There is a category for Buffalo Neighborhoods, but as the historian of Buffalo’s Parkside Neighborhood, and having written two books on the neighborhood’s history, giving the Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Parkside Neighborhood it’s own category makes sense.
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I’ve been thinking a lot about coffee lately, and the sum of coffee is more than the beans.
Someone was dissing good ol’powdered coffee creamer the other day. Not me. I started working in radio at 15 years old, and through high school and college put in a lot of 16 hour days.
In those days, the only coffee at WBEN was from a vending machine in the basement.
Those 25¢ 5oz cups of instant coffee with powdered creamer kept me alive.
My wife and I are part owners of a coffee shop now— with some of the most delicious, finest roasted coffee in Western New York… but I still keep a jar of instant coffee and powdered creamer on hand because every once in a while, I get nostalgic about that terrible brackish fluid which kept my motor running so many years ago.
I saved one of those cups with the intention, I think, of getting Ed Little’s autograph on the cup. The coffee really was bad, but it was the best coffee I ever had when Ed would grab two shiny new quarters and ask if I had time to head down to the basement.
In his mid-70s, Ed was far and away the oldest guy working at the station and gave weekend news the bigger-than-life sound of a much earlier era with bold writing and bombastic announcing. I was the youngest by a big margin, a wide-eyed 15 year-old twerp with boundless enthusiasm for all things radio and for old guys who liked to tell stories.
“You can buy when we have steak,” Ed would say, never allowing me to pay for our coffee ritual, even when he bought me lousy coffee at one of a dozen or so different little lunch counters with booth service, all the kind of place that served meatloaf and gravy. But no matter what the special was, the coffee was always there to wash it down.
Toward the end of Ed’s life, I called him up for a coffee but he was too sick to go out. His voice sparkled when I offered to bring over a couple of cups of Tim Horton’s. He was visibly sick, but pulled on a turtleneck and a pair of perfectly pressed slacks for my visit to his kitchen table and the coffee I was finally able to buy.
My earliest memories of drinking coffee come from the necessity of warmth. I was about 7 when my parents would load us kids into the backseat of our chocolate brown AMC to drive my ol’man to work early in the morning before we went to school. It was the only way that mom would have the car to go to work herself after we’d get home and get on the bus.
The heat didn’t work in the car, but holding and sipping plastic tumblers of coffee kept us warm. The coffee was always on at our house growing up. I always enjoyed bringing Mom a cup just the way she liked it. Dad never seemingly finished a cup and was constantly walking over to the microwave—later wheeling over to the microwave—to blast that cold cup for 45 seconds or so.
“A minute’s way too long, Steveo,” dad would say yanking the mug out of the microwave, taking a long sip with quick a self-satisfied mmm.
When you walked into Grandma Coyle’s kitchen, right there in the middle of the table, almost like a centerpiece, was the Mr. Coffee– right next to the black rotary dial wall phone and a pack of Parliament 100s.
Grandma Cichon had been a waitress at Colonial Kitchen, which ingrained the sanctity of coffee when hosting people at her giant white Formica kitchen table. The kettle on the stove was always lukewarm and ready to make a Taster’s Choice instant coffee in a Corelle Gold Butterfly mug. You got milk and sugar without asking. If she was out of milk, Grandma would put a buck in my hand and send me to Fay’s, because that was Seneca Street’s cheapest half-gallon of milk.
After Grandma Cichon died, I’d walk in the front door and say hi to Gramps, as I walked into the kitchen to put on the kettle for us both.
Any cup of coffee I made for Gramps was judged “perfect, son” with the first sip, and he meant it from the bottom of his heart every time—not just because the coffee was good, but because we were drinking it together.
I personally pour all of this into each cup of coffee I make at JAM. Our rich blend is delicious, and I know you will love it—but that’s fleeting. What lasts forever is our coffee story, and JAM was built with that in mind.
This is what we mean when we say Coffee and Community. You’ve become a part of my coffee story. I hope you’ll make JAM part of your coffee story, too.
Burt Reynolds spent time in Buffalo during the shooting of “Best Friends” in 1982.
He happened to be in Buffalo for a bit of history.
Reynolds and his co-star Goldie Hawn were at the Aud when Wayne Gretzky broke Phil Esposito’s single season goals record.
Along with Oilers GM Glen Sather, Gretzky, Hawn, Reynolds and Espo celebrated with a photo in the Aud Club at Memorial Auditorium, in front of that amazing Sabres latch hook rug.
Like most good things in Buffalo in the 80s, Mayor Griffin played a small role in “Best Friends”– he can be seen as a kid’s hockey coach in one scene.
From The Complete History of Parkside:
Parkside Goes Hollywood
Though usually thought of in terms of a staid, august, and venerable neighborhood, Parkside has also seen its share of glitz and glamour. For the same reason so many Buffalonians are attracted to its wonderful architecture and tree-lined streets, Hollywood producers have also taken notice over the years.
For three weeks in February, 1982, Summit Avenue went Hollywood for a week. Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn spent that time holed up at 45 Summit Avenue, shooting scenes for the big screen motion picture Best Friends. The local accommodations were much cheaper than the LA high rollers were used to, as Ellen Parisi wrote in her History of the Good Shepherd Church, only a few doors down from the home where most of the film was shot:
In order to accommodate the cast’s and crew’s noon meal, the advance people made arrangements to rent Jewett Memorial Hall. “Probably the biggest mistake I ever made,” said Fr. Jerre Feagin, Good Shepherd rector 1978-82, “was not charging them more. When they asked how much it would cost to rent the hall for three weeks, I said, ‘One Thousand dollars.’ that was a lot of money to the Church of the Good Shepherd. But the man looked at me with great surprise in his eyes, as if to say, ‘Is that all?’ and he immediately wrote a check.”
The Parkside home of Alex Trammell and the Buffalo snow provided the perfect backdrop for producers. Signs outside of the home pleaded for untracked snow… But one four-legged critter didn’t see the sign and spoiled the scene producers had hoped for, namely virgin, freshly fallen snow. But that errant dog didn’t provide the only challenge to filming:
“There was one problem with a neighbor who didn’t want (the film people) there,” Fr. Feagin continued. “It was a nuisance. They roped the streets off. Mounted police were all over keeping intruders out. Big sound and power trucks came in at 5am and parked all over the streets. There were catering trucks selling things. It was like a carnival. Well, this one neighbor didn’t like it, and in protest, every time they’d begin filming, he’d run his lawnmower. In February. The director, Norman Jewison, approached me and asked me to do something. The man causing the trouble was a Roman Catholic, so I called Fr. Braun from St. Mark’s and he straightened it out. That movie company was only a few hours from packing up and leaving town in search of a new location if Fr. Braun hadn’t been able to stop the noise.”
Hollywood was back in Parkside the following year, this time at the corner of Main Street and West Oakwood Place for the shooting of The Natural. Glenn Close and Robert Redford spent a few days in August, 1983 at the Parkside Candy Shoppe. The no-nonsense long time owners of the ice cream parlor, Ted and Sandy Malamas, told the Parkside News in 1988 that they were impressed with Close, who garnered an Academy Award Nomination for her role in the film. Given their silence on the rest of the cast, one can draw ones own conclusion.
The scenes shot inside the store were, according to the story, taking place in Chicago. A large matrix of I-beams was erected of Main Street at Oakwood to give the appearance of Chicago’s elevated train. Filming of the movie also took place at War Memorial Stadium and All-High Stadium, the Buffalo Schools field just up the street behind Bennett High School.
After a twenty year hiatus from Tinsletown, Parkside returned to the small screen in 2003 as the setting for the MTV Reality Series Sorority Life. Season 2 of the show featured the Delta Xi Omega sorority from the University at Buffalo. Their sorority house for 2002 was at the southwest corner of Crescent and West Oakwood. Shooting for the show happened all over the neighborhood, but perhaps most publicly at Kostas Restaurant on Hertel Avenue, where cameras followed one of the sisters to work as a waitress.
Parkside also played a dark role in a similar MTV show shot in Buffalo the following year. Three UB students were arrested after breaking into the Buffalo Zoo in 2003 as a part of a videotaped stunt for the show Fraternity Life. In an incident reminiscent of stunts dreamt up after a night of collegiate drinking at the Park Meadow two decades earlier, The pledges were to break into to the zoo, and take an animal home as a pet.
Willow Lawn is a short street with a long history.
Like the rest of the southern two-thirds of Parkside, the properties on Willow Lawn were once a part of newspaper publisher Elam Jewett’s Willow Lawn farm and estate, most of which was sold in part to the city for Delaware Park and in part to the Parkside Improvement Company (and others) for development into the Parkside neighborhood designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
Elam Jewett died in 1887, but until his widow’s death in 1901, Mrs. Caroline Jewett retained the family home at the corner of Main and Jewett Parkway and parcel between School 54 and the parkway which bore the family name.
This ad appeared in the Buffalo Evening News in 1901.
To take a step back, the history of Willow Lawn goes back another century or so to the earliest days of Buffalo, when the Parkside area– far outside the village and then city limits– was known as the Buffalo Plains.
Dr. Daniel Chapin was among the area’s most sought-after medical professionals when he moved to the rugged frontier that was Buffalo in 1807. He built a rustic log cabin on his 175-acre farm on the Buffalo Plains stretched from what is now Main Street west back through Delaware Park, The Buff State campus, and the Richardson Complex property.
Chapin traveled on foot between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, with little more than his dog, his gun, and the tools of his medical trade. He was a naturalist and insisted on keeping the natural plant life on his farm in as natural a state as possible. We have him to thank for the native beauty of the area of his land that is today Delaware Park.
During the War of 1812, part of the Chapin farm also acted as an encampment for soldiers who had come from the south to defend the nation’s border at Buffalo. Many of those men died of exposure and disease, and at least 300 of them remain interred in the part of Daniel Chapin’s backyard where he helped bury them– in the Mound in the Meadow underneath the Delaware Park golf course.
Chapin’s son was commander in the militia of Erie County during the War of 1812, and around 1820, Col. William W. Chapin built the family a larger log cabin much closer to what is today the corner of Main and Jewett.
Barton Atkins, a prolific writer who grew up in the Buffalo Plains, had great memories of playing with Col. Chapin’s son Harold on the property he remembered well during the 1820s and 1830s.
A primitive home of a pioneer farmer, a log dwelling, the yard dotted with trees indigenous to the soil, and enclosed with a rail fence. The barns, corn-cribs, sheds stored with farm implements all in plain view. Multitudes of domestic fowls, turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens. peacocks, and guinea hens, rambling about, the pastures alive with horses, cattle, swine, sheep, and goats; the whole presenting a scene decidedly rural.
-Barton Atkins, describing the scene at what is now Main & Jewett in the 1820s
Col. Chapin’s 1820 log cabin was expanded and encompassed by a home that was larger and more aesthetically pleasing as the years went by. the place became known as Willow Lawn, named after the many willows planted by Dr. Chapin on the property.
By the time Elam Jewett purchased the Willow Lawn estate in 1864, he was one of Buffalo’s leading citizens. The lifelong Republican and publisher of the Commercial Advertiser newspaper was close friends with Millard Fillmore.
Fillmore and Jewett traveled through Europe together in 1856, and it was likely in Europe that Jewett was introduced to “the love apple,” today known as tomatoes. The tomatoes Jewett grew at Willow Lawn were thought to be the first tomatoes grown in Buffalo.
In the run up to the Civil War, Jewett and the Commercial Advertiser took a hard line against slavery. This sentiment may have been overplayed in a grand-niece’s retelling of the Jewett story in the Courier-Express in 1941. Along side several other over-statements of fact, “a concealed subterranean room” at Jewett homestead is mentioned as a one-time stop on the Underground Railroad.
It’s mentioned here primarily to debunk it– in hundreds of pages read on Jewett and Willow Lawn, and tens of thousands of pages read on the history of the Parkside area, I’ve never seen another reference to the Underground Railroad outside this one article, again, with a descendant speaking 80 years after the Civil War as a source.
Before his death in 1887, Jewett gave the Episcopal Church the land for the Church of the Good Shepherd, and donated most of the cost of it’s construction.
In 1892, Mrs. Jewett donated land to the City of Buffalo for Public School 54– known for many years as “The Parkside School.” That school was built on the land currently occupied by the present School 54’s parking lot.
In the following years, the Willow Lawn Estate would be opened to the public in raising money for the church and the school. The Beltline trains and Cold Spring horse-cars were listed as convenient modes of transportation for folks visiting Willow Lawn for one such fundraiser in 1889.
The life of Mrs. Caroline Wheeler Jewett , filled with years and graced with all womanly virtues, came to an end at 8 o’clock last evening, when she passed away at the family home, Willow Lawn.
In 1905, Jewett’s heirs split off the southern most part of the remaining Willow Lawn parcel for new development.
“The magnificent homestead lands of the Jewetts, at Main Street and Jewett Avenue, have been subdivided and are now offered for sale to parties
desiring home-sites in an exclusive, scenic section,” read one ad.
Another touted the “euphoniously titled” Willow Lawn’s “semi-private park style” in “the most beautiful section of the city.”
Willow Lawn, 1906. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Beautiful Willow Lawn Homestead, corner of Main Street and Jewett Avenue, has been subdivided and placed with us for sale. A new street, 70 feet wide, has been opened from Main Street to Crescent Avenue. Sewer and water pipes laid on each side are already in, and the pavement nearly finished. The lots are being sold under restrictions for residential purposes only, making some of the most desirable home sites in the Parkside District. Nearly one-half of these lots have been sold, so it is up to you to hurry if you want a lot in this desirable subdivision, the highest and healthiest section in the city where attractive surroundings are assured at a very low price.
“As a setting for a fine piece of domestic architecture,” the Buffalo Courier reported, “the site is ideal.” All but two of the lots on the street had homes built on them by 1911, and the last home was built on Willow Lawn in 1917.
As homes were being built in the “Willow Lawn subdivision,” the buildings of the original Willow Lawn estate– including the home of the Chapins and Jewetts– still stood at the corner of Main & Jewett.
Willow Lawn’s final hurrah would be as the home of a newly formed school based on learning from nature while in nature.
In 1913, after a year on Bird Avenue on the West Side, The Park School and it’s open-air approach to learning took over the last vestige of Daniel Chapin’s estate 106 years after he first built a log cabin there.
The Park School became a nationally renown beacon of progressive education.
For nearly a decade, children walked the same grounds Barton Atkins talked about 100 years earlier. Not confined to desks, children often weren’t even confined to indoors– with classrooms built in tree houses and screened bungalows. Days were often spent outside, even in the dead of winter, with the pupils warmly cocooned in woolen sleeping bags for lectures.
The Willow Lawn home was torn in 1922 after The Park School left for the school’s current home in Snyder. The current apartment buildings on the lot were built shortly thereafter, and available for rent by 1927, as shown in the ad below.
During the summer of 1969, 14 cases of young people being admitted to the hospital for drug-triggered attacks of terror and depression were directly linked to the ongoing “hippie gatherings” in Delaware Park.
It was usually about 200 young people at “the nightly gathering of hippies in Delaware Park near the Albright-Knox.”
“Some hippies create light shows on the gallery’s walls, by using a footlight installed to illuminate the building,” read one story. “Others play games on blankets, sing, talk, eat, and listen to rock music provided by portable radios and stereo tape players. Some dance in the gallery’s pool.”
“We know that drugs are involved in those gatherings and have the area under close watch,” said Buffalo Police Narcotics Chief (and later Erie County sheriff) Michael A. Amico at an August 1969 press conference.
The trouble started six weeks earlier when “the hippies and other drug abusers” started lacing “yellow jacket” barbiturate pills with LSD.
The man who chronicled much of the action in the park that summer is familiar to longtime WNY TV viewers for another kind of reporting.
Years later, John Pauly was an investigative reporter for Channels 7 and 2. But in the late ’60s, reporter Pauly spent some time on the hippie beat. In a piece appearing on the front page of the Courier-Express, a Meyer Memorial Hospital (now ECMC) psychiatrist ran down some of the more disturbing cases that had been flooding the hospital since the new drug cocktail had hit the scene.
Police picked up two boys wandering around nude. Another youth thought his car had turned into a monster and was trying to eat him.
“Another youth was brought to the hospital by his parents after they found him performing a weird Oriental religious ritual in their backyard,” reported Pauly.
An investigation in another case turned up two women whose drinks were slipped acid without their knowledge. One of them was found running through Delaware Park naked. Many of those treated had become depressed because they “felt filthy.”
Routinely, police broke up the parties at the park’s posted closing time of 10 p.m. And routinely, said Amico, this is when they’d find people needing help. “We found one girl alone and semi-nude under a blanket in the park after taking drugs.”
These gatherings were a part of the summer that also saw the first moon landing, the Manson murders and Woodstock. As summer became fall, a task force of 50 spent a day making raids to put a dent in the drug supply that helped fuel the parties.
One raid at 309 North St. netted “209 ‘nickel bags’ of marijuana, a pillowcase of raw marijuana, a ball of hashish and a small box of LSD.” Nineteen total arrests, it was hoped, would put an end to the “dope terror outbreak.”
Chief Amico, right, with three suspects in a 1969 drug raid.
The raids centered on Allentown and “other known ‘hippie’ hangouts in the area.” Many of the men arrested “wore women’s length hair – shaggy looking, Van Dyke beards or had been unshaven for days.”
Later known for his undercover style of reporting on TV, Pauly had at least two more assignments on the peacenik scene for the Courier. In 1968, he reviewed a Peter, Paul and Mary concert at Kleinhans.
“It was folk music at its best and the nearly 3,000 persons attending applauded wildly as the group moved through songs of protest, love, war, the generation gap, race and other social problems.
“The performance was marred only by scores of camera-toting fans who punctuated each song with a barrage of blinding flash exposures.”
He also talked to a Soviet envoy who was touring the United States, sharing Russian culture. Pauly reported she was not impressed with hippies she met in Boston and Buffalo. Her words just as easily could have been then-President Richard Nixon’s.
“They strike me as being lazy and doing nothing for the society they live in,” Lyubova Muslanova said. “They were just lying around looking dirty and dressed in rags. I didn’t know what they were doing until someone told me they were doing nothing.
“Maybe they don’t agree with the system, but they must work and not just go around in rags and protest. Maybe they consider themselves revolutionaries, but in this age there is no excuse for being dirty or dressing in rags. They are not doing anything for the society they live in the way they act.”
Tens of millions of dollars into a decade-long renovation, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House is among the crown jewels in Buffalo’s resurgence in architectural tourism.
Wright called the home his “opus” and considered it one of his great designs, but as it was being built in 1905, not everyone in Buffalo felt that way. Those feelings were reflected in the pages of The Buffalo Courier, which referred to the place as the “Martin freak mansion” in one story and then as “the freak house of the twentieth century” in another.
The text of an article about the Martin House from the Courier’s Real Estate page follows.
PARKSIDE’S GREAT NOVELTY IN THE MATTER OF MODERN ODDITIES IN HOME BUILDING
The freak house of the twentieth century on this continent is now being built at Jewett and Summit avenues, Parkside. It will be built entirely of angles. Except for two arched fireplaces, there will not be a curve anywhere, from the walls that form the shell of the house to the spindles that help form the banisters of the stairways.
But in this house of successively multiplying series of sharp angles will be about as comfortable a home as can be made on earth. It will be lighted by its own electric plant. It will be heated by its own hot water plant. All the water supply will be filtered. The hot water supply will always run hot immediately because it will be “on circulation.” A passage 10 feet long underneath a pergola will connect the house with the stable. The passage will also be utilized as a bowling alley.
It may prove to be a house of puzzles to the undiscerning visitor. No steps will be seen by the coming guest, although there will be two sets in the front portion of the house, to say nothing of two more sets leading to a broad veranda. And when the guest gets inside the house he’ll have a hard time finding a way to the second story. There will be one stairway for the use of the family and its guests. But it will start unobtrusively from a spot that has 33 reproductions. So there will be only one chance in 34 of finding the stairway. As the architect expresses it, “we mortify our staircases”— they are a means to an end and never a feature.
The owner of this house is Darwin D. Martin. The architect is Frank Lloyd Wright of Chicago. He is trying to found a simple style of American architecture.
The house is being built on a lot having 200 feet on Jewett Avenue and 300 feet on Summit Avenue. It faces on Jewett. The house will be 155 feet wide, while its deepest dimension will be 88 feet. It will be only 30 feet high. It will have a deep basement and two stories. Above the base of white concrete the walls are of brick faced with slender Roman vitreous brick running in this from tan to orange. The face brick is laid with half-inch sunken joints, thus serving to bring the beauty of the coloring into greater relief “like corded silk.” These walls will run up to a low hover hip roof of red tile with cornices 5 1/2 feet beyond the face of the building. The outline of the building will be broken up by many angles, always perfectly balanced by angles on the other side.
Every point in the building inside and out will be balanced by some other point.
A broad veranda on the east side of the house is balanced by a large porte cochere on the west side. The projection from the front wall of the building made by the extension of the library is balanced by a similar projection of the dining room from the rear wall.
A pergola 80 feet long and 10 feet wide will connect the house with a conservatory in the rear lot. This building is 18 feet wide by 60 feet and 15 feet high. To the left or west of the conservatory is the stable, which is practically finished. Both conservatory and stable are faced with the Roman brick and contain series of balanced angles of their own. All the buildings will be fireproof.
The outside steps of the house will be concealed by piers of the face brick topped by concrete coping on which will be placed stone vases four feet across. Although the top of the basement windows will be three feet above the level of the ground they, too, will be hidden. A series of terraces will effectually bar them from outside observation. Yet they will shed a profusion of light into that section of the building.
The house and its connected buildings will have an artistic setting.
The interior of the house will have a simple elegance more costly than ornate embellishments and will be carried out on the same principles as the exterior. The cost of the building is estimated at $150,000.
Just what exactly happened to the animals at the Buffalo Zoo during the Blizzard of ’77 has become one of those great stories that everyone seems to have some faded recollection of having heard before, but nobody knows for sure.
So, as you sit around waiting out a heavy snow squall in the warmest corner of the gin mill, everyone throws in details until a story emerges that is fanciful enough to have happened during one of the most fabled events in Buffalo’s history.
The real story might not live up to the craziest version concocted on Buffalo barstools over the last 40 years, but it’s still pretty fanciful.
Two days into the storm, on Sunday, Jan. 28, the giant 8-foot snow drifts that had blown up against their habitat allowed three Scandinavian Reindeer to easily traverse an area usually filled with fences and moats and make their way past the Delaware Park meadow, up towards Buffalo State College.
That’s about where one of the three 500-pound deer was hit with a tranquilizer gun. The excitement caused the others to scatter.
Word of the animals on the loose was broadcast, and good Samaritans helped triangulate the location of the deer, one of which was captured in a Buffalo backyard. The other was lassoed on a Village of Kenmore side street.
Not all the stories ended so happily.
Two sheep wandered out of their pen in the petting zoo. One was safely returned, the other apparently made it over a drift and was never found.
With doorways and paths enveloped in massive amounts of snow, in most instances, food and hay for animals were dropped in from roofs of buildings.
Despite zookeepers’ doing the best they could, 16 birds — including two black swans — and seven mammals — including one of the escaped reindeer and an antelope — died as a result of the storm.
They didn’t starve, acting zoo director Terry Gladkowski told the media as the city was still cleaning up after the storm. It was mainly stress and the cold that killed the animals, many of which were initially caught outside and died later after being brought in from the cold and snow. He said the birds “just basically froze,” and other animals couldn’t receive the daily medical care they needed.
The storm also caused about $420,000 damage to the zoo’s buildings and grounds.
There is a fictionalized version of life in the Buffalo Zoo during the blizzard, written in 1983 by Robert Bahr in the form of a children’s book. According to the New York Times Book Review, the basic plot of “Blizzard at the Zoo” is exactly what you might expect.
“Many of the animals romped and frisked, some stoically endured, and others, like the waterfowl, had to be rescued from freezing ponds.”
BUFFALO, NY – The village of Buffaloe was, in 1814 described by one visitor as “a nest of villians, rogues, rescals, pickpockets, knaves, and extortioners.”
When the British burned Buffalo, it was a small village of log cabins, with tree stumps strewn in the streets. It’s difficult to imagine the Buffalo of 200 years ago, but suffice it to say, the the area that is now Forest Lawn cemetery, the Parkside neighborhood, and Delaware Park, then known as Flint Hill, far outside the tiny village, served as a home base for American troops invading British Canada during the early part of the War of 1812.
Roughly half of those garrisoned here never made it home.
While the detail of the story follows, and is illustrated in the articles shown to the left, it’s enough to know that basically, after several failed attempts to invade Fort Erie by crossing the Niagara, a decision was made that troops would spend the winter of 1812 at their home base at Flint Hill.
These were volunteers, mostly from places like Maryland, Virginia, and Southern Pennsylvania. They came to Buffalo in the summer time, with their southern-styled thin linen uniforms. They had open ended tents in which to sleep, and very few blankets. No woollen winter uniforms.No boots. Food was scarce this far out on the frontier. When sickness spread through the camp, called a “dreadful contagion” by the newspapers of the day, soldiers began to succumb. Quickly.
Given the rocky soil of the area, the fact that is was frozen solid in the harsh winter, and the fact that so many were dying so quickly, men were buried in graves around a foot deep on the edge of the camp. In the spring, Dr. Daniel Chapin, upon who’s land they were camped, dug up and reburied all 300 men in a single trench, in an easy to dig meadow in the middle of his expansive backyard.
Chapin’s home was at what is now Main Street and Jewett Parkway; his backyard, Delaware Park. He buried the men in the middle of what is now the golf course, and planted willow trees to mark the spot.
When 80 years later, the willow trees began to die, a marker was placed on a boulder, in the middle of what was then the Park Meadow.
Since then, the hallowed spot, and the sacrifice made by those men to defend our nation have slowly been forgotten; especially as the nation’s first public golf course opened as that game began to sweep the nation just before the turn of the century.
In the 1920s, flappers used the cannons for playful photo backdrops (see left). By the 1940s, “The Cannons” were a well-known and well trodden night spot for teenagers looking to imbibe away from the watchful eyes of grown ups.
Ironically, by the late 60s, when the infamous Park Meadow Bar at Parkside and Russell was filled beyond capacity, the overflow crowd often went to the actual park meadow, with a 6 pack or a case to drink the night away.
At some point, the cannons disappeared. Sometime during the 1970s. Maybe something as simple as a parks worker sick of mowing around them, or the parent of one of those drunken youths making noise after he was “innocently” injured by one of those muzzleloaders. (If you know what happened to those cannon, let us know!!)
By the late 1990s, renewed efforts by area historians Michael Riester and Patrick Kanavagh began shedding new light on the War of 1812, and the Parkside area’s roll in it.
A Flint Hill marker was placed at the corner of Main and Humboldt through the hard work or Patrick and Michael. Now, along with fellow historian Steve Cichon, they are trying to call attention to Buffalo’s Tomb of the Unknowns, as the bicentennial of the War looming.
I dedicate it to the memory of those who, during the War of 1812, died from wounds and disease, and whose remains find here repose; who left home and friends, to repel the invasion of a foreign foe; to defend our hill sides, valleys and plains, and who feared not death in defense of the flag. I dedicate this memorial, which will for ages mark their final resting place, to their honor and memory.
May their noble example and this tribute to their honor and memory prove an incentive to future generations to emulate their unselfish loyalty and patriotism, when called upon to defend their country’s honor, and if need be die in defence of the flag, the glorious stripes and stars, emblem of liberty, equal rights and National unity.
– Speech dedicating the Memorial, 1896
Below, you’ll find two different full accountings of what happened in the Parkside/Forest Lawn/Delaware Park area during the winter of 1812 which left about 300 American soldiers buried in a single trench mass grave, in the middle of what’s now Delaware Park golf course, without any real accounting of who was buried there.
On the penultimate Memorial Day before the celebration of the War of 1812’s centennial, an event was organized to remember the sacrifice of the soldiers who died at the mound in the meadow.
Coverage from The Buffalo News:
Better memorial sought for grave of War of 1812 dead – Delaware Park site is largely unknown
The Buffalo News | May 29, 2011 | Phil Fairbanks – NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Next time you’re playing the fourth hole at Delaware Park Golf Course, look down and say thanks to the 300 war dead buried there.
Better yet, stop and read the small plaque on a nearby boulder, the only physical reminder of the so-called Tomb of the Unknowns.
Unbeknown to most visitors, under the middle of the park’s sprawling green meadow lies a mass grave for American soldiers who died of disease and exposure during the War of 1812.
Because of the public’s lack of awareness of the grave, a small cadre of local historians is pushing for a better memorial of the “sacred site” and the men who made the ultimate sacrifice for a young country.
“It was like a punch in the face to find out about this,” said Steve Cichon, a local radio reporter and historian. “I just can’t imagine someone putting their life on the line for me and then being forgotten, even 200 years later.”
Monday, Cichon will join a group of volunteers in planting 300 American flags at the burial site as part of a Memorial Day ceremony.
The flags simply are a first step in a larger campaign by activists who think more needs to be done to recognize the grave site and the contributions of the men buried there, many of them volunteers from as far away as Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
“We’re trying to educate people,” said Patrick Kavanagh, a local historian. “No death is nice, but these men, and maybe women too, died a terrible death.”
The efforts to improve the memorial coincide with next year’s bicentennial of the war’s beginning and are rooted in a patriotic story of courage and sacrifice by young men ill- prepared for the winter of 1812.
“This is immensely important historically and one of the park’s hidden treasures,” Thomas Herrera-Mishler, president of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, said of the burial site.
These were American soldiers, who after failing in their attempts to cross the Niagara River and invade Fort Erie, fell back to what was then known as Flint Hill.
Their camp stretched from what is now Forest Lawn Cemetery to Jewett Parkway and Main Street, and included much of what became Delaware Park.
Equipped with warm-weather uniforms and inadequate tents and facing a shortage of food, the American soldiers soon found themselves falling victim to illness and eventually death.
“Some of them didn’t even have footwear, and they had summer clothing at best,” said Kavanagh. “It was just an incredible loss of life.”
One by one, they were buried in shallow graves because of the frozen ground and naturally hard soil. That spring that Dr. Daniel Chapin, who owed the land and lived nearby, dug up the bodies and reburied them in a single mass grave.
To mark the burial ground, Chapin planted willow trees. And when the willows died decades later, park officials replaced them with the boulder and plaque that remain there today.
“May their noble example and this tribute to their honor and memory prove an incentive to future generations to emulate their unselfish loyalty and patriotism,” Parks Commissioner David F. Day said in a 1896 speech dedicating the monument.
But future generations did exactly what Day said they shouldn’t do — they forgot.
Cichon says he has no problem with the golf course covering the grave site but thinks the monument to the men buried there should be more prominent. Not long ago, two old cannons and a flagpole also sat there.
“Can we get the canons back? I don’t know,” said Herrera-Mishler, “but we’re very open and welcoming to ideas.”
Herrera-Mishler is quick to note that the Conservancy’s master plan for the park calls for adding interpretive signs that document the park’s history and expanding foot trails so they reach the boulder and plaque.
For Cichon, Kavanagh and fellow historian Mike Riester, the boulder and plaque fail to adequately memorialize the tremendous loss of life that occurred that winter nearly 200 years ago.
“They died at a clip of seven or eight a day,” said Cichon, the author of a book on Parkside’s history. “People need to know that and pay reverence to it.”
A new memorial would mean everything to Riester, who has been working on this effort for 15 years.
“These men are still unknown and forgotten,” he said. “It’s like it didn’t even happen.
“I would like to leave this earth knowing this has been fixed, and that these men will always been remembered,” he said.
2011 event at The Mound in the Meadow
Money was raised over the following year, and a memorial was placed on Ring Road at once of the entrances to the Buffalo Zoo.
The story was covered in newspapers all over the world, including The New York Times and USA Today. Coverage in The Buffalo News:
Monument will honor 300 soldiers who gave their lives in War of 1812
Buffalo News, The (NY) | May 6, 2012 | Phil Fairbanks – NEWS STAFF REPORTER
When Steve Cichon learned about the 300 war dead buried in the middle of Delaware Park, he said, it was like a punch in the face.
It also struck him that the small plaque on the fourth hole of the golf course, the only evidence of the mass burial site, was a grossly insufficient way of honoring the War of 1812 soldiers who died defending their country.
On Memorial Day, with the bicentennial anniversary of the war looming, Cichon will unveil the results of a campaign to right that wrong — a new monument to the American war dead once hailed for their “unselfish loyalty and patriotism.”
“It’s just great that it will finally get done,” said Cichon, a local radio reporter and historian. “And something would have been lost if we had waited until the 201st anniversary of the war.”
The new monument to the “Tomb of the Unknowns” will be located on Buffalo Zoo property near Ring Road and the zoo’s bison exhibit.
“One quick email and Donna Fernandes said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’ ” Cichon said. With the site locked up, Cichon turned his attention to fundraising, and he quickly raised enough to buy a discounted stone monument.
The discount came courtesy of Stone Art Memorial, a Lackawanna monument company that, like the zoo, wanted to help. Cichon also persuaded Paul Broad, a local concrete contractor, to help build a base for the monument.
“It’s been a real grass-roots effort,” said Cichon. “I raised money by haranguing all my Facebook friends.”
More than $1,500 later, he is ready to unveil what he and a small group of advocates have spent years lobbying for — a more suitable reminder of the sacrifice made by the 300 men who were ill-prepared for the winter of 1812.
They were American soldiers who, after failing in their attempts to cross the Niagara River and invade Fort Erie, Ont., fell back to what later became known as the Flint Hill Encampment. It covered an area from what is now Forest Lawn to Jewett Parkway and Main Street, and it included much of what is now Delaware Park.
Equipped with warm-weather uniforms and inadequate tents and facing a shortage of food, the American soldiers soon fell victim to illness, disease and eventually death.
They were buried in shallow graves because of the frozen ground and naturally hard soil, but that spring, Dr. Daniel Chapin, who owned the land and lived nearby, dug up the bodies and reburied them in a mass grave.
To mark the burial ground, Chapin planted willow trees. When the willows died decades later, park officials replaced them with the boulder and plaque that remain in place today.
“May their noble example and this tribute to their honor and memory prove an incentive to future generations to emulate their unselfish loyalty and patriotism,” Parks Commissioner David F. Day said in an 1896 speech dedicating the monument.
Unlike the old monument, a plaque on a boulder in the middle of the golf course, this memorial will be highly visible to anyone walking the park’s Ring Road.
It also provides visitors with an easy view of the original plaque and boulder, at the site where the soldiers are actually buried.
“It’s an ideal location,” Cichon said of the new site outside the zoo. “It’s also the right thing to do.”
Photos: 2012 Dedication of new memorial on Ring Road
Buffalo News editorial, from Memorial Day 2012:
Remember the sacrifices – Take time to honor the men and women who have made our freedoms possible
Chances are, if you spent any time planning for this weekend, it was to make a tee time, get the pool ready for the summer or buy provisions for a cookout of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs.
We’ve long treated Memorial Day as the unofficial kickoff to summer ? a last-Monday-in-May, guaranteed three-day weekend ? while forgetting why we observe the holiday.
But it’s not too late, even if you just take a moment today to recognize the sacrifices made by those who died at far too early an age in the service of their country.
For more than two centuries, families from this area have sent off to war teenagers and young adults, some not old enough to legally drink, only to see too many of them return in a coffin.
This year marks the bicentennial of the start of the War of 1812, which saw bitter fighting here, including the burning of Buffalo and other Niagara Frontier villages.
Some 300 soldiers in that war died while camped in what is now Delaware Park. They are buried there in a mass grave.
So it is fitting that a memorial to the “Tomb of the Unknowns” will be unveiled today, near the Buffalo Zoo, by Steve Cichon, a local radio reporter and historian who led the effort to better recognize the 300.
For the past year, Buffalo Niagara has joined the rest of the nation in marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, our nation’s bloodiest war.
It’s only fitting that our attention turns back to Fort Sumter, Antietam, Gettysburg and Appomattox, because Memorial Day traces its origins to Decoration Day, a holiday established in 1868 to honor the dead from that war.
But we don’t have to look to the history books, or stoop to peer at the fading words on a long-dead soldier’s crumbling tombstone to recognize the sacrifices made in the name of the United States of America.
This is the first Memorial Day observed since the withdrawal, in December, of the last U.S. combat troops from Iraq, where 4,486 American servicemen and women died since that war began in 2003.
We continue to wage war in Afghanistan, where Americans have served since October 2001, making it by far the lengthiest war in U.S. history.
The American death count for that conflict is nearing 2,000, and coalition forces will continue to press the fight against the Taliban there through the end of 2014, President Obama and his NATO allies said last week.
We will leave Afghanistan as we left Iraq, without declaring victory, mourning the dead and, while hopeful, worrying what will happen after we’ve departed.
Unlike in previous conflicts, the general public hasn’t been asked to make much of a sacrifice during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so the burden has fallen disproportionately on the servicemen and women and their families.
But we can take this one day to make a gesture to honor those who paid for our freedom with their lives. Display the flag, attend a Memorial Day ceremony, tend the grave of a fallen veteran or take your children to a parade ? but spend a few minutes explaining why we’re having a parade today.
From: The Complete History of Parkside by Steve Cichon (2009) Chapter 2: Parkside Goes to War
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.
As with most things in life, the smallest details can make a great difference.
As our region’s rebirth and renaissance continues, more and more of us in Western New York are coming to better appreciate many of wonderful little oddities which combine to make Buffalo poised to use our uniqueness as a standout city for generations to come.
The things that “make Buffalo, Buffalo” should never be more important than they are now.
I’m hoping to call attention to one small element in Buffalo’s unique character, which is easily overlooked until it’s gone.
For generations, when Buffalo’s Common Council ordered roads built, the call for Medina Sandstone curbs was written right into the legislation. Many of the red curbs of Buffalo have been in place since the time when it was horses, and not cars navigating between those curbs.
The oldest and most prevalent of these streetside chunks of stone still show the striations of old world craftsmanship, and serve as a citywide network of direct physical links to a time when Buffalo was one of the nation’s largest, wealthiest, and most modern cities.
Considered rare and beautiful and used sparing around the world in buildings like Buckingham Palace, Buffalo was lucky to be so close to the Orleans County quarry where the red rock came from that entire churches and buildings, and yes, even curbs were made from the stuff.
With great limits on new Medina Sandstone, especially for something as pedestrian as curbing, Buffalo has turned with greater frequency to the less exciting granite for curbs.
The gleaming white granite does the job of creating a barrier between the road and the sidewalk, but can we agree that it’s lacking in the spectacular and rich history and beauty of our uniquely Buffalo Medina Sandstone?
As roads are reconstructed with additional curbing for safety, and street/sidewalk intersections are being rebuilt to make them more accessible for those using strollers and wheelchairs, it’s understandable that our decades and centuries old red curbs might have to be replaced.
However, it’s my hope that now and in the future, a greater emphasis might be given in the consideration of reusing these materials whenever possible. Further, that if the nature of construction prohibits the reuse of the curbing at a particular site, that the removed curbing be saved for use at a future site where some additional curbing might be necessary to maintain the Medina Sandstone.
I would ask that the City Engineering and Public Works Departments move to create rules to this effect, and that the Common Council move to create law to make sure that it happens.
Too much of our city’s heritage had been lost to indifference and mismanagement.
Here’s a case where that doesn’t have to happen, and we can stop putting one of Buffalo’s unique features to the curb.
Last week, the state Department of Transportation announced the fast-track downgrade of the Scajaquada Expressway to “Scajaquada Boulevard.” When this undated photo was taken – probably in the 1950s – there was barely a “Scajaquada Path.”
Buffalo News archives
Still familiar landmarks include what was then Mount St. Joseph Teachers College, now the main building of Medaille College, at the bottom left. To the right, Agassiz Circle remains in name only—this is now the 198/Parkside intersection. The park parking lot is also very similar today.
At the top of the larger photo, shown in detail below, you will notice the still familiar ball diamonds – but none of the on- and off-ramps for the Scajaquada Expressway. You’ll notice that some of the lots at Middlesex and Delaware remain undeveloped in the photo.
The biggest change, of course, is the four-lane highway which would now be running through the middle of the page.
At first glance, the back of this photo offers no clues to the precise location where this photo was taken.
Buffalo News archives
The only information offered is the names of the men in the car and the date (plus a stern reminder to put the photo back in The News archives.)
Dr. Dewitt Sherman was the president of the Erie County Medical Society. Edward C. Bull was an executive with Buffalo’s Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co. and the longtime president of the Buffalo Automobile Dealers Association — not much help there.
The date, however, proves useful. Nov. 16, 1929, was the opening day of the Pierce-Arrow showroom at Main and Jewett.
While useful in placing this image, the date is also somewhat irony-filled. After spending decades as the preferred motorcar of the elite from New York City to Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, Pierce-Arrow’s new Art Deco showcase palace opened within days of the 1929 stock market crash. The crash helped precipitate the Great Depression and ended the good times and free flow of cash that helped usher the Pierce-Arrow brand to the top.
By the time the last of the Pierce-Arrows rolled off of Buffalo assembly lines in the mid-’30s, the building was a Cadilliac showroom. In fact, for parts of eight decades, the building was home to a Cadillac dealership— first Maxson Cadillac-LaSalle, then Tinney Cadillac and finally Braun Cadillac, before finding new life as a bank branch for Buffalo Savings Bank and now First Niagara.
Kitty-corner from the old Pierce-Arrow showroom, both then and now, is the English Gothic Central Presbyterian Church, which today is the home of the Aloma D. Johnson Charter School. The Main Street windows — which took the place of the building’s original front door — are seen in the photo as well as on the linked image below.