From Hamburg WKBW flips the switch on rock ‘n’ roll history

By Steve Cichon

Hamburg’s biggest contribution to the early history of rock ‘n’ roll might be more technical than musical, but it was from the 50,000 watts worth of radio waves flying out of Big Tree Rd. that Western New York and much of the east coast and Canada were introduced to the format.

The WKBW-WGR Transmitter facility on Big Tree Rd. as it looked when opened in July, 1941. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation opened its transmitter and tower facilities on Big Tree Rd. in July, 1941. The facility cost $350,000– $5.7 million in 2017 dollars—and was described as “truly a showplace of electric marvels.”

A technician adjusts the audio driver tubes of WKBW’s transmitter. 1941. (Buffalo Stories archives)

When the building first opened, a series of telephone lines carried programs from the Rand Building studios of WGR and WKBW to Hamburg for broadcast.

Live from the WGR/WKBW studios inside the Rand Building. (Buffalo Stories archives)

WKBW’s mainstays were the network programs of CBS with stars like Orson Welles, Hedda Hopper, Cecil B. DeMille, and Kate Smith. WGR carried Mutual Network shows like “The Lone Ranger” and talent like Milton Berle.

WGR/WKBW Sports reporter Ralph Hubbell at the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation microphone, and RCA 74-B. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The local talent included Billy Keaton, Ralph Hubbell, and WGR Orchestra leader David Cheskin. Before Howdy Doody came along, Bob Smith hosted “The Cheer Up Gang” every morning, and before spending 35 years on WBEN, Clinton Buehlman hosted “WGR Musical Clock.”

Clint Buehlman behind the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation microphone of WGR. (Buffalo Stories archives)

After spending time at a few smaller stations, in the mid-1950s, George “Hound Dog” Lorenz took his rhythm and blues program featuring the music which would soon be known as rock ‘n’ roll to 50,000 watt WKBW Radio. The powerful signal allowed “The Hound” to introduce the evolving music genre to the entire northeastern United States.

Live from the streets of downtown Buffalo on WKBW, 1941. (Buffalo Stories archives)

WKBW would eventually be known as “one of America’s two great radio stations.” The voices of Stan Roberts, Tom Shannon, Irv Weinstein, Danny Neaverth, Joey Reynolds, Jack Armstrong, and so many others were sent out over the four and later six towers in our backyard.

The Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation newsroom of WGR & WKBW inside the Rand Building. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Today, WWKB Radio and WGR Radio still transmit from Big Tree Rd. Both stations are owned by Entercom Communiucations, which is in the middle of a $1.7 billion merger with CBS Radio.

This story originally appeared in The Hamburg Sun.


The Village of Hamburg created, 1874

By Steve Cichon

On March 30, 1874, this notice was posted in 21 businesses in what was then known as the Hamlet of White’s Corners. Forty days later, it would officially become The Village of Hamburg.

The building of roads and railroads through White’s Corners made the rural area grow quickly—and grow in need of the public services a village government could provide. Sewers, water supply, fire protection, and sidewalks built of “stone or good sound plank” were all on the wish lists of the residents and businessmen of the newly formed village.

On May 9, 1874, The Town of Hamburg Supervisor H.W. White and Town Clerk Edward S. Nott presided over the votes, which were cast in Nott’s drug store. They reported “that the whole number of votes cast at such election was 136. That the number of ballots cast at such election with the word “yes” thereon was 76. That the number of ballots with “no” thereon was fifty-nine. Blank- one.”

An 1882 ad for Nott’s Drug Store.

The incorporation underscored what was already true—The Village of Hamburg was the center of life for miles around. The first telephone came to the village in 1886 in the bar room of Kopp’s Hotel. Six years later, the village’s only phone moved to E.S. Nott’s drugstore, where Dr. Nott made a partition for the sake of privacy.

Dr. Nott was born in Armor in 1848 and served as postmaster during the Grover Cleveland administration. His drugstore later became Washburn Tire & Battery, and then Emerling Shoes.

The old Nott Drug Store building—where Hamburg became a village– now houses The Comfort Zone Café.

Steve Cichon writes about Hamburg’s history for The Hamburg Sun, and about all of Western New York’s heritage and history at E-mail Steve at

WNY’s leading lady from the golden age of TV

By Steve Cichon

For 20 years, Sunday nights in many households across the country meant an episode of “Gunsmoke” before the late local news. For 19 of those years, a woman who attended Hamburg Junior High was one of the stars of the show.

A 1941 note about Amanda Blake, who was born Beverly Neill, on the society pages of the Erie County Independent—which merged with the Hamburg Sun in 1948. Blake’s mother was born in Alabama.

Long before Amanda Blake played Miss Kitty, the saloon-owning love interest of Marshall Matt Dillon from 1955-74, she lived with her parents on East Eden Road from 1939-43.

Amanda Blake surrounded by her Gunsmoke co-stars, including a young Burt Reynolds, who played Deputy Quint Asper on the show for three seasons. Blake was on Gunsmoke for all but the final season of the show’s 20 year run.

When the family lived in Hamburg, Blake’s father, Jesse Neill, was a vice-president at Buffalo Industrial Bank. The family later moved to Amherst. The actress attended Amherst High School and her father went to work for Curtiss-Wright before moving to California in 1946.

Born at Millard Fillmore Hospital on Delaware Avenue, the young “Miss Kitty” began her elementary schooling at Kenmore’s Lindbergh Elementary.

A 1960 promotional trip was the actress’s first trip back to Western New York since moving out west—but it wasn’t her last. She stayed in regular contact with old friends and relatives, and visited several times—including to attend her 40th high school reunion– before her death in 1989.

Steve Cichon writes about Hamburg’s history for The Hamburg Sun, and about all of Western New York’s heritage and history at E-mail Steve at

Buffalo in the 50s: Postcards from Hamburg

By Steve Cichon

While it was certainly just happenstance of when the photographer showed up to snap the images, the tropical turquoise paint of the ’57 Chevy parked on Buffalo Street on the “lusterchrome” full color postcards immediately sets you in a specific place and time.

Buffalo Street looking north, postcard from the Buffalo Stories collection.

During this era, the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce brought together 27 downtown Hamburg stores to remain open late on Thursday and Friday nights to make shopping in the village easier and more attractive.

Many of the names with bring back memories as sharply as the classic color of that classic car. Many of the 27 stores open late are visible on the in the images.

They were A&P, Nu-Way, Ben Franklin Store, Carol-Ann Shop, Castiglia’s Jewelry and Music Center, Clockwise Cleaners, Emerling’s Shoe Store, Garrow’s Wallpaper & Paints, Growing Up Shop, Hamburg Appliance Co., Harold’s Men’s & Boys’ Wear, Herold’s Meat Market, Kenmore Boot Shop,: Kronenberg’s, Inc., Lattimer’s Shoe Store, Latson’s Outdoor Store, Lindholm’s Jewelry, The Little Shop, McConnells Jewelers, Sattler’s Appliance Branch, Moore’s Men’s Wear, The Sherwin-Williams Co., The Stork Shop, The Atlas, Western Auto, Zahm’s. D-C Shop, Hamburg Sports and Floor Covering, and Singer Sewing Center.

Main Street looking west, postcard from the Buffalo Stories collection.

These two views of Hamburg during the “Happy Days” era of the late 1950s were created by Tichnor Brothers, one of America’s leading producers of postcards. They were sold exclusively at Zahm’s 5¢ to $1 Store at 37 Main St.

The name Zahm’s has a long history in Hamburg business.

Zahm’s Variety was founded by Phillip Zahm in the early 1900s. His son Fred then ran the store until his retirement in 1967. A third generation of Zahms was also involved in retail in Hamburg- Phillip’s grandson Fred owned Moore’s Menswear for 18 years through the ‘70s and ‘80s.

In the 1930s and ‘40s, a cousin, Carl Zahm, ran Zahm’s bar and grill on Pierce Avenue.

Zahm’s Bar & Grill

Steve Cichon writes about Hamburg’s history for The Hamburg Sun, and about all of Western New York’s heritage and history at E-mail Steve at

Out of the Past: West Herr Motors, Clark Street

By Steve Cichon

With a celebrity spokesman and with dealerships all over the region, West Herr is the biggest automotive dealer group in New York State, selling more than 50,000 cars every year.

Harold West and Joe Herr, 1964.

Things were a bit simpler when brothers-in-law Harold West and Joseph Herr started selling Fords from under a tent on Clark St. in 1950.

West Herr Motors on Clark Street, 1953. Now the home of a collision shop and bottle return shop.

Herr and West took their commitment to Hamburg seriously, and in 1960, the dealership employed 30 Hamburg residents with salaries totaling $145,000. For many years, they also donated a new car to Hamburg High School for drivers’ education each year.

West Herr Motors ad, 1956.

A 1960 ad underscored West-Herr’s civic pride even further:

“We would appreciate your support of our business and every business in Hamburg, be it the Chevrolet Dealer, the Plymouth Dealer, the department store, bakery or corner delicatessen. Their business investment means employment and salaries and the betterment of your community. Shop if you must, but then buy in Hamburg.”

After 15 years on Clark St., West-Herr broke ground on a new location in October, 1965. The new digs at Camp Rd. and Southwestern Blvd.—where the dealership remains today—was three times larger than the spot on Clark near Buffalo St.

“The move was made for customer convenience,” said Vice President Joe Herr, who said people could now choose among 66 different cars on the lot and in the showroom.

Steve Tasker for West Herr, 2015.

Steve Cichon writes about Hamburg’s history for The Hamburg Sun, and about all of Western New York’s heritage and history at



Out of the Past: The Circle Inn, Athol Springs

By Steve Cichon

The Strohm family owned The Circle Inn on Lakeshore Road from 1939 until 1963. Before the new Lakeshore Rd. cut through the property, The Circle Inn was famous for what many said was the best view of the lake and the lakeshore back toward Buffalo.

Frank Strohm behind the bar at The Circle Inn in Athol Springs in 1946. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The place was one of a handful of taverns and clubs which were right in the vicinity of that infamous  “go-to” spot for television news broadcasts trying to show Western New York just how filled with frenzy the winds are coming off the lake.

The Circle Inn was directly across the street from Red Top Hot Dogs— not far from Hoak’s, where that now-famous car became encased in ice during a storm in January, 2016. The photo went viral, and had national news outlets like ABC visiting Hamburg.

The infamous frozen car in the Hoak’s parking lot—not from from where The Circle Inn stood.

At one point in 1950, the Strohms were offering “the only lakefront properties available between Buffalo and Evans, only 9 miles from Lafayette Square.” His property was divided into 20 smaller lots for summer homes.

After the Strohm family sold the business, the restaurant was known as The Seacrest Supper Club. The building burned down in 1968.

Frank Strohm lived in Hamburg from 1936 until he retired to Florida in 1963. He died in Boca Raton in 1971. While Frank is shown here behind the bar, it was his wife Mary who was the tavern’s legal owner. Living to see four great-great grandchildren, she died at the age of 101 in 2002.

This story originally appeared in The Hamburg Sun.


Out of the Past: Hamburg’s steel-railed connection to the world

By Steve Cichon

By 1952, the great days of train travel were appearing in the rear view mirror of automobiles getting ready to use the New York State Thruway which was then under construction. That was the year passenger train service stopped in Hamburg.

The Hamburg High Class of ’29 waits for an Erie Railroad train to head toward Washington, DC. (Buffalo Stories archives)

But when this photo was taken, 23 years earlier, train travel was a necessity for commuters heading into the city for work, and travelers of all kinds—like these Hamburg High School Seniors taking a class trip to Washington, DC.

The old Erie Depot was only about five years old when this image was captured, and the fight to get it was still fresh in the minds of residents.

Supervisor George Abbott unveiled $25,000 plans for a new Erie Railroad station for Hamburg in January, 1921, but there was pushback from the railroad. Hamburg Trustees first petitioned the Public Service Commission for better station facilities in 1919, claiming the Erie house was “inadequate and dilapidated.”

The people of Hamburg felt slighted not only by an antiquated station, but also sub-par service to that station from Buffalo. A poem appeared in the February, 10, 1921 Independent was addressed to Erie Railroad officials from the people of Hamburg. It read, in part:

But alas, one zero morning, not so very long ago,

The tiny Erie station was lost beneath the snow.

And when at last we found it, in the depths of the snowy tide,

‘Twas quite filled with commuters— we couldn’t get inside.

They sat along the radiators, of germs there were many fears;

They huddled round the scornful stove and hung from the chandeliers.

And so we stood around outdoors, and braved the northwind’s blow.

We mingled with the icicles and wallowed in the snow.

At last the welcome whistle, the 7:30 came in on time;

The crowd was cold but cheerful— we hurried into line.

Then crowding, jostling, scrambling– good natured commuters all.

With not near enough coaches, of course—no seats at all.

Built after a several year fight in 1924, Hamburg’s Erie Railroad station still stands at Pleasant Avenue and Scott Street—as do several of the other buildings in the photo. Through the years it’s been the home of the Candlegate Station gift shop, the Hamburg Station Restaurant, and more recently, Hamburg’s adult day care services.

This story originally appeared in The Hamburg Sun.

The Buffalo You Should Know: WNY amusement parks through the decades

By Steve Cichon

Just what counts as an amusement park has been determined on a sliding scale since the phrase was first recorded in the 1890s.

Buffalo News archives

Crystal Beach, 1989. (Buffalo News archives)

Tell an iPad kid of today that he’s going to an amusement park, and visions of mega-coasters and waterparks at Darien Lake or Disney World will dance in his head.

It’s a far cry from when Buffalonians of not-so-long-ago were contented with the tilt-a-whirl and a merry-go-round permanently set up in some department store parking lot.


For a century, Buffalo’s gold standard for amusement parks — no matter how that term was defined — was Crystal Beach. When it was founded in 1888, Crystal Beach was celebrated for the healing powers of its natural sand and crystal-clear waters. Steamboat excursions from Buffalo, first on the Puritan and the Pearl and later on the Americana and Canadiana, brought visitors to Lake Erie’s Canadian shores, but also to several similar resorts along the shores of Western New York.

Elmwood Beach Grand Island

In 1897, Grand Island’s Elmwood Beach was promoted as the only temperance — that is, alcohol-free — park and beach on the American side of the international border. It was opened in 1894 by the White Line lake steamer company, to provide its passengers with a destination it called “The Island Paradise of Buffalo.” It was operated by Harvey Ferren, owner of the Court Street Theatre downtown.


It was built as “a safe place for bathing” for women and children, with hard white-sand beaches. Special park police made sure that there was no “objectionable swim attire” at this summer resort that “was on a scale previously unknown in the area.” The fact that no liquor was sold there made it a popular destination for church groups, which boarded the boat to the resort at the foot of Ferry Street.


Elmwood Beach was one of a handful of such resorts that popped up on Grand Island. Eldorado Beach was another.

New “high-class amusements and novelties” were unveiled for the 1899 season, but by 1910, the place had been abandoned. The parcel eventually became part of Beaver Island State Park, unveiled in 1939.

West Seneca’s Lein’s Park, Cheektowaga’s Bellvue Park, Fillmore Avenue’s Teutonia Park

These rustic, outdoorsy amusement areas were a drive out to the country in their day, but the land they were once located upon has long since been developed. The areas were used most by Buffalo’s growing German immigrant population.


Lein’s Park was built over the course of nearly a decade by Gardenville’s Henry Lein, just south of Cazenovia Creek and what is now Southgate Plaza on Union Road, starting in 1895.

Home to a bear pit, bowling alley and dance hall, the park closed up at some point after Lein — who served as West Seneca town supervisor — was found guilty of graft and sent to prison in Auburn in 1913. He was later pardoned by the governor and re-elected supervisor.


Buffalo’s German-Americans were clearly the target clientele for Fillmore Avenue’s Teutonia Park, “the family resort of the East Side” of the 1880s and 1890s.


While catering to Germans, the grounds one block north of Martin Luther King Jr. (then Parade) Park were owned by Baptist Kahabka, “one of Buffalo’s leading Polish citizens.” The park was one of Buffalo’s leading sports and conventions grounds, with boxing matches and picnics attracting crowds of up to 10,000 people somewhat regularly.

In 1921, the city cleared the land where the park once stood, and built East High School on the easternmost part of the plot.

Bellevue Park sprang up along Cayuga Creek at the last stop of a trolley line from Buffalo. The Bellevue Hotel on Como Park Boulevard was once a part of the sprawling 30-acre park, which was open until around the turn of the century.


Woodlawn Beach

Touted as “The American resort for Americans,” Woodlawn Beach tried to take on Crystal Beach directly, hoping to scoop up some of the thousands who arrived at Buffalo’s Central Wharf to get on ships bound for Canada.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

The steamer Corona, and later the steamer Puritan, took passengers to Woodlawn Beach four times daily from Buffalo. The grounds opened in 1892 with a toboggan slide and “ice-cream” as main attractions. As early as 1894, ads also bragged about the park’s being “illuminated with electricity.”

In 1920, it was electricity that was bringing Buffalonians to Woodlawn in streetcars on what was billed as “only a seven-minute ride” from downtown. Two years later, Bethlehem Steel bought up some of the property for use as a slag dump, but the old roller coaster and amusements stayed in place in various states of operation through the Great Depression.

The evolution of many of these Victorian health retreats and picnic grounds into the more modern amusement park concept was pushed along by one of the great marvels of Buffalo’s 1901 Pan-American Exposition: “A Trip to the Moon.”


Located on the Midway on near what is Amherst Street today, “A Trip to the Moon” offered 60 passengers at once the most technologically advanced amusement of its time. A ride in a “spaceship” offered a simulated tour of the moon.


The ride caught the fancy of tens of thousands of visitors to Buffalo and at least that many Buffalonians. That was no doubt behind the idea in naming the features of Fairyland Park at Jefferson at Ferry after the Pan-Am’s big attractions. In 1910, “the Mecca of pleasure-seekers” was promoting its midway and Temple of Music — both with names taken directly from the Pan-Am. But other budget attractions inspired by the world-class event included Mysterious Asia, Cave of the Winds, White Horse Tavern, Southern Plantation, Japanese Rolling Balls, Minerva the Mystic and Reed’s Big Congress of Novelties.


“Luna Park was built just after the Pan-American Exposition and was the nearest thing to Coney Island in the pleasure line that Buffalo had to offer,” reported the Buffalo Courier in 1909 after the city’s biggest-ever amusement park burned to the ground at the corner of Main and Jefferson.


Click for larger view. Buffalo Stories archives

Renamed Carnival Court, the old Luna Park cost more than $250,000 to rebuild. Five cents admission gained you access to rides like Shoot the Chutes, the L. A. Thompson Mountain Scenic Railway, Auto-whirl, Witching Water Ways, Galloping-Horse Carousel, Human Roulette Wheel and Ocean Waves.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

The site was razed to make way for a Sears Roebuck store and parking ramp in 1929. Both of those former Sears structures are now part of the Canisius College campus.

Built in Western New York

A Western New York company gave rise to many smaller amusement parks around the country in the years following World War II.


When demand for the handcrafted carousels that had made the company famous since 1880 started to wane, North Tonawanda’s Allan Herschell Co. began making smaller amusement rides it marketed as attractions to small and large venues alike.

Opened originally in the 1920s as a dance pavilion, Lalle’s at Lake Bay, Angola, steadily added amusement rides and booths through the 1940s and 1950s. New amusements for 1947 included the miniature zeppelin, auto and railroad rides, the Dodge-Em, the Ocean Wave and the Chair Plane.


These smaller amusements were used to entice parents to bring their children — and maybe do some additional shopping — in several places around Western New York. Buffalo’s first suburban mega-shopping center, the Thruway Plaza, opened in 1952 with a handful of rides in its Kiddie Ranch.


Just up Walden Avenue, on the corner of Dick Road, stood Twin Fair Kiddieland in the parking lot of the department store.


In Niagara County, Page’s Kiddyland at Packard and Military first stood to help draw customers to the Simon-Gulf gas station and then the Whistle Pig restaurant.


One of Western New York’s smallest-yet-long-lasting amusement attractions was Dealing’s on Niagara Falls Boulevard near Ellicott Creek Park.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

The Dealing family first built an elaborately carved carousel on their Niagara Falls Boulevard farm in 1929. After returning from World War II, Earl Dealing added about a half-dozen rides to the one put up by his father. He ran Dealing’s Amusement Park until 1980.


Nestled off Main Street in the Village of Williamsville, Harry Altman’s Glen Park Casino is remembered for high-quality musical and Hollywood entertainment and was a regular stop for acts as varied as Sammy Davis Jr. and the Three Stooges. Those too young to remember the music just might remember the rides.


Up to 6,000 people or more would fill the tiny park on holidays in the 1960s. The Glen Park Casino, renamed Inferno, burned down in a $300,000 blaze in 1968. The area was developed into a park in 1975.

Glen Park. Buffalo Stories archives.

Glen Park. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Western New York children of the 1970s might remember Fun-N-Games Park just off the Youngmann in Tonawanda.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

Another instance of amusement rides in a Twin Fair parking lot, the park’s most memorable feature might have been the unconnected roadside attraction in front of it—the whale car wash.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

The larger parks like Crystal Beach, Fantasy Island and Darien Lake were built and promoted as regional destinations, and likely remembered by almost anyone who grew up in Western New York, but these smaller parks are just as memorable in our own experiences or the stories or our parents and grandparents of days gone by.

Fantasy Island, 1960s. Buffalo News archives.

Fantasy Island, 1960s. (Buffalo News archives)

Buffalo in the ’80s: A step closer to a Hamburg mall

By Steve Cichon

Hamburg Supervisor Jack Quinn was one of the parties agreeing to a complicated land deal that exchanged some land, preserved some park space and set the stage for the $50 million McKinley Mall.

Land swap paves way for Hamburg mall

“[The project] is still on target for a June, 1985 opening. … Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Adam, Meldrum & Anderson Co. will be the key tenants in the first phase.”