Sixty-eight years ago, the owner of that Pontiac had to feed the parking meter to visit the Millar Brothers’ drug store or Emerling Shoes.
The cost to park along Main Street in 1948 was one cent for
12 minutes, with no more than two hours allowed in a spot.
Millar Bros. was a Hamburg institution. When David Millar,
Jr. and John McGinnis filled the store’s one millionth prescription in 1985,
the store had already been serving Hamburg for 65 years. Donald Temple opened
the store in 1920. He sold to Gara Lester, who sold to the Millar Brothers in
In 1949, David and Gordon Millar moved to the old Kleinfeld
Bakery location shown in this photo.
Quality Markets bought out the prescription logs of the
Millar Brothers in 1995, and the store’s staff moved into the Quality Market
prescription counter as well.
The building has been home to law offices for two decades
The first time Gov. Benjamin Odell ever rode in an automobile, was his 1903 trip from Buffalo to Hamburg, to have lunch at the Wanakah home of John T. Roberts.
Along the way, he toured the nearly complete Lackawanna
Steel plant that would one day become Bethlehem Steel.
In an address at the Erie County Fairgrounds seen by
thousands, he talked said of Hamburg and the surrounding area that “nowhere
else could be found a more advantageous location than here where railroad and
water facilities bring us in close touch with all parts of the civilized
As many of Hamburg’s usually lush green fields of produce were dusty and dead for lack of water, people around Western New York and around the country were starting to fear that in the wake of a nationwide drought, food prices would go up as variety and availability of crops was far less than average.
“Housewives in Buffalo are buying large stocks of canned
goods to store away in case rumors of a food shortage and high prices this fall
materialize,” reported the Courier-Express.
Cattaraugus County had its smallest potato crop in 70 years.
In Hamburg, some farmers were able to irrigate their fields, but by late
summer, the biggest concern was for the area’s milk supply. The creeks where
dairy farmers watered their cows were either low or dried up.
The nationwide heat wave of 1936 was among the most severe ever recorded in North America, and added to the misery of The Dust Bowl and The Great Depression for many across the country, including in Hamburg and Western New York.
William D. Stetler, a vegetable grower on Gowanda State Rd. for decades, stands by his ruined corn crop.
Irrigation of crops was not as easy as turning on the water, as was shown at the Hamburg farm of Will Stagmeier.
Dust flies as the earth is worked on the Water Valley farm of Fred Gressman.
When we say “out of the past,” we sometimes go back as far
as 200 years in writing about Hamburg’s history—but today, we’re going back 350
That’s how far back we can trace the fossils found at the
Penn-Dixie site, all the way to the Devonian era.
The Penn-Dixie Cement Company came to Hamburg in 1956,
buying out the factory of the Federal Cement Company, which was located on
Route 5 at what is now the site of the Erie County sewage treatment plant.
What we now call “The Penn Dixie Site” on Big Tree Rd. was a
strip of land that was quarried by the cement manufacturer in the 1960s for
shale that was used in as aggregate in production at the plant along the
Penn-Dixie stopped cement production in Hamburg in the early
1970s and the $36 million sewer plant was constructed in the footprint of the
old factory starting in 1978. The old quarry, however, remained mostly
abandoned, save for the interest of a few scientists and schoolteachers who
studied and taught from the seeming endless supply of fossilized plants and
animals that lived more than a quarter of a billion years ago.
Under the threat of industrial development in 1990, a
concerned group began petitioning the town board for a solution, and in 1995, a
57-acre site, including the old Penn-Dixie quarry, was purchased by the town.
More than half the land was turned over to the Hamburg Natural History Society.
In 2011, Penn Dixie was ranked as the top fossil park in the
United States, and today plays host to thousands of fossil hunters every year.
The Hamburg Fair hamburger legend is a fun story and over
the last couple of decades, has become an important chapter in our local lore,
but it wasn’t always that way.
In fact, when the Town of Hamburg celebrated its sesquicentennial
in 1962, five days of events were planned commemorating great events that had
happened in the town, and local historians crafted an in-depth, 100-page book
about the town’s history, including several pages about the Erie County Fair.
There was no mention of the hamburger.
The first published mention of Hamburg’s tie to the
hamburger came in 1970, 85 years after the invention was supposed to have
Frank and Charles Menches, the food-vending brothers to whom
all of Hamburg’s hamburger dreams are tied, were good at selling food, but even
better at selling their story.
Over the decades, Frank Menches told a handful of different
stories about how and where he invented the hamburger through the years, while
also making claims to having invented other food items like ice cream cones and
One of the many versions of Frank Menches’ hamburger
invention stories says he invented the burger at the 1885 Erie County Fair,
which was held from Sept. 16-18, 1885, and the town’s name was the inspiration
for the name of the sandwich. But five weeks earlier, a recipe for hamburgers
appeared in The Buffalo Express, as reprinted from a Philadelphia restaurant.
Whether based in fact or not, the hamburger story is now a
part of the town’s history.
Hamburg should still celebrate this great, mythological
story in the same way that we celebrate Santa Claus. While we all know while
there might be some small kernel of truth at the heart of the St. Nick legend,
most of us accept that there isn’t a fat man climbing down our chimneys to
leave presents for children.
The historical existence of Santa isn’t the point of Santa,
and neither should it be for the hamburger.
Like Santa Claus, our hamburger story has inspired smiles
and generated interest in our town. Just like Santa Claus represents so many of
our good feelings and hopes for the world, our hamburger legend also represents
our pride and good feelings about our town and gives us a wonderful, easy,
unique way to share them.
Saying phooey on the hamburger is like saying phooey on
Santa Claus. And remember, he’s always watching.
The hamburger has been an American food staple for more than 100 years, and for that entire time, there have been people fighting over who “invented” the hamburger.
For the last 30 years, a campaign to claim Hamburg, N.Y., as the birthplace of the hamburger has been raging with enthusiasm, but few facts.
After a discussion with a “true Hamburg hamburger believer” several years ago, I began vigorously researching the claim that Ohio’s Menches Brothers served the first hamburger at their travelling sandwich stand at the Erie County Fair in 1885.
I wanted very badly to find facts to substantiate the myth, but alas, at every turn, years of research have pointed away from, not towards the Hamburg story.
That starts with the story itself.
No one can explain why or how it took 85 years for the story to appear in print.
As far as recorded history goes, the purported 1885 hamburger invention wasn’t written until John Kunzog’s 1970 book, “Tanbark and Tinsel,” which is subtitled “A Galaxy of Glittering Gems from the Dazzling Diadem of Circus History.”
Kunzog, of Jamestown, was 79 when he self-published the book through a vanity press. He tells the story of meeting Frank Menches 50 years earlier in 1920, and says that Menches told him that he invented the hamburger at the Erie County Fair.
The Menches Brothers, goes the story, ran out of pork for their sandwiches. A butcher would only offer some ground beef. They played around with it and created this amazing sandwich.
After a several-paragraph aside about the history of Hamburg, Germany, it was explained that the sounds of “tinkling cowbells” in nearby pastures reminded Menches of Germany.
That, along with the fact that the fair was commonly called “The Hamburg Fair,” was enough inspiration for Frank Menches to coin the phrase “hamburger” on the spot when someone asked what this new sandwich creation was called.
The story continues that they sent a boy to get some wallpaper and charcoal, and they wrote “hamburgers” in “gigantic letters” on the paper they tacked to the stand.
Aside from the fact that the story in the book is a 50-year-old reminiscence of an event that purportedly happened 35 years before that, it’s questionable because in 1938, Frank Menches told virtually the same story to the Akron Beacon Journal. Except the fair was Ohio’s Summit County Fair, not Hamburg’s Erie County Fair.
In 1922, Menches told a different Akron newspaper reporter a different story about how he invented hamburgers, this one involving the meat squeezing out the ends of hot dogs. In the same article, Menches claimed to have invented the ice cream cone. At other times, he laid claim to having invented Cracker Jack.
When Frank Menches died in 1951, his obituary was carried in newspapers around the country, under the headline “Hamburger inventor dies.” Both United Press International and the Associated Press articles quote Menches as saying he invented the hamburger at the Summit County Fair.
The wire service stories were carried in both the Buffalo Evening News and the Buffalo Courier-Express without any mention of Hamburg, the Erie County Fair or any Western New York ties for Menches.
It wasn’t just those obituaries. If the hamburger was invented in Hamburg, no one in Hamburg or Western New York knew about it for more than 85 years.
When the Menches Brothers were mentioned in a 1937 Courier-Express article, Hamburg did not come up. In 1968, Courier-Express Food Editor Alice Partridge writes about the origins of the hamburger. She mentions the Menches, but not Hamburg.
For the Town of Hamburg’s 1962 sesquicentennial celebration, town historians crafted an in-depth, 100-page book about the town’s history, including several pages about the Erie County Fair. The word hamburger doesn’t appear in the book.
The story of Hamburg and the hamburger begins to gain traction around 1985, and the “centennial celebration” of the hamburger. In the time since then, the legend has taken on a life of its own.
In 1992, Hamburg Mayor Richard Hansen and Erie County Legislator Bert Villarini made pleas for residents to call an 800 number to let White Castle know they are misstating the birthplace of the hamburger.
The following year, Hamburg gained national attention when the town board voted against accepting a grant from Burger King to paint the town water tower as a hamburger.
For all the mooing that’s been done over the last 30 years, the most damaging arrows in the hide of Hamburg’s claim come from a pair of contemporary 1880s newspaper stories.
An 1883 New York Sun story about a lunch counter next to a cigar factory starts, “Give me six hamburgers, four chops, half a pound of sliced ham and five cents’ worth of pickles.”
It goes on to describe how the meat “with some bread makes for a fair meal.”
“Those flat, brown meat cakes on that dish there are Hamburg steaks; the people call them hamburgers,” said the woman behind the counter, two years before the Menches brothers might have sold something similar at the Erie County Fair.
The final blow to the Hamburg legend seems decisive.
The Erie County Fair was held from Sept. 16 to 18 in 1885.
Five weeks earlier, on Aug. 4, 1885, the Buffalo Express printed a recipe for Hamburg Steak, referring to the minced steak twice by the name “hamburger.”
If Frank and Charlie Menches did serve hamburgers at the Erie County Fair in 1885, it’s just as likely that someone clipped the recipe for them from the Buffalo newspaper a few weeks earlier.
The Hamburg hamburger legend is a fun story, which is how most folks present it. The fact that the story has been told and repeated is a great part of our history– but for the record, the facts show that the great American hamburger was not “created” in Hamburg.
Through the 1970s, the South Town Amateur Radio Society hosted The Hamburg International Hamfest, a celebration of everything from the world of amateur radio operators.
The event was well-attended during the years when CB radios
were most popular. Thousands of ham radio and CB radio enthusiasts jammed the
Regency Motor Hotel for the first several annual conferences, but it eventually
moved to the Erie County Fairgrounds for lack of space.
At the 1977 event, The Sun reports “computer hobbyists”
could find displays involving “microprocessors–the building blocks of all
computers” as well as a homemade computer.
This photo was taken inside the Regency Motor Hotel on
Milestrip Rd. near the Thruway entrance. It was the site of Buffalo Bills
training camp during several years in the early 1960s. The motel was torn down in 1989 to make room
for the BJ’s Plaza.
The name may have changed through the years, but generations of Southtowners hoisted back a few while listening to live music at the building which was taken down earlier this summer at Clark St. and McKinley Pkwy. to make way for new exhibition space for the fairgrounds.
First known as Meyer’s Lunch Bar in the 1950s and early 60s,
Chuck Saunders opened the Turfside Lounge, featuring prime rib in the shadow of
Buffalo Raceway in 1965.
A few years later, as he was wrapping up his all-star career
as a center with the Buffalo Bills, Al Bemiller bought the place in 1969. His
hospitality and the live music he hosted became legendary. After a 1982
remodel, “The Turfside” became “The Forum.”
By the mid-80s, it was Ditto’s, then The Clark Street Café.
In May, 2007, a ten alarm fire ripped through had then
become known as Seven’s Bar & Café.
The building sat vacant until it was torn down in June, 2018
after being purchased by the Erie County Agricultural Society.
After having run a barber shop in Blasdell for three years,
Al Stock moved his shop to 66 Main Street in Hamburg after the Hess Brothers
florist moved to a larger Main Street location in 1932.
Starting in 1952, Stock and his wife spearheaded efforts to
decorate the village for Christmas, including trees and a life-size Nativity
scene at the village park at Lake and Union Sts. Through the 50s and 60s, Al
and Geneva Stock also headed up the village Easter Egg hunt and started a
strawberry festival in Hamburg. Much of the Stocks’ civic involvement came
through their longtime membership at First Baptist Church.
The Stocks also opened a beauty salon in the Abbott Road
Albert Stock was 71 when he died in 1968, having run his
barber store in the village for 35 years.
Upon his death, The Sun wrote an editorial about the
“longtime barber and civic leader,” saying he was “a man dedicated to (the
community’s) betterment and over the years zealous for many thing which gave
this village added character and civic pride.”