For years, on and off, I’ve been looking for a Buffalo travel poster, any Buffalo travel poster.
Honestly, I kind of assumed that there never was one. I mean why waste precious wall space with (my beloved) Buffalo when there have always been far more exotic, colorful, and warm places which might be more gerenally appealing to the traveling public.
Then I came across this beauty from the late 50s or early 60s.
Perhaps it has more to do with the building’s location in the foreground of the image, but the Watson Elevator was an important enough part of the City of Buffalo in 1880 that it is the only building that is actually labelled on the map.
It was built in 1859 by Stephen Van Rensselaer Watson, then one of Buffalo’s busiest builders, using mostly white pine that he’d brought to Buffalo from elsewhere on the Great Lakes on the schooner he owned especially for that purpose.
It was heralded as the most ambitious elevator ever built. With two sides of waterway access, it could take in grain from a vessel on the Buffalo River side, while unloading a cargo of coal on the side of the City Ship Canal.
It was that unique and completely surrounded by water status that lead to the elevator’s eventual demise. As Buffalo’s importance as a rail hub grew, there was no way for trains to access the Watson.
The old wooden Watson grain elevator spent most of its last decade empty and abandoned, except for the daring swimmers who’d climb up the rickety old building and take a thrilling jump into the surrounding harbor.
When the Watson met the same fate as so many of Buffalo’s early wooden grain elevators — it burned down in 1907 — it was called “one of the greatest spectacles that Buffalo has had in many a day.”
Three Buffalo fire boats — the John M. Hutchinson, the George R. Potter and the W.S. Grattan (still serving now as the Edward S. Cotter) — fought the blaze on the water, and firefighters on the city streets fought more than 100 small fires as winds whipped embers across the water into city.
The Mansion House Hotel, which stood in what’s now the Canalside footprint, lost four awnings to the flying sparks. Sheets of flaming wood blew as far away as the corner of Seneca and Michigan streets.
After several years of political rancor, the site was excavated and became a turning basin for ships in Buffalo Harbor.
Not only is Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church gone, but so are the two streets where it was located and the entire surrounding neighborhood.
Consecrated at Fly and LeCouteulx streets in 1906, it was built for the most Italian immigrant families of the Canal District, also known as “The Hooks.” It was reputed to be not only the toughest neighborhood in the city, but one of the toughest in the world.
From the Buffalo Evening News in 1903:
The extent to which vice flourishes at the Canal street region, or the infected district, as it is called, is pointedly shown in a large wall chart just issued by the Christian Homestead Association, which is doing mission work in that district.
Staff Captain Cox of the Salvation Army, who has been in the slums in all the large cities in the world, says the district is the worst he ever saw, with the single exception of a street in Bombay. The chart shows the location of 108 saloons, 19 free theater saloons, 75 houses of ill-fame and 75 second-hand clothing stores, barber shops, restaurants and other legitimate places. It is issued for the purpose of bringing forcibly to the attention of the people of Buffalo the iniquity of that district, and to get them interested in the work of the Rescue Mission, which is maintained entirely by subscriptions.
Despite the world around them, the people of the church were devoted. The parish’s annual July feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was an elaborate celebration covered by the newspapers every year.
From The Buffalo Morning Express in 1914:
The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel closed last night in Buffalo’s Little Italy with the bursting of bomb-like firecrackers, the flash of roman candles, and the flight of many paper balloons.
The brick fronts of the tenements in Fly, Le Coutleulx, Dante, Peacock and Evans Streets were illuminated by red fire cups burning at the curb.
The entire section was out in the streets and about the church at Fly and Le Coutleulx Streets in holiday attire.
In the 1920s, there were a thousand families in the parish, but the neighborhood – mostly made up of rickety tenement buildings – was fading. An explosion on New Year’s Day 1936 called more attention to the impoverished plight of those living in the Dante Place neighborhood, as the area was known after Canal Street was renamed to honor the Italian poet in 1909.
New name, same problems. A headline from The Buffalo Times in 1919.There were fewer than 50 families in the parish when the church and the surrounding neighborhood was swallowed up to build the Marine Drive Apartments around 1950.
Thirty-five years ago this month, The News began celebrating the 100th anniversary of the paper’s starting a daily edition.
In the special section called One Hundred Years of Finance and Commerce, The News recounted the history of a handful of Buffalo’s financial and commercial industries and provided ad space for many companies involved in those industries to tout their own contributions.
By 1980, the port of Buffalo was obviously and irrevocably in decline, along with the grain, steel and lumber industries that the port once supported.
While the port was gasping, it was still alive — and this piece looks at would it would have taken to breathe new life into Buffalo’s lakes freight industry.