The great thing about this 1969 map proposing a waterfront domed stadium… Is that it pretty much looks this way there now— if you squint, the proposed domed stadium looks like Key Bank Center and the proposed convention center looks like HarborPlace.
Also, thank God the West Side Arterial (on the left towards the top) wasn’t built.
In fact, thank God most of the proposed buildings listed here weren’t built. Number 10 is shown where Coca-Cola Field is… it wound up on the other side of number 9 and became the Hilton/Adam’s Mark.
Before they were even finished digging the Hamburg Canal, in 1849, the standing, fetid water in the half-dug ditch was blamed in part for a growing cholera crisis in what we now call the First Ward and Canalside areas.
1896 map with Hamburg Canal highlighted in blue. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Originally conceived to help divert traffic away from the busy Erie Canal, soon the railroads were doing a good enough job of making the Hamburg Canal in particular nearly completely obsolete.
For decades, the fate of the canal was a political hot potato. Albany politicians tried to wrestle control of the valuable land. Others vowed the city could make a fortune by filling it in and getting the land into the hands of the railroads – but which railroad seemed to be the point of disagreement.
Meanwhile, the mucky water sat festering.
The Common Council declared the Hamburg Canal a nuisance in 1869. The following year, Buffalo Mayor Alexander Brush and a group of concerned citizens took a tugboat tour of the Canal from Michigan Street to the Buffalo Harbor. One participant called the waterway “a horrible bed of pestilence.”
It got worse from there. A 1912 report called the canal a “mass of decaying filth, stagnant water, foul-smelling, and covered by a dark scum.”
The largest part of the Hamburg Canal was finally put out of its misery when the Lehigh Valley Railroad built Buffalo’s glowing new passenger terminal on a filled-in portion of it in 1916.
Hate for the man-made waterway was reignited when Depression-era WPA workers came across a long-covered portion of the canal running where they had been planning on building the foundation of Memorial Auditorium. Special reinforced sewers were built below The Aud to allow the old canal’s waters to continue to move all through the building’s nearly 70-year history.
Today, the Canalside rink, the Courtyard by Marriott and The Buffalo News are all on ground that was once Buffalo’s most derided waterway.
Buffalo became “the Atlantic’s back door” when the Erie Canal opened for business 191 years ago today.
The village of Buffalo was a town of about 2,400 at the time. When a ceremonial start to the digging of the canal in Buffalo was held in 1823, everyone in the town and surrounding villages like Black Rock and Buffalo Plains (now both a part of the City of Buffalo) was invited to come celebrate. They were also asked to bring their tools and plow animals.
The effort was a community one. A group of men from the Buffalo Plains — now the area along Main Street from Niagara Falls Boulevard to Sisters Hospital — drove a team of 12 oxen down to the area that is now Canalside to start digging.
The men and the animals worked all day, and the only payment was found flowing from the barrels of pure rye whiskey set up along what was destined to become the banks of the Erie Canal.
“Our whiskey then was the pure article, made from rye, without adulteration,” wrote pioneer Buffalonian William Hodge, who remembered the events from when he was a boy. “Along the line of the canal, at convenient distances, was to be found another barrel of whiskey, pure old rye, with part of the head cut out and tin dipper lying by and all were expected to help themselves.”
A little more than two years later, on Oct. 26, 1825, the entire town poured back into that same area for the gala opening of this marvel of modern engineering.
That morning, the Village of Buffalo echoed with cannon fire at 9 a.m., the official start of the parade to the canal terminus. A band led the way for a cadre of soldiers and sailors, followed by the spade-carrying laborers who did most of the digging, followed by hundreds of citizens. At the end of the parade was a carriage carrying Gov. DeWitt Clinton and Sen. Samuel Wilkeson — whose work in dredging Buffalo Harbor made the entire event possible.
With a ceremonial jug of water pulled from Lake Erie in tow, Gov. Clinton climbed aboard “The Seneca Chief” bound for New York City at exactly 10 a.m.
A cannon fired as the boat left, and in the days before telephone or even telegraph, news of the successful start of the journey was sent to Albany by a relay of cannon fire. Each time a cannon shot was heard by an artilleryman slightly further up the canal, he’d fire a shot. The news traveled 280 miles in a mind-boggling hour and 40 minutes.
The Seneca Chief and Gov. Clinton arrived in New York City on Nov. 4, 1825. That ceremonial jug of Lake Erie water was poured into the Atlantic for the wedding of the waters and Buffalo’s fate was sealed as the east’s last stop on the way to the American West.
Fifty-five years later, Buffalonians are growing increasing excited as new and innovative uses are being created for the aging, hulking grain elevators and mills along the Buffalo River.
But this week in 1960, the chairman of International Milling would have “looked at you funny” had you told him the best use for grain elevators might be to wrap them to look like beer cans so people have something interesting to look at while they play outdoor ice hockey.
Charles Ritz — who hailed from Minneapolis, not Buffalo, mind you — said things like “Buffalo’s geographic advantage cannot be matched” and “Buffalo is best situated to supply growing populations of the American Northeast.”