Tollgate removal opens up new sections of the city

       By Steve Cichon

The people of Western New York have been fighting tolls on roads for about as long as there have been roads.

The last tollhouse in Erie County was on Genesee Street, “about a mile from the city line.” This photo was taken in 1914 shortly before it was torn down.

In 1797, early Western New York pioneers began hacking through the wilderness along an ancient Native American trail to create what we now call Main Street, starting at Buffalo Harbor and running to Batavia.

Its early importance as a travel route was underscored during the War of 1812, when the Village of Buffalo emptied out along Main Street as British soldiers torched all but one structure in the village. Many stopped at the home of Erastus Granger (his family farm was donated to become Forest Lawn Cemetery), many continued out to Williamsville and Clarence.

As a thoroughfare traveled regularly by men on horseback, families in carriages, and for-profit stagecoach lines, the road was in constant need of repair.

In 1838, the Buffalo-Williamsville Road was Macadamized, an early form of paving where crushed stones were pressed into the roadway. The work was done by a private company, which in turn collected tolls for the upkeep of the road.

The first tollhouse was built at Main and Delavan when the road opened. Eighteen years later, as the city expanded, the toll house was moved to Main and Steele streets. Steele Street was later renamed Kensington Avenue, and its current intersection with Main Street is part of the complicated Main/198/33 exchange between Sisters’ Hospital and Canisius College.

An 1880 letter to the editor reads like it could have been written by someone today.

“As one draws near the model structure called the tollgate, he will observe the white hand outstretched and the sorrowful, pleading countenance of the gatekeeper asking for eight cents.”

City fathers, who had been investing heavily in the building of a park system, were keenly aware that anyone taking Main Street to Delaware Park was being forced to pay the toll. After years of wrangling, the city eventually took over maintenance of the road and eliminated the toll, making a ride of the park meadow free, but also opening up development in areas like the Parkside and Central Park neighborhoods, which were more desirable now that one didn’t have to pay to get there.

Main Street’s last tollgate was still in operation for another couple of decades. The small cabin just before Getzville Road and what is today Daemen College and Amherst High School collected its last toll in 1899.

The area’s last in-use tollhouse was torn down in 1914 when Erie County decided to pave the Genesee Street in brick all the way to the county line. The Town of Cheektowaga ordered the 1860s tollgate removed. It was about a mile past the city line, near Genesee and Harlem. It was moved there from Genesee and Fillmore when the city’s boundaries were expanded in 1854.

Broadway had been a toll road on the way into Lancaster until it was paved by the state around 1910. The tolls, collected at Broadway and Union, had been used for upkeep of a single lane of planks between Lancaster and Buffalo.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Making way for the convention center in the ’70s

By Steve Cichon

Last week, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz offered two different proposals for a new convention center to replace the current complex that is being called “functionally obsolete.”

The Andrews Building was the first to come down to make way for the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center in 1976.

The new plans call for the razing of buildings, including the 1865 Hiram Hotchkiss house at 153 Delaware Ave. which is the last extant example of a Civil War-era home in the downtown core. More than 40 years ago, buildings were razed to make way for the current convention center as well.

The Andrews Building was the first to come down to make way for the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center in 1976.

In 1976, the Andrews Building, on Court Street near Pearl Street was the first structure to come down for the convention center that not only took away buildings, but also another arm in Joseph Ellicott’s radial streets plan was lost when Genesee Street was built over.

Before the convention center was built, you could stand in Niagara Square and see the Electric Tower. Even if the convention center was removed, a portion of Genesee was built over when the Hyatt Regency Hotel was built in the years following the opening of the convention center.

Buildings that once fronted on Genesee, like the YMCA building and the old Genesee Building, which is now enclosed in the Hyatt atrium, are left on strange angles, vestiges of a radial street pattern that no longer exists.

Buffalo in the 1900s: The Standard Wheel Club at Gurgschat’s

By Steve Cichon

The Standard Wheel Club was one of dozens of small athletic clubs in Buffalo around the turn of the century, sponsoring bicycle races, boxing matches and a baseball team.

Buffalo Stories archives

Members also regularly held sing-alongs and drank plenty of beer in the sample room of member William Gurgschat at 422 Genesee St.

As a professional musician, Gurgschat encouraged the musical part of the group’s existence, especially for the 10 years he owned the gin mill and clubhouse from 1893-1903.

Now a vacant lot, through the ’40s and ’50s, the spot was owned by Joseph Patano and known as the Spring Inn.