Rum returns to the Historic Pan Am District

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

prizes
Rum making Pan Am medal winners, as printed in The Buffalo Courier.

In 1901, there were few things more important to the economies and livelihoods of the Caribbean and parts of Central America than the export of rum. It would stand to reason, then, that when all of the Western Hemisphere’s countries got together in Buffalo for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, that rum would be a showcased product… and it was.

Exhibitors from Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Honduras all won medals for rum.

Cuba had as many as 13 different rum (ron, in Spanish) exhibitors, including one still famous gold medal winner– Bacardi & Sons of Santiago. The gold medal showing in Buffalo was one of the primary forces in launching Bacardi to international renoun.

cubalist

Both Mexico and Cuba had their own large buildings at the Pan Am, and both had large displays for liquors and rums.

cuban rum display
One of Cuba’s rum displays at the 1901 Pan American Exposition
cuban building
The Cuban Building, 1901 Pan American Exposition, Buffalo, NY
American printer and lithographer
Pan Am Map, Buffalo 1901. “M” marks Mexico, “C” marks Cuba, “Squirrel” marks squirrel. Click to enlarge.

This map shows the Pan Am grounds between Elmwood and Delaware as they looked in 1901. If you were to try to find the site of the Mexican building today (marked M on the map), you’d look near Great Arrow Street towards the back of the old Pierce-Arrow complex. The Cuban building (marked C) was probably in the vicinity of where the Statue of David now stands near the Scajaquada Expressway.

Today, The Black Squirrel Distillery stands near the West Amherst gate on the old 1901 map, about where the hospital was during the Expo, right between Mexico and Cuba.

For more than half a century, the address was a drive-in restaurant and sandwich shop known by names like “Daddy Don’s Drive-In” and “Karen’s Restaurant.” Today, 1595 Elmwood Avenue is home to the copper still where Black Squirrel craft rum begins it’s life in small batches, bringing a bit of the Pan-Am back as the City of Light seems to be finding new light in new places these days.

And while most of Buffalo seems happy with having Black Squirrel in the neighborhood, it might not have been the case for the rum makers here in 1901… especially when the infamous Carrie Nation was in town.

carrie nation

 

“The Hatchetwoman from Kansas,” best remembered as the temperance champion who was arrested several times for smashing apart liquor bottles– and entire saloons– with her hatchet, told Buffalo reporters on one of her two trips to the Expo that “all rum sellers should be electrocuted and their shops destroyed.”

The best part is, she likely said those words as she boarded a streetcar downtown  to catch her train out of Buffalo… on the tracks directly across Elmwood Avenue from what is now Black Squirrel Distillery.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. writing about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and is the News Director at WECK Radio. A 25 year Buffalo media veteran, Steve's contributed more than 1400 Buffalo History stories to The Buffalo News, worked at WIVB-TV, Empire Sports Network, and spent ten years as a newsman and News Director at WBEN Radio. He's also put his communication skills to work as an adjunct professor, a producer of PBS documentaries, and even run for Erie County Clerk. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.