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.
Scroll to read more about Buffalo’s Neighborhoods or search for something specific…
The Complete History of Parkside, Buffalo, NY A New Book by Buffalo Author Steve Cichon
A history of the Frederick Law Olmsted designed neighborhood, from its place in the history of the Seneca Nation, to its role in the War of 1812, to Olmsted’s design and the turn of the century building out of the area, and the neighborhood’s 20th century evolutions. Included are discussions of the area’s earliest colorful settlers, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House, Delaware Park, The Buffalo Zoo, and the stories and anecdotes of many more struggles, individuals, and institutions that have made Parkside one of Buffalo’s premier historic neighborhoods today.
Questions You’ll Have Answered as You Read:
Where is Parkside’s mass virtually unmarked grave?
How did a Parkside quest for riches turn to… naked women?!?
Why did the FBI have Parkside staked out for most of a decade?
You’ll also learn details on how America’s first jet plane was built in Parkside, and the scandal with Parkside roots that nearly brought down a Presidency.
135 historic photos, 172 pages.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Steve Cichon is an award winning journalist with WBEN Radio, where he’s been a news reporter and anchor since 2003, having worked in Buffalo radio and television since 1993. Steve and his wife Monica became Parkside home owners on Valentines Day 2000, and quickly fell in love with the neighborhood. They continue to renovate and restore their 1909 EB Green designed American Four Square, and will likely continue to do so into perpetuity.
Books available for purchase NOW online… and at the following locations:
Talking Leaves Books (Main St. and Elmwood Ave. Locations)
The Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society Shop
While they owned much of the property along the neighborhood’s southern border, and taught at St. Vincent de Paul, Mt St Joe’s, Medaille, St. Mark, and St Mary’s School for the Deaf, the Sisters of St. Joseph haven’t been the only Catholic nuns along the Parkside section of Main Street.
The Sisters of Charity established Buffalo’s first hospital downtown in 1848, and moved to the corner of Main Street and Delevan Avenue (the current home of the Canisius College Koessler Athletic Center) in 1876.
And while Sisters Hospital didn’t move there until the World War II era (1943), a hospital of sorts has stood on the spot where Sisters now stands since the Civil War era. The Providence Retreat, also known as through the years as the Providence Insane Asylum, and the Providence Lunatic Asylum, it was established in 1860 by Dr. Austin Flint and Dr. James Platt White, with the help of the Sisters of Charity.
As the Civil War dawned, after it was “decided that the city needed a hospital for the treatment of mental and nervous diseases.” The institution opened its first building on the Main Street grounds July 15, 1861. That building was then outside the city limits, on grounds described as “spacious and beautiful.” The grounds contained both a hennery for eggs and a dairy, and “stronger patients” were able to take advantage of the neighboring Delaware Park and Zoological gardens.
The asylum, and its most infamous guest, nearly cost Buffalo a Presidency. One of Buffalo’s most scandalous residents was a “guest” at the Providence Retreat. Maria Halpin was one of many unwed mothers residing there, and she became a star in the 1884 Presidential campaign. It just so happened that the prominent Buffalo attorney with whom she reportedly had a tryst quickly moved up the ranks as Mayor of Buffalo, then Governor of New York, and ultimately President of the United States.
Had Grover Cleveland run for President in this modern age, the intense vetting process likely would have knocked him out of the running early. The Halpin story was well-known but not talked about in Buffalo for at least a decade. However, when Grover Cleveland decided to run for the White House, The Buffalo Evening Telegraph, a paper similar in journalistic integrity to the National Enquirer, ran a story entitled “A Terrible Tale-Dark Chapter in a Public Man’s History.”
The rag put into print a damning piece of salacious bombast slanted against Cleveland by his old Western New York political enemies. The paper spelled out that Cleveland was the lover of The Loose Widow Halpin, and when she became pregnant, the powerful Cleveland had her institutionalized, the child placed in an orphanage, all at Cleveland’s expense. The story spread like wildfire around the country, to the delight of Cleveland’s political opponents.
Though painted in the worst possible light, Cleveland couldn’t and wouldn’t deny the story. Halpin actually kept the company of several prominent lawyers, many of them married, including Cleveland’s partner and best friend Oscar Folsom. Folsom was nearly positive the child was his, but to save Folsom and the other men potential martial problems, the bachelor Cleveland took responsibility for the care of the woman and her child, whom she named Oscar Folsom Cleveland.
Cleveland asked a judge to commit Halpin to the bucolic Parkside mental ward only after he was unsuccessful in trying to break her of alcoholism. At Cleveland’s expense, his young ward was place in the finest orphanage to move along his placement with and adoption by a well-to-do family.
These details, however, were only made public decades later. Despite the controversy, Cleveland was elected President, where he was the first man to be married in the White House. Not to Halpin, who continued to hound Cleveland for money, but to Frances Folsom. The daughter of his partner Oscar, Cleveland became her legal guardian when she was 11 years old. She was somewhat scandalously 27 years younger than the President, and, though it wasn’t common knowledge at the time, was likely the half sister of Cleveland’s “son.” For his part, Oscar Folsom Cleveland eventually became a very successful doctor; his education paid for by the man who took a political hit for doing what he thought was the right thing.
A More Modern Hospital
As modern medicine progressed, particularly in the newly developing field of psychiatry, a new state of the art “Asylum” was built in 1905. Bishop Charles Colton was assisted by Msgr. Nelson Baker in laying the cornerstone for what was then known as The Providence Retreat. The building was to be fireproof, and “up to the high standards required by the state… in the treatment of the insane and feeble minded.”
A 1905 Buffalo Express article notes, “The institution is managed by the sisters, under the rules approved by the state commission of lunacy.” The article goes on to talk abut the $300,000 building. “Away in the back, and distinct from the others, are the rooms for violent patients who may be noisy.”
In 1943, the 83 year old Providence Retreat, long the home “for treatment of mental patients,” was closed and converted to a maternity hospital. Upon the opening of Louise de Marillac Hospital, an official told the Buffalo Evening News, “We feel there is more need here for an additional maternity hospital and an enlarged institution for babies than for the care of the mentally afflicted that the Providence Retreat has been carrying on.”
Three years later, ground was broken on another million dollar expansion of the structure that was destined to become the new Sisters Hospital at Main Street and Humboldt Parkway. The new streamlined, modern structure was prepared to combine the efforts of the Louise de Marillac Maternity Hospital and Sisters Hospital. The hospital was on the cutting edge of modernity, with a telephone and radio in every room.
Easily ignored, standing between Sisters Hospital and St Mary’s School for the Deaf is a rather nondescript brick building with a lesser known rich history. Built in 1907-10 as the US Marine Hospital, it’s likely to have gone unnoticed by most passersby for over a century. The building served as a home “owned and operated by the United States Government, and is for general medical service to sailors, marine soldiers, ex-soldiers, marines and merchant seamen” for almost 50 years. Far and away the most common, interwoven maladies amongst the old seadogs were old age and alcoholism.
In three separate incarnations, this building has played, and continues to play, a role in the forefront of medicine. First, as the Marine Hospital, many early strides in anesthesia were made inside the walls of the Parkside institution. Very early in his career, it was here that one of the world’s pioneering anesthesiologists first learned his trade, at a time when the specialty at best was an after thought.
In an article in Anesthesia and Analgesia in 2000, Drs. Ronald Batt and Douglas Bacon write about Dr. Clarence Durshordwe, a World War I veteran who grew up on Buffalo’s East Side and attended UB Medical School.
After medical school, Durshordwe interned at the 68-bed Marine Hospital in Buffalo. On completing his training, he was hired as an assistant surgeon for the Public Health Service. Early in his five years of service, he discovered that the lowest ranking physician was assigned to give anesthetics. Concerned that he might harm a patient, Durshordwe went to Buffalo City Hospital to observe nurse anesthetists administer anesthetics. Toward the end of his tenure at the Marine Hospital, now assigned to perform surgery, Durshordwe found he spent more time worrying about the anesthetic than the surgical procedure.
The mostly self-taught doctor would be one of the men who helped bring together the theories and practice of anesthesia from locations all around the world; where even late into the mid-20th century some physicians around the world still questioned it’s medical value.
Great strides were also made in the fledgling practice of physical therapy when the federally owned hospital was transferred to the state in 1950, and it became the home of UB’s Chronic Disease Institute. It was the area’s first hospital devoted to “physical medicine, the combination of medicine and therapy.” Within 3 years of the doors opening, the institute “achieved remarkable results in restoring to partial or complete usefulness disabled limbs, muscles, and organs, and overcoming speech difficulties.” It was here that many of the tenets of 21st century medicine were first explored locally.
As of 1953, two years before the polio vaccine was announced to the world, and at a time when the diagnosis meant fear, every polio patient brought to the facility in an iron lung was able to gain release from the “cumbersome contrivance.” One arthritis patient, so seriously disabled he was brought into the center on a stretcher, walked out, self-supporting, eight months later; all by virtue on the modern medical theories we now take for granted, first explored locally by our Parkside neighbors.
The Marine Hospital Campus was purchased by Sisters Hospital in 1995 for off-street parking for visitors and employees. While the original plans called for the building to make way for even more parking space, The Parkside Community Association advocated saving the historic structure. This was accomplished when Benedict House was opened at the Main Street location in 1997. It’s mission, as taken from its website in 2008:
The mission of Benedict House is to provide non-discriminatory residential housing opportunities and supportive services for persons living with AIDS in an environment promoting the principles of dignity, respect, understanding, compassion and self-determination.
The fate of the Main Street land immediately north of Jefferson Avenue was sealed when Jesuit Fathers purchased it, described as an “expanse of land and… groves of trees,” as a farm from the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1874. In 1911, the Fathers built Canisius College there, and have been growing it, and buying more land and buildings to expand their campus, ever since.
Though now the gentrified, commanding presence along that portion of Main Street, Canisius College moved to the area at a time when Catholic institutions weren’t necessarily welcomed with open arms in all sections of the city. This wasn’t a problem on this stretch of Main, however, given the fact that the new school was flanked by a well-established Catholic church, Catholic hospitals, several Catholic elementary and high schools, and a convent.
The land was wilderness far beyond the edge of the city when St. Vincent de Paul Parish was founded in 1863. Bishop John Timon and Rev. Joseph Sorg established the church to serve the mostly German quarry men and farmers in the Kensington-Humboldt area. It was, according to the parish’s 100th Anniversary History booklet, “a peaceful, wide open location removed from traffic and congestion of the city.”
As already discussed, three successively larger churches were built over 60 years. The first 1860’s wooden church became the school when a larger brick church was built in 1887. And as the neighborhoods surrounding the church, including Parkside, grew, by 1924, the need developed for yet another, newer, larger church building. The Byzantine-Romanesque style, final home of St Vincent de Paul was opened Thanksgiving Day 1926, with over 5,000 people in attendance. When the church closed in 1993, Canisius College bought the buildings of its old neighbor, and renamed the exquisite Byzantine building the Montante Center.
Also as mentioned, the Sisters of St. Joseph were major developers of Main Street, having first strolled north of the horse-drawn trolley tracks (which then ended at Delevan Avenue) to built their novitiate, south of the church, where Canisius College now stands, and moving the Deaf Mute Institute to the corner of Dewey and Main in 1898. The name was officially changed to St. Mary’s School for the Deaf in 1936, and continues to be the longest continuously operated institution in the Parkside neighborhood.
Aside from teaching at both St Vincent’s and St. Mark in Parkside, The Sisters also ran Mt. St. Joseph’s Elementary and High Schools, founded in 1891. The high school was closed in the mid 1980s, but “Little Mount” survives to this day. The Sisters of St Joseph decided to close the school in 2005, but parents and alumni banded together to keep the school open. The school moved from a building recently torn down on the Canisius campus to the former Central Presbyterian Church complex in 2007.
In 1937, Mount St. Joseph’s Teachers College received its charter from New York State to award degrees in Education. In 1968, the curriculum expanded, men were welcomed to the campus for the first time, and Medaille College was born.
Parkside Historian Michael Riester puts forth the thesis, “As goes Main Street, so goes Parkside.” The following pages will take a look at Main Street in three separate sections: The institutions of the area, the automobile showrooms, and, finally the small businesses; the shops and storefronts where most people did most of their spending and buying of goods and services.
Many modern Parksiders, who just think of the whole area as “Canisius College,” will be surprised to know that the block of Main between Delevan and Jefferson has been home to a brewery, an amusement park, and for over 50 years, a Sears & Roebuck store.
In 1842, Jacob Schaenzlin moved into a brewery built two years earlier at 1857 Main Street, near Scajaquada Creek. This is the present site of the Delavan/Canisius MetroRail station.
Further up the block, and a half century later, at the point where Jefferson Avenue and Main Street meet, stood an amusement park, which was known by at least 3 different names over the decades it was open. First known in the 1890s as Athletic Park, its name was changed first to Carnival Court, then to Luna Park, when it was purchased by the father of the modern amusement park, Frederick Ingersoll. He owned the park from 1904-1920. Among the more popular rides was the “Shoot the Chutes” water ride, which Ingersoll built in all his parks, and was the basis for the modern water flume ride.
The midway of the Carnival Court was heavily damaged by fire in 1909. The fire was briefly mentioned in the New York Times, calling the place a “pleasure resort,” and mentioning the skating rink and the theatre suffered damage in the blaze.
Closed and abandoned by 1920, Sears and Roebuck purchased the property and built a store on the site in 1929. From that Sears store, generations of Parksiders were clothed, and kept in appliances, hardware, paint, and gardening supplies. Sears left in 1980, and four years later, the building became the headquarters for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of WNY. The building, which once housed all that the Sears Catalog had to offer, is now Canisius’ Science Hall.
Of course, following the rail and the streetcar to Parkside soon enough was the automobile. King’s Official Route Book was the Mapquest.com of the early automobile era. It gave new drivers not only street names as far as getting from one place to another, but offered landmarks as well in an era when street signs may not have been the most reliable or varied. In the 1913 edition, the book makes notes of several landmarks you’d see driving on Main Street from downtown through Parkside on your way from Buffalo to Batavia.
Buffalo, N. Y., to Batavia, N. Y.,
38.6 miles, Road mostly all brick and state road.
0 Leave Soldiers’ Monument and Park on right, go north on Main St., following trolley .
0.7 Pass Teck Theater Bldg. on left
2.3 Intersection of trolleys with car barns on right (Cold Springs Street Car Barn)
2.6 Passing hospital on right (Sisters Hospital at original Main/Delevan location)
2.7 and Forest Lawn Cemetery on left
2.8 Pass Carnival Court Park on right (amusement park where Main and Jefferson meet)
3.0 St Vincent of Paul’s Church on right (now Canisius College Montante Cultural Center)
3.1 Mount St. Joseph Academy on left (now Canisius’ Lyons Hall)
3.3 Providence Retreat on right (current site of Sisters Hospital)
3.4 U. S. Marine Hospital on right (currently Benedict House)
3.5 Deaf Mute Institution on right, straight ahead through
3.6 Parkside brick schoolhouse on left ( in current School 54 parking lot)
3.8 Central Presbyterian Church on left (now Mt St Joseph’s Academy)
3.9 Cross cement bridge over R. R.
Between the businesses in the Parkside neighborhood itself, and the business along Main Street, it was possible, for much of the neighborhood’s history, for someone living in the area to not have need to leave the neighborhood for months at a time.
Without Main Street, there would not have been a Flint Hill or a Parkside. While over the last two decades its become the re-invigorated Hertel and Delaware Avenues that are the local shopping and dining destinations for Parksiders, for the 200 years previous, it was Main Street that served most of the needs of the people of the area we now call Parkside.
Over a three year period, third generation Parkside Resident and Definitive Parkside Historian Michael Riester wrote a series of articles, published in the Parkside News, examining the history Parkside’s portion of Main Street and role the stretch of road played in the life of the people of the area through the two centuries since the path was first carved from the wilderness.
(I)n 1850, the city secured vast tracts of Erastus Granger’s farm on Flint Hill (as Parkside was then known.) This land, with its rolling hills, large open meadows, woods, and Scajaquada Creek was considered the most beautiful and scenic in the area. 80 Acres would become Forest Lawn Cemetery, but the land to the north and west of the then-proposed cemetery, including Granger’s meadow and quarry, would be reserved for parkland. It would be some years yet before the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted would draw on its natural beauty to create Delaware Park. “
By the 1880s, once “The Park” was developed, and the modern streets of Parkside were laid out, the character of Main Street changed dramatically. Large homes, like the brick Victorian of the Garris Family at Main and Robie were being erected. The Garris family made their fortune in the Jammerthal quarries near Grider and Kensington.
The Beltline Railway, which helped open up Parkside to development, was eventually too industrial for the sensitivities of the upwardly mobile new residents of Parkside to handle. One of life-long Parkside resident Bob Venneman’s earliest memories was of a 1918 freight train crash. He spoke of the crash with the Parkside News in 1988.
The trains met head-on on a curve opposite the Amherst Station. Dad and Mother walked me up there. All the trees were singed for a long time. Of course, all the tracks were lowered 16 feet in 1909 when Lewis Bennett, the developer of Central Park, objected to the noise of the trains. Wooden stairways led down to the tracks.
That, however, is only part of the story. In the spring 2005 edition of the Parkside News, Michael Riester tells the story of the Beltline tracks having once been embedded in Parkside Avenue—right at grade level crossing Parkside– where the viaduct between Crescent and Linden is now (Above, with street car, 1940s). The story of why that intersection was dug out, and why the viaduct is now there, is a grisly one.
On October 15, 1897, the Scatcherd Daughters, Emily and Dorothy, and their aunt, Miss Emily Wood, were returning from a visit at the William Ball residence at the corner of Depew and Starin Avenues…. The story goes; the carriage driven by Miss Wood proceeded toward Parkside Avenue, where they intended to enter the park. Because of gale force winds that day, the carriage was tightly secured; the side curtains drawn. Mr. Ball noticed a west bound train coming from Main Street, and noticed that because of the wind, the warning whistles were muted, almost negligible. Sensing disaster, Mr. Ball ran after the carriage as it sped towards the Parkside crossing; however, before he could make it, the engine of the train slammed into the carriage containing the two girls and their aunt. With tremendous force, amid the terrible screeching of brakes, the train pushed the carriage and its occupants as far as the Colvin Crossing, where it finally came to a halt. The horrified engineer enlisted the help of the groundskeeper at the nearby Glenny Mansion (now the site of the Nichols Athletic Fields) to recover the lifeless body of little 11 year-old Dorothy. The mangled bodies of her sister Emily and her aunt were rushed to Buffalo General Hospital at the order of Dr. Bainbridge Folwell, who happened to be visiting Mr. Glenny. Miss Emily, age 5, died shortly after being removed from the carriage. Miss Emily Wood was pronounced dead by Dr. Roswell Park.
The father of the little girls, John Scatcherd was to become known as “The Father of the Grade Crossing Commission,” and fought to have grade level tracks eliminated on a city- and state-wide basis. He lived to see the excavation of the road and erection of the Parkside viaduct in 1911, followed shortly thereafter by the elevated bridge at Colvin Avenue. The trains of the Beltline were powerful. One of the engines regularly used along the tracks that surrounded Buffalo was Old’ 999. On a New York Central run between Syracuse and Buffalo in 1893, with Engineer Charles Hogan at the throttle, the 999 set the world speed mark. Its 112.5 miles an hour was the fastest that man had ever traveled up to that point.
While the Beltline was removed from the road, the IRC Trolley was still sharing the roads with horses, carriages, and the occasional automobile. Trolley service started in Parkside when only a few houses dotted the landscape in 1898. The was known through the years as the Kenmore line, the Parkside line, and the Zoo line. By 1911, residents were suing the IRC to get better service to the area. Portions of the lawsuit, as published in State Public Service Commission Documents, are worth including here not only because they show the growth of Parkside, but are also very descriptive of what the area looked like in 1911.
The principal complaint is centered in the irregularity of the service, its insufficiency, and the crowded condition of the cars. The lines complained of leave the Terrace in the city of Buffalo, proceed northerly about 4 1/2 miles upon Main street, turn westerly at Florence avenue to Parkside, to Hertel, through Hertel to Virgil, to Kenmore, and (outbound) to Tonawanda. The service particularly criticized by complainants is that given to residents of that portion of the seventeenth ward through which the lines pass: that is, between the turn off at Main street and Florence avenue and the turn off from Hertel to Virgil. The territory here situated is in a growing part of the city, and it was shown that a number of residences have recently been built in that section. … The territory between the corner of Hertel and Parkside eastward to Main street is well built up in the eastern portion, and several houses have recently been added in the western portion, but it can not be called compactly built territory. On the north side of Hertel avenue there is a long stretch of vacant land practically covering the entire distance from Main street to Parkside avenue. Parkside avenue at its northern end is also very sparsely built up. The residents of this section in going to the business portions of the city must either use the Kenmore-Zoo cars or the Main Street cars. The Main Street service is frequent, and it became evident on the first hearing that if better facilities were furnished to the residents of this portion of the city to get to Main street a considerable number would avail themselves of that method of downtown travel.
Even as the automobile began to grab a foothold as a means of transportation, the trolley remained an important means of moving around the city. Ann Marie Flett, the daughter the grocer Wally, grew up on Russell in the 1940s.
My grandmother used to take my brother Bill and I on the street car downtown. Every Saturday we’d take the trolley to Laube’s Old Spain for lunch, and we’d go to the show to see a movie. Around Christmas time, Mother would take us on the street car down to AM&A’s to see the windows, and all those people downtown. It was always nice.
I loved the street cars. It wobbled back and forth, especially when you crossed onto another street. It went up Parkside, then Florence, then up Main Street downtown, and there was always alot of clickety-clack when it went onto Main Street because there were so many tracks on Main. The cars were well-swept, but a little worn-down. We mostly took the Main cars, but there were street cars on Hertel and Delaware, too.
Streetcar trips by Parkside kids weren’t always adult supervised adventures, though. Tom Malamas, whose family owned The Parkside Candy Shoppe, can recall being one of the many of the youngsters of Parkside scrapping together the few cents necessary to hop on the street car to find out what fun could be had elsewhere in the city. “You could catch the trolley at Parkside and Oakwood, or at Main and Oakwood in front of the Candy Shoppe. I loved those big street cars, but it sure was a wobbly ride.”
The Kenmore/Zoo/Parkside trolley line was abandoned, and buses began following the route in June, 1950. Trolley service stopped in the city on July 1, 1950, replaced by motor busses.
The late Al Kerr spent a lifetime photographing trains, streetcars, and anything having to do with traction, including many of the photos on these pages. Little did he know, that his photographs would serve, decades later, as one of the best glimpses into everyday life in Western New York in the 1940s and 50s. His son, Fred Kerr, said traction was always his dad’s passion.
“He was a train buff, and this all started at a very early age. He lived and grew up in the Kensington area, and he was friends with many train enthusiasts. It became his passion, too. He became involved in the National Railway Historical Society, over which he was a member for over 50 years. He loved railroading, but his passion was traction, and that meant street cars. He traveled all over the United States, collecting timetables, and photographing trains and street cars. Of course he took a great number of photos in the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area.”
“When you have a passion, just like someone who runs marathons, or loves ships, or aviation, it was his hobby. He loved street cars, interurban lines. He loved steam engines, he loved riding trains; he traveled all around North America on trains. He never flew in his life. He loved doing it, he loved giving speeches about trains and street cars. The library at the NHRS Museum in Tonawanda is called the Albert D. Kerr Library.”
When trolley/street car lines were extended past Delavan Avenue towards the city line starting in the 1880’s, Main Street became a clickety-clacking spaghetti-style stretch of interweaving city lines, until the last street cars were removed from service in 1950. 30 years later, mass transit moved under Main Street, and several neighborhood landmarks made way for MetroRail Stations.
One of two houses removed to make way for the MetroRail Humboldt Station, The Frank-Culliton House was an unassuming brick home built circa 1865-1875, and at the time of its demolition in the 1980s was one of the oldest in the area. Mr. Frank’s son was an architect, and designed the neighboring apartment building, which was built to serve visitors to the Pan American Exposition in 1901. The Culliton family bought the home in 1911, moving to Buffalo from Niagara Falls. Culliton was in the stone business, and dredged the track bed for the Beltline Railway, as well as numerous homes and businesses, like the Sears Store at Main and Jefferson (later Blue Cross, now the Canisius Science building), and the Ford Factory (now the Tri-Main Building.) Mike Riester wrote of the house at the time the wrecking ball swung in 1985. “The home’s stately mid-nineteenth century exterior of neat red brick quietly reminded those who passed by of the graciousness of an earlier age, when Main Street was both rural and residential.”
Just as Parkside rattled 70 years before with the blasting out of the Beltline railbed, January, 1982 had the north end of Parkside shaking for track-laying once again for the Amherst Street MetroRail station. At the time, officials projected that it will be the second busiest stop along the MetroRail route, with 9,700 passengers arriving and departing each day. Only the Lafayette Square Station was expected to be busier. While in 2008 the NFTA had no way to quantify the numbers arriving and departing at each stop, spokesman Douglas Hartmeyer says there are approximately 23,000 passengers on the entire Metro Rail system each day.
Parkside had a different feel during this simpler time. There wasn’t a street in the neighborhood without a business of some sort. In many homes, the front parlor served as an office for doctors, dentists, and lawyers, and as a workshop for dressmakers, tailors and even a furrier. And that was just the businesses in the homes of the professionals. The Main Street ends of both West Oakwood Place and Greenfield Streets were dotted with businesses.
On the first block of West Oakwood Place, in 1940, there was a grocer, Beatrice Foley selling gifts, Frank Nashek selling furs, a dry cleaning company, and the Jean Alma Beauty Shop. In 1950, Greenfield Street had Joe Mobilia’s shoe repair shop, Abe Kramer the tailor, George Meyer’s grocery, Frances Wolkiewicz’s variety store and Klein’s Delicatessen.
In 1930, 11 Greenfield Street was home to Flickinger’s; one of the original small shops that would grow later into the Super Duper chain. Flickinger also ran a grocery store at Parkside and Russell, a corner that through much of the neighborhood’s history has also been a traditional business strip. In 1930, there were 4 stores listed as grocers near Parkside and Russell.
As Burt Flickinger and family were looking at their Parkside businesses and thinking bigger, one longtime Russell Avenue grocery was thinking on a small scale; a small scale that would serve it well as a Parkside institution for 50 years.
From 1924 to 1976, the Flett Brothers, Jack and Wally, were literally at the beck and call of Parksiders and North Buffalonians for their grocery needs. While a shopper could walk into the store to shop, it was one special service that the Flett’s kept up long past any of their competitors that kept customers coming.
Long into the era of chain grocery stores, like those pioneered by their one time neighbor Burt Flickinger, Flett’s delivered on orders their customers phoned into the store, usually on old fashioned tab credit. Jack would fill the orders as they came in, and Wally would drive the delivery truck, carrying your groceries to your front door, and even your kitchen table.
The store was in the second building in from Parkside on Russell Ave, next door to the Park Meadow. Wally’s daughter, Ann Marie, fondly remembers her dad at the store. “He could hold beans in his hand, and tell you when there was a pound. They had fresh fruit and vegetables, and canned goods, and they had the butcher shop. Once the supermarkets started coming in, it was just the delivery service that kept them going, because they could just pickup the phone and have their groceries delivered. There were a lot of wealthy customers who didn’t mind paying a little more to have their groceries delivered.”
Ironically, the site of the current grocer on Parkside, wasn’t the site of one of the dozen or so grocers in the neighborhood over the years. Before Wilson Farms stood on Parkside, the lot was the home of a Hygrade (and later Gulf) filling station and garage from the 1920s until 1976, when the current building was erected. It’s fondly remembered by generations of Parkside kids as the place to fill up bicycle tires at the always free air pump.
While many kids made their first dimes working at the area grocery stores, a very young Bob Venneman worked at a different Parkside landmark. He was a stock boy at the Fairfield Library, at Fairfield and Amherst Streets. On payday Friday, he’d go to Unterecker’s (later The Stuffed Mushroom, then Shawn B’s, at Main Street and Orchard Place) for a 15 cent ice cream sundae. He quit that job with the depression hit and his pay was cut back to 19 cents.
The Fairfield Library, opened in 1925, and shutdown by the Buffalo and Erie County Library in 2005, was designed by Parkside resident William Sydney Wicks.
Originally Parkside Unitarian Church when the doors opened in 1897, the building is considered one of the area’s finest examples of New England Colonial architecture. In 1912, the building became the home of the Parkside Evangelical Lutheran Church. A dozen years later, in 1924, the building was purchased by the city and opened as a library in 1925. The building was enlarged in 1961 to accommodate more books, but the Fairfield Library was closed but the Buffalo and Erie County Library in 2005 in the midst of an Erie County budget crisis. When built, it was one of many churches to be built in the Parkside neighborhood as the community grew.
The church was built by the man greatly responsible for developing Parkside’s neighbor to the north; north of the Beltline tracks, that is. There lies the Lewis J. Bennett-designed and developed neighborhood Central Park. The owner of Buffalo Cement began planning the neighborhood in 1889, taking four years and $300,000 to lay out streets, plant 1200 elm trees, blast out bedrock, and built the four stone markers to delineate the original boundaries of this exclusive neighborhood. Strict zoning ordinances set forth by Bennett called for homes of at least 2 stories, with barns in the rear of all residences. Specific price structures were also established, with homes on Depew to cost a minimum of $4000, on Main Street $3500, and on Starin, $2500.
A vice-president of Pierce-Arrow, Mr. Henry May, lived at 290 Depew Avenue. Many Parksiders and Central Park residents became used to Mr. May driving through the streets of the neighborhood on a drivable chassis without a body, working out the kinks in the latest Pierce-Arrow models before they went to production.
The train station at Starin and Amherst belonged to the Buffalo Cement Company and was leased out to the New York Central Railroad. Once the Beltline discontinued service in the 20’s, the station was sold to the Boy Scouts and used as the headquarters for Troop 12 until well after World War II. The structure remains the last standing station house that served the Beltline railway.
Indirectly, Bennett also played a role in the development of Parkside, but mostly by his unwillingness to accept a Roman Catholic church into the community he was developing.
In 1908, Buffalo’s Catholic Bishop, Charles Colton, wrote of his desire to start a new parish in “the Central Park area of Buffalo,” either to be called Epiphany, or St. Mark’s. Bennett had reserved triangular islands of land throughout Central Park, upon which churches were meant to be built. Parkside Lutheran, for example, is one those “churches on an island,” where Depew Avenue, Wallace Avenue, and Linden Avenue all meet.
The people of St. Mark and the Buffalo Catholic Diocese inquired about one such island, at Beard, Starin, and Morris. Developer Bennett, whose own strong Unitarian views were greatly at odds with Catholicism, refused to allow a Catholic church on his property, or anywhere in his Central Park development.
Fearing similar responses to overtures across Amherst Street in the Parkside Neighborhood, the founders of St. Mark’s went cloak and dagger, and perhaps by stretching the truth in a few places, were able to buy several lots only two blocks away from that initially desired triangular lot, this one at Woodward Avenue and Amherst Street.
A very young priest, Fr. John McMahon, was offered the chance to become pastor of the parish. His background as pastor at Mt. Carmel Church would serve him well. Mt. Carmel was down near the Commercial Slip in Buffalo’s rough and tumble waterfront /canal district, right next to where the Crystal Beach boat would dock. The area, known as “The Hooks” in those times, was filled with interesting characters from many different walks of life, while Parkside and Central Park were still greatly undeveloped. It was many of these rough and tumble sorts who made up the 30 or 40 families who started St. Mark’s. The families were mostly those of men who were dockworkers at the commercial slip at the canal terminal. There were also 70 or 80 servants, virtually all Irish, among the congregation. They were the maids and butlers in the larger Parkside and later Central Park homes.
St. Mark was a mostly Irish parish, which differentiated it from the other close by parishes like the former St Vincent De Paul (the building is now The Montante Center on the Canisius College Campus) and Blessed Trinity Church (on Leroy Street) which were mostly German parishes. The new parish began June 25, 1908.
Almost immediately, parishioners started raising money for a permanent church. In 1914, ground was broken; work was completed the next year. The statuary near the altar of the current church– likenesses of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Anthony– were the only artifacts that made their way from the original church to the current building. It was at this time that the rectory, a wooden frame Parkside Home that predates St Mark’s, had a stone facade built up, to give it the same look as the church.
St. Mark was different from other new parishes of the time, in that the parishioners built a stand alone church first without a school. Many new parishes of the time, like North Buffalo neighbors St Margaret’s and Holy Spirit, built combination church/schools, with the church on one floor, the school on another. Parishioners settled on waiting a few years for a school, which was built in 1920-21, and still stands today. That first pastor, Father McMahon, would spend 20 years at St Marks, until he was named the Bishop of Trenton, NJ in 1928.
Presbyterians also have a long history in Parkside. A long time neighbor at Main Street and Jewett Parkway, Central Presbyterian Church was founded in 1835 by a group of 29 folks looking for a more conservative theology than that which was being presented at the more liberal “new school” First Presbyterian. They organized as Pearl Street Presbyterian, and their first church was a large log cabin just north of Genesee Street. Under the 38 year leadership of their first pastor, The Rev. D. John C. Lord, the church remained the only “old school” church in the area. A new church was built in 1837, then another in 1852, at the corner of Genesee and Pearl Streets, on the site of the current Hyatt Hotel.
While by 1900 the membership had grown to over 600, the quick turnover of several ministers, and a 1906 fire at the Pearl Street home of Central Presbyterian Church left the congregation with a rapidly dwindling number, and in some financial difficulty.
Park Presbyterian Church was organized in Parkside in 1893, and worshipped at Parker’s Hall at Main and Oakwood Streets. A small church was built on Elam Place in 1897.
In 1909, the congregants at Central and Park voted to merge. The Pearl Street building owned by Central was sold to the Shea Amusement Company, and by 1911, the combined church, under the name Central Presbyterian, began worship in a new church at the corner of Main Street and Jewett Parkway(currently Mt. St. Joseph’s Academy). In 1914, the church had a membership of 688, but over the ensuing 12 years, “enjoyed a phenomenal growth which is without parallel in the history of (the) denomination.”
The explosive growth was almost immediate. By 1926, only 14 years later, the numbers had swollen to an amazing 3,378. The relatively new building had to be enlarged to fit the larger flock. The almost inconceivable plan to do so was so incredible, that the producers of MovieTone News shot the feat to be included in news reels all around the country. The stone facade of the church was moved 40 feet closer to Main Street, all in one piece.
A new pastor, The Rev. Dr. Robert MacAlpine, and his charming personality were largely responsible for the growth. MacAlpine had radio broadcast equipment installed in the church at a time when the medium was still a novelty, sending his voice and message near and far to those listening on “wireless sets” all over Western New York, inspiring them to come to Sunday Services at Central Pres. Ten stained glass windows were added in 1940, in 1957, the school building was added behind the church.
Buffalo’s population doubled in size between 1890 and 1930, and one of the city’s hottest new neighborhoods was there to help absorb the growth. Around the turn of the century, a Parkside address became very desirable, and unlike other parts of the city where a single developer or builder put up an entire neighborhood, in Parkside, each individual land owner hired their own architect and builder, creating the architecturally varied place that still makes Parkside unique.
Prominent architects like Stanford White, Esenwein & Johnson, Max Beirel and E.B. Green built many houses to impress throughout the neighborhood, many with third floor or basement quarters for servants. When built, the neighborhood attracted many prominent Buffalonians. Names familiar generations later, like Mathias Hens and Patrick Kelly. Yes, Hens and Kelly lived on Summit and Crescent respectively, where their backyards touched. While many generations of Buffalonians associate 998 Broadway with the name Sattlers, Mr. Sattler made his home in Parkside, as did William Simon of the Simon Pure Brewing Company. The Mayor of Buffalo and founder of the Holling Press, Thomas Holling, also lived in Parkside at One Agassiz Circle.
But for all the amazing architecture and wealthy citizens Parkside attracted, the neighborhood also welcomed those of a more middle class means. School teachers, plant workers, and food brokers made their homes in Parkside as well as lumber and machining magnates.
A stroll through the community is a primer in fifty years worth of popular residential, church, and commercial architecture. From late Victorian and Queen Anne, down the line to Shingle, Bungalow, Prairie, Romanesque Revival, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, right up to the venerable and well represented American Four-Square; all are on display in the living museum that is the neighborhood.
With people and their homes, came the supporting businesses and organizations to the neighborhood to service the new community. It was a transition from outlying outpost to hot-to-trot city neighborhood, and it was a change at least one Parksider watched from beginning to almost present day.
Bob Venneman was born in 1912 on Amherst Street in a house built by his father. A long time friend of Parkside, Venneman died in 1998, and his lifetime of memories provide a singular view of the change the neighborhood has seen. He spoke of his memories of the tavern and stage coach near East Oakwood on Main, with a blacksmith shop close by, and the handful of businesses in the three story red brick building that stood where the Amherst Street Metro Rail station now stands.
In a 1988 interview with the Parkside News, Venneman talked about the chestnut trees that grew between the houses and sidewalks all up and down Main, and the elms between the sidewalks and the streets. He said many of the trees didn’t make it when Main was widened in 1931. Growing up, he said, the Parkside neighborhood looked very much the same as today. North of Hertel, though, he remembers there being practically nothing.
Venneman also remembered walking past the original Park School, which was on the “Willowlawn” property on Main Street between Willowlawn and Jewett Parkway, before it was developed for the housing that is currently on the block. “It was a fresh air school, composed of five or six shelters, only one of which had heat. In the winter, children sat at their desks wearing a garment similar to a sleeping bag. They learned to print using mittens. They went a bit over-board on the fresh air.” The school moved to the corner in 1913, but had moved to Snyder by 1920. Shortly thereafter, the homes currently on the block were erected.
A few blocks away, meanwhile, another private school was moving to Parkside; this one a fixture in the neighborhood to this day. Nichols has been a Parkside neighbor for a century.
An account of the day says “Several Buffalo men joined forces to buy the Glenny property at Amherst Street and Colvin Avenue; an ideal locality for a school of the kind is the wooded land lying north of the park and Amherst Street.” The Nichols School was named for its first headmaster, William Nichols, who began the school in 1892. He had died the year before buildings on the present campus opened in 1909.
In 1902, the corner of Summit Avenue and Jewett Parkway saw construction begin on what was to become Parkside’s most famous landmark, as the complex of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for his great patron Darwin Martin began to rise from the earth.
A prominent figure in the organization of the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, and eventually tabbed by President Wilson for a National Defense post during the First World War, Darwin Martin moved to Parkside in 1897. He built his first house about a block north of the home now known as the “Darwin Martin House,” at 151 Summit Avenue.
An executive at the nationally popular and successful Larkin Soap Company, Martin was a millionaire by the turn of the century, and decided to build a home commensurate with his family’s lifestyle and their place in Buffalo Society. Having come from a broken home and spending his youth working in a host of odd jobs, Martin also hoped to provide room on his new sprawling estate for his extended family, including his brothers and sisters.
After flying to Chicago to meet with the young Frank Lloyd Wright, Martin commissioned him to build his sister a home. The Barton House, built for Martin’s sister Delta and her husband, George Barton, was the first of several buildings erected on the Martin Complex in 1902. She was the only Martin sibling to take him up on his offer of a home in Parkside.
The complex, complete with the main home, the Barton House, a Gardener’s Cottage, a carriage house, a pergola, a conservatory, a stable, and a porte-cochere, was Wright’s most expansive prairie style project, and one of the largest home complexes he ever built.
The home’s “Tree of Life” windows are instantly recognizable the world ’round.By 1906, the main house– The Darwin Martin House– was ready for move-in by the family. It’s low, horizontal-lined Prairie style design was (and is) certainly a contrast with the more traditional home styles in the neighborhood.
While many scholars have often looked to the architectural masterpiece as Wright’s finest example in the Prairie style, the biggest endorsement came from Wright himself. Plans for the Martin House long hung in on his office wall, described by the architect as “a well-nigh perfect composition.”
Martin would also have Wright design his lakeshore summer home, Graycliff, in Derby, in 1927. It was also almost entirely on Martin’s word that Wright was retained to build the Larkin Headquarters on Seneca Street.
The pioneering office building was torn down in 1950. Eventually, over a lifetime of patronage, Martin was either directly or indirectly responsible for the commission of at least 15 Wright buildings. When Darwin Martin lay dying in 1935, Wright wrote to Martin’s wife Isabel that their friendship was a “blessed relationship to treasure and travel on.”