By Steve Cichonsteve@buffalostories.com@stevebuffalo
North and South Buffalo. The East and West Sides. But how many neighborhoods can you name that don’t fit any of those descriptions?
From the biggest geographical sections, to the dozens of micro-neighborhoods and hundreds of great intersections, each little bit of Buffalo has it’s own unique story, and many of those stories are right here.
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It took months to phase in the use of three-digit area code 716 for direct dialing across all of the Buffalo area, but quietly, a switch was flipped on Sept. 29, 1960 — and telephone users in Buffalo, Akron, Alden, Amherst, Boston, parts of Cheektowaga, Derby, East Aurora, Eden, Holland, Lackawanna, North Collins, Orchard Park, Tonawanda, Wanakah, West Seneca and Williamsville were all able to use direct dial service for long-distance calls.
Until that date, Western New Yorkers had to call the operator to be connected long distance.
Folks in Angola, Clarence, Grand Island, Hamburg and Lancaster had to wait a few more weeks, but soon, they too, were officially part of the “716.”
As a part of the move to direct dialing, the old exchange names for phone numbers were replaced with numbers. In Buffalo, the Amherst exchange became TF-2, and eventually 832. Grant became TT-4, eventually 884. Evergreen in Tonawanda became NX-4, which a few years later evolved into 694.
This list, as printed in the Courier-Express, was clipped and left near phones for years.
In November 1960, the work was complete.
“Through the wizardry of electronic marvels, the 244,000 customers of the New York Telephone Co. in the Buffalo area will be able their own long-distance telephone numbers starting precisely at 2:01 AM Sunday,” reported The News a few days before the final switch.
Our identity as members of the 716 tie into that day, when people gushed about the jet-age ability to simply pick up the phone and call any of the 60 million phones in the U.S. and Canada without the help of any other human beings.
The Valley is a traditionally working class, industrial neighborhood between the First Ward and South Buffalo, bounded by the Buffalo River, Van Rensselaer Street, and the I-190.
My dad always referred to the neighborhood where he grew up as “The Valley,” always talking about having to cross a bridge to get in or out of The Valley. That was definitely true in the 60s, and is still pretty much true now—but the delineation was even greater before they ripped out all of the old steel truss bridges and eliminated the ones on Smith and Van Rensselaer in the early 1990s.
My guess, in talking with folks from the neighborhood, that the name “The Valley” was coined sometime in the 50s, that seems to be the generation that started referring to that name.
The city didn’t use the name in any of its planning or urban renewal programs in the 50s and 60s, and I haven’t been able to find a reference to the name in print in the Courier-Express or the Evening News until the time when the Community Association was organized in the late 60s.
One would have to assume, however, that the name was in some kind of familiar use leading up to naming a community association after it. My grandfather, who was born in what is now considered “The Valley” in 1926, and lived there for 40 years, didn’t refer to “The Valley,” but usually “the neighborhood.”
My great-grandparents came to Poland to “The Valley” in 1913.
After living on Elk, Fulton, and Perry, they bought 608 Fulton St. in 1922. My great grandfather worked at Schoellkopf Chemical/National Aniline for more than 40 years.
His son, my grandfather– who worked more than 40 years at National Aniline/Buffalo Color– lived in his parents’ house and then bought one across the street (from his brother-in-law’s family) at 617 Fulton, where my dad grew up.
My dad’s family moved to Seneca Street in 1966. Dad later owned the bar at Elk and Smith in the late 70s/early 80s.
My friend Samantha shared this photo this morning, and it made me think of a kid I kinda knew.
South Buffalo’s Mulroy Playground was around the corner from my house. During the summer of 1983, there were always dozens and dozens of kids— and zero adults.
Everyone was there mid-morning, when the city would drop off free lunches off the back of big yellow Pep Dairy trucks everyday.
Wrapped on a small styrofoam tray about the size for a pound of hamburger, came rock hard peaches, sour orange juice in a sealed plastic cup, and a sandwich— either thick-sliced low-grade bologna or a “choke sandwich,” which was wrapped to look like an ice cream sandwich, but instead was peanut butter and jelly between graham crackers. There was milk, too, but unless it was chocolate milk, I don’t remember anyone drinking it.
There was a 1950s concrete wading pool, which normally was filled with broken glass, but no water. After a heavy rain, we’d carefully wade in the rainwater, brown glass bits, and floating gold foil Genesee Beer labels.
Next to that, there was a monkey bar castle to climb on, but the older boys commandeered what was another worn-out 1950s structure. That was actually fine with us, because who ever had been throwing the beer bottles in the wading pool had been using the castle turrets as urinals. On hot sunny days the smell was unbearable.
Over on the swings, where everyone was doing their best to try to swing over the bar, Jimmy was usually on the last swing, barely swinging, his feet making noise with the gravel and dirt with every pass. He was obese in a way that most of us had never seen in another kid. He was big. He was also my age—around 7— but I didn’t know him. He went to a public school a couple of blocks away, I went to Holy Family school right behind the playground.
I’m not even entirely sure that his name was Jimmy, but it’s hard to forget this kid. As the early summer morning sun turned up the swampy heat and the smell of piss coming from the castle turrets, seven-year-old Jimmy laconically sat swinging all day, chain smoking.
Even among this group of vagabond, hobo, street-urchin children, something felt terribly wrong about Jimmy puffing away non-stop; inhaling even.
It wasn’t even the fear that he’d get in trouble— it just didn’t seem right. And sometimes, often even, other kids would say something.
Like a 12 or 13 year old would take a drag off a Marlboro and ask, “Aren’t you too young to smoke?”
With the same amount of detached interest he showed in swinging, he’d answer, “Nah, I’ve been smoking since I was 6.”
He told a lot of stories that seemed unbelievable, but there he was– a seven-year-old chainsmoker. It really made anything seem possible.
I don’t remember talking about Jimmy with my parents, but since it bothers me this very moment almost 40 years later in the same way it did back then, I imagine I might have said something. Probably to my ol’man, who probably half-listened, and probably responded with a Parliament dangling out of the corner of his lip as he growled.
“Don’t let me find out that you’ve been smoking over in that goddamn park,” he would have said. “I’ll put my boot so far up your goddamn ass you won’t sit for a week.”
We moved and I never saw Jimmy again. I hope someone put a boot up his ass and he’s doing ok today.
Grandma Cichon’s parents and grandparents had a less-than-direct route to Buffalo.
The family of Grandma Cichon’s father, James Gibson Scurr, spent several generations making a living off the sea as sailors and sail makers in North Shields and Tynemouth in Northern England where the Tyne River empties into the North Sea in Northumberland.
James was born in 1906, and was only 11 years old when his older brother George H., a seaman on the SS Hazelwood, was killed when a German U-boat planted mines that destroyed the ship.
Only 13 weeks later, another brother, William Gordon, a Merchantile Marine- Second Engineer on the SS Trocas, was also killed by a German U-boat.
James was a 15 year-old clerk when he joined his aunt, Sarah Scurr Wilkinson, and her family in Hamilton, Ontario in 1922.
James’ parents, George Henry Scurr and Mary Alice Pilmer Scurr, followed him to Canada a year later. George got a job at Bethlehem Steel in 1924, and the family moved to 5th Avenue in Lackawanna.
George and Mary Alice eventually moved to Hamburg. She died in 1947, he died in 1952.
Marie Scurr Cichon’s mother, Margaret “Peggy” Doyle Scurr, was Irish, but she was born in Scotland.
Her parents, William Doyle and Mary Ann Vallely Doyle moved from what is today Northern Ireland to Coatbridge, just outside Glasgow in the 1880s.
It’s not entirely clear what precipitated the move, but being Catholic in Northern Ireland has been challenging for generations. William was born in 1860 in Bainbridge, County Down. Mary Ann was born in 1864 in nearby Armagh, County Armagh. The third youngest of their 11 children, Peggy Doyle was born in Coatbridge in 1902.
In 1923, Peggy Doyle, then a 20-year-old housekeeper, arrived at the port of Boston from Coatbridge, Scotland aboard the SS Megantic.
She had $25 with her when she travelled directly to Buffalo to live with her sister, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Doyle-Anderson (later Fox). She lived on the corner of Seneca and Geary Street, raising two boys on her own after her husband was killed in France World War I.
William Doyle died in 1920. Six years later, his widow Mary Ann and youngest daughter Agnes also came to Buffalo through St. John, New Brunswick aboard the SS Montcalm of the Canadian Pacific line. They moved in with another daughter, Mary Doyle Sands, who lived on Weyand Street off Seneca.
During the last year of Mary Ann Vallely Doyle’s life, four generations of her family lived on Seneca Street with the birth of my father’s older (half) brother, Michael Doyle (1945-2006.)
Jim Scurr and Peggy Doyle were married in 1927, and moved around the Seneca-Babcock neighborhood, on Orlando and Lester streets, Melvin Street, and then in an apartment above the storefronts at Seneca and Kingston for decades.
James G. Scurr died in 1980, Margaret A. Doyle Scurr died in 1987.
When I was a general assignment reporter, I always loved the angle that when something big happens, anything that anyone is doing becomes a story. “How did you ride out the storm?” “How did you celebrate the big win?” “Where were you when the tornado hit?”
No matter what your answer is…it’s part of the larger story and worth celebrating. As a researcher and historian who combs through other writers’ and journalists’ archived works to re-tell their stories in the light of present day life, I love finding those little bits of everyday life set against the backdrop of big stories.
That’s why these ladies watching TV at a City of Tonawanda department store is my favorite image from the lunar landing. A million people are telling Neil Armstrong’s story– But we here care just as much about what was going on in the Twin-Ton Department store as he was making that giant leap.
Watching TV rarely gets you on the front page of the paper, but it seems appropriate that it did for the staff at Jenss Twin-Ton Department store 50 years ago next week.
That man would step foot on the moon is an unimaginable, superlative, epoch-defining feat in human history. But that more than half a billion would watch it happen live on their television sets made it a definitive moment in a broadcast television industry that was barely 20 years old at the time.
Gathered around the TV “to catch a few glimpses of the Apollo 11 events” were Mrs. James Tait, Margaret Robinson, Marian Feldt, Jack Dautch, Grace Hughes, Dorothy Wiegand, Rose Sugden and Rose Ann Fiala.
By the time of the 1969 moon landing, Jenss Twin-Ton’s future was already in doubt as city fathers in the Tonawandas were looking to expand already present Urban Renewal efforts to include the store at Main and Niagara.
Founded in 1877 as Zuckmaier Bros., the department store was sold in 1946 and became Twin-Ton in 1946. Jenss Twin-Ton closed in 1976 when the building was bulldozed as urban renewal caught up. Plans for the department store to rebuild on the site never materialized and the Tonawandas’ only downtown department store was gone for good.