The Beltline Railway, which helped open up Parkside to development, was eventually too industrial for the sensitivities of the upwardly mobile new residents of Parkside to handle. One of life-long Parkside resident Bob Venneman’s earliest memories was of a 1918 freight train crash. He spoke of the crash with the Parkside News in 1988.
The trains met head-on on a curve opposite the Amherst Station. Dad and Mother walked me up there. All the trees were singed for a long time. Of course, all the tracks were lowered 16 feet in 1909 when Lewis Bennett, the developer of Central Park, objected to the noise of the trains. Wooden stairways led down to the tracks.
That, however, is only part of the story. In the spring 2005 edition of the Parkside News, Michael Riester tells the story of the Beltline tracks having once been embedded in Parkside Avenue—right at grade level crossing Parkside– where the viaduct between Crescent and Linden is now (Above, with street car, 1940s). The story of why that intersection was dug out, and why the viaduct is now there, is a grisly one.
On October 15, 1897, the Scatcherd Daughters, Emily and Dorothy, and their aunt, Miss Emily Wood, were returning from a visit at the William Ball residence at the corner of Depew and Starin Avenues…. The story goes; the carriage driven by Miss Wood proceeded toward Parkside Avenue, where they intended to enter the park. Because of gale force winds that day, the carriage was tightly secured; the side curtains drawn. Mr. Ball noticed a west bound train coming from Main Street, and noticed that because of the wind, the warning whistles were muted, almost negligible. Sensing disaster, Mr. Ball ran after the carriage as it sped towards the Parkside crossing; however, before he could make it, the engine of the train slammed into the carriage containing the two girls and their aunt. With tremendous force, amid the terrible screeching of brakes, the train pushed the carriage and its occupants as far as the Colvin Crossing, where it finally came to a halt. The horrified engineer enlisted the help of the groundskeeper at the nearby Glenny Mansion (now the site of the Nichols Athletic Fields) to recover the lifeless body of little 11 year-old Dorothy. The mangled bodies of her sister Emily and her aunt were rushed to Buffalo General Hospital at the order of Dr. Bainbridge Folwell, who happened to be visiting Mr. Glenny. Miss Emily, age 5, died shortly after being removed from the carriage. Miss Emily Wood was pronounced dead by Dr. Roswell Park.
The father of the little girls, John Scatcherd was to become known as “The Father of the Grade Crossing Commission,” and fought to have grade level tracks eliminated on a city- and state-wide basis. He lived to see the excavation of the road and erection of the Parkside viaduct in 1911, followed shortly thereafter by the elevated bridge at Colvin Avenue. The trains of the Beltline were powerful. One of the engines regularly used along the tracks that surrounded Buffalo was Old’ 999. On a New York Central run between Syracuse and Buffalo in 1893, with Engineer Charles Hogan at the throttle, the 999 set the world speed mark. Its 112.5 miles an hour was the fastest that man had ever traveled up to that point.
While the Beltline was removed from the road, the IRC Trolley was still sharing the roads with horses, carriages, and the occasional automobile. Trolley service started in Parkside when only a few houses dotted the landscape in 1898. The was known through the years as the Kenmore line, the Parkside line, and the Zoo line. By 1911, residents were suing the IRC to get better service to the area. Portions of the lawsuit, as published in State Public Service Commission Documents, are worth including here not only because they show the growth of Parkside, but are also very descriptive of what the area looked like in 1911.
The principal complaint is centered in the irregularity of the service, its insufficiency, and the crowded condition of the cars. The lines complained of leave the Terrace in the city of Buffalo, proceed northerly about 4 1/2 miles upon Main street, turn westerly at Florence avenue to Parkside, to Hertel, through Hertel to Virgil, to Kenmore, and (outbound) to Tonawanda. The service particularly criticized by complainants is that given to residents of that portion of the seventeenth ward through which the lines pass: that is, between the turn off at Main street and Florence avenue and the turn off from Hertel to Virgil. The territory here situated is in a growing part of the city, and it was shown that a number of residences have recently been built in that section. … The territory between the corner of Hertel and Parkside eastward to Main street is well built up in the eastern portion, and several houses have recently been added in the western portion, but it can not be called compactly built territory. On the north side of Hertel avenue there is a long stretch of vacant land practically covering the entire distance from Main street to Parkside avenue. Parkside avenue at its northern end is also very sparsely built up. The residents of this section in going to the business portions of the city must either use the Kenmore-Zoo cars or the Main Street cars. The Main Street service is frequent, and it became evident on the first hearing that if better facilities were furnished to the residents of this portion of the city to get to Main street a considerable number would avail themselves of that method of downtown travel.
Even as the automobile began to grab a foothold as a means of transportation, the trolley remained an important means of moving around the city. Ann Marie Flett, the daughter the grocer Wally, grew up on Russell in the 1940s.
My grandmother used to take my brother Bill and I on the street car downtown. Every Saturday we’d take the trolley to Laube’s Old Spain for lunch, and we’d go to the show to see a movie. Around Christmas time, Mother would take us on the street car down to AM&A’s to see the windows, and all those people downtown. It was always nice.
I loved the street cars. It wobbled back and forth, especially when you crossed onto another street. It went up Parkside, then Florence, then up Main Street downtown, and there was always alot of clickety-clack when it went onto Main Street because there were so many tracks on Main. The cars were well-swept, but a little worn-down. We mostly took the Main cars, but there were street cars on Hertel and Delaware, too.
Streetcar trips by Parkside kids weren’t always adult supervised adventures, though. Tom Malamas, whose family owned The Parkside Candy Shoppe, can recall being one of the many of the youngsters of Parkside scrapping together the few cents necessary to hop on the street car to find out what fun could be had elsewhere in the city. “You could catch the trolley at Parkside and Oakwood, or at Main and Oakwood in front of the Candy Shoppe. I loved those big street cars, but it sure was a wobbly ride.”
The Kenmore/Zoo/Parkside trolley line was abandoned, and buses began following the route in June, 1950. Trolley service stopped in the city on July 1, 1950, replaced by motor busses.
The late Al Kerr spent a lifetime photographing trains, streetcars, and anything having to do with traction, including many of the photos on these pages. Little did he know, that his photographs would serve, decades later, as one of the best glimpses into everyday life in Western New York in the 1940s and 50s. His son, Fred Kerr, said traction was always his dad’s passion.
“He was a train buff, and this all started at a very early age. He lived and grew up in the Kensington area, and he was friends with many train enthusiasts. It became his passion, too. He became involved in the National Railway Historical Society, over which he was a member for over 50 years. He loved railroading, but his passion was traction, and that meant street cars. He traveled all over the United States, collecting timetables, and photographing trains and street cars. Of course he took a great number of photos in the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area.”
“When you have a passion, just like someone who runs marathons, or loves ships, or aviation, it was his hobby. He loved street cars, interurban lines. He loved steam engines, he loved riding trains; he traveled all around North America on trains. He never flew in his life. He loved doing it, he loved giving speeches about trains and street cars. The library at the NHRS Museum in Tonawanda is called the Albert D. Kerr Library.”
When trolley/street car lines were extended past Delavan Avenue towards the city line starting in the 1880’s, Main Street became a clickety-clacking spaghetti-style stretch of interweaving city lines, until the last street cars were removed from service in 1950. 30 years later, mass transit moved under Main Street, and several neighborhood landmarks made way for MetroRail Stations.
One of two houses removed to make way for the MetroRail Humboldt Station, The Frank-Culliton House was an unassuming brick home built circa 1865-1875, and at the time of its demolition in the 1980s was one of the oldest in the area. Mr. Frank’s son was an architect, and designed the neighboring apartment building, which was built to serve visitors to the Pan American Exposition in 1901. The Culliton family bought the home in 1911, moving to Buffalo from Niagara Falls. Culliton was in the stone business, and dredged the track bed for the Beltline Railway, as well as numerous homes and businesses, like the Sears Store at Main and Jefferson (later Blue Cross, now the Canisius Science building), and the Ford Factory (now the Tri-Main Building.) Mike Riester wrote of the house at the time the wrecking ball swung in 1985. “The home’s stately mid-nineteenth century exterior of neat red brick quietly reminded those who passed by of the graciousness of an earlier age, when Main Street was both rural and residential.”
Just as Parkside rattled 70 years before with the blasting out of the Beltline railbed, January, 1982 had the north end of Parkside shaking for track-laying once again for the Amherst Street MetroRail station. At the time, officials projected that it will be the second busiest stop along the MetroRail route, with 9,700 passengers arriving and departing each day. Only the Lafayette Square Station was expected to be busier. While in 2008 the NFTA had no way to quantify the numbers arriving and departing at each stop, spokesman Douglas Hartmeyer says there are approximately 23,000 passengers on the entire Metro Rail system each day.
Parkside had a different feel during this simpler time. There wasn’t a street in the neighborhood without a business of some sort. In many homes, the front parlor served as an office for doctors, dentists, and lawyers, and as a workshop for dressmakers, tailors and even a furrier. And that was just the businesses in the homes of the professionals. The Main Street ends of both West Oakwood Place and Greenfield Streets were dotted with businesses.
On the first block of West Oakwood Place, in 1940, there was a grocer, Beatrice Foley selling gifts, Frank Nashek selling furs, a dry cleaning company, and the Jean Alma Beauty Shop. In 1950, Greenfield Street had Joe Mobilia’s shoe repair shop, Abe Kramer the tailor, George Meyer’s grocery, Frances Wolkiewicz’s variety store and Klein’s Delicatessen.
In 1930, 11 Greenfield Street was home to Flickinger’s; one of the original small shops that would grow later into the Super Duper chain. Flickinger also ran a grocery store at Parkside and Russell, a corner that through much of the neighborhood’s history has also been a traditional business strip. In 1930, there were 4 stores listed as grocers near Parkside and Russell.
As Burt Flickinger and family were looking at their Parkside businesses and thinking bigger, one longtime Russell Avenue grocery was thinking on a small scale; a small scale that would serve it well as a Parkside institution for 50 years.
From 1924 to 1976, the Flett Brothers, Jack and Wally, were literally at the beck and call of Parksiders and North Buffalonians for their grocery needs. While a shopper could walk into the store to shop, it was one special service that the Flett’s kept up long past any of their competitors that kept customers coming.
Long into the era of chain grocery stores, like those pioneered by their one time neighbor Burt Flickinger, Flett’s delivered on orders their customers phoned into the store, usually on old fashioned tab credit. Jack would fill the orders as they came in, and Wally would drive the delivery truck, carrying your groceries to your front door, and even your kitchen table.
The store was in the second building in from Parkside on Russell Ave, next door to the Park Meadow. Wally’s daughter, Ann Marie, fondly remembers her dad at the store. “He could hold beans in his hand, and tell you when there was a pound. They had fresh fruit and vegetables, and canned goods, and they had the butcher shop. Once the supermarkets started coming in, it was just the delivery service that kept them going, because they could just pickup the phone and have their groceries delivered. There were a lot of wealthy customers who didn’t mind paying a little more to have their groceries delivered.”
Ironically, the site of the current grocer on Parkside, wasn’t the site of one of the dozen or so grocers in the neighborhood over the years. Before Wilson Farms stood on Parkside, the lot was the home of a Hygrade (and later Gulf) filling station and garage from the 1920s until 1976, when the current building was erected. It’s fondly remembered by generations of Parkside kids as the place to fill up bicycle tires at the always free air pump.
While many kids made their first dimes working at the area grocery stores, a very young Bob Venneman worked at a different Parkside landmark. He was a stock boy at the Fairfield Library, at Fairfield and Amherst Streets. On payday Friday, he’d go to Unterecker’s (later The Stuffed Mushroom, then Shawn B’s, at Main Street and Orchard Place) for a 15 cent ice cream sundae. He quit that job with the depression hit and his pay was cut back to 19 cents.
The Fairfield Library, opened in 1925, and shutdown by the Buffalo and Erie County Library in 2005, was designed by Parkside resident William Sydney Wicks.
Originally Parkside Unitarian Church when the doors opened in 1897, the building is considered one of the area’s finest examples of New England Colonial architecture. In 1912, the building became the home of the Parkside Evangelical Lutheran Church. A dozen years later, in 1924, the building was purchased by the city and opened as a library in 1925. The building was enlarged in 1961 to accommodate more books, but the Fairfield Library was closed but the Buffalo and Erie County Library in 2005 in the midst of an Erie County budget crisis. When built, it was one of many churches to be built in the Parkside neighborhood as the community grew.
The church was built by the man greatly responsible for developing Parkside’s neighbor to the north; north of the Beltline tracks, that is. There lies the Lewis J. Bennett-designed and developed neighborhood Central Park. The owner of Buffalo Cement began planning the neighborhood in 1889, taking four years and $300,000 to lay out streets, plant 1200 elm trees, blast out bedrock, and built the four stone markers to delineate the original boundaries of this exclusive neighborhood. Strict zoning ordinances set forth by Bennett called for homes of at least 2 stories, with barns in the rear of all residences. Specific price structures were also established, with homes on Depew to cost a minimum of $4000, on Main Street $3500, and on Starin, $2500.
A vice-president of Pierce-Arrow, Mr. Henry May, lived at 290 Depew Avenue. Many Parksiders and Central Park residents became used to Mr. May driving through the streets of the neighborhood on a drivable chassis without a body, working out the kinks in the latest Pierce-Arrow models before they went to production.
The train station at Starin and Amherst belonged to the Buffalo Cement Company and was leased out to the New York Central Railroad. Once the Beltline discontinued service in the 20’s, the station was sold to the Boy Scouts and used as the headquarters for Troop 12 until well after World War II. The structure remains the last standing station house that served the Beltline railway.
Indirectly, Bennett also played a role in the development of Parkside, but mostly by his unwillingness to accept a Roman Catholic church into the community he was developing.
In 1908, Buffalo’s Catholic Bishop, Charles Colton, wrote of his desire to start a new parish in “the Central Park area of Buffalo,” either to be called Epiphany, or St. Mark’s. Bennett had reserved triangular islands of land throughout Central Park, upon which churches were meant to be built. Parkside Lutheran, for example, is one those “churches on an island,” where Depew Avenue, Wallace Avenue, and Linden Avenue all meet.
The people of St. Mark and the Buffalo Catholic Diocese inquired about one such island, at Beard, Starin, and Morris. Developer Bennett, whose own strong Unitarian views were greatly at odds with Catholicism, refused to allow a Catholic church on his property, or anywhere in his Central Park development.
Fearing similar responses to overtures across Amherst Street in the Parkside Neighborhood, the founders of St. Mark’s went cloak and dagger, and perhaps by stretching the truth in a few places, were able to buy several lots only two blocks away from that initially desired triangular lot, this one at Woodward Avenue and Amherst Street.
A very young priest, Fr. John McMahon, was offered the chance to become pastor of the parish. His background as pastor at Mt. Carmel Church would serve him well. Mt. Carmel was down near the Commercial Slip in Buffalo’s rough and tumble waterfront /canal district, right next to where the Crystal Beach boat would dock. The area, known as “The Hooks” in those times, was filled with interesting characters from many different walks of life, while Parkside and Central Park were still greatly undeveloped. It was many of these rough and tumble sorts who made up the 30 or 40 families who started St. Mark’s. The families were mostly those of men who were dockworkers at the commercial slip at the canal terminal. There were also 70 or 80 servants, virtually all Irish, among the congregation. They were the maids and butlers in the larger Parkside and later Central Park homes.
St. Mark was a mostly Irish parish, which differentiated it from the other close by parishes like the former St Vincent De Paul (the building is now The Montante Center on the Canisius College Campus) and Blessed Trinity Church (on Leroy Street) which were mostly German parishes. The new parish began June 25, 1908.
Almost immediately, parishioners started raising money for a permanent church. In 1914, ground was broken; work was completed the next year. The statuary near the altar of the current church– likenesses of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Anthony– were the only artifacts that made their way from the original church to the current building. It was at this time that the rectory, a wooden frame Parkside Home that predates St Mark’s, had a stone facade built up, to give it the same look as the church.
St. Mark was different from other new parishes of the time, in that the parishioners built a stand alone church first without a school. Many new parishes of the time, like North Buffalo neighbors St Margaret’s and Holy Spirit, built combination church/schools, with the church on one floor, the school on another. Parishioners settled on waiting a few years for a school, which was built in 1920-21, and still stands today. That first pastor, Father McMahon, would spend 20 years at St Marks, until he was named the Bishop of Trenton, NJ in 1928.
Presbyterians also have a long history in Parkside. A long time neighbor at Main Street and Jewett Parkway, Central Presbyterian Church was founded in 1835 by a group of 29 folks looking for a more conservative theology than that which was being presented at the more liberal “new school” First Presbyterian. They organized as Pearl Street Presbyterian, and their first church was a large log cabin just north of Genesee Street. Under the 38 year leadership of their first pastor, The Rev. D. John C. Lord, the church remained the only “old school” church in the area. A new church was built in 1837, then another in 1852, at the corner of Genesee and Pearl Streets, on the site of the current Hyatt Hotel.
While by 1900 the membership had grown to over 600, the quick turnover of several ministers, and a 1906 fire at the Pearl Street home of Central Presbyterian Church left the congregation with a rapidly dwindling number, and in some financial difficulty.
Park Presbyterian Church was organized in Parkside in 1893, and worshipped at Parker’s Hall at Main and Oakwood Streets. A small church was built on Elam Place in 1897.
In 1909, the congregants at Central and Park voted to merge. The Pearl Street building owned by Central was sold to the Shea Amusement Company, and by 1911, the combined church, under the name Central Presbyterian, began worship in a new church at the corner of Main Street and Jewett Parkway(currently Mt. St. Joseph’s Academy). In 1914, the church had a membership of 688, but over the ensuing 12 years, “enjoyed a phenomenal growth which is without parallel in the history of (the) denomination.”
The explosive growth was almost immediate. By 1926, only 14 years later, the numbers had swollen to an amazing 3,378. The relatively new building had to be enlarged to fit the larger flock. The almost inconceivable plan to do so was so incredible, that the producers of MovieTone News shot the feat to be included in news reels all around the country. The stone facade of the church was moved 40 feet closer to Main Street, all in one piece.
A new pastor, The Rev. Dr. Robert MacAlpine, and his charming personality were largely responsible for the growth. MacAlpine had radio broadcast equipment installed in the church at a time when the medium was still a novelty, sending his voice and message near and far to those listening on “wireless sets” all over Western New York, inspiring them to come to Sunday Services at Central Pres. Ten stained glass windows were added in 1940, in 1957, the school building was added behind the church.
Buffalo’s population doubled in size between 1890 and 1930, and one of the city’s hottest new neighborhoods was there to help absorb the growth. Around the turn of the century, a Parkside address became very desirable, and unlike other parts of the city where a single developer or builder put up an entire neighborhood, in Parkside, each individual land owner hired their own architect and builder, creating the architecturally varied place that still makes Parkside unique.
Prominent architects like Stanford White, Esenwein & Johnson, Max Beirel and E.B. Green built many houses to impress throughout the neighborhood, many with third floor or basement quarters for servants. When built, the neighborhood attracted many prominent Buffalonians. Names familiar generations later, like Mathias Hens and Patrick Kelly. Yes, Hens and Kelly lived on Summit and Crescent respectively, where their backyards touched. While many generations of Buffalonians associate 998 Broadway with the name Sattlers, Mr. Sattler made his home in Parkside, as did William Simon of the Simon Pure Brewing Company. The Mayor of Buffalo and founder of the Holling Press, Thomas Holling, also lived in Parkside at One Agassiz Circle.
But for all the amazing architecture and wealthy citizens Parkside attracted, the neighborhood also welcomed those of a more middle class means. School teachers, plant workers, and food brokers made their homes in Parkside as well as lumber and machining magnates.
A stroll through the community is a primer in fifty years worth of popular residential, church, and commercial architecture. From late Victorian and Queen Anne, down the line to Shingle, Bungalow, Prairie, Romanesque Revival, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, right up to the venerable and well represented American Four-Square; all are on display in the living museum that is the neighborhood.
With people and their homes, came the supporting businesses and organizations to the neighborhood to service the new community. It was a transition from outlying outpost to hot-to-trot city neighborhood, and it was a change at least one Parksider watched from beginning to almost present day.
Bob Venneman was born in 1912 on Amherst Street in a house built by his father. A long time friend of Parkside, Venneman died in 1998, and his lifetime of memories provide a singular view of the change the neighborhood has seen. He spoke of his memories of the tavern and stage coach near East Oakwood on Main, with a blacksmith shop close by, and the handful of businesses in the three story red brick building that stood where the Amherst Street Metro Rail station now stands.
In a 1988 interview with the Parkside News, Venneman talked about the chestnut trees that grew between the houses and sidewalks all up and down Main, and the elms between the sidewalks and the streets. He said many of the trees didn’t make it when Main was widened in 1931. Growing up, he said, the Parkside neighborhood looked very much the same as today. North of Hertel, though, he remembers there being practically nothing.
Venneman also remembered walking past the original Park School, which was on the “Willowlawn” property on Main Street between Willowlawn and Jewett Parkway, before it was developed for the housing that is currently on the block. “It was a fresh air school, composed of five or six shelters, only one of which had heat. In the winter, children sat at their desks wearing a garment similar to a sleeping bag. They learned to print using mittens. They went a bit over-board on the fresh air.” The school moved to the corner in 1913, but had moved to Snyder by 1920. Shortly thereafter, the homes currently on the block were erected.
A few blocks away, meanwhile, another private school was moving to Parkside; this one a fixture in the neighborhood to this day. Nichols has been a Parkside neighbor for a century.
An account of the day says “Several Buffalo men joined forces to buy the Glenny property at Amherst Street and Colvin Avenue; an ideal locality for a school of the kind is the wooded land lying north of the park and Amherst Street.” The Nichols School was named for its first headmaster, William Nichols, who began the school in 1892. He had died the year before buildings on the present campus opened in 1909.
In 1902, the corner of Summit Avenue and Jewett Parkway saw construction begin on what was to become Parkside’s most famous landmark, as the complex of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for his great patron Darwin Martin began to rise from the earth.
A prominent figure in the organization of the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, and eventually tabbed by President Wilson for a National Defense post during the First World War, Darwin Martin moved to Parkside in 1897. He built his first house about a block north of the home now known as the “Darwin Martin House,” at 151 Summit Avenue.
An executive at the nationally popular and successful Larkin Soap Company, Martin was a millionaire by the turn of the century, and decided to build a home commensurate with his family’s lifestyle and their place in Buffalo Society. Having come from a broken home and spending his youth working in a host of odd jobs, Martin also hoped to provide room on his new sprawling estate for his extended family, including his brothers and sisters.
After flying to Chicago to meet with the young Frank Lloyd Wright, Martin commissioned him to build his sister a home. The Barton House, built for Martin’s sister Delta and her husband, George Barton, was the first of several buildings erected on the Martin Complex in 1902. She was the only Martin sibling to take him up on his offer of a home in Parkside.
The complex, complete with the main home, the Barton House, a Gardener’s Cottage, a carriage house, a pergola, a conservatory, a stable, and a porte-cochere, was Wright’s most expansive prairie style project, and one of the largest home complexes he ever built.
The home’s “Tree of Life” windows are instantly recognizable the world ’round.By 1906, the main house– The Darwin Martin House– was ready for move-in by the family. It’s low, horizontal-lined Prairie style design was (and is) certainly a contrast with the more traditional home styles in the neighborhood.
While many scholars have often looked to the architectural masterpiece as Wright’s finest example in the Prairie style, the biggest endorsement came from Wright himself. Plans for the Martin House long hung in on his office wall, described by the architect as “a well-nigh perfect composition.”
Martin would also have Wright design his lakeshore summer home, Graycliff, in Derby, in 1927. It was also almost entirely on Martin’s word that Wright was retained to build the Larkin Headquarters on Seneca Street.
The pioneering office building was torn down in 1950. Eventually, over a lifetime of patronage, Martin was either directly or indirectly responsible for the commission of at least 15 Wright buildings. When Darwin Martin lay dying in 1935, Wright wrote to Martin’s wife Isabel that their friendship was a “blessed relationship to treasure and travel on.”
Early Catholic Neighbors: St Vincent’s and The Sisters of St. Joseph
While most of the earliest development inside what we know now as Parkside was an effort of mostly wealthy Protestant men, the Main Street corridor leading into the neighborhood was developed in large measure by the Roman Catholic Church.
St. Vincent de Paul church was built in 1864 on Main Street just south of what is now the Kensington Expressway interchange. St Vincent’s Roman Catholic Church was founded by the Rev. Joseph Sorg to serve the German-speaking Catholics who lived in the area. Generations of southern Parksiders attended mass at the church just south of Humboldt Parkway on Main Street until the parish closed in 1993. When St. Mark’s parish was established in 1908, the boundary line was drawn between the two parishes at Jewett Parkway, but was later moved south the West Oakwood Place.
The church grew fast enough that 3 different buildings, all on the same block, served as St. Vincent de Paul Church, each building growing larger. The most recent church buildings, built in 1924 in the Byzantine Romanesque style (see photo next page), are now a part of the Canisius College campus, and the church itself is known as the Montante Center. Many affluent Parksiders gave heartily to have the building erected.
One of the Parkside area’s earliest enthusiasts was Mother Mary Anne Burke of the Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph. Mother Mary Anne and her sisters marveled as they strolled up Main Street “north of the horse-drawn trolley tracks.”
The Sisters of St. Joseph built a convent for novices, a novitiate, south from St. Vincent’s to Delevan Avenue. The now densely built up property was then described as an “expanse of land and… groves of trees.” A decade later, when the Sisters of St Joseph abandoned the property for the current site of St Mary’s School for the Deaf, Jesuit Fathers purchased the land to farm in 1874. In 1911, the Fathers built Canisius College there.
The Sisters also purchased 30 acres of land across Main Street from St. Vincent’s in 1883. The frontage of this land is now part of the Canisius College Campus, and the rear portion is Medaille College; Mount St Joseph Academy when it was built. Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart Dunne wrote about in The Congregation of St. Joseph of Buffalo:
No more desirable property than this, for its purpose, could be wished for. Situated at the north entrance to Delaware Park, overlooking the great expanse of Park Meadows and, on two sides, adjoining Forest Lawn, Buffalo’s City of the Dead, the chance for seclusion was ideal. The place had been the home of George Bailey, an English Gentleman whose artistic taste led him to lavish time, care, and wealth upon a spot already beautiful by nature. It was known for many years as one of the finest estates in the surrounding country with its extensive lawns, patterned garden plots, fruit orchards, patches of forest with trees from every clime and a charming residence of English Architecture. Time brought about a change of fortune for the owner and there was a rumor of putting the property in the market for sale. Many who had hoped one day to secure it were deterred from opening negotiations because of the price when a fire occurred. The residence was destroyed and a sale became imperative. The fact that the pastor of the nearby church saved the life of the owner, now an invalid, by carrying him out of the burning structure, dispelled whatever of prejudice may have existed against letting the property fall into Catholic hands.
That was the sanitized version approved for publishing in the Sister’s official history. The well told tale told by early Parksiders was closer to what Michael Riester wrote in the Parkside News in 1998:
For years, Mother Mary Anne Burke had pleaded with Bailey to sell the former S. V. Ryan estate to the sisters. Despite his refusals, Mother Mary Anne prayed that he might change his mind. By 1883, Mr. Bailey was elderly and an invalid when Rev. Martin Phillips, Pastor at St. Vincent’s, was aroused from his slumber by the roar of fire at the Bailey Estate, directly across Main from the church. Father Phillips risked his own life, charged into the building, and saved Mr. Bailey. Soon thereafter, Bailey sold to Mother Mary Anne and the Sisters of St. Joseph, who erected a motherhouse on the grounds in 1889.
The cornerstone laid in 1889, the Mother House and Academy of Mt. St. Joseph was completed on the site of the former George Bailey home by 1891 for the sum of $80,000. From the 80 foot vantage-point of the cupola, it was written that “the panorama of the entire city was visible, and, on clear days, the shining mist of the mighty Niagara (could also be seen).”
To raise money to add to the buildings the Sisters had constructed, in 1908, the Sisters sold ten lots facing Humboldt Parkway and raised $150,000. Coming full circle, these properties, and the homes on them are now the property of Medaille College, which was originally built to house Mt. St. Joseph School for Boys.
Mother Mary Anne was a forced to be reckoned with, but also a gentle soul. On the Anniversary of her silver anniversary as a sister, Fr. Patrick Cronin wrote in the Union and Times, on December 26, 1888, “A woman of rare worth is Mother Mary Anne. Large-minded, just, generous and kind, her heart and brain have especially fitted her to be the guide of others… The history of her life and labors would be the History of the Sisters of St. Joseph in western New York. The tiny mustard seed of three Sisters and four deaf pupils in 1854 has developed into a body of one hundred-fifty Sisters, fifteen schools, a property unequaled for beauty… and an Institution for the Deaf which is the rival of any other of its kind.”
Anna Bancroft Coushaine wrote about the St. Mary Le Couteulx Deaf Mute Institute in the Buffalo Courier in 1901, saying it had been furnished with “every modern convenience to be had in the home of wealth and refinement,” and was a great atmosphere to for the pupils to learn to “talk with their fingers, which they do just as rapidly as hearing children can speak with their lips.”
The Church of the Good Shepherd
Back in the middle of Parkside proper, in the mid 1880’s, Elam Jewett began plans for developing a piece of his property to act as a central meeting place for the fledgling Parkside neighborhood, to honor his friend and late pastor, and to serve as a beautiful place of worship.
As previously mentioned, Jewett was a devout Episcopalian, and was a vestryman at Trinity Episcopal Church downtown. He and his wife were rather close with the pastor of Trinity, Rev. Edward Ingersoll. When Ingersoll died in 1883, Jewett made every attempt to join with the church in an attempt to build a suitable memorial to Ingersoll. When an agreement on what was to be done couldn’t be reached, an aged Jewett poured all of his energy into an effort that would memorialize his friend, and at the same time cut down his long, dusty ride to church every week. Plans for the Ingersoll Memorial Chapel, soon to become Good Shepherd Church, were set in motion.
From his time at Trinity, he was acquainted with men and women of the relatively new and idealistic Arts and Crafts movement. He contacted the firm of Silsbee and Marling (later Marling and Burdett) to design the church. Herbert Burdett was an early assistant in the office of H.H. Richardson, and helped capture the Richarsonian style that Jewett was after in his church. Work began in 1888, with the cornerstone laid just months after Elam Jewett’s death in 1887.
As the structure was being completed, it was outfitted with nine prime examples of Louis Comfort Tiffany windows, most notable the representation of the Good Shepherd carrying two lambs in the chancel. The work was said to be among the last works to be done by Tiffany himself.
Another Tiffany window, a scene of Christ with children, is found in Good Shepherd’s children’s chapel. The children are said to be modeled after the children of Jewett’s nephew William Northrup, as well as other kids of the neighborhood. (See above.)
As published in A Century in the Fold: A History of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Good Shepherd’s first pastor, Rev. Thomas Berry, wrote his view from the back porch at Jewett’s Willowlawn estate, as the church was being built. Parkside was still rather rural in 1888:
Contiguous to the lawn yet separated from it by a picket fence and a hedge of stately roses, was a garden. Oh! What a garden with its old fashioned flowers and its prim borders, where children romped and through which Mrs. Jewett often led her guests. Departures from the house were always accompanied by gifts of flowers or fruit, wile the tables of many less fortunate people were literally kept supplied with vegetables in season.
The first service was held at Good Shepherd in March 1888, at which time from the steps of the brand new church, the Rev. Berry could see only trees, grass, and the Jewett Homestead. It was Jewett farmland for as far as the eye could see, and it was from that corner that Parkside was to blossom.
Only two years after that first service at Good Shepherd, in 1890, prominent Buffalo Architect William Sydney Wicks, partner of E.B. Green in the firm Green and Wicks, built his English Tudor mansion across the street from Good Shepherd on the corner of Summit Avenue and Jewett Parkway. Wicks was an early and long time promoter of the Parkside neighborhood, and kept his neighborhood in mind as served as Park Commissioner from 1897-1900. The Wicks Mansion remains to this day one of the more recognizable landmarks in Parkside.
Residential Development came to Parkside as the area became easier to access. Main Street was paved in the 1830s, but it wasn’t until the extension of street car service from Cold Spring to the Park in 1879, and the completion of the New York Central Beltline Railway in 1883 that living in Parkside was really made a viable option for many.
Before those tracks were laid, the only two options for getting to the area were walking or taking a carriage. The Beltline tracks made a 15 mile loop around the city, and Buffalonians could ride from one end of the city to the other in about forty-five minutes, costing only a nickel.
The train stopped twice in Parkside: The Highland Station was at Greenfield (near Jewett) and Main, and the Bennett Station at Amherst Street and Starin Avenue, where the station house and watchman’s tower remain as private residences.
Elam Jewett and Washington Russell III sold portions of their property to the city in 1870 for Delaware Park, adding to the Granger acreage already set aside for the park. Russell, the grandson of the man who settled along Main Street in 1826, built himself one of the first homes of the “Parkside” era on Main Street, in the shadow of his family homestead in 1885. Russell the Third was a lawyer, minister, mathematician, and musician who squandered much of his family’s fortune on living the good life of a gentleman.
He built a Victorian showcase (above), replete with the genteel finery of the era: A well stocked library, a music room, and a scientific laboratory. Russell III died in 1944, but his sister Lillian stayed on in the family homestead (below) until the late 1960s. According to provisions in the family will, the 1841 brick home of Washington Russell was to be razed. Though the building had fallen into utter disrepair, after years of wrangling, the area’s oldest home was saved, having served, as previously mentioned, as funeral parlor, and now a church. The Victorian home built by Russell III also survives on Main Street immediately to the south of the homestead.
Another early “Parkside” home belonged to the nephew (cousin by some accounts) of Elam Jewett, William Phelps Northrup. In 1870, he built a grand Victorian home on the southwest corner of Crescent Avenue and Jewett Parkway. The home adjoined the Jewett Family Willowlawn Estate just to the east.
While having an Uncle as one of the city’s most successful printers couldn’t hurt, Northrup became a success in his own right as a publisher of maps. His home was torn down in the 1950s, to make way for a Latter Day Saints Church (which still stands today as the Girl Scout Head-quarters.) Northrup’s barns, however, still stand — today a private home– set back from the street, immediately south of the Girl Scouts building on Crescent Avenue.
Even after handing over massive acreage to the city for the park, both Russell and Jewett still had large tracts of land between the Park and Main Street, land that was included in Olmsted’s plans as “the Parkside.” The initial plan for Parkside was bounded by Main Street, Parkside Avenue, The Belt Line Railway, Colvin Avenue, and Humboldt Parkway to the south. Olmsted’s original vision called for Parkside as the ideal suburb: The curvilinear, crescent-like street patterns and lots as large as 100×100. If Olmsted had his way, the entire neighborhood would have looked much the way Jewett Parkway does today; large homes on large lots.
The problem was, in the beginning, people just weren’t buying. The Parkside Land Improvement Company was formed in 1885, but development was initially slow. Olmsted was actually hired back by developers; retained to redesign the street layouts to allow for smaller lots, with Jewett Parkway remaining as the anchor and ideal showplace for the neighborhood. For the streets radiating from Jewett, the same basic design and intent was left intact, with curving streets and buildings set back, but less green space around each building because of the smaller plots.
Parkside Avenue, Crescent Avenue, and Greenfield Street were graded and surveyed with the smaller lots in mind in 1888, Woodward Avenue (originally Davis after an early Parkside Land Improvement Company investor) and Summit Avenue the next year. An 1892 ad from the Buffalo Express encouraged Buffalonians to come to Parkside:
Jewett Estate Lands- Beautiful Residential Section– This area’s many amenities include sewer, water, gas, new electric street cars, convenience to Belt Line, desirable lots, liberal terms for those wishing to build. Numerous advantages to the area! Giving you all of the needed rapid transit desires!
Of all those amenities, the fact that electric streetcars made their way to a still largely undeveloped neighborhood was likely most important. In a pre-automobile society, it was a major milestone in the further development of the neighborhood.
Can you spot the error? In 1893, a bill made it to the State Assembly with aim of extending Parkside at Agassiz Circle, straight through where Medaille College now stands, through the cemetery, straight through to Delavan Ave. That was rejected on the grounds that cemetery had already sold some plots in that right away, and the cost to the Buffalo Cemetery Ass’n would be too great. The makers of this 1902 map mistakenly showed Parkside running to Delavan.
Even as late as 1880, the area to soon be known as Parkside was still chiefly farm land, but an eye toward development had been sharply trained on the area for decades. Though most of the building in the neighborhood wasn’t to be completed until the first two decades of the 20th century; it was the last two decades of the 19th century when the area began to take on a look familiar to what we know today.
First concocted in 1858, The Civil War interrupted plans for Buffalo’s park system. It was 1869 when construction began of the masterpiece that would ultimately feature The Meadow at The Park (today Delaware Park) as its crown jewel. But even after the initial decade-long delay, the plan was an evolving one, even as shovels hit dirt.
As the park was being built, the city continued to grow. Frederick Law Olmsted changed the design of what is now Delaware Park as the outline of the Beltline Railway became apparent. In 1874, Elam Jewett built, paved, and maintained Jewett Parkway himself, as an easy entrance to the park for those getting off the New York Central Beltline railway. Other than Main Street, Jewett Parkway was the first street laid out in modern Parkside. Included in Olmsted’s plans was a neighborhood he called “The Parkside,” built around Delaware Park and Jewett’s curving Parkway. It was first written of by Buffalo officials in the 1872 Parks report, in reference to “The Park.” It’s also among the first times the name by which a future community would be known was published.
The Park, 3-and-a-half miles north of the City Hall, a ground designed to be resorted to solely for quiet rural enjoyment. The more notable features are, a grand sweep of undulating turf, one hundred and fifty acres in extent, and containing a goodly number of large well-grown trees, a body of water of forty-six acres, an open grove suited to picnics, and closer woods offering wilder and more secluded rambles. The Parkside, a detached suburb adjoining the Park on the north and on the east, designed by private enterprise, so as to secure to it a permanent sylvan character distinct from the formal rectangular streets of the city proper…. “Parkside,” a district nearly three square miles in area, extensively planted, and guarded against any approach to dense building.
Buffalo’s Parkside was among Olmsted’s first attempts in his pioneering work in suburban residential planning, preceded only by his plans for Riverside, Illinois– a planned Chicago suburb. He laid out the streets in a gently curving, or curvilinear, pattern, encouraging leisurely travel. At the same time, the plan discouraged use of the neighborhood as a thoroughfare, with none of the streets leading directing to the city. Olmsted envisioned tree lined streets with boughs joining to create a canopy over the roadways. Parkside was meant almost as an extension of the park, serving to buffer his crown jewel from the bustle of Main Street and from future incongruous development, but also with an eye towards creating the ideal residential environment.
In 1871, a pair of young deer was donated to the Parks Commission by prominent Buffalo furrier Jacob Bergtold. A Deer Paddock was fenced in on the meadow, and the deer were put in the care of Elam Jewett. From this simple gift would grow the earliest origins of the Zoo, still operating on the same spot as that original 1871 Deer Paddock. A pair of bison and eight elk were added to the animal collection in 1895, and a zoo curator was hired the same year. Two years later, the bear pits, designed to look like Roman ruins, were built as the zoo we now know was beginning to take shape.
In a cry that rings familiar in today’s age, the 1881 Annual Report of the Parks Commissioner calls for ways to lessen the expense of maintaining the grass in the Meadow. What might be unfamiliar, though, is the method:
To maintain a trim and becoming appearance of the ground, frequent cutting of the grass in necessary… On the open areas, and more especially n the large meadow, much of the annual expense and waste of mowing might be avoided by pasturing. The meadow would maintain a large flock of sheep, which would by their presence, add much to the interest and naturalness of this part of the park.
For decades, sheep were seen grazing in the meadow in Delaware Park. Their presence on the broad lawn gave “an additional attraction to Park visitors, and served to give a natural animation to the quiet character of this portion of the park.” Another quaint description from the Superintendent’s 1886 report describes riding on the Meadow:
The meadow is open to equestrians whenever the turf is firm, but in the spring and late in autumn it is usually too soft. In a wet season like the last some portions are in an unfit condition about half the time all through the summer. Shutting off the equestrians from the meadow on this account causes perpetual friction, as the cause for such restriction is rarely understood, and an open stretch of smooth turf offers the best possible conditions for a free gallop. No method of constructing or maintaining a bridle road will provide so good a footing for the horse, or be so easy for the rider. But whenever the ground is wet, deep footprints are cut into the sod in galloping over it, and when these become dry and hard, horses are liable to stumble on them or sprain their joints. To enjoy permanently the privilege of galloping at full speed with perfect safety over the Park Meadow it is necessary that it should not be damaged by use when the ground is soft. Though few equestrians have appreciated this necessity, the risk of damage to the turf is so great that, so far as I am aware, no riding whatever is allowed on the grass in any other park in the country.
Horseback riding was soon joined by golf in the meadow; the course was laid out in 1886, nine holes were added in 1894. Bicycle riding was also a great fad near the turn of the century, and practiced often on the road around the meadow. The continued growth of the zoo also made the meadow area more and more popular with not just sportsmen, but families and those looking to take in the sunshine and fresh air.
In 1900, on the eve of the Pan-American Exposition, Frank Goodyear offered the city one million dollars to expand and beautify the zoo. Though this offer was rejected for political reasons, Goodyear’s gift of Frank the Elephant was accepted, and the excitement surrounding the possibility of the large monetary gift emboldened planners and curators. The number of animals swelled to over 600. At the turn of the century, between 20,000 and 30,000 people visited the zoo and picnicked in the park each week.
Frank the Elephant spent his first few years at the zoo chained to a tree, before funds were raised to build a proper elephant house.
While planners continued to add features to make the park more accessible and more desirable to the residents of the nearby city, one feature that would make the park– and the entire park system– more sylvan and park-like was already there, ready to reap.
Just Parkside is a very apt name for the neighborhood as it stands today; its one-time appellation Flint Hill is just as likely, as any Parkside Gardener will tell you. The stone that gardeners find in their soil, is the same that was blown through to create the Kensington Expressway, the same that most Parkside basements are made from, and the same that was quarried just of Parkside Avenue near Florence Avenue behind the Olmsted Park’s Lodge.
Onondaga Limestone is that ubiquitous gray stone embedded with chunks of black chert, or flint. “Black Rock” was so named because of the large outcrop of Onondaga Limestone, loaded with chert, that stuck out into the Niagara River near where the Peace Bridge now stands. The apparently useless Onondaga Limestone bridges behind the Delaware Park Lodge, on the golf course, once spanned the great hole made by the excavation of rock there.
The quarry was an early important element in the development of the park. Stone extracted from the quarry formed an early foot bridge over Scajaquada Creek, went into the construction of the state asylum, built the now demolished Farmstead (which stood where the Zoo parking lot is today), and built the bear dens and other rock formations at the zoo. The foundation of Buffalo’s Parkway system was also made from crushed stone from the Parkside Quarry.
The last stone was mined from the site in 1897, but the old park quarry was transformed into a beautiful garden. When the Parkside Lodge was built in 1912, rustic bridges were built to span the chasm to link the lodge and bowling greens with the meadow. The current stone bridges, now at ground level, were built to connect the edges of the great hole in 1920.
The spot became the place where the young romantics of the neighborhood would take their love to see it blossom. In 1908, in a day before road and automobile safety standards we have today, the Buffalo Express reported that a couple died when their car plunged over the poorly marked edge of the quarry on a dark Saturday night.
Some of Parkside’s earliest neighborhood activism and some of the earliest references to the neighbors of the park as “Parksiders” come in the form of rallying against proposed changes to the quarry. As Parks planners developed plans for a sunken gardens on the site, they also proposed building the park’s stables there as well. Though Parkside was still early in its development as a residential community, the few that were here let their voices be heard against the building of the stables. An October 21, 1908 Buffalo Express headline blared, “Parksiders Make Good.”
The following was written in the inimitable style of the turn of the century Buffalo Express, after the decision was made to place the stables in their current location, between Agassiz Place and Forest Lawn Cemetery, on the south side of what is now the Scajaquada Expressway.
For just about three hours after the decision was made, the park commissioners rested in the belief that all was satisfactory. Then they were undeceived. There was an uproar in the Parkside district which reached even to the respective homes of several park commissioners. And the howl was against the building of the new stable in the stone quarry, abandoned as that place might be.
No, indeed, the stone quarry might be a bit wild. It might be the catchtrap for the flotsam and jetsam of the park system, utterly neglected and almost abandoned, yet the Parksiders did not deem it low enough to warrant its association with a stable. Petitions were circulated, public meetings held, persons who never before made public speeches made them, and the upshot of the whole matter was that the park commissioners decided they would build the stable elsewhere.
This 1908 victory would be the first of many for the ebullient residents who live between the Park and Main Street; Humboldt Parkway and the Beltline.
Once peace was made, life slowed down considerably in the outlying area that was the Flint Hill/Parkside area; still 4-and-a-half miles north of the action of the village of Buffalo. And plenty of action there was. Through much political wrangling, the Village of Buffalo was selected as the terminus of the Erie Canal in 1825, bypassing the village of Black Rock, and sealing Buffalo’s fate as a major player in trade for the next century.
North Street (as the name implies) was the city’s northern border when it incorporated as a city in 1832. And even after Main Street was Macadamized, a rudimentary form of paving, in 1839, the ride along “the Main Road” between Buffalo and Williamsville, through the Parkside area, was still a bumpy ride through “the country.”
Just as today, it was thought one way to solve the city’s problems was through taxes. The collection of tolls paid for the improvements to the Buffalo-Williamsville Road; dozens of toll gates were erected from Buffalo to Albany long the stretch, including one adjacent to Schardt’s tavern at Main and Steele Streets.
Steele was later to be renamed Kensington Avenue, and later Humboldt Parkway would cut through the corner, meaning Buffalo’s first toll booth was roughly at the corner of what is now Main and Humboldt.
Many of the men who first came to occupy what is now Parkside were well into middle age when they came here in the first decade of the 1800s. Therefore, by the 1820s and 1830s, many of the original pioneers were giving way to a new generation, many of whom knew Flint Hill and the Buffalo Plains as their only home.
Judge Erastus Granger would retire most of his public offices, and live out his final years at Flint Hill; his 700 acres scattered with homes for friends and family members. He remained a firm Republican, and a close friend of New York Governor DeWitt Clinton. He was one of many Buffalonians who pushed for the building of the Erie Canal, and pushed for its western terminus to be located in Buffalo.
His friendship with Red Jacket also grew. Granger was buried on Christmas Day, 1826. Following the funeral, as the casket was about to be lowered into the grave, Red Jacket stood forward, and stared intently upon the face of the deceased. The great Indian Chief then delivered in his native Seneca tongue a final eulogy and prayer for his close friend. Those who heard it and understood it, said it was one of Red Jacket’s finest oratories, in a career of fine oratory. The men’s friendship was legendary enough to be etched on the façade of City Hall.
In 1845, Erastus’s son Warren Granger built for himself a great stone mansion on the site of the ancient Councils in the Oaks of the Senecas. Again, this place is now marked at Forest Lawn Cemetery by a large sundial, easily visible from Main Street.
The Gothic Structure was designed by Calvin Otis, built by John Ambrose, and made of stone quarried from the estate. It was destined to become the center of the Buffalo social scene, despite it’s out of the way location. Like his father before him, Warren was a staunch Republican. His home saw parties during the Hard Cider campaign of William Henry Harrison, and actually played host to then-former President John Quincy Adams in 1848. And there is scarcely a doubt that Granger was in attendance when Abraham Lincoln stopped in Buffalo in February 1861 on his way to Washington to take the oath of office as President.
The Granger’s property was considered among the most beautiful on the Niagara Frontier, and, in 1850, the Granger Family sold most of its vast tracts of rolling green acreage to the City of Buffalo. Some of it, 80 acres worth, was destined to become Forest Lawn Cemetery. But the rest of the land, including Granger’s quarry and his meadow, would be reserved by the City for future use as a park. It would be over a quarter of a century, however, before Frederick Law Olmsted would unveil plans to transform the areas raw, natural beauty into the Delaware Park we know today.
Washington Adams Russell
Captain Rowland Cotton was one of the original Plains Rangers, and was the Revolutionary War veteran who helped Daniel Chapin exhume and re-inter the 300 souls who died at the Flint Hill camp in 1813. He moved to the village of Lancaster in 1826, and as those Parksiders who live between Jewett Parkway and Russell Avenue will note on their property deeds, Cotton sold his farm to Washington Adams Russell.
Russell was the son of James Russell, a Revolutionary War Captain who happened to be well acquainted with the Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army, George Washington. When Russell’s son was born in 1801, he named him after the first two Presidents of the United States—George Washington and John Adams.
Washington Adams Russell left central Pennsylvania in 1825 with his young family, driving a team of oxen towards Buffalo. He ran the Cold Springs Tavern at what is now Main and Ferry Streets for a year, before buying the 200-acre Cotton estate. In 1841, he built the area’s first brick home, a home which still stands today at 2540 Main Street (seen below in the 1880s).
Now painted white, the building houses “The Church in Buffalo,” marked today by a sign proclaiming “Taste and See!” on the Main Street lawn. But for years, it was the McKendry-Dengler then Roberts-Dengler Funeral Home. It remains the oldest home still standing in Parkside.
Washington Adams Russell died in the home in 1877, but his name lived on famously in Parkside. Russell’s son Washington Russell II went to California during the Gold Rush of 1849. His grandson, Washington Russell III was another prominent figure in local history, famous as an eccentric renaissance man.
Aside from having built the oldest building still in Parkside, the eldest Russell is also remembered as having been the source of four street names in Parkside. Deeded to the city in 1889, Russell Avenue was the cow path by which the family brought their cattle to drink from a spring in the Delaware Park meadow. Fairfield and Greenfield were the names of pastures on the Russell farm, located about where those streets are today. Orchard Place was the site of the Russell fruit tree orchard.
Col. William Chapin and Elam Jewett
Col. William Whitney Chapin stayed on at his father Dr. Daniel Chapin’s home on Main Street following the doctor’s death in 1821. Over the years, William built out from the somewhat rustic frontier cabin his father called home, eventually enveloping it completely. In doing so, with an eye towards aesthetics, he’d built what was considered one of Buffalo’s most beautiful mansions. Willowlawn, he named it, for the willow trees surrounding the home. It was from one of these trees that Daniel Chapin took clippings to plant on either side of the grave in the Park Meadow. It is also from this estate that Willow Lawn, the small street between Crescent Avenue and Main Street, takes its name. Before Willowlawn Avenue was deeded to the city in 1905, it was the site of an expansive garden just to the south of the home.
The Willowlawn Estate, as it appeared in 1901 after a great storm which toppled a willow on the front lawn. An apartment complex now stands at the site, at Main & Jewett.
Col. Chapin died in 1852. Eight years later, in 1864, Elam Jewett, the publisher of Buffalo newspaper The Commercial Advertiser, purchased the Willowlawn Estate. It was Jewett’s wealth, philanthropy, and keen eye as a developer that would help change the serene Buffalo Plains and Flint Hill area into the Parkside known today.
Elam Jewett was raised on his father’s farm in Vermont, and wrote for several newspapers in that state. He grew restless however, and looked to the western frontier, “where great opportunities awaited him.” He purchased a newspaper, The Buffalo Journal from Judge Samuel Wilkeson in 1838, and merged it with the Advertiser the next year. Having become a prominent Buffalonian in his own right, Jewett became a close friend of another prominent Buffalonian– Millard Fillmore. The two traveled in Europe together in 1856.
Jewett had “retired” to Willow-lawn to live the life of a “gentle-man farmer” on the massive acreage, but he did have several publicly-minded plans for his sprawling property.
First, with the War of 1812 still fresh in the minds of Buffalo, Jewett wanted to build a proper stone memorial to the hundreds buried in what was essentially now his backyard by Dr. Chapin and Captain Cotton. The Mound in The Meadow didn’t look much different than it did 40 years earlier when the 300 soldiers were buried the spring following that “dreadful contagion” in 1813. It remained marked only by the pair of willow trees planted by Dr. Chapin, though the saplings had grown to full mature trees marking either side of the ghoulish reminder of the area’s war history.
But it was ultimately through Dr. Chapin’s previously mentioned efforts to keep and enhance the area’s natural beauty that Mr. Jewett’s patriotic intentions to build the monument were frustrated. The city took that majestic part of Jewett’s land, and added it to the land also purchased from the Granger family, to make up the bulk of what is now Delaware Park. The mass grave remains to this day, underneath the Delaware Park Golf course, marked only by a large boulder placed by the Historical Society in 1896.
The wealthy publishing magnate also planned to give to his church in his retirement. Though his various plans were frustrated and also met with stops and starts through the years, Jewett eventually created a church that became the center from which the Parkside neighborhood would be built.
A devout Episcopalian, Jewett was rebuffed when he offered land to the Episcopal Church charity foundation to build a home and chapel for infants and the elderly on his land off of Main Street. Ellen Parisi talks about it in her book A Century in the Fold: A History of the Church of the Good Shepherd (1988), in part quoting Rev. Thomas Berry. Keep in mind, the outlying area referred to here is today the corner of Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue:
It was felt unwise to leave the elderly and orphans stranded “miles from civilization” when the snowdrifts in winter would make walking anywhere impossible. “Here, the citizen dwelling below Ferry St. came out for a ‘day in the country’… and here along the ‘Main Street’ the Williamsville stage rumbled in its daily trips to and from Buffalo. We were missionaries in those days, and tried to convince city merchants, who objected to delivering goods ‘so far out,’ that it as no farther out than it was in to make our purchases.”
But while Jewett’s overtures were being rejected by his church because of the area’s remoteness; it was just that feeling of “miles from civilization” that some in the bustling city were trying to capture. In 1858, the City of Buffalo was growing to a point where it looked like green space and nature was soon to be at premium. A group of “public-spirited gentleman” began plans to build a public park system in Buffalo. At private expense, Frederick Law Olmsted, the celebrated architect of the Central Park system in New York, was brought to Buffalo to “examine the situation and recommend a desirable park scheme.”
Erastus Granger had been at Flint Hill less than a decade; the Plains Rangers less than five years when the War of 1812 broke out. The Parkside/Flint Hill area played several prominent roles in that conflict. Flint Hill was an encampment and training ground for soldiers preparing to invade Canada. It was also a sanctuary when the village of Buffalo was burned to the ground. Given the nature of war and brutal Buffalo winters, the area also served as a burial ground for hundreds who never made it home.
Throughout much of the documentation about the War of 1812, the Flint Hill Camp was described as “Camp near Buffalo.” This was explained in Peace Episodes on the Niagara (Buffalo Historical Society, 1914). “In 1812, the Army of the Frontier went into winter quarters at Flint Hill, with Scajaquada creek as a convenient water supply.” Barton Atkins, the great chronicler of history of this period, wrote about the encampment in Modern Antiquities:
The camp extended on Main Street from the present Humboldt Parkway northerly to the lands of Dr. Daniel Chapin… and westerly to the head of the Park Lake, on lands belonging to Erastus Granger. On the Main-street front of this old camp-ground stand several venerable oaks, relics of the old camp. The one directly opposite the Deaf and Dumb Asylum is distinguished as the one under which a row of soliders kneeled when shot for desertion in the spring of 1813.
The camp spread from what is now Forest Lawn to near Jewett Parkway along Main Street, and stretched as far back as the Delaware Park Lake. The shooting mentioned was Buffalo’s first execution. As of 1914, one of the old trees that bore witness to the capital punishment still remained in the backyard of 24 Florence Avenue (corner of Crescent.)
Flint Hill, along with the rest of the Niagara Frontier, was a hotbed of activity early in the war as a planned launching point for the invasion of British Canada, and as it was Indian Agent Granger’s job to keep the Native Americans neutral. The Buffalo Gazette of June 2nd, 1812, reports Granger met with the chiefs of the Six Nations, at which time they acknowledged no desire to enter conflict between the US and Canada.
By early August however, after the rumor spread of the British and their Indian Allies gaining control of Seneca-owned Grand Island, Seneca chief Red Jacket told Granger that the Seneca Warriors wished to join the conflict against the British and “drive off those bad people from our land.” As his correspondence from the time shows, Granger spent much of the ensuing year walking a tightrope, trying to make both the Indians and the powers in Washington happy.
The most complete meetings of chiefs in many years was held again on Main Street at the Granger farm in September, and this time the Senecas, the Onondagas, and the Cayugas voted to “take up the hatchet on behalf of the United States.” Those who volunteered their services at the council agreed that they “would go home as soon as the council fire was extinguished, arm and equip themselves for battle, and return to Buffalo.”
Though it was the continued hope to keep the young men of the Six Nations neutral, given the fact that “within a fortnight, between two and four hundred savages” would be in Buffalo ready to fight, President James Madison was forced to allow Granger to accept the services and organize the warriors of the Six Nations.
Still, there were many stops and starts in the Iroquois joining the war effort. Several times, after being asked to assemble, native warriors weren’t used. After nearly a year of “dancing” between native chiefs and Washington bureaucrats, the two sides kept in alliance by the constant work of Granger, it was Granger’s safety that ultimately had the Indians take to arms in combat.
They finally entered the conflict when their friend, Erastus Granger, was in peril. The Canadian British put a price on his head, and had Flint Hill… yes, modern day Parkside… marked for destruction.
Judge Granger received word of this on July 10, 1813, and sent word to the greatest Seneca warrior of his time, the old chief Farmer’s Brother. Granger’s longtime compatriot, who fought in both the French and Indian War of the 1760s, and the American War of Independence, had received a medal from George Washington for his service. It was also “from Washington’s lips” that came the name “Farmer’s Brother,” by which the chief would be known for the rest of his days.
A man of at least 80 years old in 1813, Farmer’s Brother traveled from his hut in the Indian village in today’s South Buffalo, to what’s now the Parkside neighborhood, with warriors in tow, ready to fight. The Indians readied for war at the Granger home on Main Street. James Granger wrote an account of the night in his 1893 book Granger Genealogy.
The chief and his followers arrived at 11 o’clock, and the night was spent preparing for the coming fray. Bullets were molded by the great fire in the kitchen (of the Granger Homestead), messengers hurried into the neighboring village for arms and ammunition, and the Indians were banqueted on unlimited salt pork prepared by Mrs. Granger’s own hands.
After over a year of waiting to join the conflict, the Senecas would finally join the war. Granger, led by Farmer’s Brother and the Senecas followed Guide Board Road (North Street today) to Black Rock. There, they met with General Porter, who decided to initiate an offensive against the British along the shores of the Niagara River.
The Senecas prepared for battle in a ritual never seen by the American troops assembled at the spot. They took of all of their clothes– stripped down to their breechcloths. Granger and the Senecas were on the right side of the line, regulars in the middle, white volunteers to the left, ready to take on the British. At the order of General Porter, the Indians leapt forward with a yell that startled both their enemy… and their allies.
Within minutes, the enemy had retreated. The Indians had even rushed into the water to pull soldiers from their boats as they paddled in retreat for the safety of the Canadian shore. The victory was complete. Buffalo, Black Rock, and Granger’s Flint Hill Estate were safe, for now, due mostly to the tenacity of Farmer’s Brother’s men.
Because of its location, both high in elevation, and a relatively safe-yet-close-enough distance to Black Rock, Flint Hill had become an important meeting place for the military leaders both the United States and of the Six Nations (now Five Nations, with the Mohawks fighting along side the British.) Captain George Howard of the 25th Infantry spent some time at the Granger place recovering his strength and health. He wrote home to Connecticut on June 6, 1813, that he had met many of the famous chiefs of the Six Nations, including Red Jacket, Parrot Nose, Bill Johnson, Young King, Farmer’s Brother, and Silver Heels.
The Burning of Buffalo
Five months after that first battle, in December, 1813, by now Col. Granger and 83 Seneca Warriors under his command again responded to a British attack on Black Rock, but this time, they were forced to retreat when so many other soldiers fled from the line. Granger returned to his home, several miles away, to relative safety. As hoards of men retreated, and the lines of protection broke apart, the British marched up Niagara Street from Black Rock to Buffalo, and over the course of the coming days, laid torch to all but a handful of buildings in the village of Buffalo.
As the British and their Indian allies made their way towards Buffalo, the women and children of the village moved north up Main Street in an obviously harried fashion. Though many fled as far as Clarence Hollow and Williamsville, many dozens sought refuge and stayed safe in the home of Judge Granger on Flint Hill, and in the homes of the Buffalo Plains.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, it is noted in several histories, including Studies of the Niagara Frontier, that homes on the Buffalo Plains, like that of Zachary Griffin, were not burned because, “the Indians in their course of destruction with musket and firebrand were too much overcome with liquor before they reached this house to do any further damage.”
In fact, none of the buildings as far north as current day Parkside were burned as the British and their Indian allies left Buffalo a pile of smoldering timber. It made the area, especially Granger’s place, a location where many women and children took up semi-permanent residence, while the men who weren’t taking to arms took to rebuilding the village.
Encampment at Buffalo
Picture Delaware Park, all along the Scajaquada Expressway, over the Park Meadow and golf course, all the way up to Main Street filled with tents, bonfires, and soldiers milling about. As early as September 1812, over a year before the burning of Buffalo, General Alexander Smythe had planned to use Buffalo and Black Rock as a staging ground for an invasion of Canada; many of his troops, particularly Pennsylvania volunteers under the command of General Adamson Tannehill, were camped and drilling at Flint Hill.
Smythe was an interesting character, if not an effective General, or even a buffoon. His actions (and inactions) make it apparent that he felt that inspirational writing and speeches could surmount instilling discipline and training his men, many of whom were not professional soldiers, but volunteers; signing up only as the Union was in peril. Smythe was written of by Frank Severance in Episodes of Peace on the Niagara (1914):
He was… often ridiculous, and has been remembered… chiefly because of certain bombastic proclamations which he issued during his short career in Buffalo and vicinity. Historians… have written of him only in a vein of amused contempt…. calling him “supercilious, dictatorial, impertinent.” (and) “indecisive, puerile and cowardly.”
The folly and incompetence of General Smythe made his troops rambunctious. During the fall and winter of 1812, many citizens of the Buffalo area were alarmed to find their fields and barns being plundered by Smythe’s hungry or simply bored soldiers. William Hodge, Jr. wrote about one series of incidents in Recalling Pioneer Days:
Once several fat sheep were put into a horse stable, among the horses, just at night to be dressed the next morning; but when morning came they were gone. They had been taken a short distance into the orchard, and dressed, or butchered and carried off to camp. At last some of the soldiers were caught at this work. They were taken to their camp, and delivered up to the officers for punishment; but to this the officers were not disposed. This rather exasperated some of the inhabitants, who asked the commanding officer what they should do to the soldiers if they were caught at any more of these depredations. He said, “Shoot them, shoot them down the rascals.”
After this a number of the young men of the town kept watch at night. Of this group Velorus Hodge was one and they kept watch one night at the bridge of Granger’s creek, Main street. (This is roughly the intersection of Main Street and Jefferson Avenue.) After a while the one on guard outside discovered eight soldiers crossing the bridge, and hailed them. They answered, “What businesses have you to stop soldiers on the march?” and then a pistol was fired by one of them. The guard returned the fire. This started out those in the house; they sallied forth and all fired at the soldiers giving them an effectual peppering with shot.
Five of the soldiers fell to the ground and three making their escape. Of the five four were wounded by the shot; the fifth fell to save himself from being shot. These five were marched into camp the next morning and delivered over to the commanding officer, who approved of the course taken by the citizens. This put a check upon the stealing and plundering for quite a while.
Granger’s Creek is today Scajaquada Creek. The bridge talked about, though well hidden, still goes over Main Street near Jefferson.
Plans to Invade Canada Hatched in Parkside
Plainly, his troops hated him. General Smythe wrote many verbose and bombastic proclamations to his troops, and verbally delivered several more, most of which won him “the derision of friend and foe.” He was known as “Alexander the Great” and “Napoleon the Second.” Plenty of his hot air was blown in preparation for his plans to invade Canada.
Those plans were set into motion on November 28, 1812. Smythe had as many as 8,000 men champing at the bit. He had been building, collecting, and fixing boats by the dozen for crossing the Niagara River at Black Rock. At this point, Smythe’s rhetoric had worked, whipping his men into a frenzy, ready to spill across the river at Black Rock for the glory of the union. Trumpets played Yankee Doodle Dandy, further lighting the fires under the men on a cold winter day, with wind and snow blowing off the Niagara River. An early morning crossing of 420 men in 21 boats were met with musket fire as they approached the shore to the south of Fort Erie. What happened next was the final straw for Smythe’s men. What happened… was nothing. Wrote Frank Severance in Episodes of Peace on the Niagara (1914):
From sunrise to late afternoon, his army was embarking- the enemy on the other side of the river, in constantly-increasing numbers, looking on at the show. General Smythe did not appear at all, leaving the details to his subordinates. For hours the troops shivered in the boats, some of which, stranded on shore, filled with snow and ice. Late in the day, when at length everything seemed ready for a grand movement across the stream, General Smythe issued an amazing order: “Disembark and dine!” Disgusted and angered, the whole force was at the point of rebellion.
Two more days of similar commands to climb aboard boats… spend the day in the tiny wooden craft, freezing along the Niagara River shore in late November Buffalo weather, and then never leaving that snow and ice- filled shore.
After having been “whipped into a frenzy” days before, some men smashed their muskets against trees in disgust, and many of those who didn’t ruin their guns made mutinous use of them, firing in the direction of Smythe himself. Legend has it that musket ball holes filled General Smythe’s Flint Hill tent by the end of that third night. Of the 1700 Pennsylvania volunteers camped at Flint Hill, 600 deserted in a 24 hour period. General Peter Porter wrote an article in the Buffalo Gazette calling Smythe a coward for refusing to move forward with the planned invasion. The two fought a duel with pistols, but both shots were errant, neither hitting the other.
Between his officer colleague and the angry soldiers under his command, Smythe had survived perhaps dozens attempts on his life over a two week period, and had had enough. On December 17, 1812, within days of his three failed attempts at invading Canada, and, fresh on the heels of gun fire pointed in his direction from both a fellow general and his own men, Smythe would leave Buffalo and Flint Hill for his native Virginia. The Army Register states that he was “disbanded.”
But the soldiers who lived through the rest of the winter of 1813 on Flint Hill had not yet seen the worst of it all. A horrific lasting monument to the war, still in Parkside, but little known, had yet to be created.
Buffalo’s Tomb of the Unknowns
Enlist your imagination once again. Picture living in Buffalo, in November and December, in open-ended tents, wearing linen uniforms, and having only very few, if any, blankets, coats, socks and boots. It was these conditions in Parkside in 1813 that yielded the mass, virtually unmarked grave that thousands of Western New Yorkers unknowingly drive by each day as they commute by Delaware Park on Route 198.
Up until the time of Smythe’s abortive campaign to invade, the mostly Southern soldiers all lived in mere pup tents. In Buffalo. In the winter. Once the offensive proved a failure, they were ordered to build huts for the winter, but most were slow to comply. The troops stationed on Flint Hill were mostly from Pennsylvania, and even further south, and showed up to Buffalo, in autumn, in their linen uniforms. Now winter had arrived, but more appropriate uniforms had not. Many Buffalo, Flint Hill, and Buffalo Plains families took in soldiers, but the village was just too small to accommodate the great number of troops wintering here.
Food supplies were unreliable to the front in Buffalo, and food that arrived was often rancid. Colonel Widner, Smythe’s second in command, stationed at Fort Niagara, had been experiencing the same conditions to the north. He reported in a letter to his commander in at Flint Hill, “We’re starving at this end of the line for bread.” The conditions were same at the camp that ran through what is now Forest Lawn Cemetery, along Main Street to the north, and into Delaware Park.
It is among these demoralized, starving, freezing troops that a “Camp Distemper,” described as a “dreadful contagion” broke out. The following account comes from an American prisoner of the British, and pays eyewitness account to what the winter of 1812-13 was like in Parkside:
That the enemy have about 3,000 troops one mile and a half in rear of Black Rock, under camp at a place called Judge Granger’s, where the General (Smythe), his aide-de-camp and several officers of rank live.. their camp is unhealthy… they die from eight to nine daily… the dead.. are put into holes two or three of which are made every day, and into each put two to four dead men. The doctors say the disease is as bad as the plague. The patients are first taken with a pain in the head, and in an hour-and-a-half or two hours they invariably die. Besides this disease he mentions their being afflicted with pleurisy, dysentery, and measles.
The Buffalo newspapers of the day daily listed the names of the dead, until the numbers became too great; eventually the Army stopped releasing the names. The home towns, listed next to the names, show, once again, that these men, from places like Baltimore, southern Pennsylvania, and Virginia, would have likely had a difficult time acclimating to Buffalo’s winter climate, even without the starvation and disease that was present. From the Buffalo Gazette, on December 22, 1812:
The FEVER, which has made such dreadful havoc among our soldiers and citizens, continues to rage. The Physicians are taking unwearied pains to ascertain the character of the disease and to prescribe an effective remedy for it. Bloodletting is generally fatal in violent cases.
It wasn’t just soldiers who contracted this illness. While the causes of many of their deaths are lost to history, it’s a fact that many residents of the Buffalo Plains and Flint Hill died during this time. Among those who passed that winter were Samuel Atkins, the first Plains Ranger, and Parthenia Chapin, the wife of Dr. Daniel Chapin.
Whether Mrs. Chapin died from one of the many illnesses sweeping through the camp or not, it is certain that she knew of the suffering first hand. It was on the outskirts of the Chapin property that the several daily shallow graves mentioned above were dug. As any gardener in Parkside knows, Flint Hill derives its name from the rocky soil abundant in the area. This is also apparent to anyone who drives the Kensington Expressway; and sees the solid rock that was blasted through near the Scajaquada Expressway interchange.
While digging graves by hand would be a challenge in good weather, these graves, again two or three per day, were being dug in the difficult frozen ground of winter. Often times, they were no more than a foot deep. Dr. Chapin offered his land for the burial, and tavern owner William Hodge was pressed into service to make coffins for the dead. Records say he crafted 300 pine coffins to be used for burying the soldiers who died while encamped on Flint Hill. Written in Buffalo Cemeteries (1879):
The troops of General Smythe remained at Flint Hill until the following spring. During this time there prevailed among them a typhoid epidemic. Deprived as they were of comfortable hospitals, and a sufficient supply of medical agents, it carried off about three hundred of them. They were put into plain pine board coffins, furnished by William Hodge Sr., and temporarily buried near the south line of the Chapin place; but the rock came so near to the surface that their graves could not be more than about a foot in depth.
The ensuing spring they were removed some distance, to the north side of the farm, where the ground was a sandy loam and easily dug. Leave to bury them there being given by the respective owners of the farms, Capt. Rowland Cotton and Doctor Daniel Chapin, they were deposited directly on the dividing line between these farms, in one common grave. Doctor Chapin planted two yellow willows, one at each end of the grave, which have become large trees, and are yet growing. The grave itself remaining undisturbed to this day.
The grave was to be known in coming years as “The Mound in the Meadow,” with those willows coming from clippings of a yellow willow taken from Daniel Chapin’s yard. The willows lasted on the site until at least 1896, when on July 4th; a boulder was placed on the site of the grave, with a marker attached.
It’s worthy to note that among those dead might not only be US soldiers, but perhaps servants who died while attending to the sick, and perhaps even prisoners of war- Canadian and British being held captive who met the same horrible fate as the Americans.
Aside from the boulder in the middle of the golf course, the mass grave of 300 American Soldiers, fallen in wartime service, goes unmarked, and unremembered, having been largely ignored for the last 100 years. Plans to properly mark the spot and honor the dead have come and gone over the last two centuries; you’ll read of those plans as the story continues.
As the spring of 1813 broke, and Chapin and Cotton were giving proper burial to the dead, some of those soldiers who had survived the horrible winter began to think pacifist thoughts, and wanted to leave while the getting was good. The commanding officers made an example of several soldiers who tried to desert. As a previously included account spells out, these deserters were knelt in a row and shot in front of several oak trees along Main Street near, generally near what is today Florence Avenue. Their bodies were then hanged from the trees to dissuade any further desertion from the ranks at Flint Hill.
Troops Return to Flint Hill
As the War of 1812 raged on into 1813, and then 1814, a much more well-organized effort to invade British Canada was hatched. A year after the bungled attempts just outlined, some of the soldiers poised to invade Fort Erie made their pre-attack camp once again in what is now Forest Lawn Cemetery, Delaware Park, and the Parkside neighborhood.
In the spring of 1814, the more successful plan to invade Upper Canada was devised by a man, unlike General Smythe, who was a master tactician. Brigadier General Winfield Scott would lead his men to victory just over the Niagara River in the Battle of Chippawa; many joining the battle from their home base on Flint Hill. Scott, known to his men as Ol’ Fuss and Feathers, on account of his insistence upon military appearance and discipline, later wrote books on infantry tactics, exercises, and maneuvers that are still used by the US Army to this day. Many of these formation schemes and tactics were first devised as Scott prepared for battles such as the one at Chippawa. It’s therefore natural to assume the drills and discipline that would emerge as the foundation for the teaching done at West Point were first practiced by “the man who wrote the book,” in staging grounds and base camps like the Delaware Park Meadow.
Just north of Granger’s place (now Forest Lawn cemetery) along Main Street was the area known as “The Buffalo Plains;” its inhabitants known as “The Plains Rangers.” This wily group of frontiersmen– most of them veterans of the Revolutionary War– and their families settled and built farms along Main Street. Their homes were generally close to the Buffalo-Williamsville Road, or the main street, but like Granger, their farmlands extended as much as a mile or more to the east or west off Main Street.
These hard working, rough and tumble men cut from the wilderness the area that would become Parkside, Central Park, and the University District, and were the first white men to physically live within the current boundaries of those districts. They were respected, but also somewhat feared by the residents of the village several miles to the south. Barton Atkins described them this way in his 1898 book Modern Antiquities: Sketches of Early Buffalo, “On Buffalo Plains were resident a band of stalwart men noted for their prowess and of their proneness to assert it when the occasion offered.”
The son of an original “Ranger,” Atkins wrote of the initial settlement by the Rangers:
The Plains were originally settled by a colony of farmers from the lake region of Central New York. First to come on a tour of inspection was Samuel Atkins, in 1806, on horseback, traversing Indian trails through a dense forest to Buffalo — not to speculate in village lots, but to purchase farm lands for himself and others who desired to settle near unto the site of the great city that was to arise at the foot of Lake Erie.
Samuel Atkins built a log home and a tavern on the land he purchased, on Main Street north of Hertel Avenue, roughly where the LaSalle Metro Rail station stands today. Again writes Atkins:
On this property, in 1807, Mr. Atkins erected a majestic structure of logs, consisting of three separate buildings, made so by two dividing passages through the lower story, while the upper story and roof remained intact. The building entire was eighteen by eighty feet on the ground with side thirteen feet high — quite an imposing frontier establishment. Here Mr. Atkins kept a tavern, a house of entertainment for travelers and pilgrims journeying to the new West. Many veterans of the war of the Revolution had settled on the Niagara frontier, and the old log tavern was their headquarters– was where they held their camp-fires and fought their battles anew.
Atkins was joined in 1807 by eight Cayuga County neighbors and their families, including Rowland Cotton, Ephraim Brown and Roswell Hosford. In 1808, the families of Zachary Griffin and Dr. Daniel Chapin also came to Buffalo. All of these men and their families settled along Main between Granger and what is now the UB area, both on the east and west sides of Main Street.
Ephraim Brown was the oldest of the new settlers of the Buffalo Plains. The war-worn veteran of the Revolution, cane in hand, was a favorite of the youngsters on the Plains. He’d limp along with school children, as the youngsters would gather at his knee– a knee shattered by a musket ball at the Battle of Trenton. They’d hear “Old Mr. Brown” sing, tell stories of his battles, and chant army rhymes from colonial times. Brown’s homestead and farm where described by Barton Atkins as “opposite the County Almshouse.” The Erie County Almshouse moved in 1909, and the University of Buffalo was built on the land.
Zachary Griffin’s home survived well into the 20th century, and would have been known to the earliest residents of Parkside- as we know it today- as a part of their neighborhood. The following was written in Peace Episodes on the Niagara (Buffalo Historical Society, 1914), about the home on the east side of Main Street.
In January, 1915, the oldest house in Buffalo was torn down. This was a little one-story structure at No. 2485 Main street, which according to such credible witnesses as the late Washington Russell and Barton Atkins, was built in 1809 by Zachary Griffin. When the New York Central Belt Line Tracks were laid through the district the house as moved about 100 feet northerly from its original site. Probably all of the original structure that endured was the frame of heavy hewn timbers. The story goes that it was spared at the burning of Buffalo, in 1813, because the Indians, by the time they had got as far out as this on the Williamsville road (Main Street), were too much overcome by firewater to do any further harm.
The original site of the house was about opposite Greenfield Street, and when moved, it was about where the Central Park Grill is located. The frontage of the property was split roughly in half when the New York Railroad Beltline tracks were installed in the 1870s. Next door, was the home of the widow Anna Atkins. She moved closer to the Modern Parkside area in 1817 after the death of her husband Samuel. That means that Barton Atkins, whose works are quoted throughout this history, was among the first children to be born and grow up in the current confines of Parkside.
Captain Rowland Cotton is the other Plains Ranger who owned a large portion of what is today Parkside. He owned the farm just to the north of present Jewett Parkway, and the homestead of Daniel Chapin. Cotton, too, was a Revolutionary War veteran, and was one of only three of the original Plains Rangers who did not make Buffalo home until their death. Cotton sold his plot in 1826, and settled in the Town of Lancaster. His name appears the deeds of those in the northern half of Parkside.
Dr. Daniel Chapin
The most notable Plains Rangers to the people of modern Parkside are the ones who once owned the land upon which they now live. Dr. Daniel Chapin was a veteran of the Revolution, and lived in a log cabin which was built at what is now the corner of Main Street and Jewett Parkway. His property bordered Erastus Granger and was still considered part of the Flint Hill area. His property stretched along Main Street from what is now roughly West Oakwood Place to Jewett Parkway. It stretched back to encompass the southern half of the Delaware Park Meadow, and reached to the fringes of the Park (now Hoyt) Lake.
In the early years, Chapin was one of a very few medical doctors anywhere on the Niagara Frontier and like his neighbor Granger, he was an early pillar of the community. An obituary was published in the Rochester Telegraph December 4, 1821:
He was formerly from Salisbury, Ct. He represented the county of Ontario in the legislature of this state, very soon after that county was settled; and was an early settler of this county. He had held the office of judge of common pleas for Niagara county (that is, Buffalo, before Erie County was split off); and various public trusts, with benefit to the community. His reputation as a physician, during a long course of practice has been of honorable standing; and he lived and died an honest man.
Chapin can also be thanked for much of the natural beauty today enjoyed in Delaware Park. His love of nature was written about in the Historical Society’s First Volume on Buffalo History:
The people of this city are much indebted to the Doctor, who was one of the pioneers of Buffalo, for the good taste and judgment exercised in clearing up his farm. Coming on to it in 1806, and ever having an eye to the beauty of native scenery and landscape, he left and always preserved with care, groups and scattered trees of various sizes and kinds, where it would add to its beauty; and we in our park enjoy the benefit of his sentiment and forbearance. He was imbued with the idea of the poet who says, “Woodman, spare that tree;’ and when he could, he always had trees left untouched by the ruthless axe, in order that man and beast should benefit by their shade, and they with their primitive grace ornament his beautiful farm. His son, the late Col. William W. Chapin, always protected and preserved those trees with truly reverential and pious care, in memory of and respect for his honored father, who left the inheritance of the whole farm to him on his decease. Without that inherited taste, he, like most of the early settlers, would have denuded the land of every tree; and that portion of our park would have been a barren expanse of mere farming land; for a large portion of this old farm now constitutes the most interesting part of our beautiful park. As one rides through it, especially that portion I speak of, he cannot help noticing those groups of trees and scattered monarchs of the forest within and on the borders of the extensive Park Meadow; beautiful reminders of those thoughtful and tasteful former proprietors.
An important historical figure in the Finger Lakes area as well as Parkside, he is written about by the Bloomfield Historical Society:
Dr. Daniel came to Buffalo village in 1807 from Bloomfield, put up a log house on the outskirts of the village, and established a large practice, visiting his patients on foot, with a dog and a gun, often traveling trails as far as Niagara Falls. Dr. Chapin died in 1821 at 60, his death due to exposure in visiting a patient.
The varied accounts of Chapin’s death all point to the difficult life on the frontier north of Buffalo. The obituary from the Rochester Telegraph, which states it was reprinted from a Buffalo paper, says Chapin was 61 and died of “a lingering disease.” Another source, A Biographical Sketch of Josiah Trowbridge (1869), he another early Buffalo doctor, states that Chapin’s death was “partly induced by the many and continued exposures incident to the practice of his profession in times when it required an amount of personal courage, self-denial, and hardship but little understood by us of the present day.”