Anson Blackman was a farmer and horseman, born in Marilla and later working the East Aurora stables of CJ Hamlin. He was a heavily bearded gentle old man who was a friend to small children and animals.
Roycroft founder Elbert Hubbard hired the unlettered farmhand him to take care of the horses and do handiwork for his burgeoning Arts & Crafts community in East Aurora. Blackman’s job grew to include picking up visitors at the train station, sometimes in an ox cart. It was all a part of “the buildup” for what people might expect at Roycroft, and what would pass as marketing today.
Blackman also helped care for Hubbard’s kids—who when small called him Baba. After filling his pipe with another man’s tobacco, Blackman earned the nickname “Ali” Baba, as taken from the Forty Thieves story. Hubbard began writing about Ali Baba as a sage and salty philosopher, and Blackman’s responsibilities grew from taking care of the animals to being a personal valet and travel companion for Hubbard, who mixed Blackman’s earthy image with plenty of his own thoughts making the character a sort of Hubbard alter ego. Ali Baba appeared on Roycroft postcards, and was a constant presence on the campus for more than three decades.
The tales of Ali Baba first started appearing in print in the 1890s. By the time this photo appeared in The News in 1922, Blackman was world-renown, and throwback to an earlier halcyon time at the East Aurora campus.
Buffalo Stories Archives
Well into his 80s, Blackman was a familiar face in East Aurora, and sought out by visitors. In 1924, The News said he “exemplified the Roycroft spirit.”
Ali does all the talking, you merely listen. He takes you info his den and shows you pictures of the early Roycrofters, the Hubbard family, letters and pictures that men and women famous in art and literature have given him.
One minute he tells you Elbert Hubbard in writing that book has made a burlesque of his life. The next he readily admits he actually said all the quaint bits of philosophy Fra Albertus attributed to him.
Another News article described him this way:
Ali Baba is a great man. There is some reason to believe he regards himself, and not without reason perhaps, as the only sane man associated with the Roycrofters. He was Hubbard’s hired man in the early days of the stock farm. He is a hard headed, broad shouldered, grizzled farmer on whom has grown a great sense of responsibility as he has pondered on the seeming irresponsibility with which he is surrounded.
It’s difficult to parse the Hubbard created anecdotes and the actual item as far as Ali Baba is concerned, a look one story in particular, shared at the time of his death, offers a look at the rough-hewn charm of the real man.
“One day as he was busy around the plant a nice elderly lady came up to him and adjusting her eyeglasses looked “Ali Baba” over and asked: “My good man, will you please tell me what denomination this church is?”
“Baba” whirled around, nettled at such crass ignorance, and exclaimed, “Holy smoke, misses! This ain’t no church. This place does more good than all the dam churches in town—this is the Roycroft Shop!”
In 1923, there were 181,300 people of Polish extraction living “out Broadway”— the shorthand for what many in Buffalo proper also called “the Polish Colony,” metaphorically centered by St. Stanislaus Church and the Broadway/Fillmore intersection.
For the rest of the half-million plus people who lived in Buffalo, the Polish were at best a very foreign group whose language and customs seemed swathed in mystery. At worst, the Polish were a hard-working but lesser people who – aside from laboring in factories, mills and foundries – were best to stay in “Polacktown, where there are more children in the streets than in the yards.”
“Trouble in Polacktown” Buffalo Evening News front page, 1883. Buffalo Stories archives
Beth Stewart was among Buffalo’s first female newspaper reporters and later became a feature reporter for the Courier-Express. She married fellow Courier reporter Gordon Hollyer and served as the public relations director for the YMCA through most of the 1950s and ’60s.
Among her first series of feature reports was a three-part series on “the large and growing Polish colony of Buffalo.” It was a sympathetic and celebratory look at Buffalo’s Polonia, giving many outside the Polish neighborhoods their first opportunity to have a comprehensive understanding of how their Buffalo neighbors lived.
The Polish people were without their own nation for the entire 19th century. Poland was carved up between the Prussian, Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires.
The first big wave of Polish immigrants to Buffalo came from Prussian Germany after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck made it more difficult for the Roman Catholic ethnic Poles to freely practice their religion.
A wave of Poles from the Austrian province of Galicia started coming to Buffalo in 1882. Russian Poles started arriving en masse in 1905.
Buffalo’s first Polish councilman and later assemblyman James Rozan remembered coming to Buffalo as a boy in 1872. His family was one of a dozen or living in the mostly German Fruit Belt neighborhood.
Fourteen years later, when St. Stanislaus church was built at Peckham and Townsend Streets as Buffalo’s first Polish church in 1886, there were 19,000 Poles in the city, mostly living near St. Stan’s.
By 1923, there were 27 Polish churches for the roughly 380,000 Poles spread across the East Side, Black Rock, Elk Street, Seneca Street, Lackawanna, Dunkirk, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, Cheektowaga and Depew.
Without much explanation other than just printing the Polish names without translation, Stewart wrote that the larger Polish community, first built around St. Stan’s, was further split into seven communities that would be readily understood by those who lived among them.
The first was Stanislawowo—members of St. Stanislaus Church. Then was Kantowo, from parishioners of St. John Kanty. Members of St. Adalbert’s were from Wojciechowo, Pietrowo was made up of the members of Holy Apostles Ss. Peter and Paul Church at Clinton and Smith.
St. Casimir’s in Kaisertown made up Kazimierzowo. The community surrounding St. John Gualbert in Cheektowaga was Gwalbertowo. Black Rock was directly translated into Polish as Czarna Skala.
But however far-flung, Broadway and Fillmore remained “the Polish Main Street and Delaware Avenue” for Buffalo’s Polish population. The business district there was equivalent to the main street of a mid-sized northeast city. Polonia boasted 2,930 Polish-owned businesses and 14 community banks.
Right at that intersection was the building created as a hub of Polonia-wide activity. Translated, Dom Polski means “Polish home.” The substantial edifice opened as “The Polish Literary and Assembly Rooms Association, Inc” in 1889, replacing a refashioned barn used for the same purpose for at least a decade before.
Rather than an organization itself, the Dom Polski was the home of the Polish library and fraternal groups like Kolko Polek—the Polish Women’s Circle, Polskich Krawcow—the Polish Tailors, Sokol Polski—The Polish Falcons, Szewcy Polski—The Polish Shoemakers, and the Polish National Alliance.
It was a place on a Sunday night where you might find a half-dozen small family dinner parties in the different rooms and men smoking and playing billiards in the library. It was the Polish equivalent of the clubs on Delaware Avenue which routinely denied membership to most Polish-Americans past the middle of the twentieth century.
Much like their uptown counterparts, the members of the various clubs of the Dom Polski worked together to make their community a better place. One such effort was lobbying for a high school for the 6,000 Polish-American children in the Buffalo School system in 1923. They were fighting against the notion that the educational needs of Polish-Americans could be addressed by the city’s vocational schools. In 1926, East High School opened to serve the children of East Buffalo.
One of the amplified voices of Buffalo’s Polish population was “Everybody’s Daily,” a Polish newspaper with a circulation of 26,000.
“The paper is a force in the colony,” wrote Stewart. “It has enemies and many friends. It proclaims a policy of honest advertising. It fights for community interests—civic, political, educational, and religious.”
One still familiar institution is the Adam Mickiewicz Literary and Dramatic Circle. It still survives on Fillmore Avenue, but it was once one of many such organizations. Singing societies were also a popular element of Buffalo’s Polonia population in the mid-1920s, and one through which a greater number of Buffalonians were introduced to some Polish customs.
The Aleksander Fredro Literary and Dramatic Circle was a Mickiewicz-like group in Kaisertown. The Moniuszko was Polonia’s first singing society, and in 1923, headquartered at 570 Fillmore. The Chopin singers were at Broadway and Lathrop. There were also the Kalina, Lutnia, Lirnik, Harmonia, and Jutrzenka societies among others.
The Poles of 1923 weren’t just joiners of Polish groups—most of Buffalo’s 4,000 Polish-American World War I vets belonged to the American Legion. Adam Plewacki Post 799 was among the city’s “most active and lively posts,” and 98 percent Polish in membership.
Plewacki, who lived on Best Street, was the first Buffalonian killed in World War I. The post named in his honor worked to “cultivate the love of American ideals in foreigners,” working to “Americanize” immigrants beyond just proficiency in English.
If Buffalo’s landed class could appreciate anything about the people of Polonia, it was the way that most worked quickly to buy land, and then maintain and improve property once owned.
“Polish colonists are not merely home owners,” wrote Stewart, “they are improvers of communities. A piece of land is more than a commercial investment to the Polish buyer. It is a plot to be made his own, a place where a home may be built and trees and shrubs set out for beauty.”
“Fillmore Avenue, wide and shaded, set off on both sides by neat residences, is proof of the Polish ability to build up attractive communities.”
Clearly, Beth Stewart thought she was writing to an audience that—if they thought anything at all– thought very little of the Polish people. She wrapped up her 20,000 words worth of reporting with a glowing summary of her expedition “out Broadway.”
“The Poles in Buffalo have achieved much of which they may well feel proud. They built up a great and prosperous community—a city within a city.
“They have given to the city of their adoption distinguished professional men, sober industrious workers, artists, gallant soldiers.
“They have added to the beauty of the city turreted churches, dignified homes, and fine public buildings.
“They have borne themselves in a manner which leaves the city no room for regret that one-third of its population once bore allegiance to a foreign land.”
Court House. From a series of Buffalo drawings from 1855.
Buffalo Light House
Niagara Railroad Depot
First Baptist Church- North Street at N.Pearl
Aerial view of Downtown. Notice there is no Convention Center… Genesee Street goes right to Niagara Square without interruption.
Albright Museum & State Teachers College. Look at all those trees… Now parking lots.
Arnholt’s Restaurant, 299 Washington St. opposite the Ellicott Square Building. Now a parking lot.
Arrival of Fire Dept on Genesee St., Fighting fires with horse & buggy.
Baby Furntiture Store, 1294 Hertel Ave
Buffalo Raceway, under the lights
Bisons Base-Ball Park, Offermann Stadium
Broadway& Fillmore Avenues. This intersection is much more the same than many others, Except the donkey and the trolley tracks. This is standing with your back to downtown looking at the Broadway Market.
Broadway Looking West… Nice trolley
The Broadway Market. Note Kleinhans on the front umbrella.
Buffalo Harbor Showing Coal docks
Harbor Scene: Grain Elevators and Steam Ships
Harbor Scene: Real photo this time
The Harbor: ladies in a rowboat
The Ship Channel
1960s Tug Boats, The Oklahoma and the North Carolina in Buffalo Harbor
Entrance to the Harbor
Another Harbor Scene
The Americana: Sailing between Buffalo and Crystal Beach (more in the Crystal Beach section)
Buffalo Yacht Club
The Dakota Elevator
Buffalo Fire Boat in Action
Same card as previous with different coloring… common in old postcards.
Concrete Grain Elevators
Jack Knife Bridge, Kellogg Grain Elevator… This is Michigan Ave, just past the new casino heading away from downtown.
Jack Knife Bridge. Given the number of different postcards I’ve seen of this bridge, It must have been impressive in its day
More Jack Knife Bridge
Jack Knife Bridge
Jack Knife Bridge 1950s, a cool later view
The Buffalo Harbor Lighthouse. One of Buffalo’s oldest still-standing structures.
Two Lighthouses. Again, the more familiar one stil stands across the Harbor from the Hatch
Mouth of the Harbor Using the Lighthouse for bearing, the Aud site is out of site just to the right
NYCRR yards near the waterfront. Train tracks criss-crossed the waterfront area.
New Locks. The old Intl RR Bridge.
Buffalo Harbor Stereocard. Stereocards were placed in a binocular-like device and the images would appear.
Unloading Iron Ore
View from the Harbor. That’s St. Joseph’s Cathedral with the twin spires just right of the middle
After the storm of Jan 20, 1907
Yacht Race with the Yacht Club in the background
Entrance to the Harbor
Entrance to Harbor. Real Photo version of previous card
Buffalo Airport. Built in 1939 as a WPA project, it was expanded in 1955, 1961, 1971, and 1977…
Buffalo Airport. This building was replaced in 1997 by the current terminal. The current building is slightly to the west of where this building stood.
Greater Buffalo International Airport. The Name was changed from Buffalo Municipal Airport when the city handed the airport over to the predecessor to the NFTA in 1959. It became the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in 1996.
Original Terminal. This would eventually be known as the “East Terminal,” with a west terminal built in the 70s to alleviate over crowding.
Buffalo General Hospital.
Buffalo State Hospital. Now known as the HH Richardson complex, located on Forest Ave near Elmwood.
Boarding the Americana. The ferry to Crystal Beach left the foot of Main Street. The Aud and the Metro Rail would be in this shot…
Canadiana At Dock. You’d take the Americana or the Canadiana from the foot of Main to the Dock at Crystal Beach
The Americana coming….
And the Canadiana going…
Entrance Midway Entrance. Crystal Beach thrilled the people of Southern Ontario and Western New York from 1888-1989.
Crystal Beach Midway. Despite 70 years difference, the midway didn’t look all that different when it eventually closed.
Arriving at Crystal Beach
The Crystal Beach Pier in winter
Athletic Field at Crystal Beach. The Coaster in the background was known as the Backety-Back.
Bathers on Crystal Beach
Bathers as the Canadiana approaches
Bathers and Boat
1940s view: Bathers and Canadiana
Buffalo’s Coney Island: Crystal Beach. Close up View of the Backety-Back
Two-level Boardwalk and Pier
Union Station Ride
Real Picture card of Customs House. Taken from either Canadiana or Americana
After the Customs House on the Pier
The Pier. You can see the deck chairs in this shot.
Crystal Beach Divers. This doesn’t appear safe…
Jolly Bathers at Crystal Beach. Notice the cottages along the beach…
Entrance to the Midway
More from the Midway
Midway. This One’s very familiar to me… Even only with memories of the 80s at CB
Another Midway Scene
Again on the Midway
Razzle Dazzle. An Early amusement that looks to be unsafe.
Moonlight on Lake Erie. What a way to end a Crystal Beach date…
Cazenovia Park Casino. The water is no longer there… This side of the building faces the creek
Cazenovia Park. This is at the end of the ball diamonds… Basically a bathroom hut as far as I remember it 25 years ago. This is where our grandpa taught my brother and me to “not touch anything” in the public restrooms.
Cazenovia Bridge. This looks alot like the area below the current Cazenovia St. (not Pkwy) Bridge…
Cazenovia Park 1922.
Central Terminal. Here are several views of the building’s exterior…
Central Terminal Cocktail Lounge. Inside the attractive Martin’s Restaurant
Central Terminal Lunch Counters
Central Terminal Main Concourse
Central Terminal Main Entrance
Chamber of Commerce Bldg
Childrens Hospital. Nice Tin Lizzy there…
Chippewa at Delaware. To get this view, stand in Starbucks Parking lot… The rounded building is Bada Bing these days… The Hampton Inn is now across the street.
Chippewa & Main. For this view now, as you drive up Chippewa from the 33 towards the bars, look to the right as you cross the Metro rail tracks. Note the Buffalo Marquee…
Chippewa%2CWashinton%2CGenesee Chippewa, Washinton, & Genesee Sts. This intersection looks as confusing then as it does now. I don’t think any of that clump of buildings is still there… All parking lots or the M&T Building across from TGI Friday’s.
Chippewa Market. The Chippewa Market is now the parking lot across Washington from TGI Fridays.
Chippewa Market. Look for St Michael’s church the next time your stopped at Chippewa and Washington.
Chippewa Washington Market
City Trust Company Building. Shelton Square, Main at Niagara.
Civic Stadium, aka The Rockpile. Before the second level was added.
Civil War Arch
Civil War Arch Close Up
Clay Robinson Co of East Buffalo
Commodore Perry on Lake Erie
Corner Niagara & Franklin
CornerPearl%26WTupper Corner Pearl & West Tupper
Buffalo Country Club
Courier express Birthday Club
Courier Express Bldg (Now the Building houses the Catholic Diocesan Offices
Sheas Theatre on Court St. Condemned to make way for Liberty Building
Sheas on Court Street
DL&W trolley car
Deaconess Hopsital 1914
311 Delaware Ave: Chez Ami
Same Chez Ami image… this one actual photo
Chez Ami back
Chez Ami. Other side of the bar
Delaware Ave Delaware–Buffalo–Park
Delaware–Buffalo–Park Delaware Park
DelawareAve%26North Delaware Ave at North
Delaware Ave Homes
Delaware Ave Homes
Delaware Ave Homes
Delaware Ave At Chippewa
Delaware Ave At Edward
Delaware Ave At Johnson Park. Mayor Johnson’s House is long gone.
Bishop Colton’s House, Now Blessed Sacrament Church’s Rectory, just north of W Utica
Bishop Colton’s House
Bridge Over Delaware Ave. Under Scajaquada Parkway then, now Scajaquada Expressway
Erie County Jail
Ford Hotel, Delaware at Chippewa.
Delaware Ave at Kenmore
Delaware Ave North From Summer
Delaware Ave North From Summer
Delaware Ave North from North
Temple Beth Zion. This building burned to the ground, the current temple was built down the street.
Wilcox House. President Roosevelt was inaugurated here following President McKinley’s death further up Delaware at the Milburn Home.
In 1959, the Niagara Frontier Bottling Association took out an ad to remind Western New York’s children to bug their parents about returning soft drink bottles promptly.
The Niagara Frontier Bottling Association had 21 members, including the giant names of Coca-Cola, Pepsi and 7-Up, but also much smaller local operations like Visniak, Queen-O and Oscar’s. Just as breweries offered home delivery for committed patrons, many pop bottlers would also drop off soda by the case at your doorstep.
“Ask mother to let you return them and collect the cash deposits,” says the caption next to the happy boy and girl pulling a wagon filled with pop-bottle gold.
Luckily for us nearly 60 years later, not everyone heeded that “bring the bottle back” advice – and many of the classic bottles from long-gone pop makers are still kicking around.
Len Mattie and his wife, Nancy Abramo, run the Parkside Meadow Restaurant. Throughout the classic neighborhood corner tavern, Mattie has displayed what is possibly Western New York’s largest public collection of local pop bottles – among them most of the brand names mentioned in the ad.
Here are some of those bottles as displayed inside the Parkside Meadow:
Ma’s was one of several pops bottled by the New York Beverage Company on Katherine Street in the First Ward.
Kist was bottled by Goddard/Kist in Buffalo. Black Rock Pop was bottled by Black Rock Beverages on Hertel Avenue. Visniak was bottled by Saturn-Visniak Bottling on Fillmore Avenue.
From left: Wethy’s was bottled by Queen City Pure Water; Sea Beverages is from Buffalo; Hi-Hat Beverage was at 416 Chicago St.; Hi Grade Beverage was on Fougron Street on the East Side; Young-O Beverages was based in a garage on Hickory Street; Coleman’s Beverage was on Rhode Island Street on the West Side; Sunny Kid Beverages were bottled by Broad-Smith, 528 Genesee St.
From left: Mission Beverages was located at 127 Kehr St.; Dr. Swett’s was based in Boston, Mass.; Sol Lenzner’s Queen-O was produced at 636 Genesee St.; King Orange Soda was bottled locally by Fillmore Bottling Company.
The Smith & Clody and Vartray ginger beer stoneware bottles date from the turn of the century.
Wulf’s Beverages was based in North Tonawanda. The Fillmore Bottling Works was at 581 Fillmore Ave.
It’s not the most eloquent title, but you knew exactly what I was talking about, didn’t you?
People have been asking “what is that thing?” since before the Peace Bridge was built.
From Fort Erie: Water intake pier for the City of Buffalo before the building of the Peace Bridge. That’s Fort Porter, which was torn down to make way for the Peace Bridge plaza. Buffalo Stories archives
Since the current water intake building opened in 1913, the old one now next to the Peace Bridge has slowly deteriorated, to the point where it’s little more than a concrete stump in the middle of the Niagara River today.
The current Buffalo water intake, which feeds water to the Col. Ward Pumping Station to supply Buffalo with water. (Derek Gee/News file photo)
The Peace Bridge was dedicated by the Prince of Wales in 1927. Nine years later, he became King Edward VIII, but abdicated 11 months later to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. He was the uncle to Queen Elizabeth.
There’s a definitive visceral satisfaction and joy in watching a machine operated by your own hands so completely defeating Mother Nature.
Of course, snow removal is only poetic when there’s a few inches of the stuff and it’s a windless 32 degrees.
It’s fleeting and wonderful, so I do my best to fully enjoy it when the unlikely great conditions make for a delightful snow blow.
Even slightly more snow, calm wind, or a few degrees falling off the thermometer can easily turn happy, bloviatious SAT word-laden thoughts into gutturally spewed Anglo-Saxon words. But you can’t have one without the other.
There’s no way to feel the fullest high of an easy snow removal without having unfurled a deeply painful and cold “SONAVABITCH” at the senselessness and stupidity of living in such a place as this.
True Buffalove means, to apocryphally paraphrase Marilyn Monroe, if you can’t handle Buffalo at its worst, maybe you don’t deserve it at its best.
And either way, there’s always the notion that post-snow blowing is the only acceptable time for me to take my pants off in the kitchen. And Bailey’s hot chocolate or a Manhattan.
John Zach’s Buffalo broadcasting career has spread over seven decades, starting in the late 50’s as a volunteer in the early days of public broadcasting at Channel 17.
When he walks away on December 30th to spend more time with his chickens (and his grandkids, I assume), he takes with him the last vestige of a great era in Buffalo radio.
He learned the craft of radio and radio news from men who treated their jobs in radio like their friends and neighbors treated their jobs at the plant or the office. Buckle down, do your job with all you’ve got and with the highest attention to detail and quality, shut your mouth and get it done with as little nonsense and frill as possible.
For quite some time now, John has been the defiant last holdout of that generation still grinding away in the news mill every day– to the point where there aren’t even many folks left who started ten or twenty years after John did still at work in broadcast news in Buffalo.
The sound and sensibility he has brought to Western New York microphones for nearly 60 years is unmistakable. That unique richness and breadth his presence has added to the tableau of media and journalism in Buffalo will be forever missed from our airwaves and news coverage.
Your chickens and grandkids will like to see more of you, John, and I can assume you won’t mind seeing more of your pillow in the 3am hour. That, however, leaves the rest of us to miss you and your daily presence in our lives.
One fact is not in doubt — Buffalo’s first ice cream soda fountain was opened at the Stoddart Bros. Drug Store at 84 Seneca St., and the Stoddart brothers built what was said to be the country’s largest drug store based on sales at the ice cream counter.
But seemingly forgotten in the annals of Buffalo myth and lore was the claim made by members of the Stoddart family through the years that the first ice cream sundae was served at the Stoddart Bros. store on Seneca near Ellicott, on a spot that is now somewhere between second base and center field at Coca-Cola Field.
So along with the chicken wing, should Buffalo be claiming the ice cream sundae? While no definitive proof exists, the long-dormant Buffalo claim seems at least as strong as several of the other cities that have staked their civic pride on ice cream, fruit sauce, whipped cream and a cherry on top.
The Stoddart brothers, Charles and Thomas, were born in Scotland and spent time in Canada before landing in Buffalo. They worked in another Buffalo drug store for four years before opening their own Stoddart Bros. store in 1876.
Buffalo Evening News, 1946
Charles Stoddart, the younger brother, had his hand firmly on the helm of the business, working most days late into the evening. Thomas Stoddart was a more familiar figure in Buffalo business and civic life, and he served as a city councilman as well as several terms as the president of the New York State Pharmaceutical Association.
After 24 years wildly successful years at 84 Seneca — including having opened Buffalo’s first soda fountain — the brothers expanded in 1900, buying the buildings next door at 86 and 88 Seneca St.
They invested $20,000 in building updates designed by Louise Bethune, the Buffalo woman who was also America’s first female architect. The new store boasted 50,000 square feet of space over four floors, and 60 people worked the 1,000 feet of showcases on those floors.
Written up as “America’s largest drug store” in several national trade publications, the new store featured a $5,000 soda bar as its crown jewel. The American Soda Fountain Co. piece had seating for 75 with as many as 12 fountains running at any given time, serving the 250 stools that filled along the counter space of a large part of the main shop floor.
The new facility also allowed Stoddart Bros. to make its own ice cream in a special plant in the basement. Up to 100 gallons could have been on hand at any given time. The building also had facilities for the manufacture of perfumes as well as medical appliances and prosthetics.
Around 1903, Stoddart Bros. was doing a daily soda business of $200 — not bad, considering most sodas were a nickel. More than just a sweet treat, many believed in the health benefits of ice cream sodas — especially during the heat of the summer. Stoddart’s was Buffalo’s most popular place to escape from the heat — cooling fans and a drink of cold ice cream and soda water was about as cool as anyone could expect.
Two views of the Stoddart Bros. soda fountain, c.1902. (Buffalo Stories archives)
The original three-storefront Stoddart Bros. building burned in a spectacular blaze in 1919. Flames of every color shot from the laboratory where prescriptions were crafted.
The store reopened almost immediately down the street, but it never fully recovered its place as America’s largest drug store. Through the 1920s and 1930s, Stoddart Bros. had several stores throughout the city, but when Thomas Stoddart’s son decided to retire in 1946, the 70-year-old family business closed permanently.
The news of the closure made headlines around the country after The News published a front-page story with a claim from John Stoddart that his uncle Charles was the creator of the ice cream sundae.
“About 50 years ago, the store ran out of soda water one Sunday morning and my uncle, Charles Stoddart, suggested that the clerk serve two scoops of ice cream with syrup on top. It was hurriedly named a ‘sundae’ and immediately (was) very popular,” said John Stoddart in 1946.
The Gloversville Morning Herald was one of many newspapers around the country to carry the story with Buffalo’s claim as the home of the ice cream sundae.
Twenty-five years later, United Press International distributed a story that went into greater detail with the founder’s son, then 84.
“”That’s what I was told,” John Stoddart told the UPI in 1976 about his sundae story. “It was in the summertime around the turn of the century.”
He said the gas to make the soda ran out on a hot Sunday at the busy counter. “They called my uncle and he told the clerk to give them scoops of ice cream and syrup, or strawberry preserves, without the soda,” Stoddart said.
The new dish, Stoddart said, was called a “Sunday” and advertised as such, becoming popular very quickly. “An outfit in Rochester sold fountain supplies … and a few years later the Rochester firm publicized the Stoddart Brothers drugstore as the ‘birthplace of the sundae.’ ”
And the spelling change? Stoddart said: “I suppose it looked better in the ads.”
There are a handful of problems with Stoddart’s story.
First, most of the claims of “the first sundae” date to the 1880s or early 1890s. So any claim would have to be earlier than “the turn of the century.” There were also at least two big players in soda bar supplies in Rochester: Alick G. Richardson’s Richardson Corp. and J. Hungerford Smith, which was the exclusive Orangeade seller at the Pan-American Exposition. An extensive search came up with plenty of ads for both businesses’ soda bar and sundae supplies, but nothing about Stoddart Bros. That’s not to say one doesn’t exist, but it didn’t come up in hundreds of reviewed ads.
Stoddart Bros. did regular, nearly daily advertising through the 1880s and 1890s, and the wholesomeness of their “fresh Holstein cream” ice cream, cleanliness and cooling fans are usually made the biggest selling points — without mention of sundaes by name. The company also received quite a bit of publicity as “America’s largest drug store.” The Buffalo claim to the sundae was never made in any of those national news stories.
Stoddart Bros. advertising, c. 1888-90
The first time any mention of the Stoddart sundae story can be found in Buffalo papers is the 1946 Buffalo Evening News article announcing the store’s closure, more than half a century after the event would have happened. This combined with the weak “naming of the sundae” story leaves a bit of a melted drippy mess — but other sundae stories have low melting points as well.
Buffalo Evening News, 1946
In gathering up the stories of “the birth of the ice cream sundae,” it might be that no single location can say they first served the exact treat we’d order at a Dairy Queen today. But clearly, several different places — Buffalo included — can lay claim to different parts of the evolution of the modern ice cream sundae.
Two Rivers, Wisc., is the home of Edward Berners; legend says he was the first to drizzle chocolate syrup over ice cream in 1881 (or 1899, depending on which account you believe.).
According to the Wisconsin legend, the spelling of “sundae” might be traced back to a salesman selling the familiar canoe-shaped dishes as “Sundae dishes,” perhaps even unaware that he’d misspelled the day of the week.
Hard proof is found on the pages of the Ithaca (N.Y.) Daily Herald in 1892 that druggist Chester Platt was serving up a dish called “Strawberry Sunday.” It’s the first documented use of the name “Sunday” being used for a treat served at a soda bar.
Where does Buffalo’s Stoddart Bros. contribution fit in?
Found in the pages of The Buffalo Evening News and the Buffalo Courier are ads for Stoddart’s adding both fruit syrup and whipped cream to ice cream as early as 1889, years before other “fruit sundae” claimants. This concrete black-and-white proof is good enough to at least mention Buffalo as one of the potential homes of the sundae.
1889 advertisements show that Stoddart Bros. in Buffalo was serving up ice cream garnished with elements of a modern sundae, a few years before other claimants to the “original ice cream sundae” title. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Stoddart Bros. did have Buffalo’s first soda bar. They did, in the 1880s, serve ice cream with fruit syrup and whipped cream, which sounds a lot like a sundae — even if they didn’t call it that.
The secondhand retelling of an old family tale by an 84-year-old man may have had some factual errors, but refitted with the actual facts, it seems very much like Buffalo could be the home of the ice cream sundae.
The many Faces of Ed Little By Steve Cichon November, 2004
ED LITTLE spent an astonishing 62 years on radio, nearly all of it in Buffalo and Rochester. His awe-inspiring career took root in 1938 when he stepped in front of the microphone at WEBR as a child actor with a grown-up voice. Later he played many parts on stage and on the air with the UCLA Campus Theater troupe.
During World War II, Little carried a wire recorder aboard B-29 bombing missions over Japan and delivered the play-by-play description for later playback on NBC.
Joining WEBR as a music personality post-war, he soon became host of the late-night Town Casino broadcast, interviewing every megastar of the 1950s—from Danny Thomas and Tony Bennett to Johnnie Ray and Rosemary Clooney—at that storied nightclub.
During 1958-64 he lit up the night airwaves at KFMB San Diego, then returned to Buffalo for an eye-opening career shift—becoming the newsman during Joey Reynolds’ nighttime romp on WKBW.
Following 14 years as the afternoon news anchor at WBBF Rochester, Little in 1981 joined the news team at WBEN, where his trademark delivery continued to add a sense of distinction to that station’s aura until his retirement in 2000.
Ed in the Press… Click to read MORE
He was one of my best pals ever… The late, great Ed Little. He was a WBEN newsman from 1979-2000, was a newsman at KB on the Joey Reynolds Show, and hosted a show live from the Town Casino on WEBR in the early ’50s. He started in radio in the 30s as a child actor, and also flew in bombers over Japan in WWII, recording his play-by-play of bombing runs to be played back later on nationwide radio.
He could sometimes be a pain to work with 🙂 but he NEVER had a bad word to say about anyone, and always had plenty of change to buy you a 25¢ cup of coffee from the vending machine in the basement. Judas PRIEST, indeed!
In much the same way most Buffalo men of the era grabbed their lunch pail in the morning and worked until the whistle blew, so did Charles Burchfield.
He was a soldier during World War I, fighting the enemy with his paintbrush. Burchfield was on the team designing America’s earliest efforts at camouflage. He moved to Buffalo in 1921 to work as a designer at Birge’s wallpaper factory on Niagara Street. Even after he left the working world in 1929 and began making a living as an artist, Burchfield took a working man’s approach to create art reflective of the life of the working man.
At the top of the page is Charles Burchfield’s “Rainy Night” (1929-30). This photo was one of many taken by artist James Vullo in the mid-’70s depicting the real-life places in Burchfield’s paintings and sketches. (Charles E. Burchfield Archives) Below, the intersection of Ellicott and Broadway as it looks today.
“Charles Burchfield is a magic name that elevates Buffalo to eminence in the contemporary art world,” wrote Anne McIlhenney Matthews in the Buffalo Courier-Express in 1960.
“Buffalo basks in reflected glory in the world of art galleries and collections as the place where the world-famous watercolorist resides and whose glorified terrain he transfers to timeless, wonderful — and expensive — pictures.”
Burchfield told Matthews, “I try to present the glory of God in nature,” and pointed to one of his favorite paintings — one he gave to his wife and hung in their living room. “For the Beauty of the Earth” is the title of the painting, and the first line of a Lutheran hymn.
“The world is so ravishingly beautiful and I try to put it on paper,” continued Burchfield. “Particularly Western New York. I feel that there is enough scenic beauty in this area to keep me busy for a thousand years.”
“Street Scene,” 1940-47. Below, James Vullo’s photo of the Genesee Street building.
This painting came from the same block, just facing the other direction.
“The Market at Christmas Time” (1929-41), shows the old Chippewa Market with St. Michael’s in the distance. While St. Michael’s still stands, the building was heavily damaged in a 1954 fire. (Charles E. Burchfield Archives)
Burchfield called the Electric Building “one of the finest buildings in Buffalo or anywhere.” He painted “Buildings and Street Scene” in 1940. James Vullo photographed the area in the mid-’70s, including the marquee sign pointing to the entrance of the Century Theater around the corner on Main Street. (Charles E. Burchfield Archives)
Burchfield’s “Street Vista in Winter,” 1957-60. (Charles E. Burchfield Archives) Below: Today’s view up Linwood Avenue between Summer and Barker.
Burchfield ventured into all parts of the city, including South Buffalo. Above: Burchfield’s “Silver Light,” ca. 1940. Below: Vullo’s photo of the Stevenson Street bridge, Stevenson and South Legion, mid ’70s.
The Burchfield-Penney Center also has curated a history pin site showing these and other Burchfield painting locations.