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.
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.
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.
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.
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.