Polish Buffalo in the 1930s: Gramps on Easter & Dyngus Day

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Long before Dyngus Day was the celebration of Buffalo culture it has become over the last decade, it was, as most know, a day of celebration and fast breaking in the Polish community.

My grandfather, Edward Cichon, was the seventh of ten kids born to Polish immigrants who lived in Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood (nestled between South Buffalo, The First Ward, and The Hydraulics.)

Grandma & Grandpa Cichon. Edward V. Cichon and Marie T. Scurr-Cichon.

His memories of Easter and Dyngus Day went back more than 70 years when I interviewed him for a news story back in 2006. He’s giving us a first-hand account of Dyngus Day in Buffalo in the ’20s & ’30s.

Born in 1926, Gramps grew up on Fulton Street near Smith on a street that was, at that time, half Irish and half Polish. Most of the men on the street, including my great-grandfather and eventually Gramps himself, worked at the National Aniline chemical plant down the street.

On Dyngus Day, he’d go behind his house along the tracks of the Erie Railroad—the 190 runs there now—and grab some pussy willows to take part in the Dyngus Day tradition of swatting at girls on their heels, who’d in turn throw water at the boys.

For Easter, Babcia would cook all the Polish delicacies like golabki, pierogi, and kielbasi.

The sausage, Gramps explained, was all homemade. “Pa” (as gramps always called his father) would get two pigs, and they’d smoke them right in the backyard on Fulton Street. The whole family would work on making sausage at the big kitchen table, and then hang the kielbasa out back—but they’d also butcher hams and other cuts of meat as well.

While he was in the frame of mind, I asked him about the Broadway Market, too. In the late ‘20s, His mother would wheel him the two miles over to the market in a wagon, and park him next to the horses while she shopped for food and across the street at Sattler’s.

Reading these stories is great, but listening to Gramps tell them is the best.

My ol’man, pizza, and the Dukes of Hazzard

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s my favorite Dukes of Hazzard moment.

I was in First Grade, and “The Dukes” were just about the most popular thing in the world. Maybe tied with Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. The early ’80s were a tough time in South Buffalo– and my dad had a tough time finding work.

Billboard outside of City Hall in the late ’70s, placed there by Bethlehem Steel’s union workforce.

Plants closed and he sold the bar at Elk & Smith. He tried teaching middle school history but couldn’t get in full-time, so he lived and worked in Massachusetts for almost a year while we lived on Allegany Street off Tifft near South Park.

Of course we missed dad– and money was tight. There were more 20-cent letters flying than $5 long-distance phone calls being made. I can’t imagine what it was like for my ol’man to be away, and for my mom to be home with us three, a full-time job, and no car.

It was a Friday night and we took our baths early to be ready to watch those Duke boys. We were sitting at our little plastic table in the living room—all ready for “Tic-Tac-Dough” and “Jokers Wild” to end and Waylon Jennings to sing about “two good ol’boys, never meaning no harm…” when the front door burst open.

Dad with us kids just inside the front door of our house on Allegany Street…. probably taken just as he was leaving for Massachusetts one time or another.

Not only had my ol’man pushed our AMC Spirit to the limit speeding home from Massachusetts, but he had the sense to stop at Mineo’s South (when it was on the corner of Tifft & South Park) on his way home to pick up a large pie. Pizza, like long distance calls, wasn’t often in the budget and extra special.

I’m not sure a six-year-old heart could be any more full.

This glorious Friday night was probably about the best night of my life up until then… Dad was home, we were eating pizza, and we were watching the Dukes. All was right with the world.

That’s me (left) with my Dukes of Hazzard big wheel, c.1982

Torn-Down Tuesday: Sheridan Drive, early 1960s

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

A snowstorm and a couple of jackknifed tractor-trailers had Sheridan Drive backed up from just after Harlem Road all the way to Niagara Falls Boulevard in this early 1960s photo.

Buffalo Stories archives

The “C. Hettinger for Rambler” car dealership is in the foreground on the right – today, it’s about where Northtown Kia and Northtown Mazda are located. Charles Hettinger opened for business in the spot in 1960.

Next door, Herb and Burt Wallens opened Sheridan Lanes and its “broad expanse of 48 precision Brunswick Lanes” in February 1957. It was billed as “one of America’s finest bowling establishments, for your bowling pleasure” upon opening.

Beyond is Kinney Shoes and the final legible sign off in the distance, which belongs to the La Hacienda Sheridan Restaurant.

Buffalo in the ’60s: Hippies, Delaware Park and a ‘dope terror outbreak’

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

During the summer of 1969, 14 cases of young people being admitted to the hospital for drug-triggered attacks of terror and depression were directly linked to the ongoing “hippie gatherings” in Delaware Park.

It was usually about 200 young people at “the nightly gathering of hippies in Delaware Park near the Albright-Knox.”

“Some hippies create light shows on the gallery’s walls, by using a footlight installed to illuminate the building,” read one story. “Others play games on blankets, sing, talk, eat, and listen to rock music provided by portable radios and stereo tape players. Some dance in the gallery’s pool.”

“We know that drugs are involved in those gatherings and have the area under close watch,” said Buffalo Police Narcotics Chief (and later Erie County sheriff) Michael A. Amico at an August 1969 press conference.

Buffalo Stories archives

The trouble started six weeks earlier when “the hippies and other drug abusers” started lacing “yellow jacket” barbiturate pills with LSD.

The man who chronicled much of the action in the park that summer is familiar to longtime WNY TV viewers for another kind of reporting.

John Pauly, WKBW-TV investigative reporter (Buffalo Stories archives)

Years later, John Pauly was an investigative reporter for Channels 7 and 2. But in the late ’60s, reporter Pauly spent some time on the hippie beat. In a piece appearing on the front page of the Courier-Express, a Meyer Memorial Hospital (now ECMC) psychiatrist ran down some of the more disturbing cases that had been flooding the hospital since the new drug cocktail had hit the scene.

Police picked up two boys wandering around nude. Another youth thought his car had turned into a monster and was trying to eat him.

“Another youth was brought to the hospital by his parents after they found him performing a weird Oriental religious ritual in their backyard,” reported Pauly.

An investigation in another case turned up two women whose drinks were slipped acid without their knowledge. One of them was found running through Delaware Park naked. Many of those treated had become depressed because they “felt filthy.”

Routinely, police broke up the parties at the park’s posted closing time of 10 p.m. And routinely, said Amico, this is when they’d find people needing help. “We found one girl alone and semi-nude under a blanket in the park after taking drugs.”

These gatherings were a part of the summer that also saw the first moon landing, the Manson murders and Woodstock. As summer became fall, a task force of 50 spent a day making raids to put a dent in the drug supply that helped fuel the parties.

One raid at 309 North St. netted “209 ‘nickel bags’ of marijuana, a pillowcase of raw marijuana, a ball of hashish and a small box of LSD.” Nineteen total arrests, it was hoped, would put an end to the “dope terror outbreak.”

Chief Amico, right, with three suspects in a 1969 drug raid.

The raids centered on Allentown and “other known ‘hippie’ hangouts in the area.” Many of the men arrested “wore women’s length hair – shaggy looking, Van Dyke beards or had been unshaven for days.”

Later known for his undercover style of reporting on TV, Pauly had at least two more assignments on the peacenik scene for the Courier. In 1968, he reviewed a Peter, Paul and Mary concert at Kleinhans.

“It was folk music at its best and the nearly 3,000 persons attending applauded wildly as the group moved through songs of protest, love, war, the generation gap, race and other social problems.

“The performance was marred only by scores of camera-toting fans who punctuated each song with a barrage of blinding flash exposures.”

He also talked to a Soviet envoy who was touring the United States, sharing Russian culture. Pauly reported she was not impressed with hippies she met in Boston and Buffalo. Her words just as easily could have been then-President Richard Nixon’s.

“They strike me as being lazy and doing nothing for the society they live in,” Lyubova Muslanova said. “They were just lying around looking dirty and dressed in rags. I didn’t know what they were doing until someone told me they were doing nothing.

“Maybe they don’t agree with the system, but they must work and not just go around in rags and protest. Maybe they consider themselves revolutionaries, but in this age there is no excuse for being dirty or dressing in rags. They are not doing anything for the society they live in the way they act.”

Buffalo in the ’50s: Jackie Gleason eats at Ted’s dogs

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When “The Great One” rolled up to Ted’s Jumbo Red Hots on Sheridan Drive on March 10, 1955 – 62 years ago today – he was one of America’s biggest TV stars.

Buffalo Courier-Express headline, 1952. (Buffalo Stories archives)

“The Honeymooners” didn’t debut as its own show until later that year, but Ralph, Alice, Norton and Trixie were stars of the most popular sketch on “The Jackie Gleason Show” – which was America’s second most watched TV show right behind “I Love Lucy.”

Apparently on the way to Niagara Falls, Gleason’s bright-red custom car, with license plate “10-JG,” pulled into Ted’s around 2 p.m. A man got out of the car and ordered “a tray filled with pizza and hot dogs,” which he took back to the car while Gleason and two women waited back in the car.

At least 20 people saw the TV star sitting in his car, but he never got out or talked to anyone there in the 20 minutes they were eating while parked there.

Ted’s has been in the same location on Sheridan Drive since 1948.

An ad for Ted’s from 1957. (Buffalo Stories archives)

A 1969 obituary described Theodore S. Liaros as “an early 20th century Greek immigrant who built a pushcart business into a citywide chain of park concessions.”

Until a stroke at the age of 78, Liaros had spent most of 57 years working 16-hour days, slinging popcorn and peanuts first from a wagon, then starting in 1927, hot dogs, loganberry and even pizza from a small shack that had been abandoned by construction workers after the completion of the Peace Bridge.

Even with the Peace Bridge stand operating, Ted’s lunch wagon was still a familiar presence at the Clinton-Bailey Market until the Sheridan Drive location opened.

Liaros’ death on Oct. 24, 1969, came only weeks after that original stand at the foot of Massachusetts Street near Niagara Street was bulldozed on Sept. 15 to make way for an improved I-190/Niagara Street interchange.

In 1957, the Liaros family built another stand near the Peace Bridge in Front Park near Porter Avenue, and occupied it through the early 1970s, when they built another restaurant on Porter Avenue.

Ted Liaros worked 16-hour days for 57 years.

But even though the TV stars visited Tonawanda and the Front Park shop was successful, the namesake of Buffalo’s favorite dog stand always loved that first wayward shack where he spent hundreds of thousands of hours during six decades.

“It was the place my father really had his heart in all these years,” Ted’s son Spiro Liaros said upon his father’s passing and the tearing down of the original Ted’s.

The original Ted’s was torn down to make way for easier highway access to the Peace Bridge in 1969.

The Liaros family still operates Ted’s.

What It Looked Like Wednesday: The silos before the six-pack

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

For decades before the six grain silos at the Ganson Street RiverWorks complex bore the name Labatt Blue, they bore the initials GLF.

The site was home to the then- state-of-the-art Wheeler elevator starting around 1908, replacing the earlier wooden elevator shown below.

Buffalo Stories archives

The Grange League Federation bought the elevators in 1929 and renovated and added to the structures over the next handful of years. At top production, a grain mill built on the site in 1930 was filling 100 rail cars with hog and cattle feed every day.

The GLF C-Annex was built in 1936. Its six main 100-foot tall, 21-feet across bins could hold up to 154,700 bushels of grain.

Buffalo Stories archives

In 1964, GLF merged to combine Agway, and the milling and storage work done on the Buffalo River eventually moved to Tonawanda. The site was abandoned in the mid-1970s.

In 2014, the six silos of the GLF-C annex were painted blue and wrapped with giant vinyl beer can labels. RiverWorks co-owner Doug Swift called it “the largest six-pack in the world.”

Torn-Down Tuesday: The seediest of Chippewa’s seedy joints

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

People find it hard to remember Fisherman’s Wharf without calling it “the infamous Fisherman’s Wharf.”

Buffalo Stories archives

The restaurant was perhaps the seediest of Chippewa’s seedy joints during the strip’s heyday as Buffalo’s de facto red light district.

At a State Liquor Authority hearing in 1969, Buffalo Police said the place was frequented by disorderly women, dope peddlers, and people looking to employ disorderly women and dope peddlers. Three cops said they were approached by women soliciting them for immoral purposes and offering marijuana for sale inside the tavern.

It was the epicenter of the mid-1970s scene where one judge estimated that up to 40 prostitutes worked the street each night. The going rate was $20; the bargain rate $15.

Just to the south of the Fisherman’s Wharf building on Franklin Street was the place last known as the Villa Nova Hotel.

The Villa Nova started life as the Cheltenham Hotel just before the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, during which anti-liquor crusader Carrie Nation may have been the most famous guest.

Hope was high that the building could someday be renovated into apartments when an arsonist struck the abandoned building on a spring day in 1989; it was demolished soon thereafter.

A few months after the fire, the now garishly painted yellow and black Fisherman’s Wharf was bought up with the hopes of a Chippewa Street revival.

“With a little imagination and foresight, Chippewa Street could come roaring back,” realtor Jay Heckman told News Reporter Paula Voell in June 1989.

For the same story, developer Myron Robbins told Voell he bought the Fisherman’s Wharf building simply to save it from being knocked down.

“I’m a preservationist,” Robbins said. “I had the money, so I stepped in and grabbed the building. The building is safe at this point,” adding, “I’ve committed myself to making sure the building doesn’t deteriorate any further and that at some point it will be completely restored.”

Three years later, Robbins asked for permits to tear the building down. The following year, in 1993, Judge Frank A. Sedita II ordered an emergency demolition.

Five years later, in 1998, the $400,000 Soho nightclub was built on the spot.

The rise and fall of Buffalo’s college hoops golden era

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Canisius’ Tony Masiello and St. Bonaventure’s Bob Lanier fight for a loose ball in a Little Three game at Memorial Auditorium in 1969. (Buffalo Stories archives)

For as long as anyone can remember, the people of Buffalo have been fanatically devoted to sports.  Since 1960 for the Bills and 1970 for the Sabres, relatively large, rabid fan bases have supported those squads through lean years and even lean decades with open wallets and enthusiasm.

Buffalo fans warmly remember Saturday night college basketball doubleheaders, followed by Sunday night American Hockey League Bisons games at Memorial Auditorium in the late ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

But with college basketball bringing March Madness to Buffalo again next week, thoughts and conversation inevitably turn to the years before the Bills and Sabres when “Little Three” games between Niagara, St. Bonaventure and Canisius were the city’s most riotous sporting events, tickets to Saturday night basketball doubleheaders at Memorial Auditorium were Western New York’s hottest ticket, and Buffalo was universally recognized as one of America’s great college basketball towns.

Up until World War II, the most ferocious rivalry among the Little Three schools was in football, but as football became too costly, each of the schools had disbanded its team by 1951. Once students and alumni had only hoops to hang their hats on, the heated rivalries burned even brighter, and all of Buffalo came along for the ride.

St. Bonaventure stuffs Niagara at the goal line in a 1940 Little Three football tilt. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In his infamous 1969 Sports Illustrated piece on Buffalo sports and Buffalo’s sports fans, Brock Yates’ account of basketball at the Aud sears an image:

“Saturday night standing room-only crowds elbow their way into the grim, lakeside fortress known as Memorial Auditorium to scream for Canisius.”

A few years later, Ray Ryan remembered it this way in a 1975 article in Buffalo Fan magazine:

“The collegians and their camp follows would converge on the downtown hall early in the evening, elbowing through the crowded lobby, passing the turnstiles, and crowding up to the beer stands … (with) an electric air of excitement as the cheering and jeering began …”

Basketball doubleheaders had been all the rage at New York City’s Madison Square Garden when Buffalo’s first two-game basketball set was played in 1936 at the Broadway Auditorium. Canisius played Georgetown and Niagara played St. Bonaventure in “a program worthy of any court in the country.”

The 1936 Canisius Golden Griffins basketball team, including future city councilman and “Over the Tavern” inspiration Big Joe Dudzick, bottom row, third from right. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The venue was an upgrade in size from Canisius’ usual home court at the Elmwood Music Hall, and the ability to fill the larger space showed basketball’s honing in on boxing as one of Buffalo’s favorite spectator sports.

But there was still room for improvement in those early years. The Broadway Auditorium was larger, but not regulation. Notre Dame’s coach George Keogan almost refused to play on the barn’s concrete floor, but with 5,000 spectators watching, he was assured by a Canisius official that it was “soft concrete” and the game went on with a laugh.

Canisius played many home games at the Elmwood Music Hall, which stood at the corner of Elmwood and Edward until 1938. (Buffalo Stories archives)

As World War II dawned, and continuing after the war, Canisius, Niagara and St. Bonaventure each became competitive and started attracting some of the country’s best teams on the way to or from those big dates in New York City. It was a confluence of great basketball, great fans, great gates and Memorial Auditorium’s opening in 1940 to make all parties involved excited for college basketball doubleheaders in Buffalo.

Through the early ’50s, the Aud was guaranteed 10,000 spectators, usually with more filling up standing room. Then things waned. There was a point-shaving scandal with several big New York City schools. Pro-basketball started catching on in New York in the scandal’s wake, and college basketball as a whole took some lumps.

Canisius vs. Niagara at Memorial Auditorium, 1951. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The local series was not without hiccups even through the glory years. The late Buffalo News Sports Editor Larry Felser, himself a Little Three athlete as guard on the Cansius football squad, said that pettiness between the schools was as much a part of the tradition as the games themselves.

It was a critical hit was when, in 1958, Niagara pulled out of the Aud doubleheaders. A few years later, Bona opened the Reilly Center and trips to Buffalo became less important.

In 1965, then-Ellicott District Councilman James D. Griffin wrote letters to the presidents of Niagara, Canisius and St. Bonaventure inviting them to a Common Council discussion on the use of the Aud and the Rockpile.

Niagara phenom Calvin Murphy can’t make it past Canisius players Tom Pasternak and Tony Masiello, (Buffalo Stories archives)

Writing “as a sport fan as well as a member of the Common Council,” Griffin hoped it would be possible for the differences that broke up the Little Three’s run at The Aud to be set aside “not only for the same of the loyal fans, but also for the sake of the City of Buffalo, which enjoyed much favorable publicity due to the high caliber of ball played in previous contests.”

College basketball’s last great kick at the can came in the end of the 1960s, and it had to do as much with great players as schools setting aside differences.

Each of the Little Three had big stars to help capture the sports passions of Buffalo. After starring for Black Rock’s Cardinal Dougherty High School, Tony Masiello went on to star for Canisius College before being drafted by the Indiana Pacers in the 1969 NBA Draft.

Bennett High’s Bob Lanier led St. Bonaventure to an NCAA Final Four bid in 1970, before a Hall of Fame pro career with the Pistons and Bucks.

And before he ever shot a basket for Niagara, Calvin Murphy — who remains the shortest player ever inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame — was entertaining Bills fans with his champion baton-twirling during halftime breaks at the Rockpile.

The energy and excitement these three brought to the court and to the old Little Three rivalry was just enough for Buffalo to win an NBA franchise in 1970. The Braves were wildly popular until the end of the season, when top players were traded away and the franchise was sold and moved out of town.

But with the huge following of the pro Bills and Sabres, it was too late to rekindle the glory days of the Little Three. An attempt was made in 1996 with the opening of then-Marine Midland Arena, adding UB to make the Big 4. While there was some excitement among fans, it was the schools that put a damper on the idea by not cooperating in scheduling games.

“Does this sound like something out of a 35-year-old time capsule or what?” wrote Larry Felser on one of those opinionated days in 1997.

What it Looked Like Wednesday: The changing look of Delaware Avenue

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Continuing our weeklong look at Delaware Avenue, today we look at several photos that show Buffalo’s traditionally most-aristocratic street resplendent in the trappings of eras gone by.

The still-standing home of Edward Butler, publisher of The Buffalo Evening News, at Delaware and North. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The northwest corner of Delaware at Allen. The building that is now the headquarters for Gurney, Becker, and Bourne was built in 1961.


Some scenes don’t look too much different, save the make and model of the vehicles more than a century later. Others are completely of another time.

A Sunday morning at Gates Circle, around 1900.


This is a turn of the century look at Temple Beth Zion and the 20th Century Club. The temple burned in 1961, the 20th Century Club remains strong and active.


Delaware and Virginia looking north, the second house in on the left belonged to Mark Twain.


Photography of the first decade of the 1900s was not prepared for the great speeds of the automobile—which often reached up to 15 to 10 miles an hour on city streets.


At the northeast corner of Delaware and Barker, a nine-story $500,000 luxury apartment building was going up next to the Bishop Fallon faculty house in 1962.


How the Wilcox Mansion came to be – and how it was almost lost

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week, we’re taking a look at Delaware Avenue.

It was a neon sign for the Kathryn Lawrence Dining Rooms, instead of a historic marker which welcomed guests to the Theodore Roosevelt inaugural site from 1939-59. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Few spots along Delaware Avenue, or anywhere else in the city for that matter, are at the center of more interesting stories of Buffalo’s – and America’s – history than the home generally referred to as the Ansley Wilcox Mansion.

1. The house wasn’t always “on Delaware Avenue.”

In the midst of a complicated diplomatic crisis between the U.S., Britain and anti-British Canadian rebels known as the Caroline Affair, the federal government built an Army post in Buffalo in 1837 to help protect the border. The Buffalo Barracks were built on what was then Buffalo’s northern outskirts, between North and Allen streets to the north and south and Main and Delaware to the east and west.

Only four years later, construction began on the more strategically located Fort Porter, which stood where the Buffalo side of the Peace Bridge now stands. The Buffalo Barracks were dismantled, except for one building – the home of the commanding officer and post surgeon. Part of the row of housing for officers, the house “faced” the parade ground – and therefore Main Street – even though it was much closer to Delaware.

The house was remodeled and expanded by architect Thomas Tilden in 1848, when the home was occupied by Judge Joseph G. Masten (of Masten Avenue, Masten High School and Masten District fame).

Masten called the place “Chestnut Lawn.” An 1852 visitor described it as “a beautiful residence in the upper part of the city toward Niagara,” where “the sounds of dropping chestnuts could almost be heard” as one “drove into the grounds that front the pleasant mansion.”

As Delaware Street became Delaware Avenue, and the address carried with it an increasing social status, a porch and front entrance were built on the Delaware Avenue side of the building, sometime before it was given to Ansley Wilcox as a wedding present in 1883.

Under the direction of Wilcox, architect George Cary – who also designed the Buffalo History Museum – redesigned the two parlors of the original barracks residence into the library where Theodore Roosevelt would be sworn in as president.

The Wilcox House in 1901.

2. The Buffalo connection to the naming of the poinsettia.

The Buffalo Barracks were formally known as the Poinsett Barracks for Joel Robert Poinsett, who was a visitor to Buffalo during the time of uncertainty with Britain and Canada as President Martin Van Buren’s secretary of war.

His previous diplomatic posts included a stint as the ambassador to Mexico, where the envoy’s interest in botany led him to send clippings of a wild-growing red plant back to his stateside greenhouse. Poinsett introduced the species to Americans, and lives on in Christmas celebrations with the poinsettia – which is a good thing because the base named in his honor didn’t last even a decade.

3. Theodore Roosevelt wasn’t the home’s only presidential visitor.

The Poinsett Barracks and final remaining vestige, the Wilcox Mansion, have quite the presidential pedigree.

President William Howard Taft, front, stands on the steps of the Ansley Wilcox House. Wilcox is over Taft’s left shoulder, with a white mustache.

The first presidential visitor – President Van Buren – was there to dedicate the barracks on May 6, 1839.

Future President Zachary Taylor visited the Buffalo Barracks in 1840 – his daughter was the wife of the post surgeon. They lived in the house that became the Wilcox Mansion.

Scholars have listed President John Tyler as one of the presidential visitors to the home; he may have done so on a visit to Niagara Falls in 1841.

Former President John Quincy Adams visited Buffalo and the barracks in the summer of 1843 where “he was received with every possible demonstration of respect.”

Millard Fillmore was known to have visited many times in the days before he was president when the place was still the Buffalo Barracks, all the way through several owners of the property up until his death in 1876. One of Grover Cleveland’s law partners owned the home and the future president was a guest there as well.

Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt were all visitors to the barracks and/or the Wilcox House.

If 13 U.S. presidents aren’t enough, you can also add a Confederate president. Jefferson Davis was stationed at the Buffalo Barracks during his time serving in the Union Army.

 

4. Roosevelt had previously spent time in Buffalo

Theodore Roosevelt, with a Buffalo Police officer and others, around 1900.

Both before and after his swearing in as president at the Wilcox Mansion, Theodore Roosevelt made no fewer than two dozen trips to Buffalo and Western New York.

Theodore Roosevelt speaks at Buffalo’s Music Hall, Main  and Edward streets, 1898.

5. From the 1930s to the 1950s, the Wilcox Mansion was more a home of light refreshments than a historic site.

In September 1935, the original furnishings of the Wilcox Mansion were sold at auction – and soon after the Lawrence family bought the place to serve as a home to its restaurant.

Eventually the Kathryn Lawrence Tea Room became the Kathryn Lawrence Dining Room when the Senate Bar was added, but from 1939 to 1959, Buffalonians were eating and drinking in the Ansley Wilcox and White Rooms, which were decorated to remind patrons of the history that had happened there.

6. One of Buffalo’s most revered historical sites nearly became a parking lot.

After the restaurant closed, Benderson Development bought the property and announced that a wrecking firm had been contracted to clear the property to make way for a parking lot.

Congressman Thaddeus Dulski worked to find money in Washington to save the building, but a unanimous vote of the house was needed – there were three no votes. Dulski’s efforts were bolstered by Buffalo native Leo O’Brien, a congressman from Albany.

“One of the things that bother me is that we don’t recognize history soon enough,” O’Brien told reporters as the efforts to save the Wilcox Mansion faltered. “About 50 years from now, a great many people are to cuss us as they realize that the Wilcox House is under a parking lot or hot dog stand.”

Luckily, it never came to cussing.

Liberty Bank eventually bought the building, and worked to raise money in the community until it made sense for the National Parks System to take over the building as a national historic space.