A generational satisfaction in the new Buffalo 

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Just driving where the roads took me, I wound up in the First Ward today, driving down the stunning new Ohio Street and looking across the dirt and weeds to the Chicago Street lot which was home to long gone ancestors.

map

My 3rd great grandfather, Miles Norton, was an Irish immigrant grain worker who died in the family flat over 64 Chicago Street when he was 45 years old in 1883.

1882 City Directory
1882 City Directory

The address is a shaggy looking vacant lot right now, but over looks all that is new and exciting in Buffalo.

As Miles and his big Irish family lived a pretty impoverished Old First Ward existence, it’s easy to imagine them looking out their back window at the stinking and dirty Buffalo River… And thinking of it as their lifeline and livelihood, as the means for a life better than the one left behind on the old sod of Eire.

In 1883, living above 64 Chicago Street was pretty much the end of the line. It was likely better than what was left in the old country, but the worst of Buffalo. Filth and poverty and hunger.

An 1893 Buffalo Courier story calls 64 Chicago a tenement.
An 1893 Buffalo Courier story calls 64 Chicago a tenement.

For the last half century, the view from that spot has showcased rotting industry and wasted waterfront… And was a view many could point to as ground zero for hopelessness and the slow death of Buffalo.

I wish ol’Miles could see that view now… And understand the newness and feeling of hearts-overflowing in the rebirth of the grounds which are forever stained with the sweat and blood of him and so many hundreds of thousands like him through the decades.

Looking at empty Chicago Street lot where Miles Norton's home once stood, and the view from the water just across Ohio Street.
Looking at empty Chicago Street lot where Miles Norton’s home once stood, and the view from the water just across Ohio Street.

As I stood in those weeds today at the corner of Chicago and Mackinaw, my soul glowed with happiness for my ancestors– that their toil won’t be forgotten and my descendants– that they will be able to live in and enjoy a rejuvenated and wonderful Buffalo.

Our future is built on our past. Our future honors our past.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. The operator of Buffalo Stories Tours writes about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo special at blog.buffalostories.com and daily at buffalonews.com/history. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and spent 20 years working in Buffalo radio and TV, climbing his way to news director at WBEN Radio. Since then, he's been an adjunct professor and produced PBS documentaries. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.