Getting Around Parkside and Beyond

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The Beltline Railway, which helped open up Parkside to development, was eventually too industrial for the sensitivities of the upwardly mobile new residents of Parkside to handle. One of life-long Parkside resident Bob Venneman’s earliest memories was of a 1918 freight train crash. He spoke of the crash with the Parkside News in 1988.

The trains met head-on on a curve opposite the Amherst Station. Dad and Mother walked me up there. All the trees were singed for a long time. Of course, all the tracks were lowered 16 feet in 1909 when Lewis Bennett, the developer of Central Park, objected to the noise of the trains. Wooden stairways led down to the tracks.

That, however, is only part of the story. In the spring 2005 edition of the Parkside News, Michael Riester tells the story of the Beltline tracks having once been embedded in Parkside Avenue—right at grade level crossing Parkside– where the viaduct between Crescent and Linden is now (Above, with street car, 1940s). The story of why that intersection was dug out, and why the viaduct is now there, is a grisly one.

On October 15, 1897, the Scatcherd Daughters, Emily and Dorothy, and their aunt, Miss Emily Wood, were returning from a visit at the William Ball residence at the corner of Depew and Starin Avenues…. The story goes; the carriage driven by Miss Wood proceeded toward Parkside Avenue, where they intended to enter the park. Because of gale force winds that day, the carriage was tightly secured; the side curtains drawn. Mr. Ball noticed a west bound train coming from Main Street, and noticed that because of the wind, the warning whistles were muted, almost negligible. Sensing disaster, Mr. Ball ran after the carriage as it sped towards the Parkside crossing; however, before he could make it, the engine of the train slammed into the carriage containing the two girls and their aunt. With tremendous force, amid the terrible screeching of brakes, the train pushed the carriage and its occupants as far as the Colvin Crossing, where it finally came to a halt. The horrified engineer enlisted the help of the groundskeeper at the nearby Glenny Mansion (now the site of the Nichols Athletic Fields) to recover the lifeless body of little 11 year-old Dorothy. The mangled bodies of her sister Emily and her aunt were rushed to Buffalo General Hospital at the order of Dr. Bainbridge Folwell, who happened to be visiting Mr. Glenny. Miss Emily, age 5, died shortly after being removed from the carriage. Miss Emily Wood was pronounced dead by Dr. Roswell Park.

The father of the little girls, John Scatcherd was to become known as “The Father of the Grade Crossing Commission,” and fought to have grade level tracks eliminated on a city- and state-wide basis. He lived to see the excavation of the road and erection of the Parkside viaduct in 1911, followed shortly thereafter by the elevated bridge at Colvin Avenue. The trains of the Beltline were powerful. One of the engines regularly used along the tracks that surrounded Buffalo was Old’ 999. On a New York Central run between Syracuse and Buffalo in 1893, with Engineer Charles Hogan at the throttle, the 999 set the world speed mark. Its 112.5 miles an hour was the fastest that man had ever traveled up to that point.

New York Central Engines like this one carried the Beltline passenger cars roaring through Parkside from the 1870s through the 1950s.

While the Beltline was removed from the road, the IRC Trolley was still sharing the roads with horses, carriages, and the occasional automobile.  Trolley service started in Parkside when only a few houses dotted the landscape in 1898. The was known through the years as the Kenmore line, the Parkside line, and the Zoo line. By 1911, residents were suing the IRC to get better service to the area. Portions of the lawsuit, as published in State Public Service Commission Documents, are worth including here not only because they show the growth of Parkside, but are also very descriptive of what the area looked like in 1911.

IRC Streetcar at Parkside and Jewett; fence is gone, but the corner post remains in front of the Zoo parking lot. 1940s.

The principal complaint is centered in the irregularity of the service, its insufficiency, and the crowded condition of the cars. The lines complained of leave the Terrace in the city of Buffalo, proceed northerly about 4 1/2 miles upon Main street, turn westerly at Florence avenue to Parkside, to Hertel, through Hertel to Virgil, to Kenmore, and (outbound) to Tonawanda. The service particularly criticized by complainants is that given to residents of that portion of the seventeenth ward through which the lines pass: that is, between the turn off at Main street and Florence avenue and the turn off from Hertel to Virgil. The territory here situated is in a growing part of the city, and it was shown that a number of residences have recently been built in that section. …  The territory between the corner of Hertel and Parkside eastward to Main street is well built up in the eastern portion, and several houses have recently been added in the western portion, but it can not be called compactly built territory. On the north side of Hertel avenue there is a long stretch of vacant land practically covering the entire distance from Main street to Parkside avenue. Parkside avenue at its northern end is also very sparsely built up. The residents of this section in going to the business portions of the city must either use the Kenmore-Zoo cars or the Main Street cars. The Main Street service is frequent, and it became evident on the first hearing that if better facilities were furnished to the residents of this portion of the city to get to Main street a considerable number would avail themselves of that method of downtown travel.

Even as the automobile began to grab a foothold as a means of transportation, the trolley remained an important means of moving around the city. Ann Marie Flett, the daughter the grocer Wally, grew up on Russell in the 1940s.

My grandmother used to take my brother Bill and I on the street car downtown. Every Saturday we’d take the trolley to Laube’s Old Spain for lunch, and we’d go to the show to see a movie. Around Christmas time, Mother would take us on the street car down to AM&A’s to see the windows, and all those people downtown. It was always nice.

I loved the street cars. It wobbled back and forth, especially when you crossed onto another street. It went up Parkside, then Florence, then up Main Street downtown, and there was always alot of clickety-clack when it went onto Main Street because there were so many tracks on Main. The cars were well-swept, but a little worn-down. We mostly took the Main cars, but there were street cars on Hertel and Delaware, too.

Streetcar trips by Parkside kids weren’t always adult supervised adventures, though. Tom Malamas, whose family owned The Parkside Candy Shoppe, can recall being one of the many of the youngsters of Parkside scrapping together the few cents necessary to hop on the street car to find out what fun could be had elsewhere in the city. “You could catch the trolley at Parkside and Oakwood, or at Main and Oakwood in front of the Candy Shoppe. I loved those big street cars, but it sure was a wobbly ride.”

The Kenmore/Zoo/Parkside trolley line was abandoned, and buses began following the route in June, 1950. Trolley service stopped in the city on July 1, 1950, replaced by motor busses.

The late Al Kerr spent a lifetime photographing trains, streetcars, and anything having to do with traction, including many of the photos on these pages. Little did he know, that his photographs would serve, decades later, as one of the best glimpses into everyday life in Western New York in the 1940s and 50s. His son, Fred Kerr, said traction was always his dad’s passion.

Parkside at Jewett, 1940s, Al Kerr photo

“He was a train buff, and this all started at a very early age.  He lived and grew up in the Kensington area, and he was friends with many train enthusiasts. It became his passion, too. He became involved in the National Railway Historical Society, over which he was a member for over 50 years. He loved railroading, but his passion was traction, and that meant street cars. He traveled all over the United States, collecting timetables, and photographing trains and street cars. Of course he took a great number of photos in the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area.”

Parkside near Florence, 1946. Photo by Al Kerr

“When you have a passion, just like someone who runs marathons, or loves ships, or aviation, it was his hobby. He loved street cars, interurban lines. He loved steam engines, he loved riding trains; he traveled all around North America on trains. He never flew in his life. He loved doing it, he loved giving speeches about trains and street cars. The library at the NHRS Museum in Tonawanda is called the Albert D. Kerr Library.”

From Parkside onto Hertel

When trolley/street car lines were extended past Delavan Avenue towards the city line starting in the 1880’s, Main Street became a clickety-clacking spaghetti-style stretch of interweaving city lines, until the last street cars were removed from service in 1950. 30 years later, mass transit moved under Main Street, and several neighborhood landmarks made way for MetroRail Stations.

One of two houses removed to make way for the MetroRail Humboldt Station, The Frank-Culliton House was an unassuming brick home built circa 1865-1875, and at the time of its demolition in the 1980s was one of the oldest in the area. Mr. Frank’s son was an architect, and designed the neighboring apartment building, which was built to serve visitors to the Pan American Exposition in 1901. The Culliton family bought the home in 1911, moving to Buffalo from Niagara Falls. Culliton was in the stone business, and dredged the track bed for the Beltline Railway, as well as numerous homes and businesses, like the Sears Store at Main and Jefferson (later Blue Cross, now the Canisius Science building), and the Ford Factory (now the Tri-Main Building.) Mike Riester wrote of the house at the time the wrecking ball swung in 1985. “The home’s stately mid-nineteenth century exterior of neat red brick quietly reminded those who passed by of the graciousness of an earlier age, when Main Street was both rural and residential.”

Just as Parkside rattled 70 years before with the blasting out of the Beltline railbed, January, 1982 had the north end of Parkside shaking for track-laying once again for the Amherst Street MetroRail station. At the time, officials projected that it will be the second busiest stop along the MetroRail route, with 9,700 passengers arriving and departing each day. Only the Lafayette Square Station was expected to be busier. While in 2008 the NFTA had no way to quantify the numbers arriving and departing at each stop, spokesman Douglas Hartmeyer says there are approximately 23,000 passengers on the entire Metro Rail system each day.

©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon

The 174-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

Published by

Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. The operator of Buffalo Stories Tours writes about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo special at blog.buffalostories.com and daily at buffalonews.com/history. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and spent 20 years working in Buffalo radio and TV, climbing his way to news director at WBEN Radio. Since then, he's been an adjunct professor and produced PBS documentaries. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.