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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Residential Development came to Parkside as the area became easier to access. Main Street was paved in the 1830s, but it wasn’t until the extension of street car service from Cold Spring to the Park in 1879, and the completion of the New York Central Beltline Railway in 1883 that living in Parkside was really made a viable option for many.
Before those tracks were laid, the only two options for getting to the area were walking or taking a carriage. The Beltline tracks made a 15 mile loop around the city, and Buffalonians could ride from one end of the city to the other in about forty-five minutes, costing only a nickel.
The train stopped twice in Parkside: The Highland Station was at Greenfield (near Jewett) and Main, and the Bennett Station at Amherst Street and Starin Avenue, where the station house and watchman’s tower remain as private residences.
Elam Jewett and Washington Russell III sold portions of their property to the city in 1870 for Delaware Park, adding to the Granger acreage already set aside for the park. Russell, the grandson of the man who settled along Main Street in 1826, built himself one of the first homes of the “Parkside” era on Main Street, in the shadow of his family homestead in 1885. Russell the Third was a lawyer, minister, mathematician, and musician who squandered much of his family’s fortune on living the good life of a gentleman.
He built a Victorian showcase (above), replete with the genteel finery of the era: A well stocked library, a music room, and a scientific laboratory. Russell III died in 1944, but his sister Lillian stayed on in the family homestead (below) until the late 1960s. According to provisions in the family will, the 1841 brick home of Washington Russell was to be razed. Though the building had fallen into utter disrepair, after years of wrangling, the area’s oldest home was saved, having served, as previously mentioned, as funeral parlor, and now a church. The Victorian home built by Russell III also survives on Main Street immediately to the south of the homestead.
Another early “Parkside” home belonged to the nephew (cousin by some accounts) of Elam Jewett, William Phelps Northrup. In 1870, he built a grand Victorian home on the southwest corner of Crescent Avenue and Jewett Parkway. The home adjoined the Jewett Family Willowlawn Estate just to the east.
While having an Uncle as one of the city’s most successful printers couldn’t hurt, Northrup became a success in his own right as a publisher of maps. His home was torn down in the 1950s, to make way for a Latter Day Saints Church (which still stands today as the Girl Scout Head-quarters.) Northrup’s barns, however, still stand — today a private home– set back from the street, immediately south of the Girl Scouts building on Crescent Avenue.
Even after handing over massive acreage to the city for the park, both Russell and Jewett still had large tracts of land between the Park and Main Street, land that was included in Olmsted’s plans as “the Parkside.” The initial plan for Parkside was bounded by Main Street, Parkside Avenue, The Belt Line Railway, Colvin Avenue, and Humboldt Parkway to the south. Olmsted’s original vision called for Parkside as the ideal suburb: The curvilinear, crescent-like street patterns and lots as large as 100×100. If Olmsted had his way, the entire neighborhood would have looked much the way Jewett Parkway does today; large homes on large lots.
The problem was, in the beginning, people just weren’t buying. The Parkside Land Improvement Company was formed in 1885, but development was initially slow. Olmsted was actually hired back by developers; retained to redesign the street layouts to allow for smaller lots, with Jewett Parkway remaining as the anchor and ideal showplace for the neighborhood. For the streets radiating from Jewett, the same basic design and intent was left intact, with curving streets and buildings set back, but less green space around each building because of the smaller plots.
Parkside Avenue, Crescent Avenue, and Greenfield Street were graded and surveyed with the smaller lots in mind in 1888, Woodward Avenue (originally Davis after an early Parkside Land Improvement Company investor) and Summit Avenue the next year. An 1892 ad from the Buffalo Express encouraged Buffalonians to come to Parkside:
Jewett Estate Lands- Beautiful Residential Section– This area’s many amenities include sewer, water, gas, new electric street cars, convenience to Belt Line, desirable lots, liberal terms for those wishing to build. Numerous advantages to the area! Giving you all of the needed rapid transit desires!
Of all those amenities, the fact that electric streetcars made their way to a still largely undeveloped neighborhood was likely most important. In a pre-automobile society, it was a major milestone in the further development of the neighborhood.
Can you spot the error? In 1893, a bill made it to the State Assembly with aim of extending Parkside at Agassiz Circle, straight through where Medaille College now stands, through the cemetery, straight through to Delavan Ave. That was rejected on the grounds that cemetery had already sold some plots in that right away, and the cost to the Buffalo Cemetery Ass’n would be too great. The makers of this 1902 map mistakenly showed Parkside running to Delavan.
Even as late as 1880, the area to soon be known as Parkside was still chiefly farm land, but an eye toward development had been sharply trained on the area for decades. Though most of the building in the neighborhood wasn’t to be completed until the first two decades of the 20th century; it was the last two decades of the 19th century when the area began to take on a look familiar to what we know today.
First concocted in 1858, The Civil War interrupted plans for Buffalo’s park system. It was 1869 when construction began of the masterpiece that would ultimately feature The Meadow at The Park (today Delaware Park) as its crown jewel. But even after the initial decade-long delay, the plan was an evolving one, even as shovels hit dirt.
As the park was being built, the city continued to grow. Frederick Law Olmsted changed the design of what is now Delaware Park as the outline of the Beltline Railway became apparent. In 1874, Elam Jewett built, paved, and maintained Jewett Parkway himself, as an easy entrance to the park for those getting off the New York Central Beltline railway. Other than Main Street, Jewett Parkway was the first street laid out in modern Parkside. Included in Olmsted’s plans was a neighborhood he called “The Parkside,” built around Delaware Park and Jewett’s curving Parkway. It was first written of by Buffalo officials in the 1872 Parks report, in reference to “The Park.” It’s also among the first times the name by which a future community would be known was published.
The Park, 3-and-a-half miles north of the City Hall, a ground designed to be resorted to solely for quiet rural enjoyment. The more notable features are, a grand sweep of undulating turf, one hundred and fifty acres in extent, and containing a goodly number of large well-grown trees, a body of water of forty-six acres, an open grove suited to picnics, and closer woods offering wilder and more secluded rambles. The Parkside, a detached suburb adjoining the Park on the north and on the east, designed by private enterprise, so as to secure to it a permanent sylvan character distinct from the formal rectangular streets of the city proper…. “Parkside,” a district nearly three square miles in area, extensively planted, and guarded against any approach to dense building.
Buffalo’s Parkside was among Olmsted’s first attempts in his pioneering work in suburban residential planning, preceded only by his plans for Riverside, Illinois– a planned Chicago suburb. He laid out the streets in a gently curving, or curvilinear, pattern, encouraging leisurely travel. At the same time, the plan discouraged use of the neighborhood as a thoroughfare, with none of the streets leading directing to the city. Olmsted envisioned tree lined streets with boughs joining to create a canopy over the roadways. Parkside was meant almost as an extension of the park, serving to buffer his crown jewel from the bustle of Main Street and from future incongruous development, but also with an eye towards creating the ideal residential environment.
In 1871, a pair of young deer was donated to the Parks Commission by prominent Buffalo furrier Jacob Bergtold. A Deer Paddock was fenced in on the meadow, and the deer were put in the care of Elam Jewett. From this simple gift would grow the earliest origins of the Zoo, still operating on the same spot as that original 1871 Deer Paddock. A pair of bison and eight elk were added to the animal collection in 1895, and a zoo curator was hired the same year. Two years later, the bear pits, designed to look like Roman ruins, were built as the zoo we now know was beginning to take shape.
In a cry that rings familiar in today’s age, the 1881 Annual Report of the Parks Commissioner calls for ways to lessen the expense of maintaining the grass in the Meadow. What might be unfamiliar, though, is the method:
To maintain a trim and becoming appearance of the ground, frequent cutting of the grass in necessary… On the open areas, and more especially n the large meadow, much of the annual expense and waste of mowing might be avoided by pasturing. The meadow would maintain a large flock of sheep, which would by their presence, add much to the interest and naturalness of this part of the park.
For decades, sheep were seen grazing in the meadow in Delaware Park. Their presence on the broad lawn gave “an additional attraction to Park visitors, and served to give a natural animation to the quiet character of this portion of the park.” Another quaint description from the Superintendent’s 1886 report describes riding on the Meadow:
The meadow is open to equestrians whenever the turf is firm, but in the spring and late in autumn it is usually too soft. In a wet season like the last some portions are in an unfit condition about half the time all through the summer. Shutting off the equestrians from the meadow on this account causes perpetual friction, as the cause for such restriction is rarely understood, and an open stretch of smooth turf offers the best possible conditions for a free gallop. No method of constructing or maintaining a bridle road will provide so good a footing for the horse, or be so easy for the rider. But whenever the ground is wet, deep footprints are cut into the sod in galloping over it, and when these become dry and hard, horses are liable to stumble on them or sprain their joints. To enjoy permanently the privilege of galloping at full speed with perfect safety over the Park Meadow it is necessary that it should not be damaged by use when the ground is soft. Though few equestrians have appreciated this necessity, the risk of damage to the turf is so great that, so far as I am aware, no riding whatever is allowed on the grass in any other park in the country.
Horseback riding was soon joined by golf in the meadow; the course was laid out in 1886, nine holes were added in 1894. Bicycle riding was also a great fad near the turn of the century, and practiced often on the road around the meadow. The continued growth of the zoo also made the meadow area more and more popular with not just sportsmen, but families and those looking to take in the sunshine and fresh air.
In 1900, on the eve of the Pan-American Exposition, Frank Goodyear offered the city one million dollars to expand and beautify the zoo. Though this offer was rejected for political reasons, Goodyear’s gift of Frank the Elephant was accepted, and the excitement surrounding the possibility of the large monetary gift emboldened planners and curators. The number of animals swelled to over 600. At the turn of the century, between 20,000 and 30,000 people visited the zoo and picnicked in the park each week.
Frank the Elephant spent his first few years at the zoo chained to a tree, before funds were raised to build a proper elephant house.
While planners continued to add features to make the park more accessible and more desirable to the residents of the nearby city, one feature that would make the park– and the entire park system– more sylvan and park-like was already there, ready to reap.
Just Parkside is a very apt name for the neighborhood as it stands today; its one-time appellation Flint Hill is just as likely, as any Parkside Gardener will tell you. The stone that gardeners find in their soil, is the same that was blown through to create the Kensington Expressway, the same that most Parkside basements are made from, and the same that was quarried just of Parkside Avenue near Florence Avenue behind the Olmsted Park’s Lodge.
Onondaga Limestone is that ubiquitous gray stone embedded with chunks of black chert, or flint. “Black Rock” was so named because of the large outcrop of Onondaga Limestone, loaded with chert, that stuck out into the Niagara River near where the Peace Bridge now stands. The apparently useless Onondaga Limestone bridges behind the Delaware Park Lodge, on the golf course, once spanned the great hole made by the excavation of rock there.
The quarry was an early important element in the development of the park. Stone extracted from the quarry formed an early foot bridge over Scajaquada Creek, went into the construction of the state asylum, built the now demolished Farmstead (which stood where the Zoo parking lot is today), and built the bear dens and other rock formations at the zoo. The foundation of Buffalo’s Parkway system was also made from crushed stone from the Parkside Quarry.
The last stone was mined from the site in 1897, but the old park quarry was transformed into a beautiful garden. When the Parkside Lodge was built in 1912, rustic bridges were built to span the chasm to link the lodge and bowling greens with the meadow. The current stone bridges, now at ground level, were built to connect the edges of the great hole in 1920.
The spot became the place where the young romantics of the neighborhood would take their love to see it blossom. In 1908, in a day before road and automobile safety standards we have today, the Buffalo Express reported that a couple died when their car plunged over the poorly marked edge of the quarry on a dark Saturday night.
Some of Parkside’s earliest neighborhood activism and some of the earliest references to the neighbors of the park as “Parksiders” come in the form of rallying against proposed changes to the quarry. As Parks planners developed plans for a sunken gardens on the site, they also proposed building the park’s stables there as well. Though Parkside was still early in its development as a residential community, the few that were here let their voices be heard against the building of the stables. An October 21, 1908 Buffalo Express headline blared, “Parksiders Make Good.”
The following was written in the inimitable style of the turn of the century Buffalo Express, after the decision was made to place the stables in their current location, between Agassiz Place and Forest Lawn Cemetery, on the south side of what is now the Scajaquada Expressway.
For just about three hours after the decision was made, the park commissioners rested in the belief that all was satisfactory. Then they were undeceived. There was an uproar in the Parkside district which reached even to the respective homes of several park commissioners. And the howl was against the building of the new stable in the stone quarry, abandoned as that place might be.
No, indeed, the stone quarry might be a bit wild. It might be the catchtrap for the flotsam and jetsam of the park system, utterly neglected and almost abandoned, yet the Parksiders did not deem it low enough to warrant its association with a stable. Petitions were circulated, public meetings held, persons who never before made public speeches made them, and the upshot of the whole matter was that the park commissioners decided they would build the stable elsewhere.
This 1908 victory would be the first of many for the ebullient residents who live between the Park and Main Street; Humboldt Parkway and the Beltline.
Erastus Granger had been at Flint Hill less than a decade; the Plains Rangers less than five years when the War of 1812 broke out. The Parkside/Flint Hill area played several prominent roles in that conflict. Flint Hill was an encampment and training ground for soldiers preparing to invade Canada. It was also a sanctuary when the village of Buffalo was burned to the ground. Given the nature of war and brutal Buffalo winters, the area also served as a burial ground for hundreds who never made it home.
Throughout much of the documentation about the War of 1812, the Flint Hill Camp was described as “Camp near Buffalo.” This was explained in Peace Episodes on the Niagara (Buffalo Historical Society, 1914). “In 1812, the Army of the Frontier went into winter quarters at Flint Hill, with Scajaquada creek as a convenient water supply.” Barton Atkins, the great chronicler of history of this period, wrote about the encampment in Modern Antiquities:
The camp extended on Main Street from the present Humboldt Parkway northerly to the lands of Dr. Daniel Chapin… and westerly to the head of the Park Lake, on lands belonging to Erastus Granger. On the Main-street front of this old camp-ground stand several venerable oaks, relics of the old camp. The one directly opposite the Deaf and Dumb Asylum is distinguished as the one under which a row of soliders kneeled when shot for desertion in the spring of 1813.
The camp spread from what is now Forest Lawn to near Jewett Parkway along Main Street, and stretched as far back as the Delaware Park Lake. The shooting mentioned was Buffalo’s first execution. As of 1914, one of the old trees that bore witness to the capital punishment still remained in the backyard of 24 Florence Avenue (corner of Crescent.)
Flint Hill, along with the rest of the Niagara Frontier, was a hotbed of activity early in the war as a planned launching point for the invasion of British Canada, and as it was Indian Agent Granger’s job to keep the Native Americans neutral. The Buffalo Gazette of June 2nd, 1812, reports Granger met with the chiefs of the Six Nations, at which time they acknowledged no desire to enter conflict between the US and Canada.
By early August however, after the rumor spread of the British and their Indian Allies gaining control of Seneca-owned Grand Island, Seneca chief Red Jacket told Granger that the Seneca Warriors wished to join the conflict against the British and “drive off those bad people from our land.” As his correspondence from the time shows, Granger spent much of the ensuing year walking a tightrope, trying to make both the Indians and the powers in Washington happy.
The most complete meetings of chiefs in many years was held again on Main Street at the Granger farm in September, and this time the Senecas, the Onondagas, and the Cayugas voted to “take up the hatchet on behalf of the United States.” Those who volunteered their services at the council agreed that they “would go home as soon as the council fire was extinguished, arm and equip themselves for battle, and return to Buffalo.”
Though it was the continued hope to keep the young men of the Six Nations neutral, given the fact that “within a fortnight, between two and four hundred savages” would be in Buffalo ready to fight, President James Madison was forced to allow Granger to accept the services and organize the warriors of the Six Nations.
Still, there were many stops and starts in the Iroquois joining the war effort. Several times, after being asked to assemble, native warriors weren’t used. After nearly a year of “dancing” between native chiefs and Washington bureaucrats, the two sides kept in alliance by the constant work of Granger, it was Granger’s safety that ultimately had the Indians take to arms in combat.
They finally entered the conflict when their friend, Erastus Granger, was in peril. The Canadian British put a price on his head, and had Flint Hill… yes, modern day Parkside… marked for destruction.
Judge Granger received word of this on July 10, 1813, and sent word to the greatest Seneca warrior of his time, the old chief Farmer’s Brother. Granger’s longtime compatriot, who fought in both the French and Indian War of the 1760s, and the American War of Independence, had received a medal from George Washington for his service. It was also “from Washington’s lips” that came the name “Farmer’s Brother,” by which the chief would be known for the rest of his days.
A man of at least 80 years old in 1813, Farmer’s Brother traveled from his hut in the Indian village in today’s South Buffalo, to what’s now the Parkside neighborhood, with warriors in tow, ready to fight. The Indians readied for war at the Granger home on Main Street. James Granger wrote an account of the night in his 1893 book Granger Genealogy.
The chief and his followers arrived at 11 o’clock, and the night was spent preparing for the coming fray. Bullets were molded by the great fire in the kitchen (of the Granger Homestead), messengers hurried into the neighboring village for arms and ammunition, and the Indians were banqueted on unlimited salt pork prepared by Mrs. Granger’s own hands.
After over a year of waiting to join the conflict, the Senecas would finally join the war. Granger, led by Farmer’s Brother and the Senecas followed Guide Board Road (North Street today) to Black Rock. There, they met with General Porter, who decided to initiate an offensive against the British along the shores of the Niagara River.
The Senecas prepared for battle in a ritual never seen by the American troops assembled at the spot. They took of all of their clothes– stripped down to their breechcloths. Granger and the Senecas were on the right side of the line, regulars in the middle, white volunteers to the left, ready to take on the British. At the order of General Porter, the Indians leapt forward with a yell that startled both their enemy… and their allies.
Within minutes, the enemy had retreated. The Indians had even rushed into the water to pull soldiers from their boats as they paddled in retreat for the safety of the Canadian shore. The victory was complete. Buffalo, Black Rock, and Granger’s Flint Hill Estate were safe, for now, due mostly to the tenacity of Farmer’s Brother’s men.
Because of its location, both high in elevation, and a relatively safe-yet-close-enough distance to Black Rock, Flint Hill had become an important meeting place for the military leaders both the United States and of the Six Nations (now Five Nations, with the Mohawks fighting along side the British.) Captain George Howard of the 25th Infantry spent some time at the Granger place recovering his strength and health. He wrote home to Connecticut on June 6, 1813, that he had met many of the famous chiefs of the Six Nations, including Red Jacket, Parrot Nose, Bill Johnson, Young King, Farmer’s Brother, and Silver Heels.
The Burning of Buffalo
Five months after that first battle, in December, 1813, by now Col. Granger and 83 Seneca Warriors under his command again responded to a British attack on Black Rock, but this time, they were forced to retreat when so many other soldiers fled from the line. Granger returned to his home, several miles away, to relative safety. As hoards of men retreated, and the lines of protection broke apart, the British marched up Niagara Street from Black Rock to Buffalo, and over the course of the coming days, laid torch to all but a handful of buildings in the village of Buffalo.
As the British and their Indian allies made their way towards Buffalo, the women and children of the village moved north up Main Street in an obviously harried fashion. Though many fled as far as Clarence Hollow and Williamsville, many dozens sought refuge and stayed safe in the home of Judge Granger on Flint Hill, and in the homes of the Buffalo Plains.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, it is noted in several histories, including Studies of the Niagara Frontier, that homes on the Buffalo Plains, like that of Zachary Griffin, were not burned because, “the Indians in their course of destruction with musket and firebrand were too much overcome with liquor before they reached this house to do any further damage.”
In fact, none of the buildings as far north as current day Parkside were burned as the British and their Indian allies left Buffalo a pile of smoldering timber. It made the area, especially Granger’s place, a location where many women and children took up semi-permanent residence, while the men who weren’t taking to arms took to rebuilding the village.
Encampment at Buffalo
Picture Delaware Park, all along the Scajaquada Expressway, over the Park Meadow and golf course, all the way up to Main Street filled with tents, bonfires, and soldiers milling about. As early as September 1812, over a year before the burning of Buffalo, General Alexander Smythe had planned to use Buffalo and Black Rock as a staging ground for an invasion of Canada; many of his troops, particularly Pennsylvania volunteers under the command of General Adamson Tannehill, were camped and drilling at Flint Hill.
Smythe was an interesting character, if not an effective General, or even a buffoon. His actions (and inactions) make it apparent that he felt that inspirational writing and speeches could surmount instilling discipline and training his men, many of whom were not professional soldiers, but volunteers; signing up only as the Union was in peril. Smythe was written of by Frank Severance in Episodes of Peace on the Niagara (1914):
He was… often ridiculous, and has been remembered… chiefly because of certain bombastic proclamations which he issued during his short career in Buffalo and vicinity. Historians… have written of him only in a vein of amused contempt…. calling him “supercilious, dictatorial, impertinent.” (and) “indecisive, puerile and cowardly.”
The folly and incompetence of General Smythe made his troops rambunctious. During the fall and winter of 1812, many citizens of the Buffalo area were alarmed to find their fields and barns being plundered by Smythe’s hungry or simply bored soldiers. William Hodge, Jr. wrote about one series of incidents in Recalling Pioneer Days:
Once several fat sheep were put into a horse stable, among the horses, just at night to be dressed the next morning; but when morning came they were gone. They had been taken a short distance into the orchard, and dressed, or butchered and carried off to camp. At last some of the soldiers were caught at this work. They were taken to their camp, and delivered up to the officers for punishment; but to this the officers were not disposed. This rather exasperated some of the inhabitants, who asked the commanding officer what they should do to the soldiers if they were caught at any more of these depredations. He said, “Shoot them, shoot them down the rascals.”
After this a number of the young men of the town kept watch at night. Of this group Velorus Hodge was one and they kept watch one night at the bridge of Granger’s creek, Main street. (This is roughly the intersection of Main Street and Jefferson Avenue.) After a while the one on guard outside discovered eight soldiers crossing the bridge, and hailed them. They answered, “What businesses have you to stop soldiers on the march?” and then a pistol was fired by one of them. The guard returned the fire. This started out those in the house; they sallied forth and all fired at the soldiers giving them an effectual peppering with shot.
Five of the soldiers fell to the ground and three making their escape. Of the five four were wounded by the shot; the fifth fell to save himself from being shot. These five were marched into camp the next morning and delivered over to the commanding officer, who approved of the course taken by the citizens. This put a check upon the stealing and plundering for quite a while.
Granger’s Creek is today Scajaquada Creek. The bridge talked about, though well hidden, still goes over Main Street near Jefferson.
Plans to Invade Canada Hatched in Parkside
Plainly, his troops hated him. General Smythe wrote many verbose and bombastic proclamations to his troops, and verbally delivered several more, most of which won him “the derision of friend and foe.” He was known as “Alexander the Great” and “Napoleon the Second.” Plenty of his hot air was blown in preparation for his plans to invade Canada.
Those plans were set into motion on November 28, 1812. Smythe had as many as 8,000 men champing at the bit. He had been building, collecting, and fixing boats by the dozen for crossing the Niagara River at Black Rock. At this point, Smythe’s rhetoric had worked, whipping his men into a frenzy, ready to spill across the river at Black Rock for the glory of the union. Trumpets played Yankee Doodle Dandy, further lighting the fires under the men on a cold winter day, with wind and snow blowing off the Niagara River. An early morning crossing of 420 men in 21 boats were met with musket fire as they approached the shore to the south of Fort Erie. What happened next was the final straw for Smythe’s men. What happened… was nothing. Wrote Frank Severance in Episodes of Peace on the Niagara (1914):
From sunrise to late afternoon, his army was embarking- the enemy on the other side of the river, in constantly-increasing numbers, looking on at the show. General Smythe did not appear at all, leaving the details to his subordinates. For hours the troops shivered in the boats, some of which, stranded on shore, filled with snow and ice. Late in the day, when at length everything seemed ready for a grand movement across the stream, General Smythe issued an amazing order: “Disembark and dine!” Disgusted and angered, the whole force was at the point of rebellion.
Two more days of similar commands to climb aboard boats… spend the day in the tiny wooden craft, freezing along the Niagara River shore in late November Buffalo weather, and then never leaving that snow and ice- filled shore.
After having been “whipped into a frenzy” days before, some men smashed their muskets against trees in disgust, and many of those who didn’t ruin their guns made mutinous use of them, firing in the direction of Smythe himself. Legend has it that musket ball holes filled General Smythe’s Flint Hill tent by the end of that third night. Of the 1700 Pennsylvania volunteers camped at Flint Hill, 600 deserted in a 24 hour period. General Peter Porter wrote an article in the Buffalo Gazette calling Smythe a coward for refusing to move forward with the planned invasion. The two fought a duel with pistols, but both shots were errant, neither hitting the other.
Between his officer colleague and the angry soldiers under his command, Smythe had survived perhaps dozens attempts on his life over a two week period, and had had enough. On December 17, 1812, within days of his three failed attempts at invading Canada, and, fresh on the heels of gun fire pointed in his direction from both a fellow general and his own men, Smythe would leave Buffalo and Flint Hill for his native Virginia. The Army Register states that he was “disbanded.”
But the soldiers who lived through the rest of the winter of 1813 on Flint Hill had not yet seen the worst of it all. A horrific lasting monument to the war, still in Parkside, but little known, had yet to be created.
Buffalo’s Tomb of the Unknowns
Enlist your imagination once again. Picture living in Buffalo, in November and December, in open-ended tents, wearing linen uniforms, and having only very few, if any, blankets, coats, socks and boots. It was these conditions in Parkside in 1813 that yielded the mass, virtually unmarked grave that thousands of Western New Yorkers unknowingly drive by each day as they commute by Delaware Park on Route 198.
Up until the time of Smythe’s abortive campaign to invade, the mostly Southern soldiers all lived in mere pup tents. In Buffalo. In the winter. Once the offensive proved a failure, they were ordered to build huts for the winter, but most were slow to comply. The troops stationed on Flint Hill were mostly from Pennsylvania, and even further south, and showed up to Buffalo, in autumn, in their linen uniforms. Now winter had arrived, but more appropriate uniforms had not. Many Buffalo, Flint Hill, and Buffalo Plains families took in soldiers, but the village was just too small to accommodate the great number of troops wintering here.
Food supplies were unreliable to the front in Buffalo, and food that arrived was often rancid. Colonel Widner, Smythe’s second in command, stationed at Fort Niagara, had been experiencing the same conditions to the north. He reported in a letter to his commander in at Flint Hill, “We’re starving at this end of the line for bread.” The conditions were same at the camp that ran through what is now Forest Lawn Cemetery, along Main Street to the north, and into Delaware Park.
It is among these demoralized, starving, freezing troops that a “Camp Distemper,” described as a “dreadful contagion” broke out. The following account comes from an American prisoner of the British, and pays eyewitness account to what the winter of 1812-13 was like in Parkside:
That the enemy have about 3,000 troops one mile and a half in rear of Black Rock, under camp at a place called Judge Granger’s, where the General (Smythe), his aide-de-camp and several officers of rank live.. their camp is unhealthy… they die from eight to nine daily… the dead.. are put into holes two or three of which are made every day, and into each put two to four dead men. The doctors say the disease is as bad as the plague. The patients are first taken with a pain in the head, and in an hour-and-a-half or two hours they invariably die. Besides this disease he mentions their being afflicted with pleurisy, dysentery, and measles.
The Buffalo newspapers of the day daily listed the names of the dead, until the numbers became too great; eventually the Army stopped releasing the names. The home towns, listed next to the names, show, once again, that these men, from places like Baltimore, southern Pennsylvania, and Virginia, would have likely had a difficult time acclimating to Buffalo’s winter climate, even without the starvation and disease that was present. From the Buffalo Gazette, on December 22, 1812:
The FEVER, which has made such dreadful havoc among our soldiers and citizens, continues to rage. The Physicians are taking unwearied pains to ascertain the character of the disease and to prescribe an effective remedy for it. Bloodletting is generally fatal in violent cases.
It wasn’t just soldiers who contracted this illness. While the causes of many of their deaths are lost to history, it’s a fact that many residents of the Buffalo Plains and Flint Hill died during this time. Among those who passed that winter were Samuel Atkins, the first Plains Ranger, and Parthenia Chapin, the wife of Dr. Daniel Chapin.
Whether Mrs. Chapin died from one of the many illnesses sweeping through the camp or not, it is certain that she knew of the suffering first hand. It was on the outskirts of the Chapin property that the several daily shallow graves mentioned above were dug. As any gardener in Parkside knows, Flint Hill derives its name from the rocky soil abundant in the area. This is also apparent to anyone who drives the Kensington Expressway; and sees the solid rock that was blasted through near the Scajaquada Expressway interchange.
While digging graves by hand would be a challenge in good weather, these graves, again two or three per day, were being dug in the difficult frozen ground of winter. Often times, they were no more than a foot deep. Dr. Chapin offered his land for the burial, and tavern owner William Hodge was pressed into service to make coffins for the dead. Records say he crafted 300 pine coffins to be used for burying the soldiers who died while encamped on Flint Hill. Written in Buffalo Cemeteries (1879):
The troops of General Smythe remained at Flint Hill until the following spring. During this time there prevailed among them a typhoid epidemic. Deprived as they were of comfortable hospitals, and a sufficient supply of medical agents, it carried off about three hundred of them. They were put into plain pine board coffins, furnished by William Hodge Sr., and temporarily buried near the south line of the Chapin place; but the rock came so near to the surface that their graves could not be more than about a foot in depth.
The ensuing spring they were removed some distance, to the north side of the farm, where the ground was a sandy loam and easily dug. Leave to bury them there being given by the respective owners of the farms, Capt. Rowland Cotton and Doctor Daniel Chapin, they were deposited directly on the dividing line between these farms, in one common grave. Doctor Chapin planted two yellow willows, one at each end of the grave, which have become large trees, and are yet growing. The grave itself remaining undisturbed to this day.
The grave was to be known in coming years as “The Mound in the Meadow,” with those willows coming from clippings of a yellow willow taken from Daniel Chapin’s yard. The willows lasted on the site until at least 1896, when on July 4th; a boulder was placed on the site of the grave, with a marker attached.
It’s worthy to note that among those dead might not only be US soldiers, but perhaps servants who died while attending to the sick, and perhaps even prisoners of war- Canadian and British being held captive who met the same horrible fate as the Americans.
Aside from the boulder in the middle of the golf course, the mass grave of 300 American Soldiers, fallen in wartime service, goes unmarked, and unremembered, having been largely ignored for the last 100 years. Plans to properly mark the spot and honor the dead have come and gone over the last two centuries; you’ll read of those plans as the story continues.
As the spring of 1813 broke, and Chapin and Cotton were giving proper burial to the dead, some of those soldiers who had survived the horrible winter began to think pacifist thoughts, and wanted to leave while the getting was good. The commanding officers made an example of several soldiers who tried to desert. As a previously included account spells out, these deserters were knelt in a row and shot in front of several oak trees along Main Street near, generally near what is today Florence Avenue. Their bodies were then hanged from the trees to dissuade any further desertion from the ranks at Flint Hill.
Troops Return to Flint Hill
As the War of 1812 raged on into 1813, and then 1814, a much more well-organized effort to invade British Canada was hatched. A year after the bungled attempts just outlined, some of the soldiers poised to invade Fort Erie made their pre-attack camp once again in what is now Forest Lawn Cemetery, Delaware Park, and the Parkside neighborhood.
In the spring of 1814, the more successful plan to invade Upper Canada was devised by a man, unlike General Smythe, who was a master tactician. Brigadier General Winfield Scott would lead his men to victory just over the Niagara River in the Battle of Chippawa; many joining the battle from their home base on Flint Hill. Scott, known to his men as Ol’ Fuss and Feathers, on account of his insistence upon military appearance and discipline, later wrote books on infantry tactics, exercises, and maneuvers that are still used by the US Army to this day. Many of these formation schemes and tactics were first devised as Scott prepared for battles such as the one at Chippawa. It’s therefore natural to assume the drills and discipline that would emerge as the foundation for the teaching done at West Point were first practiced by “the man who wrote the book,” in staging grounds and base camps like the Delaware Park Meadow.
Just north of Granger’s place (now Forest Lawn cemetery) along Main Street was the area known as “The Buffalo Plains;” its inhabitants known as “The Plains Rangers.” This wily group of frontiersmen– most of them veterans of the Revolutionary War– and their families settled and built farms along Main Street. Their homes were generally close to the Buffalo-Williamsville Road, or the main street, but like Granger, their farmlands extended as much as a mile or more to the east or west off Main Street.
These hard working, rough and tumble men cut from the wilderness the area that would become Parkside, Central Park, and the University District, and were the first white men to physically live within the current boundaries of those districts. They were respected, but also somewhat feared by the residents of the village several miles to the south. Barton Atkins described them this way in his 1898 book Modern Antiquities: Sketches of Early Buffalo, “On Buffalo Plains were resident a band of stalwart men noted for their prowess and of their proneness to assert it when the occasion offered.”
The son of an original “Ranger,” Atkins wrote of the initial settlement by the Rangers:
The Plains were originally settled by a colony of farmers from the lake region of Central New York. First to come on a tour of inspection was Samuel Atkins, in 1806, on horseback, traversing Indian trails through a dense forest to Buffalo — not to speculate in village lots, but to purchase farm lands for himself and others who desired to settle near unto the site of the great city that was to arise at the foot of Lake Erie.
Samuel Atkins built a log home and a tavern on the land he purchased, on Main Street north of Hertel Avenue, roughly where the LaSalle Metro Rail station stands today. Again writes Atkins:
On this property, in 1807, Mr. Atkins erected a majestic structure of logs, consisting of three separate buildings, made so by two dividing passages through the lower story, while the upper story and roof remained intact. The building entire was eighteen by eighty feet on the ground with side thirteen feet high — quite an imposing frontier establishment. Here Mr. Atkins kept a tavern, a house of entertainment for travelers and pilgrims journeying to the new West. Many veterans of the war of the Revolution had settled on the Niagara frontier, and the old log tavern was their headquarters– was where they held their camp-fires and fought their battles anew.
Atkins was joined in 1807 by eight Cayuga County neighbors and their families, including Rowland Cotton, Ephraim Brown and Roswell Hosford. In 1808, the families of Zachary Griffin and Dr. Daniel Chapin also came to Buffalo. All of these men and their families settled along Main between Granger and what is now the UB area, both on the east and west sides of Main Street.
Ephraim Brown was the oldest of the new settlers of the Buffalo Plains. The war-worn veteran of the Revolution, cane in hand, was a favorite of the youngsters on the Plains. He’d limp along with school children, as the youngsters would gather at his knee– a knee shattered by a musket ball at the Battle of Trenton. They’d hear “Old Mr. Brown” sing, tell stories of his battles, and chant army rhymes from colonial times. Brown’s homestead and farm where described by Barton Atkins as “opposite the County Almshouse.” The Erie County Almshouse moved in 1909, and the University of Buffalo was built on the land.
Zachary Griffin’s home survived well into the 20th century, and would have been known to the earliest residents of Parkside- as we know it today- as a part of their neighborhood. The following was written in Peace Episodes on the Niagara (Buffalo Historical Society, 1914), about the home on the east side of Main Street.
In January, 1915, the oldest house in Buffalo was torn down. This was a little one-story structure at No. 2485 Main street, which according to such credible witnesses as the late Washington Russell and Barton Atkins, was built in 1809 by Zachary Griffin. When the New York Central Belt Line Tracks were laid through the district the house as moved about 100 feet northerly from its original site. Probably all of the original structure that endured was the frame of heavy hewn timbers. The story goes that it was spared at the burning of Buffalo, in 1813, because the Indians, by the time they had got as far out as this on the Williamsville road (Main Street), were too much overcome by firewater to do any further harm.
The original site of the house was about opposite Greenfield Street, and when moved, it was about where the Central Park Grill is located. The frontage of the property was split roughly in half when the New York Railroad Beltline tracks were installed in the 1870s. Next door, was the home of the widow Anna Atkins. She moved closer to the Modern Parkside area in 1817 after the death of her husband Samuel. That means that Barton Atkins, whose works are quoted throughout this history, was among the first children to be born and grow up in the current confines of Parkside.
Captain Rowland Cotton is the other Plains Ranger who owned a large portion of what is today Parkside. He owned the farm just to the north of present Jewett Parkway, and the homestead of Daniel Chapin. Cotton, too, was a Revolutionary War veteran, and was one of only three of the original Plains Rangers who did not make Buffalo home until their death. Cotton sold his plot in 1826, and settled in the Town of Lancaster. His name appears the deeds of those in the northern half of Parkside.
Dr. Daniel Chapin
The most notable Plains Rangers to the people of modern Parkside are the ones who once owned the land upon which they now live. Dr. Daniel Chapin was a veteran of the Revolution, and lived in a log cabin which was built at what is now the corner of Main Street and Jewett Parkway. His property bordered Erastus Granger and was still considered part of the Flint Hill area. His property stretched along Main Street from what is now roughly West Oakwood Place to Jewett Parkway. It stretched back to encompass the southern half of the Delaware Park Meadow, and reached to the fringes of the Park (now Hoyt) Lake.
In the early years, Chapin was one of a very few medical doctors anywhere on the Niagara Frontier and like his neighbor Granger, he was an early pillar of the community. An obituary was published in the Rochester Telegraph December 4, 1821:
He was formerly from Salisbury, Ct. He represented the county of Ontario in the legislature of this state, very soon after that county was settled; and was an early settler of this county. He had held the office of judge of common pleas for Niagara county (that is, Buffalo, before Erie County was split off); and various public trusts, with benefit to the community. His reputation as a physician, during a long course of practice has been of honorable standing; and he lived and died an honest man.
Chapin can also be thanked for much of the natural beauty today enjoyed in Delaware Park. His love of nature was written about in the Historical Society’s First Volume on Buffalo History:
The people of this city are much indebted to the Doctor, who was one of the pioneers of Buffalo, for the good taste and judgment exercised in clearing up his farm. Coming on to it in 1806, and ever having an eye to the beauty of native scenery and landscape, he left and always preserved with care, groups and scattered trees of various sizes and kinds, where it would add to its beauty; and we in our park enjoy the benefit of his sentiment and forbearance. He was imbued with the idea of the poet who says, “Woodman, spare that tree;’ and when he could, he always had trees left untouched by the ruthless axe, in order that man and beast should benefit by their shade, and they with their primitive grace ornament his beautiful farm. His son, the late Col. William W. Chapin, always protected and preserved those trees with truly reverential and pious care, in memory of and respect for his honored father, who left the inheritance of the whole farm to him on his decease. Without that inherited taste, he, like most of the early settlers, would have denuded the land of every tree; and that portion of our park would have been a barren expanse of mere farming land; for a large portion of this old farm now constitutes the most interesting part of our beautiful park. As one rides through it, especially that portion I speak of, he cannot help noticing those groups of trees and scattered monarchs of the forest within and on the borders of the extensive Park Meadow; beautiful reminders of those thoughtful and tasteful former proprietors.
An important historical figure in the Finger Lakes area as well as Parkside, he is written about by the Bloomfield Historical Society:
Dr. Daniel came to Buffalo village in 1807 from Bloomfield, put up a log house on the outskirts of the village, and established a large practice, visiting his patients on foot, with a dog and a gun, often traveling trails as far as Niagara Falls. Dr. Chapin died in 1821 at 60, his death due to exposure in visiting a patient.
The varied accounts of Chapin’s death all point to the difficult life on the frontier north of Buffalo. The obituary from the Rochester Telegraph, which states it was reprinted from a Buffalo paper, says Chapin was 61 and died of “a lingering disease.” Another source, A Biographical Sketch of Josiah Trowbridge (1869), he another early Buffalo doctor, states that Chapin’s death was “partly induced by the many and continued exposures incident to the practice of his profession in times when it required an amount of personal courage, self-denial, and hardship but little understood by us of the present day.”
Long before European men tread through what is today known as Parkside, portions of the area were sacred to the Seneca Nation and their fellow members of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) League of Indian Nations.
Judging by the archaeological evidence, even long before the Senecas arrived in this part of Western New York, the Erie tribe and others lived near what we now think of as Parkside.
One legend passed down through the family of early resident Erastus Granger spins the tale that native chieftains would convene “Councils in the Oaks” on ancient battlefield here, destined to become part of the Granger property.
When Granger became the area’s first permanent resident in 1804, vast wilderness was all the eye could see. Later, his son Warren built a magnificent home, what generations of Parksiders called “The Castle,” on the spot where native chiefs had met long before the scribes of modern history were there to record them.
Today, the area is Forest Lawn Cemetery, and this specific plot is marked with a large sundial, easily visible from Main Street. Warren’s daughter Anna Granger wrote of it:
When Warren Granger selected the situation to build his home, he fixed upon the spot where the “Six Nations” held their counsels, the elevation was crowned by a grand old oak. This part of Flint Hill was sacred to the Indians, for here many, many, many moons beyond the memory of the oldest chief, a fierce battle had been fought. The plow shares continually turned up skulls, arrow heads and tomahawks of ancient design.
There are also many early accounts of children finding bone fragments and arrowheads in massive quantities as they played in the woods along what is now Main Street. It was from the “Old Iroquois Forest,” as the woods along Main Street in the Parkside area were known, that many of the logs were hewn to build the early structures of Buffalo; many more were used after the village was burned by the British in 1813.
In the 1790’s, Western New York was bought from Massachusetts by Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham, defaulted on, and then purchased by Robert Morris. He was the financier of the American Revolution and, at the time of the purchase in 1791, the richest man in America.
Over the next two years, he sold the land to The Holland Land Company. Before that transaction could be completed, however, peace had to be made with the Six Nations, the Indians who actually inhabited the area. That peace was accomplished with the 1797 Treaty of Big Tree, which called for 1,300,000 acres of Native land to be sold for $100,000– leaving the Seneca Nation with a 200,000 acre reservation, to the south of the tiny village of Buffalo. Seneca Chief Red Jacket was paid a $600 bonus at the signing, and was guaranteed $100 a year for the rest of his life.
The Holland Land Company, under Joseph Elliott, began surveying the area today known as Western New York. It is this survey that is the starting point for most property deeds in the area, including in Parkside.
The first traces of modern Parkside are etched onto the map in 1797 when what is now Main Street is cut through the wilderness, connecting outposts in Clarence and Williamsville with the burgeoning village at the mouth of the Buffalo Creek. That village was officially known as New Amsterdam, but almost from the beginning known to locals as Buffaloe (yes, with an “e” in the early years).
While many of the earliest residents of Parkside may have been Native Americans with names long forgotten to history– the names of the earliest white settlers still live on in file cabinets and safety deposit boxes. Many of the following names will be familiar to any Parkside homeowner who has read his or her property deed.
Erastus Granger was a central figure in the founding of Buffalo. He was among Buffalo’s first permanent residents, and also the first Parkside Landowner who actually lived here as well. Having spent the early part of his life as a land speculator in Ohio, Kentucky and Western Virginia, he was to become an active supporter of the Democratic-Republican Party, and specifically of Thomas Jefferson.
It was upon Jefferson’s appointment Granger came to Buffalo in 1804. He purchased a vast tract of land along Main Street that stretched from what is now Forest Lawn Cemetery, north to the Delaware Park Meadow; and as far west as what is now the H.H. Richardson State Hospital Complex on Forest Avenue.
His homestead was built along Conjockety’s (now Scajaquada) Creek near Main Street. The area where his home stood is now the northern-most portion of Forest Lawn Cemetery, near the Canisius College campus.
Granger’s life was written about at great length in the Buffalo Sunday Express, November 24, 1912. He was born January 17, 1765, in Suffield, Connecticut. As a boy, he spent part of the winter of 1777-78 encamped with the Continental Army with his father at Valley Forge. As a young man, eager for adventure, he became a surveyor of frontier lands. It was on his travels in Western Virginia in 1798-99 that he became acquainted with Thomas Jefferson, who prevailed upon Granger and his brother Gideon to campaign for him for President in their native Connecticut. Once Jefferson was elected, Gideon was named Postmaster General. Erastus was named Indian Agent for the Six Nations, and was also confirmed by the United States Senate as the “surveyor of the port of Buffalo creek.”
He reached Buffalo Creek on horseback March 30, 1804, finding a frontier village of 16 huts, and the streets strewn with tree stumps. He quickly organized a post office. This handled the incoming mail, once a week, as a single horseman “came from Canandaigua with a pair of saddlebags and the trifling mail,” and once a week he returned from Fort Niagara. Within three years of his arrival, in 1807, he was appointed as the outpost’s first Judge.
Granger’s most important work came, though, as Indian Agent. He met often with the great chiefs of the Six Nations, shared his harvests with them, and allowed them to continue to use his land on Flint Hill for their councils in the oaks.
“Flint Hill” was the name given to the Granger property and its immediate environs; well outside the boundaries of the then small village of Buffalo, about 4 miles to the north. Granger himself used the name “Flint Hill” to describe his home, but, by 1914, the name had so long fallen out of use that readers of Peace Episodes on the Niagara (Buffalo Historical Society) needed an explanation of the location of the place:
“Flint Hill” is a name little known to the present generation; but their elders in Buffalo knew it as the region mostly west of Main street and north of Humboldt Parkway, embracing most of the Parkside district and the adjacent portion of Delaware Park.
The first book ever published in Buffalo was a collection of public speeches given by Granger and his great friend, the Seneca Chief Red Jacket, made as war was declared between Great Britain and the United States. Both men spoke of the desire to keep the Six Nations neutral in the conflict which would become known to history as the War of 1812.
Red Jacket, Cornplanter, Farmer’s Brother and other brilliant chiefs of the Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Tuscarora and Oneida tribes were present on July 6, 1812, just days after word of war had reached Buffalo, when Judge Granger first offered a message of goodwill and friendship to the Indians, then spoke these words to the assembled council of Native Chiefs:
Your great father, the president of the 17 fires (James Madison), now gives his red children the same advice which he gave you at the beginning of the last war (the Revolution); that is you take no part in the quarrels of the white people. He stands in no need of your assistance. His warriors are numerous, like sands on the shore of the great lake which cannot be counted. He is able to fight his own battles, and requests you stay home.
The Six Nations would stay out of the conflict until the Mohawks, who had fled to Canada after the Revolution, joined on the side of the British.
On my way to church Sunday morning, I was making the right onto Jewett Parkway from Parkside Avenue, and there they were– the elephants from the zoo were eating maple tree branches right off the trees on the edge of the Buffalo Zoo parking lot!
The handlers say the “helicopters” on the maple trees are like candy for them. These three elephants are all babies and that this was the farthest they’d walked outside the elephant house.
It’s a bit reminiscent of a story that happened in the ’20s or ’30s, when Frank the Elephant walked out of the zoo unnoticed, and made his way almost to Hertel Avenue before being brought back to his home at the zoo.
Just another great reason to love living in Parkside!