Martin Gressmann came to Buffalo from Germany in 1893, and after two years as an apprentice, opened his own bakery at 1753 Genesee St., a couple blocks west of Bailey.
His business grew through his involvement in the surrounding tight-knit East Side German community. He was a member of civic and social groups like Maennerchor Bavaria and the Schuhplattler Verein and St. Gerard’s Roman Catholic Church.
He’d been a baker for more than 50 years when he died in 1946, and his daughters took over the shop.
Long after Gressmann’s death, people came from all over Western New York for what one Williamsville restaurant owner called Buffalo’s best coffee cake.
The pastry with the caramel topping originated in the shop remained in demand well into the 1970s.
In 1895, Buffalo Mayor Edgar Jewett floated a novel idea to help feed the city’s growing number of poor.
He called upon the landowners and real estate barons of Buffalo to offer up unused plots of land within the city boundaries to be divided into small plots for the mostly immigrant poor to farm potato patches to feed themselves and their families.
In arguing for the plan, Buffalo’s Poormaster, John Arnold, corroborated that there were at least 300 Polish women who walked 5, 6 or 7 miles to farming jobs just outside of Buffalo for 5 cents a day. Most of the Polish, it was written, had food “absolutely unfit to eat.” Only about one in 10 had work.
Clay Rose variety potatoes, it was decided, would grow plentifully even with little attention. They were planted in nooks and crannies all over the city. One plot was at Seneca and Dole streets – an intersection that no longer exists. It’s now the site of the I-190 on-ramp near Seneca and Bailey Avenue.
There were also plots on Delavan Avenue and on a plot owned by George Urban at Genesee and Doat streets. In Black Rock, the Germania Land Co. offered up land near O’Neill and Tonawanda streets, right at the city line.
The largest tract, however was 90 acres of the old Twitchell Farm in South Buffalo, which was bounded by Cazenovia Creek, Cazenovia Street and Abbott Road.
Mayor Jewett supervised “digging day” along the “shores of placid Cazenovia Creek.”
“Italians from Mechanic Street, Poles from Sobieski Street, Mr. and Mrs. Heine and all the little Heines from the rear houses on Jefferson Street” were there, wrote a News reporter, each of them taking advantage of the “opportunity afforded them to work out their own salvation from a vegetarian standpoint.”
There were also two Jewish families, “along with a handful of Americans.”
Of the 215 plots along Cazenovia Creek in 1896, the average yield was about 30 bushels of potatoes. The farm plots were set up along an imaginary street grid, with small signs placed among the plants.
The dirt streets — named Cumberland, Meridan, Tamarack and others — began giving way to real streets with homes built upon them. The program continued on whatever plots could be found across the city.
In 1899, the mayor’s office reported that the $3,000 spent on the program yielded more than $6,000 worth of food for Buffalo’s poor. But in 1900, a new mayor was elected, and Conrad Diehl thought the job of feeding of the poor belonged to Poormaster Arnold. Diehl abandoned the potato patches program.
A group of philanthropists revived the project again in 1908 with planting in the areas still undeveloped along Cazenovia Creek and in Black Rock.
In 1910, potato bugs invaded Western New York, making the farming of potatoes far more difficult and less cost-effective. The program once again died out, this time for good, but not before thousands of bushels of potatoes staved off hunger for tens of thousands of Buffalo’s most impoverished citizens.
In 1880, the spot where Johnnie B. Wiley Stadium – once known as War Memorial Stadium – stands, was on the far outskirts of the city.
The big landmark along Jefferson Street between Best and Dodge wasn’t “The Rockpile,” but was across the street from the stadium where the Stanley Makowski Early Childhood Center now stands.
The school was built on what was once the campus of the Gerhard Lang Brewery. Built in 1875, the brewery was marked as No. 57 on the 1880 map.
It would be another 10 years before there was any activity on the land on the other side of Jefferson Avenue.
In 1880, the Prospect Hill Reservoir was still Buffalo’s primary source for drinking water. Located at Niagara and Connecticut streets, the original reservoir spot has been the home of the Connecticut Street Armory for more than 100 years.In 1893, the new Prospect Reservoir started serving as Buffalo’s stand-by water source on Jefferson Avenue.
A generation later, that second reservoir would be replaced by War Memorial Stadium as a Depression-era WPA project.
Buffalo Police dealt with one of the worst traffic jams they’d ever seen as an estimated 50,000 people jammed Genesee Street near Genesee Park (now Schiller Park) for German Day in 1938.
Traffic was on the minds of the 50 officers on the detail in and around the park that day on foot, horseback and motorcycle – but it wasn’t their primary reason for being there.
“The large detail was ordered (the day before) when fears arose that there might be trouble when German swastika banners were permitted to fly alongside the Stars and Stripes,” reported the Courier-Express.
The swastika flags were flown in deference to Emil Pieper, German Consul for Western New York, who addressed the crowd. At a similar event in Rochester the week before, Pieper “stood in stiff Nazi salute when the band struck up the German National Anthem.”
The German Day celebration, held about five years into Adolf Hitler’s reign but a year before the start of World War II, had a representative of the Nazi government addressing tens of thousands of Buffalonians under the Nazi flag in the middle of a city park.
“Since 1933, many German-Americans have asked themselves, ‘What attitude should I take? How can I, as a German or German-American, best serve this country without giving up my German characteristics, of which I am unusually proud?’ ” asked Pieper.
He told the crowd that many German-Americans had lost their sense of direction, and that this event was a fitting time “to bring back to our memories the great deeds of our ancestors and the many contributions of the German element to American life.”
Pieper also told the crowd the best way to help Germany is by being good Americans. Pieper would stay in Buffalo and ran a travel agency specializing in tours of Europe through the postwar years and into the 1960s.
But back to 1938, Mayor Thomas L. Holling addressed the German Day group, speaking narrowly about the German-American contribution to Buffalo – not the goings-on in Europe where the stage was being set for what would become World War II.
“It’s good that sturdy German-Americans have helped us make Buffalo what it is today,” said Holling.
He added, perhaps to contrast Buffalo’s Germans with the Nazi Germans, that the Teutonic descendants of Western New York are a high caliber of people. “They are noted for their tolerant and sympathetic attitudes toward their fellow citizens.”
The first time Buffalonians argued over whether East Buffalo or Exchange Street was the better location for a train station was 146 years ago, in 1873.
In those days, the city’s most active train station was on Exchange Street, on the precise spot where there are plans to erect that new station over the next two years.
In another shade of the familiar, at that time, several railroads combined efforts to build a $100,000 depot at East Buffalo to avoid the necessity of having to back some trains into the downtown station.
Buffalo — and the dozen or so newspapers serving Buffalo — were split over whether the station was a good idea. The Buffalo Express was firmly against. Even as stone masons finished their work on the exterior of the building, the paper reported “a delicious state of uncertainty” surrounding the project.
Still, about a year later, in 1874, the Union Depot opened on a spot about where Buffalo’s Central Terminal stands today. On the 1880 map, it stood lonely on the easternmost edge of the city.
The Buffalo Evening Post called it “a perfect model of neatness, beauty and comfort.” The New York Central and Lake Shore railroads were the first to make use of the new depot, which the Post called “not only a convenience but a necessity.”
After several months of operation, there were complaints. The Buffalo Sunday Morning News published an article “exposing the inconveniences to which the traveling public is subjected” with the New York Central lines being moved from the heart of the city to the edge of farm country.
Pressure was applied so that the Erie Railroad wouldn’t make the move to East Buffalo, and improvements at the Buffalo Roundhouse made the question of backing in trains less vital.
The site fell out of favor and was eventually abandoned. By the time an 1894 map was created, the site was labeled “the old New York Central passenger station.”
The Exchange Street/East Side argument continued in the 1920s, with many business owners surrounding the Exchange Street station lobbying hard against the building of a new New York Central terminal on the East Side, saying their business depended on the trains. Many of the hotels and restaurants closed within a few years of the opening at the Central Terminal in 1929.
After nearly a century and a half of discussion, don’t expect the Exchange Street/East Buffalo train battle to go away anytime soon.
“Green Book” opened in movie theaters across the country over the weekend. It’s the story of a world-class black pianist on tour in the racially segregated South in the early ’60s.
The film’s title refers to a mid-20th century annual travel guide, compiled by Victor Green, that acted as a GPS and Yelp for African-American motorists who might have difficulty finding amenities that would be available to them as they traveled across the country.
Just as water fountains and lunch counters were segregated, so, too, were lodging and gas pumps.
“The white traveler has had no difficulty in getting accommodations, but with the Negro it has been different,” said the forward of the 1957 guide. “He, before the advent of a Negro travel guide, had to depend on word of mouth, and many times accommodations were not available.”
The New York Public Library has digitized about two dozen editions of “The Negro Motorist Green-Book,” which are available on its digital collections website.
Here are pages describing accommodations that were safe for black travelers in Buffalo from 1949 and 1955.
By the end of the 1960s, the book was no longer in print. One of the final editions of the book from 1966-67 goes state by state to outline laws that add to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and what a person’s recourse is if that law was violated.
To a large degree, that landmark legislation was the fulfillment of the hopes of the publishers of “The Green-Book,” as outlined in the 1949 edition.
“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.”
Emslie Street hits William Street between Adams and Kretner, for the purposes of looking at our 1880 map.
Soon after 1880, the houses that stood on the northeast corner of William and Emslie streets were torn down to make way for Siegrist & Fraley’s dry goods store, which opened on the spot in 1891.
Jacob Siegrist was a buyer for Hengerer’s before partnering with George Fraley in the store on William Street, which Siegrist ran for 41 years. In 1909, Siegrist was the Republican nominee for Buffalo mayor. He lost to Louis Fuhrmann, who was later remembered with the naming of Fuhrmann Boulevard.
Joseph Stein’s bakery was in the building in the 1930s and ’40s. David Cole, and later, Harold Russell and his wife, Ethel, ran a delicatessen in the building in the 1950s.
The only building left standing from the circa-1910 postcard image above is the former Savoy Theater. As it was under construction in 1910, the Buffalo Enquirer reported that its “class of attractions will consist of continuous vaudeville and high-class moving pictures.”
For the first two weekends of August, the sounds of jazz fill Martin Luther King Jr. Park during the annual Pine Grill Reunion.
This year’s reunion is the 29th annual, and at just under 30 years, the reunion has been going on longer than the club was open.
A small joint near the corner of Jefferson and East Ferry, the Pine Grill was bursting with musical energy during the heyday of Buffalo’s jazz scene. Some of the biggest acts in music played the Pine Grill in the ’50s and ’60s.
In his autobiography, R&B legend Teddy Pendergrass wrote that he knew that going into the Pine Grill meant he didn’t have to put on a tux and a smile.
“For the crowd at Buffalo’s Pine Grill, it was the Temptations’ ‘Get Ready’ and gettin’ down ‘n’ funky, undoing your tie, and letting them see you sweat,” he wrote in the 1998 book.
When a big out-of-town act finished its gig at some bigger place, they often wound up having a drink and enjoying the music and the vibe in the intimate and gutty-feeling Pine Grill.
The music doesn’t pour out onto the street at the corner of Jefferson and Ferry anymore. In fact, spot where the Pine Grill stood has been a parking lot for the drug store next door for at least 30 years now.
But the memories are in the people and the music, and the people and the music return this weekend at MLK Park.
A great scene of typical life in Buffalo from 70 years ago shows how entirely different life was in Buffalo such a short time ago. Streetcars, men wearing wide-brimmed hats, billboards in Polish, all in a Buffalo/Cheektowaga city line neighborhood where they’d all be unrecognizable today.
The billboard was for “Polish Everybody’s Daily,” as the Polish daily newspaper “Dziennik dla Wszystkich” was known to English speakers. The heart says “40 years of building the might of Buffalo,” which by any measure was true.
Publisher Frank Ruszkiewicz called his daily “the only paper necessary in the Polish territory.” Not only was it read by 30,000 Polish speakers in Sloan, Black Rock and East Buffalo, it was also the organ by which community was built among Buffalo’s Polish population.
Through the 1950s, the paper was hurt by a dwindling number of people who wanted their daily news in Polish. A two-day strike of mechanical workers in 1954 caused a setback as well. The final writing was on the wall when “Everybody’s Daily” was making front page news in the city’s other newspapers.
A trade official of the Communist government in Poland who defected to the West said today that Communists in Poland are using the Polish language newspaper in Buffalo, Everybody’s Daily, as a propaganda outlet in the U. S. – Buffalo Evening News, May 16, 1957
The publisher and the editor of paper vehemently denied the charges, but it was the final blow. The last edition of the paper was printed in August 1957, a few weeks short of the paper’s 50th anniversary.
To alleviate any question of how a Polish language billboard would have been received at the corner, a 1946 want ad for Eddie’s Bakery, shown left in the top photo, calls for a sales girl: Polish preferred.
The building at the left on the 1948 photo, still standing at 1096 Walden, was a bakery for decades. Eventually known as the Walden Bakery, at the time of the photo, it was Eddie’s Bakery, owned by Eddie Olejniczak. For almost 30 years it was the EF Kuntz Bakery – but at one time, it was more than just bread and pastries.
At the height of prohibition in 1926, Ernest and Gustav Kuntz were arrested on charges of manufacturing and possessing “high powered beer,” following a federal raid that turned up 60 bottles of beer, 80 gallons of cider and two quarts of whiskey inside the bakery.
The streetcar is on the last run of the number 6 Sycamore run. The blind, sharp angle was a traffic hazard, especially since it was an end-of-the-line turnaround for the Walden line. To use the “Y” turnaround and start heading back inbound, streetcar motormen had to blindly reverse into traffic.
In 1932, the Town of Cheektowaga petitioned the International Railway Company to reroute the line so that a loop turnaround could be built in a nearby field. At the height of a big snowstorm in December 1942, the snow-packed switches on the Y turnaround caused the street car to derail.
The end of the line for this end-of-the-line streetcar stop came in September 1948, when the Sycamore/Walden line was converted to buses. The last of Buffalo’s IRC streetcars were retired on July 1, 1950.
Visniak was the unofficial soft drink of VFW Posts, corner gin mills, and East Side homes where the Visniak van would make weekly drop-offs of cases filled with a rainbow of pop flavors.
Hattie Pijanowski, along with her husband, Edward, started the Visniak-Saturn Beverage Corp. on Detroit Street on Buffalo’s East Side in 1931. In 1939, the plant moved to Reiman Street in Sloan.
Edward Pijanowski became active in Sloan politics and ran for mayor of the village in 1951.
The company, which employed ten in 1968, brought colorful and tasty pop to generations of Buffalonians two different ways– in 7.5-ounce glass bottles and from barroom “pop guns” all over the city.
Chances are pretty good– if you ever ordered a Coke in an East Side tavern sometime between the ’50s and the ’90s, you were likely drinking a “VEESH-nyak” (from the Polish for “cherry”) and didn’t even realize it.
Hattie Pijanowski died in July, 1985, at age 82. Her son, Ray, was 70 when he closed up the business in 2004, “because nobody returned the bottles,” and a new bottle cost more than what that bottle filled with pop would sell for.