Central Park is the name of a street, a plaza and a neighborhood in Buffalo. The red outline on the map to the right depicts the Central Park Neighborhood, on the west side of Main Street. On the east side of Main Street, the blue outline depicts the boundaries of the former Buffalo Cement Company. A portion of the quarry still exists along East Amherst Street, adjacent to McCarthy Park.
Central Park Avenue is located along the south side of Central Park Plaza, which is along the southern border of the blue line on the map. Central Park Plaza was developed in the 1950s to provide an urban shopping destination. At its peak, Central Park Plaza contained 45 stores including several major grocery stores, a day care facility, a charter school, Radio Shack, and various other stores. During the 1980s, the plaza decline due to shifting populations and the rise of suburban shopping malls. This past May, Central Park Plaza got a new owner and there is hope for the redevelopment of the surrounding neighborhood.
Central Park neighborhood was named by Lewis Jackson Bennett the Founder of the Buffalo Cement Company. Mr. Bennett was born in Schenectady County NY in July 1933. He began his life as a clerk in a grocery store in Fultonville, NY. He was a collector of tolls on the Erie Canal at Fultonville for a short while. Bennett moved to Buffalo in 1866 after he obtained a contract to do repair work along the canal here. He used the money he earned doing this work to buy land in North Buffalo to extract the limestone for use in a cement factory. He was responsible for all slips and basins in Buffalo and the area 17 miles east of the City. Along with his father-in-law, Andrew Spaulding, he formed an independent contracting business for dredging. They were given city, state and federal contracts throughout Western New York. They supervised the building of the first iron bridges in the area. Mr. Bennett than became interested in the manufacture of hydraulic cement.
In 1875, Mr. Bennet began to acquire land on the east and west sides of Main Street where the cement deposits were located.
He owned more than 200 acres of land in this part of the City. In 1877, he established the Buffalo Cement Company, which quarried, manufactured and sold stone and cement. The cement plant and quarry was on the east side of Main Street. On the west side of Main Street, there was farmland at the time, however it never adapted well to farmland because of the shallow bedrock in that area.
Ten years later, Mr. Bennett began to make plans for a residential subdivision on lands owned by his business. He was joined in this venture by his son, Leslie Jay Bennett, and William Pierce, a co-owner of Buffalo Cement. They decided to call the area Central Park due to its geographic location near Delaware Park.
The location was strategic due to its location along the Beltline Railroad. In the age when the general population relied on public transportation, Central Park was one of Buffalo’s first suburbs. The Beltline formed a belt around Buffalo and operated for approximately 30 years, impacting much of Buffalo’s industry and residential neighborhood development.
There were originally 19 stops each spaced 1 mile apart. The development of Parkside and Central Park can be attributed to the Beltline. The Station in Central Park, at Starin and Amherst was known as the Bennett Station. It was owned by Buffalo Cement and leased by New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. After WWI, the Beltline gradually faded from existence due to the development of trolley lines and automobiles. The station was sold to the Boy Scouts and was used as a scout’s headquarters until after WWII. It is now privately owned and is the only surviving station on the Belt Line. The tracks are still used by Conrail. This train station is the only train station from the Belt Line still standing.
Mr. Bennett is said to have taken a personal interest in the work and took care in planting trees in the district. Bennett walked along streets in the district and put stakes wherever he thought there should be a tree. The story that is told is that Charles Besch, an employee at the quarry would dig into the rock and set off a small charge of dynamite to loosen the rock and make cracks so the tree roots could take hold. This is why there are so many beautiful trees in Central Park neighborhood today, because their roots had a place to grow in the blasted rock.
Mr. Bennett wanted the area to be developed by the finest quality homes. He included locations for churches, parks, a rail station, a clubhouse and business lots on Main Street.
The Clubhouse, known as The Otowega Club, was located at the corner of Linden and Starin. The clubhouse was originally designed for parties and dances. The clubhouse later served as an annex of School 22. In the early 1930s, it was the home of the Art Institute of Buffalo. The Otowega Clubhouse was a two-story English style building. The clubhouse was torn down after WWII when the Art Institute moved to Elmwood Avenue. The location of the clubhouse is now a vacant lot.
Burke’s Green was originally an unnamed triangular piece of land with a fountain. The original fountain was dismantled in the 1920s, but a new one was installed in 2002. The land was donated by Mr. Bennett to the City to be used as a park. The park was named Burke’s Green in memory of F. Brendan Burke, a civic-minded Central Parker in the 1960s. The Central Park Association maintains the park.
His company provided, free of charge, the foundation stones for corner lot homes, in order to ensure that large houses would be built on the corners to anchor the blocks. He enforced strict building codes. Minimum house prices were set for each street. Homes on Depew were to cost a minimum of $4,000, those on Main $3,500 and those on Linden $2,500.Each owner could only build a two-story or higher home and a barn on the rear of his property.
Newspaper ads of the time promised: ”Central Park gives you the best conditions to start with, and it is so carefully protected, that its future is secure, if you build here you will soon have a real home”.
The first house built was Mr. Bennett’s house at 354 Depew Avenue. It had 24 rooms and was situated on three acres of gardens. Employees of Buffalo Cement would use a horse and plow to clear the snow from the streets and sidewalks of Central Park. In the evenings, men would ride bicycles up and down the streets to light the gas lamps.
Mr. Bennett’s house was razed in 1935, ten years after his death. The land was subdivided into 12 building lots.
Mr. Bennett also donated the land on Main Street to the City to build Bennett High School. The rear portion of the property was also donated to build All-High Stadium. The stadium is so named because it served all the high schools (public) when the city opened the stadium in 1928.
The Buffalo Cement Co assumed all maintenance for the Central Park neighborhood until the 1920s. The Cement Company manufactured cement for 30 years, then discontinued manufacturing and was primarily a real estate holding company. The quarry was filled in during the 1950s to provide space for housing development.
Mr. Bennett was involved in many other important business interests both in and out of Buffalo. He was very interested in the public school system. In 1860, while a school trustee of Fultonville, he led a fight that resulted in a change from the “rate bill system” to a free public school system supported by taxes. This is considered to be the first district to adopt such a system. He was a life member of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences and Buffalo Historical Society, a member of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Bennett died in 1925 and is buried in Forest Lawn.
The streets in Central Park were named by Mr. Bennett. Many of them were named after his family and friends.
Morris Avenue is named after the family of Lewis Bennett’s brother in law, John Vedder Morris and his father Abram Vrooman Morris. John Morris married Mr. Bennett’s younger sister Maria Lydia Bennett in 1875. The Bennett and Morris families were acquainted as counterparts and businessmen in the Mohawk Valley.
Depew Avenue is named in honor of Chauncey M. Depew. Mr. Depew was a US Senator, New York State Secretary of State, and President of the New York Central Railroad. Mr. Depew moved to the rural community of Buffalo around 1893, when a group of investors saw the area as an area for the development of commerce, a link between Chicago and New York City. At the time, approximately 250 train entered and left Buffalo every day. Mr. Depew was president of the Hudson River and Harlem Railroad at the time, and built the company headquarters in the vicinity and the area became referred to as “the place where Depew is building”, and was incorporated as the Village of Depew in 1894.
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Arnone, James. Central Park, Buffalo, New York: A Neighborhood of History and Tradition. 2010.
Cutter, William Richard. Genealogical and Family History of New York, Vol. 11, 1912
“The Village of Depew is Unique to the Area in that it Straddles Two Townships”. Depew Bee, July 14, 1994.
Wagner, Carol. ”Bassett House: A History” The Junior League of Buffalo, 1985.