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fosdick

Map showing Fosdick Avenue in Red

Fosdick Ave is a short, one-block, one-way street between North Street and Best Street.  The street is adjacent to City Honors High School, the former Fosdick-Masten Park High School.  Fosdick Ave is a relatively new street, especially for this part of the City of Buffalo.  The street was created in 1977.  Fosdick Ave is named for Frank Fosdick, principal of Masten Park High.  The street is referred to as Fosdick Avenue in many newspaper articles, city documents, and on Google maps, so I will refer to it as Fosdick Ave, however, the street signs do say Fosdick Street.

The Fosdick family has been in America since the 1600.  They have been in Western New York since 1819 when Solomon Fosdick, his wife Anna, and their nine children traveled across New York State in a covered wagon to settle here.  They stopped in Buffalo, which was still rebuilding after the Burning of Buffalo, and then headed to the Boston Valley twenty-two miles southeast of Buffalo.  Boston at the time was a tiny settlement on the banks of 18-Mile Creek, with about two dozen families.  Solomon was a carpenter and was involved in building many buildings in early Boston.

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John Fosdick, Frank Fosdick’s Father

Solomon and Anna’s eight child was John Spencer Fosdick.  He was two years old when the family traveled to WNY.  John attended school in the schoolhouse in Boston and then attended Springville Academy (now Griffith’s Institute) and then the Boston Academy when it opened in 1834.  The school year at the time was only 3 to 4 months of the year, so John worked with his dad on carpentry and building projects when he wasn’t in school.  Solomon and John built the Presbyterian Church in Boston in 1837.  The church is still standing and is now the Boston Historical Society Museum.  In 1836, John became a teacher at the Common School in Hamburg.  John continued in the carpentry business during non-school months.  In 1841, John married Eunice Andrews and they moved to Randolph, NY, where he taught in the school there.  A son, Charles, was born in 1842.  A year later, Eunice died suddenly in September 1843.  Her death prompted him to move to Buffalo.  In fall 1843, he was appointed a principal of the Grammar Schools in Buffalo.  He worked within the Buffalo Public Schools for the next 26 years and was known around town as “one of the great teachers of his generation”.  In 1845, he married Mary Blain, daughter of Reverend Jacob Blain, minister of the Dearborn Street Baptist Church in Buffalo.  Mary was also a teacher with the Buffalo Public Schools.

John Fosdick was later Superintendent of Education for Buffalo from 1866-1867.  While he was superintendent, he instituted qualifying exams for teachers, which was a revolutionary idea at the time.  He decided that high standards in teacher were going to be enforced and maintained in all of the Buffalo Schools.  John and Mary moved to Westfield in Chautauqua County in 1869 and John Fosdick worked at the Westfield Academy for 9 years and served on the Westfield Board of Education for 3 years.

John was a member of the Free Soil Party, which was for free soil, free speech, free labor, and free men.  John reportedly served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and helped bring runaway slaves across the Niagara River into Canada.  The Fosdick home at 677 Ellicott Street, the SE corner of Virginia Street, was a place where slaves would come to be taken across the river.   Unfortunately, the house was demolished during Urban Renewal of the Oak Street neighborhood.

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Frank Fosdick. Source: Buffaloah.com 

Frank Fosdick was born March 11, 1851 in Buffalo to John and Mary Fosdick.  Frank attended School 14 (Franklin Street School, between Edward and Tupper), where his father was principal and his mother was a teacher.  Mr. Fosdick attended Central High School and then received a Bachelor of Arts from University of Rochester in 1872.  After graduating from U of R, he became a teacher at Buffalo Classical School (sometimes called Dr. Briggs School).  In 1873, he was appointed principal of School  No. 25 (Lewis Street School, near William).  He also served in School No. 33 (East Elk Street School, near Smith) and No. 36 (Day’s Park) before becoming an instructor of Greek and Latin in Central High School (in the Burt Mansion on Niagara Square) in 1884.  He became head of the Classical Language Department in 1891.  In 1891 he was also made Principal of the High School Annex and later of the High School Annexes.  The Annexes were added to provide overflow space for students while new schools were being constructed.  The only high school in Buffalo was Central High School.  The High School Annex opened in 1891 at the corner of Clinton and Ellicott Streets, in the former Clergy House.  Buffalo was growing and did not have adequate school facilities to meet its growing needs.  In 1894, there were 798 high school students at Central High School, 400 in the Annex on Clinton Street and 400 throughout the additional High School Annexes located at schools in different parts of the city.  Students were turned away because schools was at capacity.

The City looked to built an East Side High School to be Buffalo’s second official high school.  The City first began looking at sites for a new high school around 1890.  They looked at multiple sites, mainly in the Fruit Belt and North Oak neighborhoods.  One of the sites proposed for a new school was Masten Place, a small park built by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1887.  Masten Place is named for Judge Masten, an early Mayor of Buffalo.

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1872 Atlas Map depicting the cemeteries between North and Best Streets. The Private Cemetery to the east – current site of the Masten Armory – and the Potters Field to the west – current site of City Honors. Note the small sliver of land that looks like a street west of the Potters Field, this is labeled as property owned by Day & Stevenson, it does not depict the location of Fosdick Ave, which lines up more closely with the end of Maple Street, just to the right of the larger number 7 on the map.

Masten Place had been built on the site of a former Potter’s Field for the City of Buffalo. The cemetery had been created around 1832 to house residents of Buffalo who died from a cholera epidemic.  Five acres of land was set aside for cemetery purposes, with the western portion of it for Roman Catholic burials.  About a year later, General Sylvester Mathews and Birdseye Wilcox purchased another 12 acres for additional cemetery purposes.  This second cemetery was often referred to as the “East North Street Cemetery”.  The Potters Field was used until Masten Place was constructed and bodies were moved to Forest Lawn Cemetery.  The Private Cemetery was used until 1901 when the Masten Street Armory was built.  Bodies  from both cemeteries were reinterred in Forest Lawn.  During construction of the high school building, as well as during more recent renovation activities, additional bodies were located at the site.  It was difficult to know where all of the bodies were buried on the site.  Because the Potters Field was used for indigents and unknowns, there weren’t always good records of where the burials were located.  In 2012, recognizing that other human remains still are on site, a stone monument was placed to recognize the site’s earlier use as a cemetery.

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Olmsted’s “Plan for Potter’s Field” which became Masten Park. Source: National Parks Service.

The cemetery site was regraded to make it appropriate for park purposes.  It is located at one of the highest points in Buffalo and the land has a significant slope towards Best and Michigan Streets, which made it hard to maintain the turf of the park.  Olmsted’s plan for Masten Place included winding diagonal walkways crossing the park from each corner, with an open turf playground in the center.  A small shelter house provided toilet facilities and tool storage.  Thick plantings were planted on each side to screen the park from the hustle and bustle of the city.

When the site was suggested for a school, the Board of Parks Commissioners wanted to keep the site a park, so there was a lot of back and forth regarding the school site.  The Parks Commissioners went on record as being opposed, as was reported in the Buffalo Commercial:

“We protest most earnestly against any scheme to take possession of this or any other park property for any purpose. As a precedent alone such action may lead eventually to other encroachments of a most harmful character. It is especially important that every minor place in the heart of the city should be preserved intact. If the present generation is indifferent the next will feel keenly the evil results…”

Eerie words to read when you consider that it just took two generations after Masten Place was lost to turn Humboldt Parkway into the Kensington Expressway, creating detrimental impacts for the neighborhoods of the East Side.

Different school designs were considered to try to build the school and keep the park, such as putting the school on the very edge of the park and leaving the rest parkland.  The Parks Commissioners opposed the idea.  They said that if a portion of the site be used for the school, the whole property should be used and asked to be relieved of the property entirely rather than settle for a lesser park.

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Historic Postcard View of the Original Masten Park High School

The school ended up being built upon Masten Place.  The school was constructed by ME. Beebe & Sons at a cost of $240,000(about $8.5 Million today) between 1895 and 1896.  Masten Park High School opened in 1897 to meet the needs of the growing East Side.  Its opening made Buffalo the second city in New York State to have more than one high school (the first being NYC).  Mr. Fosdick was principal of Masten Park High School from its founding until June 1926, for 29 years.  Students affectionally called him Pop Fosdick.  In 1884, he was awarded a Master of Arts degree by the University of Rochester and in 1903 was awarded the same by Princeton.

In 1912, Masten Park High School was destroyed by a 3-alarm fire.  The fire started in an attic on the fourth floor.  The fire was discovered around 12:50pm.  As the students left the building, several were hit by falling bricks.  Principal Fosdick heroically remained in the building until he was sure that all students were out.  After walking out of the building, he then went back into the building with several students to assist in retrieving school records.  When the records were safe, Mr. Fosdick entered the building again to take a final look to make sure no students had been overlooked.  He was injured by flying timbers when the roof and walls collapsed as he was trying to ensure that all students were safe.  Principal Fosdick was taken to his home to recuperate from his injuries.  By 2pm the school was a compete loss.  All students were accounted for with only minor injuries.  The students finished the term doing afternoon classes at Lafayette High School.

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Postcard view of the 1914 building for Masten High School. Note the central tower, which no longer exists.

Between 1912-1914, a new building was built for Masten Park High School.  The building opened on September 8, 1914.  The Board of Education was able to build a school quickly by using the plans for Lafayette High School, which was fairly new at the time (opened in 1901).  The exterior surfaces and the shape of the towers are different, but the general layout of the schools are the same.  The new building cost $500,000(about $15 Million in today’s dollars).  The new Masten Park High opened at the same time as Hutchinson High School and Technical High School, providing education opportunities for students throughout the City of Buffalo.  South Park High School was under construction and opened a year later.  Buffalo went from having two high schools when Masten Park first opened to having five High Schools in less than 20 years!

In June 1921, Mr. Fosdick was awarded a degree of Doctor of Laws by University of Rochester.  On his 75th Birthday in 1926, Dr. Fosdick was publicly honored by the City of Buffalo and the school alumni at the Hotel Statler.  They presented “Pop” with a diploma for “29 years of faithful service” to signify his graduation into retirement.  More than 1500 alumni attended the dinner, along with many prominent educators from Buffalo and across the country.  The alumni raised funds to create a scholarship fund to send one male and one female student to college each year.   Dr. Fosdick’s son gave a speech where he calculated that Dr. Fosdick attended 1080 faculty meetings, ate 16,200 school lunches, and listened to 827,640 irate parents – and joked that it was amazing he was still alive at 75 after doing those things!  News of his honor was reported in newspapers across the country.  In October 1926, the University of the Sate of New York conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Letters in tribute to his more than 50 years service as a teacher.

Dr. Fosdick had married Amie Weaver of Westfield in August 1873.  They had four children – twins Edith Wellington and Raymond Blaine; Ethel Dunning Fosdick, and Harry Emerson.  Ethel died at just four months old.  Amie died in 1904.  Mr. Fosdick married his second wife, Mrytilla Constantine on March 18 1907.  Frank and Myrtilla had a daughter, Ruth Sheldon.  The Fosdick Children went on to be successful:

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Raymond B. Fosdick. Source: Wikipedia

Son Raymond Blaine Fosdick went to Princeton and New York Law School.  He was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to be the top representative to the League of Nations after WWI.  He resigned from that position when he was made President of the Rockefeller Foundation, a position he held for 13 years.  Raymond’s proudest achievement at the Rockefeller Foundation was the development of the yellow fever vaccine.  Raymond authored 14 books, including The Story of the Rockefeller Foundation, published in 1952 and a biography titled John D. Rockefeller, A Portrait, published in 1956.  Raymond married Winifred Finley in 1910.  Sadly, Winifred suffered from mental illness and ended up committing suicide and killing her and Raymond’s two children, ages 15 and 9.

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Harry Fosdick on the cover of Time Magazine in 1930 Source: Wikipedia

Son Harry Emerson Fosdick attended Colgate University and Union Theological Seminary.  Harry was named after his father’s friend Harry Emerson.  Mr. Emerson and Frank Fosdick met in college and spent long careers in Buffalo Public Schools.  They promised to name their children after each other.  Mr. Emerson didn’t have any children, but Frank kept his promise and named Harry after his friend.  Harry Fosdick was founder and Pastor Emeritus of Riverside Church in New York City.  Several of his sermons were widely recognized and printed in publications and books.  From the beginning, Harry Fosdick ensured that Riverside Church was interracial, interdenominational and international.  Riverside Church is still known today for its liberal theology and social justice programs.  Harry Fosdick authored more than 25 books.  Reverend Fosdick’s sermons are considered to be an influence on Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who called Fosdick “the greatest preacher of this century”.

Edith Fosdick yearbook

Edith Fosdick’s Vassar Yearbook Photo from 1906

Daughter Edith Wellington Fosdick attended Vassar College.  After graduation, she did settlement work in Buffalo at the Neighborhood House and in New York City.  She worked with the YMCA in France during WWI.  She also worked with the State Charities Aid Association.  She devoted her life to overseas teaching and taught at Kobe College in Japan, in Ginling College in China, the American College in Athens, and in Istanbul.  She retired in 1943 and lived at Butler Hall, Columbia University.

escape to freedom

The cover of Ruth Fosdick’s book, Escape to Freedom, about the Underground Railroad in Buffalo

Daughter Ruth Fosdick attended Mt Holyoke College and taught at the Elmwood School in Buffalo before moving to New York City and then Maine.  She wrote children’s books, including “The Boy of the Pyramids” which won the Jack & Jill Award for best manuscript in 1950.  Her book “Escape to Freedom”, published in 1956 is a story about the underground railroad in Buffalo, inspired by the stories of her grandfather John that were told to her by her father Frank.

In 1880, the Fosdick Family lived at 490 North Division Street in the Ellicott Neighborhood with a 22 year old German servant named Carrie.  In 1900, the family lived at 300 Baynes Street on the West Side with a 31 year old English servant named Mary Ann Folsom.  In 1900, they were at the same address but no longer had a servant;  Mrs. Fosdick’s mother had moved in with the family.  By 1920, the family and mother-in-law had moved to 114 Crescent Avenue in the Parkside Neighborhood.

Frank Fosdick was a Mason, member of the Washington Lodge and Adytum Chapter, a member of the Royal Arcanum, the University Club, Independent Club and other various societies.  He was the only person in Buffalo at the time to be a member of the American Philological Association.  He was a member of the National Education Association, the State Teacher’s Association and the Buffalo Principals’ Association.

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Modern View of Fosdick Masten High School (City Honors). Note the lack of central tower compared to earlier image.

Dr. Frank Fosdick passed away on February 26, 1927 at the home of his son, Raymond Fosdick in Montclair, N.J.  The flags in Buffalo were hung at half mast following his death.  He is buried in Westfield near his parents and his first wife.  After his retirement and death, the faculty petitioned to have the Masten Park High School named in Frank Fosdick’s honor.  The resolution to change the name was passed by the School Board in March 1927.  The School was named Frank S. Fosdick High School, but later that year, the name was changed again to Fosdick-Masten Park High School.  The central tower of the school started to crumble and was taken down in 1927.  Students remarked that the very building itself was mourning Principal Fosdick’s death when the tower was removed.

In 1953, Fosdick-Masten became home to the Girl’s Vocational Program and was officially named Fosdick-Masten Vocational High School.  They offered classes in business, foods, clothing, beauty culture and practical nursing.   The Girl’s Vocational school operated at the site until 1979 when the program was discontinued.

woodson gardens

Woodson Gardens. Source:  University at Buffalo

In April 1968, Buffalo Urban Redevelopment Agency (BURA) purchased 39 parcels along Michigan Avenue between North and Best and tore down 29 buildings.  The Board of Education released some of the open space from Fosdick-Masten High School to BURA to build new apartments.  Fosdick Ave was built in 1977 to serve the new apartments, which were called Woodson Gardens.  The apartments were named in tribute to Albert L. Woodson, former chairman of Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.  Woodson Gardens consisted of 160 units of townhouses and garden-style apartments.  At the time, the school was planning to move to Main and Delevan when their new school building was built.  This never happened and Fosdick-Masten graduated its last class in 1979.  The school became a warehouse and the interior was stripped, preparing to be demolished.  The alumni of Fosdick -Masten protested and the building was declared an Erie County Landmark and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The demolition never happened. In 1980, the school became home to City Honors School, officially known as City Honors School at Fosdick Masten Park.

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Plan for Fosdick Field. Source: https://restoreourfield.org/

Beginning around 2006, City Honors school officials began looking into purchasing the Woodson Gardens property.  The apartments were planned for demolitions as leases expired.  The Fosdick Field Restoration Project began to look to restore the open space in front of the school, for use as athletics fields for the school.  In 2013, the Woodson Garden apartments were demolished, restoring the open space around City Honors high school once more.  Ownership of the former Woodson Gardens Space was transferred to Buffalo Public Schools.  The school’s property now extends all the way to Michigan Street, which is larger than the property extended when the school was first built, as there were buildings along Michigan Avenue when Masten Place was first built.  Here are some images showing the property over the years:

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1894 City Atlas showing Masten Place.  Note the buildings along Michigan Avenue.

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1926 Sanborn Map showing the school, the field and the buildings along Michigan Avenue

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1944 image of Fosdick Field. Source: restoreourfield.org

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2002 Aerial Photo showing the Woodson Gardens apartments between Fosdick Ave and Michigan Ave

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Aerial Photograph from 2014 showing the current configuration of the site – note the addition on the northern side of the school (along Best Street) and the open field between Michigan and Fosdick Aves.

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View of Fosdick Ave from the corner of Best (note the street sign says St not Ave)

The City of Buffalo is looking into the removal of Fosdick Avenue to connect the field, which is being called “Fosdick Field”, to the remove the barrier between the two parts of the City Honors campus.  The restored field would include a small regulation FIFA field to be used for recess, physical education and athletics.  In addition to the regulation field, it would include pedestrian pathways, landscaping, seating, off-street parking and a tunnel.  The City has completed a traffic study.  The road is currently blocked off to traffic.  After 45 years, Fosdick Ave may be a relic of the past.

So the next time you are near City Honors, think of the Fosdick Family –  of the fugitive slaves who may have passed through our city led by John Fosdick, the people saved because of the yellow fever vaccine, the souls who were uplifted by Reverend Fosdick’s words, and the countless number of other students influenced by Pop Fosdick in his 50 years in the Buffalo Public Schools!

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Sources:

  • “Name of Masten Park High Changed to ‘Frank S. Fosdick’.”  Buffalo News.  March 1, 1927, p1.
  • “Dr. F. S. Fosdick, Former Masten Principal, Dies”.  Buffalo Evening News.  February 28, 1827, p3.
  • “Masten Park High Destroyed by Fire”.  Buffalo News.  March 27, 1912, p1.
  • “Students Sing Alma Mater Over the Ruins”.  Buffalo News.  March 28, 1912, p16.
  • “Is it Feasable:  A Schoolhouse Site May be Proposed by the Mayor”.  Buffalo Morning Express. March 30, 1890, p15.
  • “High School on High Street”.  Buffalo Enquirer.  December 31, 1891, p5.
  • Fodick, Raymond B.  Annals of the Fosdick Family.  The American Historical Company:  New York, 1953.
  • “More Teachers Needed”. Buffalo Sunday Morning News.  September 30, 1894, p2.
  • “1500 Masten Park Alumni See ‘Pop’ Fosdick Graduated at 75”.  Buffalo News.  March 13, 1926, p26.
  • “William, Diedre”.  City Honors Campaigns for Restoration of Its Athletic Field”.  Buffalo News.  October 8, 2013, p21.
  • “Authority Names Projects to Honor Commissioners”.  Buffalo News.  September 29, 1982, p25.
  • “Masten Park”.  The Buffalo Commercial.  January 22, 1895, p5.
  • “Olmsted in Buffalo:  Masten Place”.  https://www.olmstedinbuffalo.com/masten-place/  (accessed November 2022)
  • LaChiusa, C.  “From Masten Park High School to City Honors:  The Story of a School Site”.  https://buffaloah.com/a/north/186/hist/tc.htm (accessed November 2022)

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