park and to help bring people into the struggling Broadway-Fillmore shopping district. At the time, Broadway-Fillmore was the 2nd most dense area, second only to Downtown in both size and value.

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One of the plans for the East Side Expressway and Smith Street Spur

The Proposed Smith Street spur would start at the East Side Expressway with an interchange at Miller Avenue, and continue southwest along Memorial Drive to Fillmore Avenue, then would follow Fillmore to Smith to the Smith Street interchange of the I-190. Reports at the time said that this spur of highway was “essential to the lifeblood of the East Side”. More than 300 houses were planned to be demolished as part of this Smith Street Spur proposal. The plan was debated for many years, with various alignments discussed and fought over. Elmer Youngmann, the District Engineer for the New York State Department of Public Works (for whom the Youngmann Expressway – I 290- was named) was against putting the spur down Memorial Avenue due to the high costs of the road due to the private properties along the route. Neither the East Side Expressway in this alignment nor the Smith Street Spur were ever built.

Want to learn about other streets? Check out the Street Index!

Sources:

1. Proctor, L.B. “Sketches of the Buffalo Bar: Henry K. Smith”. Published in Buffalo Courier & Republic, 1869.

2. Viele, Henry K. “Sketch of the Life of Hon. Henry K. Smith”. Published in Buffalo Courier & Republic, May 25, 1867.

3. Rizzo, Michael. Through the Mayor’s Eyes. Lulu Enterprises, Inc. 2005.

4. The Proposed East Side Expressway and Proposed New Arterial Route. Buffalo: 1961.

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