Torn-Down Tuesday: The Elk Street Market

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Time and circumstance has nearly eliminated knowledge and memory of one of the city’s great institutions.

West Market Street, Elk Street Market. Buffalo Stories archives

In 1904, the Elk Street Market was “the largest fruit and garden truck market in the United States.” The traffic in commodities sold rivaled any similar market on the continent.

Buffalo Stories archives

The market’s size and success was attributed to so many of Buffalo’s immigrants holding onto centuries-old ways and their “adherence to village customs.” German, Italian, and Irish traditions played out all over the four-block long market that ran parallel to Michigan Street, in an area now largely taken up by the Buffalo Creek Casino.

Trying to understand where the market was offers up several red herrings. The first is the name. The market is nowhere near today’s Elk Street.

The part of Elk Street where the market stood is now South Park Avenue. Elk Street once ran from Seneca Street almost to the foot of Main Street. In her blog about Buffalo Streets, Angela Keppel writes that in 1939, South Buffalo businessmen thought it would be a good idea to have a street that runs from South Buffalo to downtown. Elk Street was one of five streets that was carved up to create South Park Avenue.

Buffalo Stories archives

Another red herring is the Elk Street Terminal. Famous now as one of Buffalo’s early reuse condominium projects, it was built at the northern tip of the market and used for the loading and unloading of trucks and trains. The actual market stretched several blocks into the First Ward from the back door of the terminal.

Buffalo Stories archives

It’s actually a double red herring because not only was the terminal a small part of the market away from most of the buying and selling the market was famous for, it’s actually several blocks away from where Elk Street was. It was named after the market (which no longer exists) which was named after the street (which no longer exists.)

Buffalo Stories archives

Thousands of wagons laden with fruit and vegetables paid 15¢ or 25¢ for a spot on the market or took their wares to the terminal to be loaded on trains to be sold around the country. The farmers themselves came from as far as Orchard Park or further south, or as far north as Clarence — but rules prevented Niagara County growers from selling at the market.

During the height of the fruit season, 10,000 bushels were sold a day.

Buffalo Stories archives

The main building also was home to a meat and poultry market, and the fish market was the city’s busiest.

Michigan Avenue just outside the Elk Street Market. Buffalo Stories archives

A fire in the late 1920s and then railroad maneuvering to have most of the larger business of the Elk Terminal moved to the Clinton Bailey Market mostly spelled the end of the Elk Street Market, which continued to hang on as a farmers market through the 1930s.

These views show a 1906 and 2016 view near what is now South Park and Michigan avenues.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo in the 1890s: Polish and Italian freight workers clash

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Today, it’s one of Buffalo’s newest waterfront spaces—RiverFest Park– nestled between Ohio Street and the Buffalo River, just across the water from Buffalo RiverWorks and the Labatt grain silos.

The Buffalo Evening News, May 26, 1899

The Buffalo Evening News, May 26, 1899

At the tail end of the 19th century,  Buffalo’s waterfront was rough and tumble. On this day in particular, it was the place where two immigrant groups clashed and “a race riot looked imminent.”

The unionized mostly Polish freight handlers at the New York Central Freight House on Ohio Street had joined the unionized mostly Irish grain shovelers in striking for better working conditions and in protest of contract abuses.

Cincinnati-Street-from-LOC

When the dock-working Poles came back to work, many were displeased to be working alongside mostly Italian non-union men. Management promised to dismiss the Italians, but when 150 showed up ready for work the next day, “within five minutes, a good sized riot was in progress.”

How the fight started seemed to be in question—The News’ account laid the blame at some of the 200 Poles who began accosting the Italians and calling them scabs. The Courier said the Italians may have started it when one of them threw an old tomato can into the group of Poles.

“Knives and revolvers were flourished,” reported The News, “and fists were freely used.”

Witnesses heard as many as 25 gunshots—one Polish man was shot in the back. An Italian man was slashed in the face. Five were arrested and charged with rioting.

A generational satisfaction in the new Buffalo 

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Just driving where the roads took me, I wound up in the First Ward today, driving down the stunning new Ohio Street and looking across the dirt and weeds to the Chicago Street lot which was home to long gone ancestors.

map

My 3rd great grandfather, Miles Norton, was an Irish immigrant grain worker who died in the family flat over 64 Chicago Street when he was 45 years old in 1883.

1882 City Directory
1882 City Directory

The address is a shaggy looking vacant lot right now, but over looks all that is new and exciting in Buffalo.

As Miles and his big Irish family lived a pretty impoverished Old First Ward existence, it’s easy to imagine them looking out their back window at the stinking and dirty Buffalo River… And thinking of it as their lifeline and livelihood, as the means for a life better than the one left behind on the old sod of Eire.

In 1883, living above 64 Chicago Street was pretty much the end of the line. It was likely better than what was left in the old country, but the worst of Buffalo. Filth and poverty and hunger.

An 1893 Buffalo Courier story calls 64 Chicago a tenement.
An 1893 Buffalo Courier story calls 64 Chicago a tenement.

For the last half century, the view from that spot has showcased rotting industry and wasted waterfront… And was a view many could point to as ground zero for hopelessness and the slow death of Buffalo.

I wish ol’Miles could see that view now… And understand the newness and feeling of hearts-overflowing in the rebirth of the grounds which are forever stained with the sweat and blood of him and so many hundreds of thousands like him through the decades.

Looking at empty Chicago Street lot where Miles Norton's home once stood, and the view from the water just across Ohio Street.
Looking at empty Chicago Street lot where Miles Norton’s home once stood, and the view from the water just across Ohio Street.

As I stood in those weeds today at the corner of Chicago and Mackinaw, my soul glowed with happiness for my ancestors– that their toil won’t be forgotten and my descendants– that they will be able to live in and enjoy a rejuvenated and wonderful Buffalo.

Our future is built on our past. Our future honors our past.

Buffalo in the ’80s: Hizzoner leads the parade

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Love him or not, there is no disputing the fact that James D. Griffin relished his time as Buffalo’s mayor, and there were few events where Mayor Griffin was more joyful than he was each year at Buffalo’s St. Patrick’s Day parades.

Buffalo News archives

“This is my 16th parade as mayor, but my 32nd all-around,” recalled Griffin at his last parade as mayor in 1993, as he had a beer outside DuBois Restaurant on Niagara Street. Unperturbed by the 14-degree windchill, he told News reporter Lauri Githens, “This is a great day. Every day is a blessed one for the Irish.”

The parade has been on Delaware Avenue now for decades, but before the building of the MetroRail in the early ’80s, Buffalo’s Irish and Irish-at-heart would parade up Main Street from Memorial Auditorium to North Street.

Bagpipers pipe past AM&A’s at Main and Court in 1972. (Buffalo News archives)

Since 1994, Buffalo’s second St. Patrick’s Day parade, the “Old First Ward Parade,” has brought grassroots marching and wearing of the green back to where it all started.

This 1937 photo shows the start of that year’s parade at Elk (now South Park Avenue) and Louisiana Street.

Buffalo News archives

News reporter Anne Neville wrote a comprehensive history of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2014. You can read that story here.

Torn-down Tuesday: St. Brigid’s Hall in the First Ward

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church was the center of the Irish immigrant community in Buffalo’s First Ward neighborhood for more than a century.

Buffalo News archive

More than just the home of spiritual life, St. Brigid’s — and specifically St. Brigid’s Hall — was a center for union meetings, political rallies, parties, sporting events and theatrical performances.

Through the 1920s, it was also the place where thousands came together to organize the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade through the streets of the Ward.

The hall, pictured above in 1938, stood on the corner of Fulton and Louisiana streets.

The hall was across Fulton Street from the church, as shown on this 1894 city ward map. Buffalo Stories archives.

Torn-down Tuesday: In 1945, the Market Terminal Warehouse near today’s HarborCenter

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The area is now the parking lot next to the HSBC Atrium on Perry Street, but in 1945, it was the home of the Market Terminal Warehouse.

Buffalo News archives

The building’s name referred to the Elk Street Market, which was across Michigan Avenue from the building. The Market Terminal Warehouse filled nearly an entire block bounded by Perry, Mississippi and Scott streets.

The building had been, for generations, the home of a sheepskin tannery owned by Jacob Schoellkopf. Schoellkopf used the fortune he made in tanning to invest first in milling and brewing, then railroads and banking, before becoming the “King of Electricity” after buying up several firms that were trying to harness the energy of Niagara Falls to make electricity.

He eventually also started the Schoellkopf Chemical and Dye Co. along Elk Street and the Buffalo River, which was eventually bought out by National Aniline.

After years of back taxes piled up, Schoellkopf & Co. sold the building in 1945.

The building was also one of many Buffalo industrial scenes photographed by abstract painter Ralston Crawford, who grew up in Buffalo and attended Lafayette High School before going on to capture industrial scenes like Buffalo’s grain elevators, bridges, trains, and aircraft. Considered one of the innovators of Precisionism, Crawford’s work graced both the covers of magazines such as Fortune and the halls of such great museums as Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The exact demolition date of the building is unknown, but dates to sometime before the opening of the then-Marine Midland Atrium in 1991.

Buffalo in the ’80s: Lost bits of the First Ward

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

By the time this photo was taken in 1978, vast tracts of one of Buffalo’s oldest working-class neighborhoods were long gone.

Buffalo Stories archive

The decades’ old shanties of the First Ward and surrounding neighborhoods had long been a target of urban renewal. The Niagara Extension of the Thruway took over railroad right-of-ways, but it cut some streets and neighborhoods in half in the process. The Commodore Perry public housing project replaced block after block of rich, old-time neighborhoods with soulless government-owned tenements.

The Irish families that lived and worked there for generations left as the harbor and grain jobs did.

Thirty-seven years after this photo was snapped, parts of the First Ward are seeing new life. Within blocks on Fulton and Marvin, there are the Elk Terminal Lofts and the mixed use Fairmont Creamery Building. There’s all the development of the Buffalo River Works, Canalside and HarborCenter areas a short walk away.

And while the lot where this storefront/tavern/home once stood is now empty, it stands directly across the street from the Seneca Creek Casino.