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rohrstreetRohr Street is a street in the Martin Luther King, Jr., Park neighborhood on the East Side of Buffalo.  The street runs between Walden Avenue and Northampton Street, a few blocks from the park.

Rohr Street is named for Mathias Rohr, president of the Volksfreund German Newspaper.  Mr. Rohr was editor of the Volksfreund for 14 years.  Although he wrote his editorials for the paper in his native German, Rohr was 100% proud to be an American.

rohr2Mr. Rohr was born in Germany in 1840.  At the age of 16, he became a teacher in his village of Zemmer. During his school days, Mr. Rohr had heard of a man from his village who had gone to America as a poor teacher and returned to Germany as a rich man.  Mr. Rohr longed for the freedom in America, so he dedicated himself to learn the English language.  At the time, studies outside of the traditional curriculum were forbidden at his school.  He also studied French and German literature, which was helpful in his later job as a journalist.  At the age of 28, he came to America.  A representative of the Central Zeitung, a German newspaper in Buffalo, met him at the dock and offered him a position as editor.  Two years later, he joined the editorial staff of the Buffalo Volksfreund.  Starting in 1883, he also served as a representative for the New York Life Insurance Company of Germania.  In 1904 he became president of the Buffalo Volksfreund.  Under his leadership, the Buffalo Volksfreund became one of the most important German-American newspapers in the country.   In 1913, he sold his interest in the paper.

Ad for the Buffalo Volksfreund from 1891.   The daily newspaper cost 25 cents every 2 weeks, or $6 per year if prepaid.  For this price, the paper would be mailed to readers in the local area in both the United States and Canada.  The weekly version could be sent to Europe or other regions for $2.60 per year.

Ad for the Buffalo Volksfreund from 1891.
The daily newspaper cost 25 cents every 2 weeks, or $6 per year if prepaid. For this price, the paper would be mailed to readers in the local area in both the United States and Canada. The weekly version could be sent to Europe or other regions for $2.60 per year.  The Volksfreund offices were at 14-16 Broadway.

He was a member of the first board of the Buffalo Public library and was an original subscriber to the former Buffalo Orchestra and a contributor to the original music hall.  He was considered a gifted writer and in addition to his journalistic writing, he wrote numerous poems, essays and novellas that were published in newspapers and periodicals.  He published a book of poems in German written about Niagara Falls “On Niagara” in 1900 (which can be read here in German).  He also published a book titled Oreola, the Pearl of the Iroquois and Other Stories of Indian Life.  He served as President of the Broadway Brewing & Malting Company.

rohr

Mr. Rohr married Miss Sophie C. Reichert in 1869.  The couple had 11 children.  Mr. Rohr owned property on Rohr Street, but he never lived there.  His home was at 186 Edward Street, near Virginia.  The house on Edward Street is still standing.  Mr. Rohr was also an active member of the Catholic Church.  In 1874, he was selected as a delegate of the Catholic Union of Buffalo to Rome and Lourdes.  He was also a member of Orpheus, the German Literary Society, and the Knights of Columbus.

rohrgraveMr. Rohr passed away in 1920 and is buried in the United German and French Cemetery in Cheektowaga.

Mr. Rohr’s son Frank was the founder and president of the Broadway Businessmen’s Association.  This group was the organization that abolished the fenced park that was once Lafayette Square.  Under their leadership, Broadway cut through the Square to Main Street.  Since the Holland Land Company had deeded the Lafayette Square property to the City on condition that it be maintained as a park, surrounded by a fence, when traffic congestion had dictated that the road cut through the park, public condemnation notices had to be published in the newspapers of the Netherlands to be read by any surviving persons interested in the Holland Land Company.  Mr.  Frank Rohr also worked with the association to bring the Broadway Auditorium to open.

Sources:

  1. “Rohr Street Memorial of Volksfreund Editor” Courier Express Feb 19, 1939, sec 5
  2.  White, Truman C, ed.  Our County and its People:  A Descriptive Work on Erie County, New York.  The Boston History Company:  1898.
  3. The History of the Germans in Buffalo and Erie County. Published by Reinecke & Zesch.  Buffalo, NY: 1898.
  4. Mueller, Jacob.  Buffalo and Its German Community.  German American Historical Society:  1911-12.

Often, streets are named after a developer’s family. This is the case for a bunch of streets in the Kensington-Bailey neighborhood on the East Side of Buffalo.  In particular, the streets between Bailey Avenue and Eggert Road, north of the Kensington Expressway are mostly named after the Bickford Family’s first and middle names:

Streets in the Kensington-Bailey neighborhood named by Bickford

Streets in the Kensington-Bailey neighborhood named by Bickford

The following streets were named for Bickford and his family:

  • Bickford Ave
  • Davidson Ave
  • Hastings Ave
  • Phyllis Ave
  • Martha Ave
  • Gail Ave
  • Millicent Ave
  • Edith Ave
  • Godfrey St
  • Leonard St
  • Kay St
  • Janet St
General Bickford and Mary Davidson Wedding, 1904

General Bickford and Mary Davidson Wedding, 1904

Harold C. Bickford was born and raised in Toronto.  He married Mary Davidson in 1904.  Mary and Harold had seven children – Mary, Edward, Phyllis, Beatrice, Millicent, Harold and Faith.  General Bickford served in three major conflicts for the British Army – the Boer War of South Africa (1899-1902), World War I (1914-1918) and the Russian Civil War (1918-1920).  He was stationed in England, South Africa, India and France.  Several of his children were born were born overseas.

General Bickford returned from the war, moved to Buffalo and divorced his wife.  He left her with a nanny and seven children.  Mary died of appendicitis in 1935.  It was reported that the children had a difficult relationship with their father, which may be why he named the streets after them.

General Bickford Grave

General Bickford Grave

General Bickford died in 1956 and is buried in St. James cemetery in Toronto.

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

Sources:

sattlerSattler Avenue is a short, block-long street in the Schiller Park neighborhood on the East Side of Buffalo.  Sattler Ave runs for a block and a half off of Doat Street, where it dead-ends in Schiller Park.  The street was originally called “Princess Ave” when it was first laid out.  The street is named after John G. Sattler, of Sattler’s Department Store fame.

Mr. Sattler’s father, George Sattler, had come to the County from Hessen-Darmstadt, Germany.  John Sattler was born in East Aurora, but moved to Buffalo during his early childhood. He attended local public schools and Bryant & Stratton business school.

John G. Sattler Shoe Store, 998 Broadway source

John G. Sattler Shoe Store, 998 Broadway
source

At age 15, John G. Sattler got a job at Eckhardt’s department store on Broadway.  His wage was $3/week.  His first solo business venture was a one-man shoe store, located only a few feet from what became Sattler’s best-known establishment.  John’s mother owned the building; the family lived upstairs so he could work all hours of the day.  The store opened in March 1889.  He hung a bell at the front door, and they would run downstairs to assist customers and all times.  he took pride in customer service and would study the behavior of his customers.  If they came in and did not purchase anything, he would ask them why.  If their answer was “you don’t have what I am looking for”, he would go out of his way to order it for them. Mr. Sattler purchased properties adjacent to his store as the business grew.  The business continued to grow and later include clothing.  The original address of the shoe store was 992 Broadway.  In 1900, a larger, modern building was built, with the address of 998 Broadway.

In 1926, the store was reorganized to become Sattler’s Department Store.  At Sattler’s Department Store’s peak, the store employed 800 people.  Mr. Sattler claimed to know them all by name.  Once the store was established in the 1920s, Mr. Sattler allowed his son-in-law, Charles Hann, Jr. to take over the day to day operations.

Mr. Sattler then began to work in real estate.  Mr. Sattler’s first real estate development was on Sattler Avenue, where he had once owned a summer country home.  He saw that the city was beginning to develop towards that direction, so he built houses.  The street was formally dedicated as Sattler Avenue in 1904.   Mr. Sattler also developed the Kenilworth subdivision in Tonawanda in 1908 following the closure of Kenilworth Park race track.

Entranceway at Main and Westfield Road, part of Sattler's Holllywood Subdivision in Snyder

Entranceway at Main Street and Westfield Road, part of Sattler’s Hollywood Subdivision in Snyder

Mr. Sattler’s real estate holdings spread throughout the city – stores, homes and businesses in every section of the City.  He also owned and developed properties Tonawanda and Amherst.  He owned the Lautz Estate, east of the Village of Williamsville and the Hollywood subdivision, which included Westfield and Ivyhurst Roads in Snyder, and the Tennyson Terrace near transit Road.  He built a house for himself at Main Street and Ivyhurst Road in 1919.  While many developers of the time in the suburbs were catering to the rich, Sattler built houses for the working class, who desired modest homes.  Mr. Sattler is responsible for the entranceways on Main Street at Ivyhurst Road and Westfield Road, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sattler Theater on Broadway

Sattler Theater on Broadway

In 1914, Mr. Sattler opened Sattler Theater at 516 Broadway.  Mr. Sattler felt there should be a theater on the East Side of Buffalo; however, the theater was considered to be a failure since it was too far away from the theater district and shopping opportunities.  It was sold in the 1920s and became Basil’s Broadway Theater.  The theater was then home to a series of religious groups- Muhammad’s Mosque, God’s Holy Temple and Joy Temple.  In 1996, the last of the groups left the building and the building was abandoned.

Mr. Sattler considered Business School a valuable resource and would select promising young men from his employees and send them to business school on scholarship. Mr. Sattler had two daughters, Doris Sattler and Mrs. Charles Hahn, Junior. Mr. Sattler moved to Ivyhurst Drive in Eggertsville, where he owned seven acres of lawns and gardens. In 1939, he had three canaries and a number of chickens. He became fond of the chickens, and raised them as pets rather than food, and stopped eating chicken completely.

Sattler Mausoleum

Sattler Mausoleum

Mr. Sattler witness a great change in Buffalo during his lifetime.  He is quoted as saying:  “I remember when Broadway was a cobblestone street with plant sidewalks on each side of it. Fillmore Avenue was then a parkway, lined with beautiful trees, and on Gibson Street, just off Broadway, there was a swimming hole.”  Mr. Sattler died in 1941 and is buried in a mausoleum in Forest Lawn.  Sattler’s Department Store remained in business for nearly 100 years, spreading across the WNY Region.

The store continued to grow after Mr. Sattler stepped down and gave the business to his son-in-law.  In 1927, Sattler’s hired a buyer for women’s wear, then added men’s boys’ furniture, appliances, housewares and a food market.  As more departments were added, they hired an advertising and promotions manager.  During the 1940s, Sattler’s was at it’s peak.  They had promotional schemes that were considered outlandish at the time.  They’d give away cars, they hired high wire walkers.   The store would purchase good from a bankrupt sore or a fire sale and pass along name-brand products at extreme discounts for its customers.   The store was located outside of the downtown area, so there weren’t theaters, restaurants or hotels to draw shoppers.  Sattler’s depended on clever advertising to draw in crowds.  In May 1949, they used more than $60,000,000 worth of aviation equipment for an airshow.  They won an award that year as the National Retail Dry Goods Association’s winner for best coordinated campaign.

Sattler's Toyland Ad, Christmas 1954 Source

Sattler’s Toyland Ad, Christmas 1954
Source

The store continued to expand the store at 998 Broadway into the 1950s.  In 1954, the company leased the former Jahraus-Braun store at 1021 Broadway to turn it into the Sattler’s Home Annex store.  They later added an appliance store at 3610 Main Street in University Plaza.  In 1957, Sattler’s opened another appliance store in Hamburg and a trade-in store at 1025 Broadway.  In 1961, the appliance stores were consolidated into the Annex Store.  In 1962, a new store was built at the new Boulevard Mall in Amherst, and one in Rochester, New York.  The Rochester store was only open one year.  In 1963, Sattler’s Drugs opened four free-standing stores and added a pharmacy inside each Sattler’s store.

Sattler’s celebrated its 74th anniversary with a motorcade from City Hall to 998 Broadway and a ribbon cutting ceremony with company officials and Mayor Chester Kowal.  In 1965, the company opened a warehouse, home furnishings and food store in a former plant at 1803 Elmwood and Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo – calling it Sattler’s Wonderful World of Foods and Home Furnishings City USA.  The store was called ” a giant step forward in space age selling, bold and imaginative merchandising”.

In 1969, Sattler’s opened a new store in the new Seneca Mall in West Seneca.  Both the Boulevard Mall and Seneca Mall locations were considered to be more upscale than the other stores, different than what the average Sattler’s customers expected.   In 1972, the Thruway Plaza store closed, mainly due to its proximity to the Seneca Mall location.  In 1973, Sattler’s moved downtown when Kobacker’s closed in teh Main Place Mall.  In 1979, the store returned to Cheektowaga into the converted Thruway Plaza, which was now the Thruway Mall., opening a “specialized fashion store”.

Sattlers at the Boulevard Mall

Sattlers at the Boulevard Mall Source

The 998 Broadway location filed a going out of business sale in March 1981.  In January 1982, the Thruway, Seneca and Main Place Mall Stores closed as part of bankruptcy proceedings.  The last remaining store was at the Boulevard Mall, which closed by December 1982.  The 998 Broadway building was demolished in 1989.  A K-Mart was built on the site, but that also closed shortly thereafter.

For more on Buffalo’s retail history, be sure to check out Mike Rizzo’s book:  Nine Nine Eight:  The Glory Days of Buffalo Shopping.

To read about other street names, check out the Street Index.

Sources:

“Sattler Avenue Bears Name of Merchant” Courier Express Mar 26, 1939, sec 5 p 4

Rizzo, Michael.  Nine Nine Eight:  The Glory Days of Buffalo Shopping.  Lulu Enterprises:  Morrisville, North Carolina, 2007.

faymayFay, May and St. Joseph Streets are three streets in the Emerson Neighborhood on the East Side of Buffalo.  The three streets run between Walden Avenue and the New York Central Railroad tracks (with May Street reaching north to Hazel Place).  The streets were named after Joseph, May and Fay, members of the Doll family.

Joseph Doll owned a farm that included the land that became Saint Joseph, Fay and May Streets.  He opened the streets and built the houses on them.  The first street, he developed to run from West Shore to Genesee Street.  He originally named it Doll Avenue.  The family name is pronounced “dole” as opposed to a child’s doll.  Doll Avenue was often confused with Dole Street, so Joseph was asked to change its name.  So, he named it May Street after his daughter.  He named the other streets after his granddaughter Fay and his patron Saint Joseph.

Joseph Doll was born on a farm at Main and Huron Streets in 1839.  His parents bought the land when they came from Baden, Germany in the early 1830s.  They came across the Atlantic on a ship that took 72 days.  The final portion of the journey came via the Erie Canal, which was at the time still under construction, so their voyage was partly via canal boat, partly via stagecoach and partly via foot, carrying their baby daughter (Joseph’s sister) at the time.  Their original farm was unsuccessful as there was yellow sand for soil.  They purchased another farm at what is now the corner of Niagara and Connecticut Streets.  That farm was also a failure.  They then bought a 43-acre farm at Bailey and Walden, extending to the present New York Central Tracks and halfway to Broadway.  They ran a general store and saloon out of their farmhouse, which stood at 535 Walden Avenue,  near what today is the intersection of St. Joseph Ave and Walden Avenue.

Joseph Doll took over the store as he got older.  Joseph also ran the farm, raising wheat, barley, cattle, oats, apples, pears, pigs, plums and cherries.  In 1882, West Shore Railroad bought seven acres from the Doll farm.  After the railroad was built along the southern edge of the farm, the Wagner Palace Car shops and other factories came into the area.  Joseph Doll decided to subdivide the property and build houses.  In addition to the streets named for his daughter and granddaughter, and his patron saint.  He also named St. Louis Avenue for St. Louis Roman Catholic Church (for which he was a founder).

1917 view of the Former Doll Farm after the railroad was built and the streets were subdivided and developed.  Note "Doll's Park", the future location of Emerson Vocational School (now School 97, Harvey Austin School)

1917 view of the Former Doll Farm after the railroad was built and the streets were subdivided and developed. Note “Doll’s Park”, the future location of Emerson Vocational School (now School 97, Harvey Austin School)

 

joseph doll graveHe died in 1909 and is buried in Doll family plot the United German and French Cemetery in Cheektowaga.

 

Read about other Buffalo Street’s by checking out the Street Index.

 

Source:  “Three Streets Remind of Landowner” Courier Express Jan 22, 1939.  Found in Buffalo Streets Scrapbook, Vol 2 p 166

Marine Drive depicted in red.  Canal District depicted in blue.

Marine Drive depicted in red. Canal District depicted in blue.

This post is the third and final park in a series on the history of Buffalo’s Canal District.  Click here to read Part One, about the early days of the Canal – the Canal Street era.  Click here to read Part Two - the Dante Place era.  Today’s post is about the Marine Drive era of the Canal District.  Marine Drive replaced Dante Place during the 1950s.  Marine Drive stretches from Main Street to Erie Street and forms a loop, intersecting upon itself after circling around the Marine Drive Apartments.  If you zoom in far enough on online maps, you’ll see that a small part of Marine Drive still holds its claim as “Dante Place”, at least according to google!

Little sliver of Dante Place (top center part of picture) still shows up in Google!

A little sliver of Dante Place (top center part of the picture) still shows up in Google!

Plans were developed to build “Fairhaven Village”, a private development for 1,078 middle-income families.   After a building explosion in 1936 and the 1936 State Law allows cities the right to condemn and remove “unsafe and unsanitary” buildings,  buildings began to be demolished.  Approximately 500 families moved out of the neighborhood in the summer of 1937.   It was to be one of the first slum clearance rehabilitation projects in the Country.  Early plans for Fairhaven Village  in 1938 called for accommodations for 962 families with a total of 2,942 rooms.  The apartments were to include a 500 car garage to be built below grade of the apartments.  The apartments were to average $17.50 a room, including hot and cold water, gas, electricity and refrigeration.  It was going to be the first project of its kind to be privately owned, managed and financed.    At the time, there was a rental shortage in Buffalo, and reports estimated that there were close to 7,000 families living doubled (or tripled) up in apartments meant for one family.   However, the effects of the Great Depression and later wartime restrictions limited the construction funds to build the development.

Evans Street Demolition 1950s.  Note City Hall in the rear background of the photo.

Evans Street Demolition 1950s. Note City Hall in the rear background of the photo.

After WWII, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority began plans for low-income housing in the Dante Place district, despite local opposition.  In 1948, 90 families were displaced by the State for construction of new housing, which began in 1950.  The Dante Place Projects were completed in 1952, residents moved in during September of that year.   The seven 12-story buildings were the first permanent state-aided housing in the City of Buffalo and consisted of 616 units.  Each building contains a mix of one, two, three, and four bedroom apartments.

Photo from the Courier Express - 1950 during demolition for construction of the Dante Place Project

Photo from the Courier Express – 1950 during demolition for construction of the Dante Place Project

When the Dante Place Project was in its planning stages, Howard Kelly of the Municipal Housing Authority stated:  “We hope that this will be the first step of a waterfront beautification program which will continue right through to Porter Ave”.

Ad for bathtubs installed in Dante Place Project

Ad for bathtubs installed in Dante Place Project

Dante Place Project tenants protesting their eviction.  Source:  Artvoice

Dante Place Project tenants protesting their eviction. Source: Artvoice

By 1960, many of the tenants of Dante Place Project were those displaced from condemned substandard housing on a the Lower East Side of Buffalo, a historically black section of the City.  The Dante Place projects had become again considered to be a slum area.  The BMHA was losing money due to unfilled apartments.  The BMHA responded by moving low-rent residents back to the Douglass Towers and the Ellicott and Talbert Mall.  This was the first attempt in the country to convert public low-cost housing into privately owned development.  The tenants formed the Dante Tenants Defense League to represent the 400 families remaining in the project and fight the evictions.  In 1960, the group went to the state housing commissioner, but they were unsuccessful fighting the conversion of the complex.   New York State Supreme Court Judge Catalano ruled in October 1960 that the conversion was not in violation of New York Public Housing Law.

1951 Aerial view of the Canal District

1951 Aerial view of the Canal District – Dante Place Project/ Marine Drive Apartments shown in center

By 1961, Dante Place resembled what had been originally been proposed as the Fairhaven Village – converting the complex from public housing to subsidized moderate income rental apartments.  A $300,000 remodel was completed and the apartments were rented out.  This project was the first time in the United States that a low-income housing project was converted into a private non-profit middle-income apartment development.  Once the new complex reached 92% occupancy, the tenant stockholders elected a board of directors and officers to manage the development.  The complex was renamed Marine Drive Apartments.

When planning for the Dante Place Projects, there was a great discussion among the City Planning Board members regarding what to name the new street.  Councilman John Ramunno argued for the new street to be named “Dante Place” to keep with the history of the neighborhood.  However, the Council President and others protested because they wanted a new name that did not have a connection to the past, the history of the neighborhood, or the Italian culture that it represented.  The Council eventually voted in favor of removing ties to the “old environment” and Marine Drive was named due to the waterfront neighborhood’s location.

As part of the Downtown Urban Renewal Plan, development of the Waterfront Village began.  The first condos opened in Waterfront Village in Summer 1972.   In 1974, the Erie Basin Marina was completed, built by slag from Bethlehem Steel.  The gardens at the Marina were developed by Stanley Swisher, supervisor of the grounds for the City’s Engineering Department.  Stanley Swisher would plant a new bed of perennials each year.

In 1979, the Buffalo Naval and Servicemen’s Park opened.  The original display included the USS Little Rock and the USS The Sullivans.  In 1988, the submarine the USS Croaker was added to the display.

Other than the Marine Drive Apartments and Waterfront Village, since the 1950s, much of the Canal District sat vacant and silent.  The Central Wharf and the Commercial Slip were buried and covered in stone and parking areas.

2002 Aerial View of the Canal District

2002 Aerial View of the Canal District

Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park

Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park

In 1999, as part of Phase I of the Erie Canal Harbor plan, the Naval Park moved as part of a $15.5 million dollar improvements to the Erie Canal Harbor.  Memorials were moved to the newly created Veteran’s Park.  The USS Little Rock, the Sullivans and the Croaker were repaired and moved to the new Naval Basin.  The existing esplanade facilities were enhanced and expanded to create a continuous walkway along the edge of the water.

Canalside

Canalside

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation was created in 2005 to help restore economic growth to Buffalo and WNY’s waterfront.  Phase II of the Erie Canal Harbor plan was completed in 2008 and included the re-watering of the Commercial Slip, a towpath/walkway on the edges of the slip, construction of a bowstring truss bridge, the reconstruction of Commercial Street, Lloyd Street, Perry Street and Hanover Street, and the uncovering and preservation of the Steamboat Hotel and Lloyd street as an archeological site.  A wooden wharf was created, along with floating docks.  This area is referred to as Canalside, a 20-acre part of the historic Canal District. Canalside has been successful in drawing people down to the waterfront – offering programming, events, festivals and other attractions.   Canalside has more than 750 events and 750,000 visitors annually.

Demolition of the Aud

Demolition of the Aud

Memorial Auditorium closed in 1996, when the Buffalo Sabres, Blizzards and Bandits moved across the street to the newly built Crossroads Arena (now First Niagara Centerclick here to learn more about the name of the Arena).  Plans to renovate and repurpose the Aud were shuffled around for years, including the reuse of the Aud as a Bass Pro site.  In 2007, the Aud was sold by the City of Buffalo to ECHDC.  Salvageable items were removed to be sold, stored or removed.  Asbestos removal and environmental remediation of the Aud site was performed in 2008 and demolition began in January 2009.  A farewell ceremony was held June 30, 2009 to open the time capsule from 1939 and say goodbye to the Aud.

The Aud Block is currently being redeveloped, which includes development parcels based on the historic street grid.  One of the parcels will be developed by the Explore and More Children’s Museum.  Additional restaurant and public spaces are anticipated to be developed as well.  Water features on the Aud Block will be interpretations of the alignment of the Erie Canal, Main and Hamburg Canal, and the Commercial Slip.  Across Main Street on the Donovan Block, south of the newly opened One Canalside, a portion of the canal water feature will be included, as well another development parcel.  These projects, along with Harbor Center, will create the next phase of the Canal District’s development.

2011 View of the Area, showing the rewatered commercial slip, recreated historic street pattern an demolished Aud site

2011 View of the Area, showing the rewatered commercial slip, recreated historic street pattern and the demolished Aud site

Buffalo’s Canal District has been a unique part of Buffalo’s story since the founding of the City of Buffalo.  The district has had several lives – from seedy underbelly, Little Italy’s crowded tenements, public housing, to sitting dormant and the recent redevelopment. As Canalside continues to be developed, the story will continue to unfold.  I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Check out the Street Index to read about other streets.

Sources:

  1. “Housing Project Rises wehre Canalers Roistered” Courier Express 10-29-1952
  2. “Lusty Canal St. Lived Hard and Fast in Heyday” Courier Express 10-26-1952
  3. “Dante Area Streets Get Single Name” Courier Express, November 11, 1960 Buffalo Streets Vol 1.
  4. America’s Crossroads:  Buffalo’s Canal Street/ Dante Place.  Buffalo NY Heritage Press, 1993.
  5. Dug’s Dive.   Buffalo Express Saturday Morning August 29,1874
  6. Hart, Mary Bronson.  Partitioning Poverty:  Zones of Influence in Social Work.  Boston Evening Transcript.  August 29, 1900.
  7. Syracuse, Buffalo Illustrate Broadened UR Concept.  The Evening News.  Newburgh, NY.  August 9, 1961.
  8. Yans-McLaughlin, Virginia.  Family and Community:  Italian Immigrants in Buffalo, 1880-1930.
  9. First Tenants to Move into Dante Project.  Buffalo Courier-Express.  August 31, 1952.  8-A.
  10. Crowbars End Lurid History of Slum Area.  Buffalo Courier Express.  July 11, 1948.
  11. Move to Clear Buffalo Slum Area Launched.  Buffalo Courier Express.  October 2, 1936.  p 7.
  12. Dante Tenants Fight Eviction.  Baltimore Afro-American.  August 30, 1960.
  13. Queen City Waterfront Plan

This post is Part Two in a series of three posts about Buffalo’s Canal District.  Click here to read Part One, discussing the early days of the Erie Canal, when the area was part of the seedy underbelly of Buffalo.  Part Three will come out next week and will discuss the most recent years of Buffalo’s Canal District.  Today’s post discusses the Italian Quarter and Dante Place, the street that replaced Canal Street.

1925 Map of the Canal District

1925 Map of the Italian Quarter

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, built in 1906 on LeCouteulx Street

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, built in 1906 on LeCouteulx Street Source: America’s Crossroads by Michael Vogel

The Canal District slowly died as trade along the canal was replaced by railroads.  Industry and immigration began to change the landscape of the area.  The sailors and canal business moved out of the area and sought work elsewhere.  The vacant buildings were taken over by immigrants.  The Canal District made way to what was called the Italian Quarter, due to the influx of Italian immigrants.  Between 1900 and 1920, the Italian population of Buffalo increased from 6,000 to 16,000 (Buffalo’s total population in 1920 was 506,775).  The Italian community separated in Buffalo based on the territories and villages of their homeland – each settling into different parts of the City of Buffalo.  The Abbruzzese moved to the upper East Side; the Campobassini moved to the Lower East Side; the Calabrians moved to South Buffalo; and the companies moved to an area near Downtown Buffalo.  The Italians who settled in the Canal District were coming mainly from Sicily to escape a famine and high taxes.

The area was also known as “The Hooks” after the cargo hooks that the dockworkers and longshoremen used.  Near the entrance to the district was “the Coop”, an Italian fruit vendor stand.  The bath house posted instructions in both English and Italian.    The name of Canal Street was changed to Dante Place in 1909.  The impact of changing the name of the street had a large impact on the neighborhood. The rule limiting the women of Canal Street from venturing north into Buffalo proper was lifted.  After the women left, the saloons and concert halls began to close.  The once notorious dance hall saloon known as the Only Theater became a “normal” tavern and politicians meeting place.

Jacob Schoellkopf, a millionaire who made his money from tanning...owner of the Revere Block

Jacob Schoellkopf, a millionaire who made his money from tanningowner of the Revere Block.  Newspaper articles of the day criticized him for the poor conditions in his buildings.

Former brothels and hotels for canal workers and travelers became tenements.  These three and four story brick buildings housing multiple families in crowded conditions. The tenements were poorly-ventilated, small rooms with little heat, frozen pipes in winter and little sunlight. Cholera and pneumonia were common in the tenements.  Many of the immigrants lived in poverty. Rooms rented for $6/month (about $100-130 in current dollars).  In 1890, one old hotel called the Revere Block, originally designed to hold 100 guests, had 1,040 residents living in crammed conditions.  Reports in other buildings included 18 families crammed into four rooms; 56 people sharing eight bedrooms.  Conditions in many of these tenements were disgusting and unsanitary. Social work organizations began working to help deal with the conditions in the district.  Charity Organization Society and Miss Maria Love began to work with the churches around 1895, working to organize efforts against poverty throughout the City of Buffalo.   Seventy-six churches, of 12 denominations, pitched in to help around the city.  Each church was responsible for a district, working for the “moral elevation of the people, and for the relief of all the needy and neglected persons of whatever religious faith within the district”.  Instead of offering direct relief, many of these societies attempted to address the cycle of poverty.

Images from Welcome Hall, one of the settlement houses in Dante Place.   Click here to see in greater detail

Images from one of the settlement houses in Dante Place.
Click here to see in greater detail

Remington Hall was located at the corner of Erie Street and Canal Street (next to the Revere Block) and was one of the settlement houses located in the canal district.  Miss Mary Remington was the head of the settlement house, working with First Presbyterian Church to reform one of the “vilest tenements in Buffalo”.

Mary Remington was born in 1859 in Connecticut and began working to help others at a young age.  At the time, social service was in its infancy and community centers were not common.  In 1894, when Miss Remington came to Buffalo, she noticed that the churches were ignoring the Canal street district, but she saw that the need there was the greatest.  Many Buffalonians did not believe that she could make a difference in that neighborhood, but she was determined to try.

Mary Remington in 1933 Source:  Buffalo Courier Express

Mary Remington in 1933
Source: Buffalo Courier Express

Remington Hall included a kitchen, sewing classes, a Sunday School, mothers’ meetings, a nursery and kindergarten, vocational education, housekeeping and cleanliness classes and recreational programs.  Miss Remington served as landlord, cook, leader of religious services, pianist, teacher and friend to the needy regardless of their race, creed, age or reputation.  She was referred to as “mea madre” by many of the Italian immigrants.  She wrote letters for the men who could not write, she delivered soup and tea to sick women, bailed neighbors out of jail and helped out her neighborhood in any way she could as part of her daily routine.  During the Pan American Exposition in 1901, she took in extra borders and raised $1,000 to do repairs to her building and open a fresh air lodge at the old International Hotel in Fort Erie for poor residents to go to experience a summer change of scenery. She helped more than 100 women who had kept brothels by showing them a different, upstanding way of life.  She sustained the Remington Hall primarily by the rents she charged her tenants.  She was named among the “Woman’s Who’s Who of America” in 1914.  In 1933, Miss Remington said, “If I could live my life over, I would again spend it among the poor”.  During the depression, Miss Remington’s health declined and she was forced to move to the country.  She still continued to provide for the needy, knitting mittens and sending vegetables from her gardens in to the city.

The Settlement House Movement was strong in Buffalo and settlement houses existed across Buffalo.  Two of the oldest – Westminster Community House (1893) and Neighborhood House Association (1894) merged to form the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers (BFNC) in the 1980s and still provide services in the Fruit Belt Neighborhood.

While settlement workers tried hard to make conditions better for the residents in poverty stricken areas, many of the early social workers were viewed as outsiders.  They were thought to undermine old world culture rather than seeing its positive value.  In Dante Place, they misunderstood many of the Italian immigrants, and the Italians misunderstood them.  The American values of sobriety, thrift, sociability, industry, cleanliness, patriotism and “properness” were foreign to the southern Italians of the district.  Many of the Sicilian men resented the settlement’s intrusions into family life. The district was described as “looking more and more like Little Italy by day, and the old-time pit of vice and iniquity by night”.  There were reports of organized crime, but for this area, this was nothing new.

Il Corriere Italiano from the day President McKinley died in 1901

Il Corriere Italiano from the day President McKinley died in 1901

Many of the Italians formed their own fraternal organizations, professional societies and cultural clubs.  There were so many of these groups that a Federation of Italian-American Societies was established in 1906.  One of the important Italian newspapers in Buffalo was known as Il Corriere Italiano (the Italian Courier).  The paper was published from 1898 until the 1950s.   The editor of the paper also published a book in 1908 called La Citta di Buffalo, NY (the City of Buffalo, NY) which was written to bring potential immigrants from Italy.

Most of Buffalo’s Italians worked as laborers.  Many of the Italians worked on construction of the Pan-American Exposition in the northern part of the City of Buffalo in 1901.  During the Pan-American Exposition, the Italians were represented by the Venice in America attraction on the Midway of the Exposition.  The attraction included mandolin and guitarist players.

Here is a view of the area from 1921:

1921 View of the Area

1921 View of the Area

During the 1920s, New York State began to fill in the Erie Canal.  At the time, the abandoned canal waters stood stagnant and polluted.  By the 1930s, the area was considered one of Buffalo’s worst slums.  Citizens living in the “proper” part of Buffalo continued to cast their eyes down on the waterfront.   City Planners began a 40-year fight to change the area to create something new on the waterfront, to create something of which the whole city could be proud.

A typical tenement in Dante Place - 42 Fly Street

A typical tenement in Dante Place – 42 Fly Street

Little Italy lingered on for a little longer; however, the neighborhood began to look old and dilapidated.  Many of the Italians from Little Italy began to integrate into the rest of the city, as their families began to earn enough to move into houses on the Lower West Side.  The paved streets, concrete sidewalks and trees of the Lower West Side was seen as an improvement from the manure filled cobblestones and wooden sidewalks of the Canal District.  In 1949, Mount Carmel Church closed, and St. Anthony’s on Court Street replaced it as the main Italian church in Buffalo.  The Italians celebrated many of the feast days with parades and large religious festivities.  Among these was the Feast of St. Anthony, when people came together for a parade and festivities.  The St. Anthony’s Festival on Connecticut Street began in 1976 as a way to bring back the days of the old traditions.  The Connecticut Street festival was moved to Hertel Avenue in the 1980s and is the annual Italian Heritage Festival, held every summer and attracting an estimated 600,000 annually.

A 1947 painting titled Dante Place by Joseph Carvana

A 1947 painting titled Dante Place by Joseph Carvana

In 1936, one of the residents of a tenement in Dante Place lit a candle and went into the basement, causing a Natural Gas explosion that lifted the entire building off its foundations.  Five people died in the blast, bringing national attention to slum areas, which spurred new legislation.   Buffalo quickly moved to raze the substandard buildings in Dante Place, and by 1937, over 160 buildings had been demolished.  In 1948, only 90 families remained in the area.  The Buffalo Courier Express noted in October 1936 that this may have been the first slum clearance rehabilitation project in the United States.  In the 13 block area, there had once been 1500 residents and by 1936, there were only 124 remaining.

City officials used Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds to construct Memorial Auditorium on the northeastern portion of Little Italy.  The Aud replaced the Broadway Auditorium.   When construction began, the Buffalo News reported:

As if overnight, the Terrace once more is coming to life.  The massive new hall will be the mainstay, but city planners also want to improve the section with a boulevard in the old canal bed, waterfront parks and relocation, if not removal of the New York Central tracks.  Visible proof of these good intentions is construction of the new hall.

Postcard of Memorial Auditorium

Postcard of Memorial Auditorium

The Aud opened in October 1940.  The Aud was host to many events, including circuses, concerts, sports and political events.  Over the years, the Aud was home to the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL, the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, the Buffalo Braves of the NBA, the Buffalo Stallions of the MSL, the Buffalo Bandits of the MILL, the Buffalo Blizzard of the NPSL, and the Buffalo Stampede of the RHI.  Additionally,  The last of the old saloons was the Peacock Grill, located at 136 Dante Place.  In 1950, Libby and Joe Guillo sold the rights to the Peacock Grill building and moved up to Main Street.  The era of the Canal District as Little Italy had ended.

Stay tuned for Part Three, which discusses the last 60 years of Buffalo’s Canal District.

Learn about other streets by checking out the Street Index.

Sources:

  1. Courier Express Dec 17, 1952 p 15
  2. Buffalo Evening News 4-15-1950 “Echoes of Revelry Have Faded out and Earth-Movers Clang Away.
  3. “Housing Project Rises where Canalers Roistered” Courier Express 10-29-1952
  4. “Lusty Canal St. Lived Hard and Fast in Heyday” Courier Express 10-26-1952
  5. “Dante Area Streets Get Single Name” Courier Express, November 11, 1960 Buffalo Streets Vol 1.
  6. America’s Crossroads:  Buffalo’s Canal Street/ Dante Place.  Buffalo NY Heritage Press, 1993.
  7. Dug’s Dive.   Buffalo Express Saturday Morning August 29,1874
  8. Hart, Mary Bronson.  Partitioning Poverty:  Zones of Influence in Social Work.  Boston Evening Transcript.  August 29, 1900.  http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2249&dat=19000829&id=z40-AAAAIBAJ&sjid=qFkMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6968,6102881
  9. Yans-McLaughlin, Virginia.  Family and Community:  Italian Immigrants in Buffalo, 1880-1930.
  10. Maggiotto, Anthony, Sr.  LaTerra Promessa:  The Promised Land:  200 Years of WNY Italian-American Experiences.  Federation of Italian-American Societies of Western New York,  2007.
  11. Mary E. Remington Founder of Dante Place Mission.  Buffalo Courier Express, August 27, 1933.  P 4.

This post is the first in a series of three posts about one street that still exists – Marine Drive – and several streets that no longer exist – most specifically Canal Street and Dante Place.  These streets are a part of Buffalo’s old (and new) Canal District.  The Canal District contains some of Buffalo’s most fascinating stories.   Today’s post will deal with the district when it was known as the Canal Street area.  Part Two will come out on Friday April 4th and deals with the Italian Immigrant era, when it was known as Dante Place or “The Hooks”.  Part Three will come out next week and deal with the last 60 years of the area’s history – the Marine Drive apartments and Canalside.

The Canal District consists of the area along Buffalo’s inner harbor, which today is located south of the I-190, between Main Street and Erie Street.  Here is a current view of the area we’re discussing:

View from 2011

View from 2011

The area, with the success of Canalside, is quickly becoming one of the success stories for Buffalo.  The area has a long and fascinating past, some of which is represented by the ruins of canal era buildings along the Commercial Strip today.  In 1950, the Buffalo Evening News wrote of the area:

Old Canal Street – Dante Place for the past quarter of a century – lies doggo this spring. Its days are numbered. Of some ordinary street it could be said it is dreaming of its past stories – but not Canal St – the old rip. If anything, Canal St. is like an ancient burned-out roue reflecting on a disreputable past. Canal Street and some of its immediate purlieus like Maiden Lane, and Peacock Street have empty houses with the windows bashed out. The old plaster in old rooms is broken and crumbling. Along the streets are old house numbers – 148, 156 – corroded and painted over and beaten by the weather of a hundred years. There is the occasional iron rail across what was once a barroom window, to protect it from stumbling drunks and lolling roustabouts. These are the flotsam and jetsam of an era long gone – a rough and roistering era of hard men and fancy women, of the waterside of Buffalo when it was young and heady with liquor, laughter and love at voyage end. It was the days when the canaler could sing that “The Erie was a-risin‘, the gin was gettin‘ low, and I scarcely think we’ll have a drink till we get to Buffalo”. It was the days when the sailors, swinging off their brigs and barks and ready for a fight or frolic, could yell: “Canaler, canaler – you’ll never grow rich; you’ll die in the ditch”.

dug in his dive_gif

Dug’s Dive Illustration

Canal Street was only two blocks long, running between Commercial Street and Erie Street.  The street was called “the wickedest street in the world”.   It was said that, during its heyday, there was a murder every day. Legends were told of saloon owners who would serve a poisoned drink, steal a man’s clothes and personal items, and dump the body in the canal.  The supposed first “dive bar”, Dug’s Dive was located along the canal, down a steep set of slippery steps from the towpath, so patrons sometimes “dived” into the bar.  The proprietor of Dug’s Dive was William Douglas, a former slave.

Canal Street was a busy place, due to its location on the waterfront. The Canal folk met the sailors from the Lake.  In 1829, when the road was laid out, it was known as Cross Street because it crossed several of the short streets between Commercial Street and Erie Street.   Other streets in the area were Peacock, Fly, Water, Hanover, LeConteuix, Evans, Lake, Lloyd and State.

 In 1847, it was written in the Buffalo Republic:

During the summer, the very worst class of people inhabiting this portion of the first ward, have been permitted to gather there in unusual numbers, publicly enacting the most disgusting scenes, rioting by day and reveling by nightIf the canal could speak, and its waters cast up the hidden bodies of those who have doubtless come to an untimely end, its tale of horror would startle the public mind, and those whose duty it is to  look after the public peace of our city, might feel and realize how great this has been of their omission of duty.

Depiction of the Canal Street Area

Depiction of the Canal Street Area

By 1854, the canal had become supreme in the district, and the name was changed to Canal Street. The street was a busy place – The Erie Canal connected under Main Street with the Main-Hamburg Canal, running east to connect with the Clark-Skinner Canal, which started around Chicago Street and ran south to the Buffalo River. On the lake were the Prime, Coit, and Niagara slips, among others.  The Canal Street district of the city was bounded by The Terrace, Lower Main Street, Erie Street and the harbor.  The Canal Street district was connected to the rest of Buffalo by foot and wagon bridges over the Canals.  Maiden Lane got its name from the early days of Buffalo when the young women said goodbye to their sailor sweethearts or welcomed them home from voyages.

The Canal District quickly established itself with bars and taverns to entertain the canal workers.  Along with the taverns came gamblers, drunks and working girls.   Long nights of drinking and brawling turned the area into a crime-ridden district.

The Canal District was often referred to as the “infected district”, both due to the low moral standards in the area and due to the diseases that ran rampant  syphilis, chlamydia as well as diphtheria, scarlet fever, whooping-cough and the flu.  The Express described the area as containing “broken down hovels of ill-fame, presided over by ill-favored hags, who have long forfeited their right to the name of women”.    The saloons were profitable enterprises for many Buffalonians.  When early reformers and settlement houses tried to come in, they failed to lure the men away from the saloons.  The saloons of the time functioned as a labor bureau, a post office, a source of credit, a political headquarters, an ethnic gathering place, and a spot where a man could get a free lunch along with his beer.

1893 Map from the Christian Homestead Association of the "Houses of Ill-Fame" in the Canal District

1893 Map from the Christian Homestead Association of the “Houses of Ill-Fame” in the Canal District  (Source:  Rare Book Room of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library)

The song “Buffalo Gals” was written by John Hodges in 1844 and refers to the women who lived in the canal district.  By the 1880’s, it was said that there were as many as 400 women “of easy virtue” in the Canal Street section of the City of Buffalo.  Included in the district were 93 saloons, 15 concert-hall dives, and hundreds of dance-hall girls.  While Grover Cleveland was Sheriff in 1870, Cleveland had tried to clean up the place, but was unsuccessful.  Many of the women were employed by the saloons as “cooks” but were on hand to provide companionship to the men of the barges. These women of the district were not allowed to go further uptown than the Liberty Pole, which was located near where the Memorial Auditorium was later located.  Once a week, the women were allowed to go into town to go shopping.

During the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, a number of women from New York City came to the canal district, attempting to make money off visitors to the Pan-Am. They planned to take the “Buffalo Gals” out of their territory by bringing their worldliness to the area. Before the Pan-Am, there were 500 Buffalo women living in the Canal district.  The ladies of Canal Street resented the NYC women, and joined forces and attacked the NYC women with clubs, knives and fists, chasing the NYC women out of Buffalo.  The NYC women were escorted by police back to NYC on packet boats and trains.

Commercial Street Bridge Over Erie Canal, 1926

Commercial Street Bridge Over Erie Canal, 1926

In 1895, the Erie Canal was deepened and shortened.  Newly built railroads were built, which were more efficient in moving goods across distances with greater speed and power.  The changing transportation landscape began to change the neighborhood.  Immigrant families began to settle in the area.   The rule limiting the women of Canal Street from venturing north into Buffalo proper was lifted.  These ladies “of the fancy ways” began deserting the area. The vice they represented moved to other areas in the city, including the red light district of Vine Alley (located between Elm and Oak -the area was razed in the 1920s when William Street was extended from Michigan to Broadway). After the women left, the saloons and concert halls began to close.

Stay tuned for Part Two, which will discuss the Canal District’s transition into Dante Place, coming out on Friday April 4th.

Learn about other streets by checking out the Street Index.

Sources:

  1. Courier Express Dec 17, 1952 p 15
  2. “Echoes of Revelry Have Faded out and Earth-Movers Clang Away. Buffalo Evening News 4-15-1950
  3. “Housing Project Rises where Canalers Roistered” Courier Express 10-29-1952
  4. “Lusty Canal St. Lived Hard and Fast in Heyday” Courier Express 10-26-1952
  5. “Dante Area Streets Get Single Name” Courier Express, November 11, 1960 Buffalo Streets Vol 1.
  6. America’s Crossroads:  Buffalo’s Canal Street/ Dante Place.  Buffalo NY Heritage Press, 1993.
  7. Dug’s Dive.   Buffalo Express Saturday Morning, August 29,1874
  8. Hart, Mary Bronson.  Partitioning Poverty:  Zones of Influence in Social Work.  Boston Evening Transcript.  August 29, 1900.
  9. Yans-McLaughlin, Virginia.  Family and Community:  Italian Immigrants in Buffalo, 1880-1930.
  10. Nicolosi, Rachel.  Love for Sale:  Prostitution and the Building of Buffalo, New York, 1820-1910.  The Exposition:  vol 2, Issue 1. 2014.
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