Willow Lawn is a short street with a long history.
Like the rest of the southern two-thirds of Parkside, the properties on Willow Lawn were once a part of newspaper publisher Elam Jewett’s Willow Lawn farm and estate, most of which was sold in part to the city for Delaware Park and in part to the Parkside Improvement Company (and others) for development into the Parkside neighborhood designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
Elam Jewett died in 1887, but until his widow’s death in 1901, Mrs. Caroline Jewett retained the family home at the corner of Main and Jewett Parkway and parcel between School 54 and the parkway which bore the family name.
This ad appeared in the Buffalo Evening News in 1901.
To take a step back, the history of Willow Lawn goes back another century or so to the earliest days of Buffalo, when the Parkside area– far outside the village and then city limits– was known as the Buffalo Plains.
Dr. Daniel Chapin was among the area’s most sought-after medical professionals when he moved to the rugged frontier that was Buffalo in 1807. He built a rustic log cabin on his 175-acre farm on the Buffalo Plains stretched from what is now Main Street west back through Delaware Park, The Buff State campus, and the Richardson Complex property.
Chapin traveled on foot between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, with little more than his dog, his gun, and the tools of his medical trade. He was a naturalist and insisted on keeping the natural plant life on his farm in as natural a state as possible. We have him to thank for the native beauty of the area of his land that is today Delaware Park.
During the War of 1812, part of the Chapin farm also acted as an encampment for soldiers who had come from the south to defend the nation’s border at Buffalo. Many of those men died of exposure and disease, and at least 300 of them remain interred in the part of Daniel Chapin’s backyard where he helped bury them– in the Mound in the Meadow underneath the Delaware Park golf course.
Chapin’s son was commander in the militia of Erie County during the War of 1812, and around 1820, Col. William W. Chapin built the family a larger log cabin much closer to what is today the corner of Main and Jewett.
Barton Atkins, a prolific writer who grew up in the Buffalo Plains, had great memories of playing with Col. Chapin’s son Harold on the property he remembered well during the 1820s and 1830s.
A primitive home of a pioneer farmer, a log dwelling, the yard dotted with trees indigenous to the soil, and enclosed with a rail fence. The barns, corn-cribs, sheds stored with farm implements all in plain view. Multitudes of domestic fowls, turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens. peacocks, and guinea hens, rambling about, the pastures alive with horses, cattle, swine, sheep, and goats; the whole presenting a scene decidedly rural.
-Barton Atkins, describing the scene at what is now Main & Jewett in the 1820s
Col. Chapin’s 1820 log cabin was expanded and encompassed by a home that was larger and more aesthetically pleasing as the years went by. the place became known as Willow Lawn, named after the many willows planted by Dr. Chapin on the property.
By the time Elam Jewett purchased the Willow Lawn estate in 1864, he was one of Buffalo’s leading citizens. The lifelong Republican and publisher of the Commercial Advertiser newspaper was close friends with Millard Fillmore.
Fillmore and Jewett traveled through Europe together in 1856, and it was likely in Europe that Jewett was introduced to “the love apple,” today known as tomatoes. The tomatoes Jewett grew at Willow Lawn were thought to be the first tomatoes grown in Buffalo.
In the run up to the Civil War, Jewett and the Commercial Advertiser took a hard line against slavery. This sentiment may have been overplayed in a grand-niece’s retelling of the Jewett story in the Courier-Express in 1941. Along side several other over-statements of fact, “a concealed subterranean room” at Jewett homestead is mentioned as a one-time stop on the Underground Railroad.
It’s mentioned here primarily to debunk it– in hundreds of pages read on Jewett and Willow Lawn, and tens of thousands of pages read on the history of the Parkside area, I’ve never seen another reference to the Underground Railroad outside this one article, again, with a descendant speaking 80 years after the Civil War as a source.
Before his death in 1887, Jewett gave the Episcopal Church the land for the Church of the Good Shepherd, and donated most of the cost of it’s construction.
In 1892, Mrs. Jewett donated land to the City of Buffalo for Public School 54– known for many years as “The Parkside School.” That school was built on the land currently occupied by the present School 54’s parking lot.
In the following years, the Willow Lawn Estate would be opened to the public in raising money for the church and the school. The Beltline trains and Cold Spring horse-cars were listed as convenient modes of transportation for folks visiting Willow Lawn for one such fundraiser in 1889.
The life of Mrs. Caroline Wheeler Jewett , filled with years and graced with all womanly virtues, came to an end at 8 o’clock last evening, when she passed away at the family home, Willow Lawn.
In 1905, Jewett’s heirs split off the southern most part of the remaining Willow Lawn parcel for new development.
“The magnificent homestead lands of the Jewetts, at Main Street and Jewett Avenue, have been subdivided and are now offered for sale to parties
desiring home-sites in an exclusive, scenic section,” read one ad.
Another touted the “euphoniously titled” Willow Lawn’s “semi-private park style” in “the most beautiful section of the city.”
Willow Lawn, 1906. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Beautiful Willow Lawn Homestead, corner of Main Street and Jewett Avenue, has been subdivided and placed with us for sale. A new street, 70 feet wide, has been opened from Main Street to Crescent Avenue. Sewer and water pipes laid on each side are already in, and the pavement nearly finished. The lots are being sold under restrictions for residential purposes only, making some of the most desirable home sites in the Parkside District. Nearly one-half of these lots have been sold, so it is up to you to hurry if you want a lot in this desirable subdivision, the highest and healthiest section in the city where attractive surroundings are assured at a very low price.
“As a setting for a fine piece of domestic architecture,” the Buffalo Courier reported, “the site is ideal.” All but two of the lots on the street had homes built on them by 1911, and the last home was built on Willow Lawn in 1917.
As homes were being built in the “Willow Lawn subdivision,” the buildings of the original Willow Lawn estate– including the home of the Chapins and Jewetts– still stood at the corner of Main & Jewett.
Willow Lawn’s final hurrah would be as the home of a newly formed school based on learning from nature while in nature.
In 1913, after a year on Bird Avenue on the West Side, The Park School and it’s open-air approach to learning took over the last vestige of Daniel Chapin’s estate 106 years after he first built a log cabin there.
The Park School became a nationally renown beacon of progressive education.
For nearly a decade, children walked the same grounds Barton Atkins talked about 100 years earlier. Not confined to desks, children often weren’t even confined to indoors– with classrooms built in tree houses and screened bungalows. Days were often spent outside, even in the dead of winter, with the pupils warmly cocooned in woolen sleeping bags for lectures.
The Willow Lawn home was torn in 1922 after The Park School left for the school’s current home in Snyder. The current apartment buildings on the lot were built shortly thereafter, and available for rent by 1927, as shown in the ad below.
Parkside’s long-standing reputation as a politically conservative area predated the carving out of the neighborhood by Frederick Law Olmsted. The Granger Family, the first long-term white settlers in the area, was originally sent here with political patronage jobs from Thomas Jefferson.
The Granger family’s stone mansion on property that it now a part of Forest Lawn Cemetery was long known as the site of dozens of Republican fundraisers from the time of Lincoln up to the 1930s.
Elam Jewett was a close friend of the Buffalo’s Whig President Millard Fillmore. Before moving to what is now the corner of Jewett Parkway and Main Street, Jewett was the publisher of the very conservative and staid Commercial Advertiser, Buffalo’s most influential newspaper.
As one might expect, the neighborhood that sprung from the farm lands owned by Granger and Jewett became a very conservative Republican stronghold for well over half a century, aiding in electing Republican North, and later Delaware District Common Councilmen, as well as Republican Mayors of Buffalo. As late as the 1950s, Parkside was a predominantly Republican district.
In the 1960’s, however, the pendulum began to swing back. The election of John Kennedy to the White House, and a very likable Democrat, Frank Sedita, as Buffalo’s mayor, was making it easier to win over hearts and minds all over the city.
And in 1970, Parkside joined with the rest of the Delaware Councilmatic District in electing the first Democrat ever to represent the area on Buffalo’s Common Council. William B. Hoyt II was the namesake and grandson of a lawyer who worked for New York Central Railroad, was an early Pierce Arrow investor, and was integral in pulling off the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo. The elder Hoyt lived in a mansion on Amherst Street; now the site of the soccer and football fields of Nichols school.
The Younger Hoyt served on Buffalo’s Common Council from 1970 until 1975, and then continued to represent the northern half of the Parkside neighborhood in the New York State Assembly from 1975 until 1992, when after decades of tireless work for the Parkside area, he died after suffering a heart attack on the floor of the Assembly.
Since 1992, William B. Hoyt III, known to everyone as “Sam,” has served in the same seat as his father in Albany. That father-son duo represents 40 years of uninterrupted elected public service for the people of Parkside.
Emblematic of the larger clash of cultures issue were the goings on at the heart of Parkside one weekend night at the height of the counter-culture movement. At the corner of Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue, where Elam Jewett built his church “Good Shepherd,” and from where the neighborhood sprung, two worlds collided.
The Frank Lloyd Wright designed Darwin Martin house had, by the late 1960s, become the official residence of the President of the University at Buffalo. Across Jewett Parkway, in the home noted Buffalo Architect William Sydney Wicks designed and built for himself, lived one of the University’s most “infamous” dissident professors, Dr. Elwin H. “Ed” Powell.
Ed Powell called the house “The People’s Pentagon.” Powell was an early opponent of the Vietnam War, holding “teach-ins” about the conflict in 1964. He led war protests through the 60s and 70s, and sheltered war resisters at the house in 1971.
His son, Jim Powell, remembers growing up in the house during that time. “The FBI and other law enforcement had the house watched for many years and the phone lines tapped. Sometimes my friends and I would go out in the middle of winter and offer the agents hot drinks while they sat there in the snow watching our house. They never accepted.”
The federal agents also did their best to make sure the neighborhood knew of the subversive activity going on in their neighborhood. “Sometimes they went door to door showing pictures of naked hippies… taken through the fence of our back yard where, at any given time during parties, there’d be dozens of naked hippies splashing around. Never a dull moment.”
The photos were likely unnecessary. The younger Powell remembers his status in the neighborhood rising, as parents told their children they weren’t even allowed near the home Jim Powell calls “a commune of Charlie Manson look-alikes with a rag-tag bunch of teenagers hanging around.”
He writes of the night the UB establishment clashed with the counter- culture in what he saw as “The bright shiny Cadillacs and Buicks versus the VW bugs and buses, Mavericks and Valiants.”
The University was having a fancy party at the
Frank Lloyd Wright house and invited everyone to attend the Gala Formal Event
at the magnificent UB President’s house at 125 Jewett Parkway on the corner of
Jewett and Summit. As luck would have it, Dad was throwing a Hippie-Laden
Moratorium Day blow-out party at 124 Jewett.
Dad’s counterculture parties at our house were legendary, yet another reason parents forbade their kids from going near the place. There were usually massive amounts of beer, often in kegs and the gallons and gallons of cheap wine flowed like the Great Niagara a few miles away. Yet that wasn’t the half of it, there was so much grass and LSD, there was absolutely something for everybody.
The music was amazing, the bands would set up in the large formal dining room that faced out across Jewett to the FLW house and the music was so loud it could be heard for blocks. Hundreds of people would show up for Dad’s parties and by 9 PM there was usually a whole pile of hippies swimming naked in the pool.
Dr. Powell lived in the Wicks House until his death in 2001, but before then– he was able to obtain through the Freedom of Information Act, portions of his over 30,000-page FBI file.
Powell’s son Stephen noted in a eulogy for his father that “they had taken the great pains to go through every page and cross off the names of the informants that had contributed to this great work. Some had even lived at the house with us. He was aghast and incensed when he read the conclusion of the summary report of the file when they decided he was ‘actually a pretty nice guy’ and was not a terrorist threat.”
7: The Parkside Community Association
The Parkside Community Association owes its foundation in part to another group, HOME, Housing Opportunities Made Equal. According the HOME website, in 1963, the founding members of HOME came together from a variety of racial and religious backgrounds to address the ever present problem of discrimination in the Buffalo housing market.
The two men who founded the PCA met at a HOME meeting. “Dick Griffin and I both lived in Parkside,” remembers Jack Anthony, “and met at a HOME meeting. We said HOME is good, but what about our neighborhood?
“So June, 1963, we moved my parents furniture out of their living room, we got some folding chairs from George Roberts Funeral Home, Main at Willowlawn, and we leafleted the neighborhood to say we were having a meeting about our neighborhood.
“We filled the living room, and a good crowd showed up. It was organized around blockbusting. So we organized, I was the first President. We had different committees. Traffic, trees. Dutch Elm Disease killing off the trees was a really big problem. A lot of people were very upset by that. We did a lot of things other than blockbusting.”
But, as previously outlined, much of the group’s initial effort went into preventing blockbusting. Word got out rather quickly that this wouldn’t be acceptable. Early on, Parksiders decided to build an integrated community and worked for racial harmony and diversity.
one black real estate agent who was accused of blockbusting. We invited him
into my living room; he denied having ever done any blockbusting; and what’s
more, he promised he’d never do it again. That was the only real concrete
incident, but the word got out– If you trying blockbusting in Parkside, the
PCA’s going to be after you.”
PCA wasn’t just involved with keeping those that would destroy the neighborhood out; from its very beginning, the Parkside Community Association was charged with bringing new people into the neighborhood.
“We distributed plenty of literature, our first pamphlet was called, Who Needs Suburbia. It basically said we’re looking for nice neighbors no matter what color you are. So as far as most folks can see, it worked. “
David and Ruth Lampe were among the most vocal of the pioneers who helped develop the neighborhood back from its lowest point. As they were sending their children to School 54 in an effort to maintain and build upon the character of the school, the Lampes were reviving the dilapidated American Four Square they’d purchased on Crescent Avenue between Robie Street and Florence Avenue in 1970. It was one of a number of homes on the block that had seen better days.
Aside from being the PTA President at School 54, Ruth Lampe would go on to spent the next four decades as a stalwart member of the Parkside Community, acting as a block club organizer, PCA President, Housing specialist, and fighter for causes important in maintaining and growing the neighborhood.
In 1984, Lampe was interviewed by the Parkside News, 14 years after her arrival in Parkside. “(In the mid-70s), Parkside had all the trappings of a neighborhood in trouble. Its housing stock was beginning to deteriorate; it was next to a changing community; it was relatively isolated; its local school was in trouble. Few other communities have turned around so quickly and so impressively. Parksiders can take pride in their success.”
It was a major community effort, on many different levels, to make it all happen. The PCA fought against plans of The Trico Products Corporation to tear down a handful of structures along Greenfield Street near Main to build a parking lot for its plant (now the Tri-Main building).
In a 1970 formal letter to city officials opposing the plan, President Richard Griffin wrote, “One primary purpose of the PCA has been to promote and retain the residential character of our community…. One city official has aptly described Trico’s proposal as ‘blockbusting into a residential neighborhood.'”
The PCA has also, since the early days, attempted to preserve the character of the neighborhood by insisting on strict code enforcement for both businesses and home owners.
When the PCA’s Housing Committee was formed in 1967, the minutes of the Board of directors meeting said the committee should “determine what structures are (in a state of disrepair) and make efforts to persuade the owner to remedy the situation. Our purpose is not to form a vigilante committee.”
After identifying poorly kept premises, they worked to figure out why work wasn’t being done, and helping when needed. The committee also worked to commend those who maintained their homes beautifully.
As time wore on, and despite the thought by some that the PCA should “mind its own business,” the association began to take a firm stand on building codes, and encouraged the passage of codes and law which provided a legal basis to help keep the neighborhood from falling into the same condition as many other city neighborhoods.
This means painting and general upkeep, but also making sure, for example, the proper permits are in place before a lawn and greenery can be cemented over and a curb cut for a parking pad.
It also applies to building usage. PCA successfully fought Buffalo State College’s Sigma Tau Rho fraternity from opening 252 Crescent Avenue as a Frat House in 1970. UB’s Dental Fraternity had operated a house at the corner of Summit and Russell Avenues for many years. The frat was described in a 1970 Buffalo Evening News accounting as “terrible and disastrous” for neighbors. PCA Co-Founder Dick Griffin told one reporter of “students playing loud music and cavorting on the lawn with their girlfriends. Parkside wasn’t sorry to see them go.”
The PCA also generally tries to look at preservation and rehabilitation of a property, as opposed to demolition, to prevent the blighted “gap-tooth” look seen in some city neighborhoods. One notable exception was the large apartment house which stood at the corner of Florence and Parkside Avenues in varying degrees of vacancy and vagrancy from the 1950s until the time it was torn down in the 1970s.
The Parkside Community Association was not, of course, the only community group active in Parkside.
St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic church, which operated just south of Humboldt Parkway on Main Street for 125 years, was very much interested in the future of the city neighborhoods it served.
The church paid particular interest in, as a 1979 Courier-Express article described it, “an aging but elegant North Buffalo apartment building. Michael Riester wrote about it in the March 2000 edition of Parkside News:
With the advent of the 1960’s, St. Vincent’s bravely confronted the great social changes underway. Under the direction of Msgr. Paul Valente, parishioners turned their attention to concerns facing her neighborhood. St. Vincent’s joined the fight to oppose redlining, the illegal banking practice of refusing to loan money for inner city home purchases.
Describing the changing mission of the traditional parish, Msgr. Valente is quoted as saying, “What it’s becoming is more of a community center. We are trying to become more community conscious and less missionary in the old sense of going out to make converts. We simply want to indicate by our concern and action that we feel a part of the community, and that we have the interests of the community at heart.
Encouraged by Msgr. Valente, an enthusiastic group of parishioners became a part of the Community Action Organization. This grassroots organization involved 16 catholic parishes who decide to try to fight redlining by peaceful means…
During the summer of 1975, a group of parishioners began an in-depth study of slumlords within the (Parkside) neighborhood. They focused their attention on the owner of the Crescent Apartments at 196 Crescent Avenue. Having gained the support of the tenants, committee members actually accompanied city housing inspectors through each apartment, making a list of needed repairs.
At one point, over seventy-five neighbors demanded a meting with Mayor Makowski and city housing inspectors to address a list of over seventy-five code violations within the building. A meeting did take place at the St. Vincent’s Parish rectory, and through repeated exposure in the Buffalo News, the building was sold to a new owner.
Ruth Lampe has been a stickler for housing and building code compliance, and has served as the PCA’s Housing Specialist.
In a 1984 interview about housing, Lampe said, “PCA’s controversial and largely successful housing program ensured that the area’s housing stock was well maintained, even in cases where owners would not have otherwise afforded to make improvements.
“We often take this community for granted. We need to have some historical perspective. (In 1974), housing prices were depressed and we had real problems. Now (in 1984), while everything is not perfect, we have solved the number one problem– the stability and attractiveness of the community. “
Parkside’s efforts to “Preserve a Neighborly Neighborhood” became the title of an article published in The National Observer, in 1972, which acted as a weekend edition for the Wall Street Journal. PCA Co-founder Richard Griffin takes a reporter on a tour of the neighborhood which had just undergone a decade of momentous change. The mood of the piece is, we’re hopeful, working on it, and hoping for the best.
The hoping and the work paid off. “Parkside inspires more confidence than it did four or five years ago. One real estate broker confided that one of the reasons for the Elmwood-Delaware Area’s resurgence was the number of people fearful of investing in Parkside,” Real Estate Reporter Phillip Langdon wrote in a 1979 Buffalo Evening News larger piece on the “comeback” of the city as a whole. The article continued:
(Richard) Mabee (of Gurney,
Becker, and Bourne Realty) confirms what Parkside residents say — that
“Parkside has gained a lot of appeal. It’s become a very successful
Some nervous whites moved out, but Mabee says “those spots were filled
in not only by successful blacks but by university people, who are more
broadminded.”…”They’re active and they’re smart,” Mabee says
of (the Parkside Community Association).
A 1977 Parkside newsletter quotes a Community Planning Assistance Center (CPAC) study of the changes in Parkside, comparing the area in 1970 to the way it was in 1977.
Parkside community residential housing prices have increased on average from
$21,500 to $33,500 in 1977. The sales listings have decreased from a 1973 high
of 92 to a 1976 total of 46, which can be interpreted as a sign of confidence
in the area as viewed by its residents…. Owner occupied dwellings have
increased from 895 in 1970 to 925 in 1975, an increase of 30 units.
The same 1977 newsletter came with a page labeled “Thoughts on Our Neighborhood,” a sample of opinions offered up by members:
have young children, young married couples, old married couples, retirees,
grandparents, blacks, whites, others, blue collars, white collars, laborers,
professionals, liberals, conservatives, moderates, radicals, reactionaries,
anarchists, entrepreneurs, communists, all living together… one from many.
Many opinions also focused on the slowly upgrading housing stock, and the varied nature of the areas homes, and a still tempered hope for the future of the neighborhood.
The PCA would take a major role in bolstering those tempered hopes, but only with the active support of the people of the neighborhood. It was still a topic of great interest when written about in the February 1981 Parkside News:
you might not be aware of it, the ‘renaissance’ of the Parkside community has
taken a lot of work by your neighbors over the past few years. Building code
enforcement, tree planting, zoning enforcement, solving small community
problems, and housing improvements have been among the main concerns of the
As the Parkside Community Association has progressed, the resident involvement it has stimulated has been the major force in the perception and creative dealing with newly emerging neighborhood needs.
Three years ago, in 1977, in response to the perception that the neighborhood was in need of a defined preservation and restoration program, the membership voted to open a formal office with the assistance of outside funding. PCA was awarded community development funds to help with its programs. In 1979, New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal funds were added to the PCA’s budget.
Despite all the successes, challenges continued. While blockbusting was corralled very early on, redlining has lasted in various forms even up to this day, and the fact that it is so institutionalized, makes it very difficult to fight.
When the term first came into usage, it referenced the practice of denying loans and insurance (or allowing loans or insurance but at incredibly raised rates) to people in communities that banks and insurance companies found undesirable (usually that meant poor or black.) The definition expanded to include other businesses that would deny basic services or adequate access to services based on geographic location.
The Community Association’s annual spring meeting in 1976 was entitled, “Redlining and Disinvestment. The Erie County Citizens Organization present their findings of ‘banking disinvestment’ in Buffalo.“ Finding loans to buy or renovate a home in the area was getting increasing difficult, as was finding reasonably priced homeowners insurance for many.
Other societal changes made some other forms of redlining more apparent as well. Up until the mid ‘70s, a family’s groceries could, for the most part, be purchased within the confines of Parkside. Grocers like Red & White would have fruits and canned goods, one of the several delicatessens had smaller items. At various times there were butchers and bakers. But with the rise of supermarkets, came the fall of the Mom and Pop stores, and residents had to rely on the behemoth stores outside of the neighborhood confines for groceries.
By the early 80s, many were beginning to question the variety at the area markets. Most Parksiders shopped at the Bells in Central Park Plaza, the Super Duper on Great Arrow near Delaware, and the Tops on Delaware at Linden. It was observed that the fresh meats and produce weren’t as fresh or plentiful as in suburban stores, and that some staple items, like milk and bread, were priced higher for city shoppers.
Taking it on as an obvious quality of life issue, The PCA publicly campaigned for changes. The manager of each store was called out in editorials in the Parkside News and in the larger press, and it was insisted that such practices wouldn’t be tolerated. It’s just a small example of raising the quality of life in many different ways to make the area more attractive to people willing and able to invest.
Throughout the 1970s, one major investment Parksiders looked forward to was the building of the LRRT, light rail rapid transit, right along Parkside’s spine on Main Street.
For more than a decade, residents actively participated in deciding where the stops should be placed in the neighborhood. By the time the MetroRail plans were set in 1982, it was thought 10,000 people a day would be arriving and departing from the Amherst Street station every day. Many Parksiders (and City Planners) of the day saw this as the future of the neighborhood. All around the country, areas newly serviced by light rail had always seen property values escalate.
While in retrospect, the projected numbers fell way short of expectation, and the project wasn’t the panacea that many thought it might be, it still helped give Parkside a boost.
The June 1981 Parkside News headline read, Housing Values in Parkside Soar. Just as average home value increased and the number of sales dropped 1970-77, 1979-81 saw more stabilization, based in part of the impending opening of the MetroRail.
The 1979 MLS average for homes sold in Parkside was $27,800. A year later, it had jumped to $35,800. There were also 50% fewer sales. Area home values increased 28.5% 1979 to 1980, as compared to an only 8.3% increase in WNY as a whole.
In 1984, UB’s Department of Environmental Design conducted an analysis of the Parkside neighborhood, looking to see how the Comprehensive Code Enforcement program affected the community. As far as housing values, they rose 29% in Buffalo between 1978 and 1982. In Parkside, housing values rose 56% during the same period.
With the future of the neighborhood on a much more firm footing by the mid 1980s, many stopped worrying about treading water, and began looking to the future. Many looked at the past as a means to ensure that future.
By 1983, an initial survey of the Parkside neighborhood was completed by the Friends of Olmsted Parks, with the hope and expectation that the Olmsted-designed neighborhood might be recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.
Over the next few years, a complete survey was completed, with the efforts spearheaded by Erie County Legislator Joan Bozer, she a Parkside resident. The full document is over 1,000 pages, and includes a two page summary of every building within Parkside, and painstakingly inventories the historic relevance of every article of the neighborhood’s landscape:
Parkside… Historic District in Buffalo, New York is located approximately
four miles north of Buffalo’s central business district at the east and
northeast sides of Delaware Park. The district is characterized by an irregular
street pattern, which generally follows the contours of the adjacent park’s
edge, and by a large number of single family residences built for middle and
upper-middle class families during the nineteenth and early twentieth
The Parkside… Historic District covers a relatively flat, crescent-shaped area of approximately 226 acres. There are 1768 contributing buildings included in the district; 1109 represent principal buildings and 659 are outbuildings, usually garages. Three of the contributing buildings were listed on the National Register in 1975 as part of the Darwin Martin House Complex…
The district also includes nine contributing structures, representing historic streets and street segments significant for their association with Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1876 and c.1886 plans for the development of “Parkside.” These features comprise: Agassiz Circle, Amherst Street, Crescent Avenue, Greenfield Street, Humboldt Parkway, Jewett Parkway, Parkside Avenue, Summit Avenue, and Woodward Avenue. There are 22 non-contributing principal buildings in the historic district. Most of these are infill housing units or post-1926 apartment buildings; however, several represent severely altered buildings constructed within the district’s 1876-1936 period of significance.
In 1987, Parkside officially won the Historic Designation. PCA Board President Robert A. Kilduff wrote about it in the Parkside News:
The real benefit of the designation is more intangible,
more psychological than financial. It involves recognition of the value of what
we have inherited as well as a renewed commitment to preserve it….
The Historic designation has also seen an increase in activism in the affairs of the Park. Parkside was designed around the Park, and was seen by Olmsted as an integral part of the Park System. Parkside was created as a built-in protector of the Park system, serving to buffer the Park from inappropriate uses.
Now, many Parksiders complain that Delaware Park is no longer seen as a part of the community by “the powers that be,” but as a regional entity… PCA’s watch dogging of conditions an usage of the park has seemed parochial to some, but the mission of Parkside is more than parochialism, but rather an historic mission.
That same year was watershed year for the Community Association, as in March 1987, a PCA was established with the purchase of a new headquarters building. The PCA committed to buy and renovate the former dental offices of Dr. Monreith Hollway at 2318 Main Street, which included the office as well as two units of low income housing. Initial renovation costs, to be provided by two state grants, were to total $71,000. “Owning the building is seen by PCA as a commitment to renovating a visible and deteriorating community resource.”
But it wasn’t as easy as initially thought. By January, 1990, difficult and costly renovations had dragged on, and the PCA was being evicted from its previous office space at 10 W Oakwood Place, as owner was trying to sell the building. The PCA had lost state funding to refurbish the building at 2318 Main Street, and the project was becoming entangled in a web of city, state, and federal regulations.
But the many problems were overcome, and, by mid
1991, as the PCA got ready to move into its building at 2318 & 2320 Main
Street, one longtime Parkside Resident was awash with memories. Milton Carlin
remembered his father’s jewelry store was on the right side of the two
store-front building. At that time, the left side was Russell’s Barber Shop, At
that point, the building’s dentist owner, Dr. Hollway, practiced upstairs. The
jewelry store existed in the space through the 1940s, when Dr. Hollway moved
his practice into the storefront. It remains today the PCA headquarters.
As the neighborhood and the focus of the community association changed, one man greatly credited with keeping neighbors on track was Derek Bateman; the Executive Director of PCA from 1982-1992.
As he left, he was lauded as greatly responsible for helping to turn around the attitudes about the neighborhood’s housing stock.
“He saw the neighborhood through its comprehensive code enforcement, a process that upset many homeowners, but brought about dramatic changes in the physical appearance of the area.”
Bateman wrote at the end of his tenure that plenty of what was seen and what was not seen in Parkside had been influenced by the PCA during his time as Executive Director:
There are no video arcades at the corner of Main
and Amherst or Parkside and Russell, and nor are there disruptive bars at
Parkside and Russell. There is a stoplight at the intersection of Florence and
Parkside, and many new trees along Parkside’s streets.
There is a newly renovated Parkside-Florence tot
lot, initiated by interested residents working with the PCA. The new historic
street lights, now being put up, would have been inappropriate suburban looking
fixtures had it not been for PCA intervention.
While neighborhoods around the city continued to deteriorate, Parkside, with its strong community, and strong community association prospered. But maybe too much, as a double edged sword came for the PCA in 1996: The State of New York’s Department of Housing and Community Renewal determined that the Parkside Community Association met its original goal of creating a stable and economically diverse neighborhood.
While this milestone came as great news, it also came with the state ending its yearly grant of $63,000, nearly immediately, as of March 1996.
It came as a shock, and caused the organization to change the way it had operated for many years. Three jobs, and one proposed job, were eliminated from the PCA.
The organization had long been open for housing assistance for low income homeowners. Those requests were being forwarded to the North Buffalo Community Center. New emphasis was put on membership and fundraising. The writing of grants and annual requests of city, county and state lawmakers became yearly events.
This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon
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.”
This page is an excerpt from The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon