Where did the name “The Valley” come from?

By Steve Cichon

The Valley is a traditionally working class, industrial neighborhood between the First Ward and South Buffalo, bounded by the Buffalo River, Van Rensselaer Street, and the I-190.

Leaving the Valley on Van Rensselaer Street heading toward the Hydraulics neighborhood, during thr Larkin Warehouse fire in 1954.

My dad always referred to the neighborhood where he grew up as “The Valley,” always talking about having to cross a bridge to get in or out of The Valley. That was definitely true in the 60s, and is still pretty much true now—but the delineation was even greater before they ripped out all of the old steel truss bridges and eliminated the ones on Smith and Van Rensselaer in the early 1990s.

My guess, in talking with folks from the neighborhood, that the name “The Valley” was coined sometime in the 50s, that seems to be the generation that started referring to that name.

The city didn’t use the name in any of its planning or urban renewal programs in the 50s and 60s, and I haven’t been able to find a reference to the name in print in the Courier-Express or the Evening News until the time when the Community Association was organized in the late 60s.

One would have to assume, however, that the name was in some kind of familiar use leading up to naming a community association after it. My grandfather, who was born in what is now considered “The Valley” in 1926, and lived there for 40 years, didn’t refer to “The Valley,” but usually “the neighborhood.”

My great-grandparents came to Poland to “The Valley” in 1913.

After living on Elk, Fulton, and Perry, they bought 608 Fulton St. in 1922. My great grandfather worked at Schoellkopf Chemical/National Aniline for more than 40 years.

His son, my grandfather– who worked more than 40 years at National Aniline/Buffalo Color– lived in his parents’ house and then bought one across the street (from his brother-in-law’s family) at 617 Fulton, where my dad grew up.

My dad’s family moved to Seneca Street in 1966. Dad later owned the bar at Elk and Smith in the late 70s/early 80s.

The ships that brought the Cichons to America, 1913

By Steve Cichon

Jan Cichon and Maryanna Pochec met at backyard party in Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood in 1913.

Jan and Maryanna Cichon, from two separate 1940s photos on Fulton Street.

All within a few blocks of that first meeting, John and Mary would get married, buy a house, have ten children, and work– he at Schoellkopf Chemical/National Aniline, and she as a bootlegger, boarding house matron, and homemaker.

Jan Cichoń and Marianna Pocheć-Ganabaszyński were married by Fr. Peter Pitass at Holy Apostles Sts. Peter & Paul Church, Smith & Clinton, on August 19, 1914.

Both arrived in Buffalo after long transatlantic journeys aboard giant ships.

Jan Cichon left Poland in February, 1913, aboard the German postal ship The Wittekind, which sailed from Hamburg, Germany to Portland, Maine.

The only surviving story of any of my ancestors journeys from their homelands comes from Great-Grandpa Cichon. He carried his cobbler’s tools with him, although shoe repair was never his primary work here. He also suffered from seasickness, which was helped tremendously by a Jewish man who had brought along garlic for just that purpose.

He was born near Sandomierz in Glazow, Swietokrzyskie, Poland in 1893 to Jozef Cichon and Agnieszka Korona. Jozef died when Jan was 7 years old in 1901, and Agnieszka married Szczepan Bryla in 1910.

Jan was 20 when he left Poland for Germany to start the transatlantic voyage which would take him to the home of his brother-in-law, Stanislaw Kaczmarski in Welland, Ontario.

After a few months in Ontario, he crossed the border at the Port of Buffalo and never looked back.

The SS Wittenkind

The Wittekind was seized by the USA during World War I, and was used to bring American soldiers back and forth from France. It was decommissioned after the war in 1919 and scrapped in 1924.

The SS President Grant, later seized by the Navy and recommissioned the USS President Grant.

Maryanna Pochec, Grandpa Cichon’s mother, was my only ancestor to pass through Ellis Island.

She came to America aboard the President Grant a few months after her future husband in 1913.

Originally an ocean liner, the German-owned ship was seized by the US government during World War I. Used as a transport ship, more than 37,000 Americans returned home on the Grant after the Armistice was signed ending the war.

After further service in World War II, the ship was sold to Bethlehem Steel for scrap in 1952.

Babcia was born to Wojciech Pochec and Marianna Kubicka in Wanacja, Swietokrzyskie, Poland near Ostrowiec in 1892.

When she was 13, in 1905, she married Alexander Ganabaszynski in Ostrowiec. He went to Canada to work in the logging industry– and its unclear what happened to him from there. Maryanna traveled as a single woman, and told both the City of Buffalo and Fr. Pitass at Sts. Peter & Paul church on Smith Street that her marriage to Jan Cichon was her first.

Either way, after nine years of living and working around Elk and Smith Streets, the Cichons had saved enough money to by 608 Fulton St, which remained in the family until Mary Cichon died in 1980. John Cichon died in 1967.

Working at Timon Feels Like Home: Part 764

By Steve Cichon

One of the really cool things about my job at Timon is how family things get tied up unexpectedly.

Met a guy who is roughly the same age my dad would be… from roughly the same neighborhood.

Just chatting with him, he added a letter to two different words the same way my ol’man used to.

Cousint and concreak.

Musta been the way they said in the Valley.

I have to figure out a way to talk to this guy some more to see if I can pull out any other speech oddities he has in common with the ol’man. (like without being a creeper about it. hahaha)

Torn-Down Tuesday: The steel bridges of Seneca Street

By Steve Cichon

The widespread removal of old steel truss bridges is one of the great landscape changes across the City of Buffalo over the last 50 years.

Looking north on Seneca Street, just before the Seneca/Smith/Fillmore intersection, 1985.

Those old steel spans stood as a testament to our rail and steel industries in Buffalo. Now the bridges, the trains and the coke ovens are mostly the stuff of memories.

Two old steel bridges were removed just south of the Larkin District in 1986.

The Larkin Building is visible in the distance between the Smith Street viaduct and Seneca Street bridge.  The bridge, viaduct and most of the rail tracks were removed — along with several of the buildings in this photo — and replaced with grass and roads at grade level. The removal of the Smith Street Bridge forever changed the landscape for the Valley neighborhood, which was given it’s name because the only way to access the community was over a bridge.

This is what the street looks like now:

Further south on Seneca Street at Elk, an old steel truss bridge was replaced when a new $260,000 bridge with “shiny aluminum rails” opened in October 1959.

Seneca at Elk, 1959

The bridge doesn’t look much different today, but just on the other side of the Buffalo River does.

Deco Restaurant, Seneca Street at the Buffalo River, 1959.

On what has been a vacant lot now for decades, stood a warmly remembered South Buffalo landmark — a Deco Restaurant at 1670 Seneca St.

FOUND, finally: A pic of Dad’s bar

By Steve Cichon

I found one of my holy grails today, although I didn’t immediately recognize it.

Elk & Smith, 1969

As soon as I saw it, I liked this photo immediately– lots of interesting things going on there– Old ambulances, old license plate, great old tavern sign, a church bingo sign, a grain elevator… When I flipped it over to read the caption on the back, my heart skipped a beat as it sank into my stomach. This is Elk and Smith Streets!

About ten years after this photo was snapped, my dad bought the bar that had been called Ceil’s Grill. Spent a lot of time in this place as a tiny, tiny little boy… playing with the jukebox, pool table, shuffle bowling, and of course, the pop guns.

So with this, I finally have a photo of the exterior of my dad’s bar, which I’ve been looking for literally for decades.

That’s St. Stephen’s Church with the Bingo sign, and the Buffalo Malting Elevator (both currently under construction for reuse.)

Previously found on Facebook in 2016: an interior shot of Dad’s gin mill. “Not a great shot… but the place has only existed in my mind for more than 30 years. I remember the two guys shown— Rich McCarthy and Dick Lobaugh– from those days at the corner of Elk and Smith. Spent plenty of young childhood Saturday mornings spinning on those barstools, and getting bottles of Genesee out of the cooler for some of the guys who’d still be hanging around inside the bar when the sun came up.”

The bar burned to the ground in 1989, a few years after my dad sold it. It’s been a vacant lot ever since.

The Gramps Files: Babcia the Rum Runner

By Steve Cichon

During The Prohibition, my great-grandmother made moonshine in the family basement and sold it from my grandpa’s baby buggy. Here’s Gramps telling the story….

During a visit on June 18, 2012, Gramps tells the story of his mother using a copper kettle to make whiskey in the basement of their Fulton Street home during The Depression and Prohibition days as a way to keep food on the table for their family with ten children Babcia would put the bottles in with Gramps in his baby buggy for distribution around The Valley.

John & Mary Cichon outside their Fulton Street, Buffalo home, 1941.

The Cichons lived on Fulton Street in The Valley, between Van Rensselaer Street and Smith Street. My great-grandparents owned the home where the booze was made from 1922-1978. Jan Cichon and Maryanna Pochec both came to Buffalo from Poland in 1913. They met here and were married at Holy Apostles Ss. Peter and Paul Church at Smith and Clinton in 1914.

John Cichon died in 1967. Mary Cichon died in 1980. Gramps died in 2014 just after his 88th birthday.

Gramps always told a lot of great stories, but this was one I’d never heard before. I was bursting with questions to ask, but I always considered my visits with Gramps to be his time. Nearly all of his friends, nine brothers and sisters, my grandmother, and four of his ten children died before he did. He needed a friend to talk and listen and bring Tim Bits—not someone to ask uncomfortable questions.

Gramps and Steve

Then and now, I wish I could have done more. I tried to be equal parts buddy and grandson, and I listened to whatever he had to share and never judged…. And I paid back those secret candy bars and ice cream cones from my youth with a box of Tim Bits or a “real burnt-up hot dog with sweet relish and slivered onions” with each visit.


Polish Buffalo in the 1930s: Gramps on Easter & Dyngus Day

By Steve Cichon

Long before Dyngus Day was the celebration of Buffalo culture it has become over the last decade, it was, as most know, a day of celebration and fast breaking in the Polish community.

My grandfather, Edward Cichon, was the seventh of ten kids born to Polish immigrants who lived in Buffalo’s Valley neighborhood (nestled between South Buffalo, The First Ward, and The Hydraulics.)

Grandma & Grandpa Cichon. Edward V. Cichon and Marie T. Scurr-Cichon.

His memories of Easter and Dyngus Day went back more than 70 years when I interviewed him for a news story back in 2006. He’s giving us a first-hand account of Dyngus Day in Buffalo in the ’20s & ’30s.

Born in 1926, Gramps grew up on Fulton Street near Smith on a street that was, at that time, half Irish and half Polish. Most of the men on the street, including my great-grandfather and eventually Gramps himself, worked at the National Aniline chemical plant down the street.

On Dyngus Day, he’d go behind his house along the tracks of the Erie Railroad—the 190 runs there now—and grab some pussy willows to take part in the Dyngus Day tradition of swatting at girls on their heels, who’d in turn throw water at the boys.

For Easter, Babcia would cook all the Polish delicacies like golabki, pierogi, and kielbasi.

The sausage, Gramps explained, was all homemade. “Pa” (as gramps always called his father) would get two pigs, and they’d smoke them right in the backyard on Fulton Street. The whole family would work on making sausage at the big kitchen table, and then hang the kielbasa out back—but they’d also butcher hams and other cuts of meat as well.

While he was in the frame of mind, I asked him about the Broadway Market, too. In the late ‘20s, His mother would wheel him the two miles over to the market in a wagon, and park him next to the horses while she shopped for food and across the street at Sattler’s.

Reading these stories is great, but listening to Gramps tell them is the best.

Buffalo in the ’70s: Stan Makowski, Buffalo’s guy-next-door mayor

By Steve Cichon

Stan Makowski was a pretty good bowler, and even as mayor played in tournaments for Tippie’s Social & Athletic Club.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

At one time or another during his 10 years at Allied Mills, he lost the tip of an index finger in an accident. Even as mayor, when the guys were playing softball and there were two outs on the board, someone would inevitably ask, waiting for him to show off the wound.

“Hey Mack (which is what everyone around The Valley called Makowski, even as mayor) how many outs? One-and-a-half?”

Among the chorus of laughter every time was Makowski’s own laugh.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

A shop steward at Grain Millers Local 110, even as mayor (and until the day he died), he proudly carried his membership card in his wallet. He earned the card unloading hundred-pound sacks in the railyard at the grain mill. Mrs. Makowski used to sew an extra layer or two into the shoulders of his flannel shirts, because the friction of the burlap sacks flying next to his neck would burn holes down to the skin.

“I’m not much of a speaker, but I am a worker,” Makowski said upon becoming mayor.

Buffalo News archives

With Mrs. and Mayor Sedita. Buffalo News archives

He served three years in the Army during World War II, including eight months in Iwo Jima.

So much about Stanley Makowski sounds like it could be ripped from the biography of just about any Buffalo son of Polish immigrants, member of “The Greatest Generation,” a man who never lived more than a block away from the house where he was born.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

He was humble and mostly quiet — not prone to extremes and rarely yelled or swore. Everyone knew he’d been around, that he’d been in a fight or two, that he’d seen some things in the Army. People knew he was tough enough, and he didn’t feel the need to constantly tell people.

Officially opening city pools at Schiller Park, 1973. Buffalo News archives

He was happy to be part of the team, part of the group. He didn’t need to be noticed. Not the kind of guy who filled up a room when he walked in.

He remembered his friends. He remembered where he came from.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

He was that same guy as mayor.

Those triple-shouldered shirts had long gone to the rag man, but when Mayor Stanley Makowski was home on the weekends — every weekend, he’d pull on the same pair of gray flannel work pants he wore when he was unloading grain off boxcars. Like every other man in the neighborhood, the weekend was the time to re-putty the window or paint the fence.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

People he knew his whole life might call him “Mayor,” but just as many still called him Mack. That was true especially at neighborhood places like Ike’s on Van Rensselaer, where plenty of guys in The Valley would walk to get their hair cut. Next door to Ike’s was Tippie’s — where most of those guys, Mack included, would first show off their new haircuts and then catch up with the boys over a beer or two.

He was just a neighborhood guy. It might have been that the thing he liked most about being mayor is being able to help regular folks and make City Hall work for them.


Buffalo News archives

By the time Makowski had become mayor in 1974, the economic and psychological slide that city leaders had been white-washing for decades were becoming difficult to slough off. Buffalo’s industrial decline seemed to burst out of control.

His first budget as mayor called for belt-tightening that translated into more than 350 jobs cut from City Hall. There was a very tangible impact on those getting pink slips, but there was an emotional impact on Buffalonians across the board.

If anyone saw where Buffalo was heading early on, and worked to avoid it, it was Makowski. His career in elected office began in 1955 when he challenged the endorsed Democrat for a seat on the Erie County Board of Supervisor s— the forerunner of today’s county legislature. He won by four votes with calls for efficiency in government.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

His earliest fights in government — in 1956 — were trying to convince the city and suburbs to begin implementing baby steps towards a far more efficient metropolitan-style government.

“We must think in terms of a metropolitan region when we are making future plans for the county,” Makowski said when speaking of roads, sewers and water. Before the end of the 1950s, he’d become Buffalo’s youngest Councilman.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Joe Crangle, Erie County Sheriff Michael Amico, Makowski, County Comptroller (later Congressman) Henry Nowak, and Mayor Frank Sedita. Buffalo News archives

From left: Erie County Democratic Chairman Joe Crangle, Erie County Sheriff Michael Amico, Makowski, County Comptroller (later Congressman) Henry Nowak and Mayor Frank Sedita. (Buffalo News archives)

In 1957, his calls for a countywide, unified effort in snow removal fell on deaf ears. Twenty years later, Makowski was mayor during one of the seminal moments in Buffalo’s history — The Blizzard of ’77.

Makowski with Governor Carey after the Blizzard of '77. Buffalo News archives

Makowski with Governor Carey after the Blizzard of ’77. Buffalo News archives

A News poll at the time showed that a majority of Western New Yorkers thought Makowski did at least a fair job in handling the unprecedented natural disaster, but others said he was indecisive.

Particularly since it was shortly after the storm he decided not to seek re-election, Makowski’s name gets tossed around like one of those hundred-pound sacks of grain as somehow “responsible” for the unpredicted, unparalleled onslaught of Mother Nature and the negative attention Buffalo received afterwards.

It seems to be human nature to need a culprit, or to boil history down to a sentence or a simple idea, but it bothers most of those who were closest to him to hear Makowski being “blamed for the blizzard,” mostly because there were few Western New Yorkers who took the inability to get people the help they needed more personally than Makowski.

Makowski won't seek reelection. 1977. Buffalo News archives

Makowski won’t seek re-election. 1977. Buffalo News archives

The blizzard hurt him personally. He struggled with the fact that there was no more he could do. Fire engines were frozen and even the National Guard could only work in half-hour shifts in the cold, but that people were suffering and he couldn’t end it affected him deeply. He openly admitted he was probably a little too sensitive to criticism and any inability to meet the needs of the people.

It weighed on him to the point where he was ready to walk away from City Hall, and go back full time to that simpler life he never really left in the first place.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

A final straw might have been a picket line set up outside a fundraiser.

As a union man himself, Makowski never begrudged any worker the right to picket — but as a family man, wanted to protect his small children from any abuse that might be sent his way. When the mayor, his wife, and their eight kids entered the Statler by a side door, several protestors saw it — and lobbed some choice words at the mayor in ear shot of the smallest of the brood.

Mayor Makowski with his two youngest children at a Hotel Statler fundraiser, 1977. Buffalo News archives

Mayor Makowski with his two youngest children at a Hotel Statler fundraiser, 1977. Buffalo News archives

At the end of his time as mayor, a News editorial said Makowski had “been hurt by his own nice guy” image, but it wasn’t an image. It was the man, in City Hall, in the grain mill, at Tippie’s Social Club, in the home he lived in when he died, which was next door to the home in which he was born.

Buffalo in the ’60s: Our city smelled like Cheerios … and dog food

By Steve Cichon

What a wonderful idea that our city has smelled like Cheerios for more than 75 years now, and it’s even luckier than just the soul-warming smell of baking cereal.

General Mills, 1964 (Buffalo News archives)

The fact that sweet delicious Cheerios are the sole survivor in our odoriferous industry category is really a reason to celebrate, and it’s just another one of those strokes of luck that has helped us feel better about the city so many of us hated for so long. It’s tough to hate a place that smells like Lucky Charms, which is how I’ve described that sweet oat smell for decades.

Even before Buffalo smelled like Cheerios, the smells of other cereals made by General Mills here wafted through the air.

My grandfather — who later worked at General Mills for a few years — grew up during the Depression walking over to the dumps across Fuhrmann Boulevard from the plant with his friends to pick through the trash for unopened boxes of cereal that, for one reason or another, got tossed.

Eddie Cichon worked at half a dozen plants in the Buffalo area, including General Mills, but he worked more than 40 years at National Aniline/Buffalo Color. (Buffalo Stories archives)

They might have eaten a handful or two of the cereal — this was the Depression, after all — but the main purpose for these trips to the dump was to bust open the boxes to get their hands on the toys and trinkets that were included as premiums with the cereal.

The Fuhrmann Boulevard dumps in 1935. (Buffalo News archives)

There’s no doubt Gramps would have noticed the smell of Cheerios in the air, but he might not have been impressed with it, having lived the first 41 years of his life across the street from a grain elevator and malting house on Fulton Street in “The Valley” neighborhood. (That neighborhood is often lumped into the First Ward or South Buffalo by outsiders — but usually not by the folks who live there.)

A few blocks away from his house near Fulton and Smith, Ralston Purina had an elevator and mill similar to General Mills’, near Prenatt and Smith.

Purina Mill, Prenatt Street, 1972. (Buffalo News archives)

It was the same sort of operation. Grain was hauled in and milled, and the smell of processing and baking filled the air for miles around. Just like the smell of Cheerios is inescapable as you traverse Canalside at the right times, for the people of the Valley and miles around, the smells of Purina were inescapable.

The only difference was, Purina made dog food. The smell wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but not something you’d want to celebrate on a T-shirt. One longtime resident said the dog food operation smelled like sweet but slightly rancid grain: Like maybe someone spilled a cheap beer on the carpet last week, and it had been baking in the sun. The odor on its own wasn’t heartwarming, but knowing it was dog food baking didn’t necessarily inspire folks to delight in long pulls of air into their nostrils and down into their lungs.

Even when the wind turned and it was Cheerios in the air, could you be sure? Just another sweet, grainy smell that might be cereal from a few miles that way, beer a mile that way, or dog food a few blocks that way.

That was when you were lucky enough to have any grainy essence in the air. It was far more likely that the atmosphere of the Valley and surrounding neighborhoods would be filled with the smells of heavy industry from places like chemical manufacturer National Aniline, the Mobil refinery, Republic Steel and Hanna Coke. Just like Purina, these places were all within a short walk of the Valley. And just like Purina, these places stopped churning out smells — and paychecks — decades ago.

The Purina Mill turned out animal feed for 55 years until it was closed in 1970. The building was torn down in the early ’80s.

So for anyone who has wondered how it’s only been for the last decade or two we’ve celebrated that “our city smells like Cheerios” when it’s smelled that way for 75 years … it’s much easier to get excited when the last smell standing is such a great one.

Buffalo in the 70s: Remembering the smells of South Buffalo – refinery says it’s not polluting

By Steve Cichon

When I was a tiny boy in South Buffalo, my dad owned a tavern in the Valley. Depending on which stops we’d make first, we’d drive by Republic Steel, Hanna Coke, and a few grain mills on the way to the gin mill via South Park Avenue, or we’d drive by the refinery and chemical plants on Elk Street to get to the bar.

Photos can show people what these smoke- and steam-belching plants looked like at full tilt, and that tells some of the story. I always looked in wonder at the old bricks, miles of pipes and the smoke and often fire shooting out of tall chimneys.

For me, the most stark difference on those rides along South Park and Elk now is the smell – or more accurately, the smells.

The smells coming from Republic Steel changed as you drove along the mammoth set of buildings, until it started to mix with the smell of the Hanna sulfur piles sitting exposed on the other side of the Buffalo River.  That quickly blended with a chemical whiff from National Aniline, until we’d turn down Smith Street. When the wind was right, you’d catch the smells coming from the grain elevators and grain mills in the Valley, including the Purina Mill. Hint – the dog food grain mill didn’t smell like Cheerios.

Each smell was different and distinctly pungent in its own way, but the granddaddy of all nose-searing odors came from the same place with the pyrotechnics display which left me face-planted against the passenger side window of my dad’s AMC Spirit as we drove by.

The piercing smell from the Mobil Refinery on Elk Street was every bit as epic as the flames seemingly lapping out of control from the refinery chimney. Maybe it’s because someone told me when I was very young that they made gasoline there, but I always pictured the smell as looking like the vibrant colors of a little bit of gasoline in a dirty puddle of water.

While the emissions from the chimney may not have been illegal, I’m sure the smells I remember coming from Mobil weren’t exactly a net positive for the surrounding environment and nearby residents.

Forty-five years ago, Mobil said it wasn’t polluting the water. Maybe it wasn’t. But I’ll never forget that smell.