In 1932, Buffalo was swept up in the celebration of the city’s centennial, and many groups and organizations that had existed through those 100 years took the opportunity to celebrate their own existence as well.
The Buffalo Academy of Medicine — particularly proud that Buffalo’s first mayor, Ebenezer Johnson, was a medical doctor — wrote a lengthy history of the practice of medicine from Buffalo’s frontier days right up to the most modern advances 1932 could offer.
The most interesting part, however, might not be that dryly written narrative, but the index of hospitals open in Buffalo in the centennial year.
Buffalo Stories archives
The directory offers a glimpse of medical care in a different era: the J.N. Adam Memorial Hospital devoted to the “various phases of tuberculosis.” The Moses Taylor Hospital in Lackawanna “chiefly for the care of industrial accident cases.” Buffalo State Hospital, “a special state hospital of 2,400 beds devoted entirely to mental diseases.”
Several of the hospitals also took out ads in the booklet — they give a look at some of the hospital buildings around Buffalo as they stood 85 years ago.
Forty years removed, it’s still evident if you think about it — despite all the death, destruction and jokes, Buffalonians enjoyed the Blizzard of ’77.
On the storm’s first anniversary, University at Buffalo researcher Arthur G. Cryns released a report that outlined the results of a detailed survey of 104 random Western New Yorkers.
By now this anniversary week, you’ve become reacquainted with the numbers. There were at least 23 deaths, 13,000 people were stranded away from home and 175,000 workers lost $36 million in wages.
“The blizzard furnished a considerable proportion of area residents with a welcome reprieve from the routines and obligations of everyday life,” Cryns told the Associated Press in 1978. “Others found occasion in the storm to celebrate and have a good time.”
Cryns’ survey also found that while Buffalonians still held a generally positive outlook on area weather, it was also clear that most people would be more cautious and more vigilant for future predictions of snow emergencies. That prediction has proved true.
The survey might now even have been necessary, as on that first anniversary of the blizzard, Buffalo held the first Blizzard Ball.
Allentown antiques and art dealer Bill Eaton was one of the founders of the Blizzard Ball, which ran for every year for a decade and a few later anniversaries of the storm as well.
“Maybe the blizzard was lousy for business and plenty of other things, but it brought out fellowship in the people of Buffalo,” Eaton told The News in 1978. “Most of us had fun. Got to know one another better.”
Exactly two weeks after the blizzard had started, an editorial in the Buffalo Evening News wrapped it up this way:
“The fact remains that the people of this area were put to an extremely rugged test, which they passed with courage, character and good humor. And that, too, ought to become a permanent part of the Buffalo legend and image associated with the Blizzard of ’77.”
When you look at the water when you’re driving along the I-190 between the Peace Bridge and the International Rail Bridge, you’re looking at the Black Rock Canal.
In 1899, on this spot, you would have been surrounded by grain storage, milling and malting infrastructure. The photo above shows the foot of Ferry Street looking toward Breckenridge – or in other words, if you’re driving along the I-190 north, this is the area across the water starting at the Ferry Street bascule lift bridge (which was built 14 years after this photo was taken).
This 1894 map shows the mills in the photo at the top, in the area that is now Broderick Park. The I-190 now runs along what is the lower shore of the Black Rock Canal on this map. Rich Products manufacturing and headquarters now takes up the space between West Ferry and Breckenridge on this map.
The Frontier, Clinton and Queen City mills were destroyed by fire in 1901.
Lines at the Peace Bridge are nothing new, but the scenery has changed through the years.
Buffalo Stories archives
Even when the toll was a quarter and the most evasive question you’d be asked was “Where do you live?,” the backups still felt like forever after a weekend of fun at the cottage or on the Comet.
While the cars were queued up in the 1950s, they were bathed in the glow of neon.
Monstrous iconic signs from Texaco Gasoline and O’Keefe Ale and Old Vienna Beer greeted international travelers to and fro during an age when crossing the bridge was a friendlier and less intrusive experience.
As Texaco shouted “Welcome to Buffalo” in light, O’Keefe and OV advertised what were then two of the Dominion of Canada’s most popular beers. Old Vienna remained a blue-collar Buffalo favorite through the 1980s, with many taverns offering specials on OV splits — Old Vienna beer in 7-ounce bottles. An O’Keefe sign also graced the top of the Hancock Building in Niagara Falls.
Buffalo’s position as one of America’s largest and most sophisticated cities was strikingly on display with the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. The City of Light. Advanced transportation. The most modern manufacturing ideas put into practice. Many of the wonders of the Industrial Revolution were on display for the world to take in and enjoy in Buffalo.
But behind that picture of a flourishing city was an undeniable underbelly: Thousands of Buffalonians had no running water in their homes or access to bathing facilities.
It was universally acknowledged as a growing problem, but one without a clear solution.
“A great number of Buffalonians do not feel the need of public baths in the summer months,” wrote the Buffalo Courier in 1895, “because there are many much frequented bathing places along the lake and river fronts and along the numerous creeks in Buffalo.”
Buffalo, it was written, didn’t need bathing facilities, because people bathed in lakes, rivers, and creeks.
A day at the beach was more than just a day of sunshine and relaxation—it was a matter of hygiene. Resort beaches south of the city, places like Wanakah, Idlewood and Bennett Beach, were appropriate for women and children, but men and older boys would bathe wherever they could.
The foot of Court and Georgia streets — which once led from the West Side to the banks of Lake Erie — were popular spots, as were Squaw Island and the foot of Ferry Street.
One man was arrested trying to wash up in the Johnson Park fountain. “The Polish Boys,” wrote The Courier, frequented a bathing hole along Buffalo Creek near South Ogden and the railroad bridge of the Jammerthal area— now the northern East Side of Buffalo. One still-open quarrying area is along Amherst Street as it approaches Bailey Avenue coming from Main Street.
In 1895, Buffalo’s two public baths—one at the foot of S. Michigan Avenue, one at the foot of Porter Avenue – were “small box-like arrangements,” more or less “dilapidated, dirty, and disgraceful” sheds.
Street urchins and pickpockets would use the places, it was said, but no respectable boy or man would be seen there—where a nickel would provide use of a locker and a pair of “bathing pants.”
“Buffalo is deplorably, disgracefully deficient in public baths,” wrote the Courier. Especially during winter months, when bathing alternatives were needed, working men couldn’t afford the luxury of the widely available $1 Turkish baths.
City leaders took the health crisis and turned it into one of the nation’s first public welfare programs.
Buffalo Health Commissioner Wende called the bath houses in two of Buffalo’s most crowded tenement areas a long time in coming.
“While the luxury and benefit of public baths have reached their highest stage in Europe, it remained for Buffalo, an American city, in competing for the supremacy in the realization of the conditions desired by a cultured public, to establish a bath where the indigent, the fatigued, and the unclean could find shelter and care without money and without price.”
In 1897, a brick structure was built on the Terrace as a sanitary bathing facility for the men of Buffalo, particularly the mostly Irish immigrants of the First Ward and the Italian immigrants of The Hooks.
Soap and towels were provided to bathers free of charge. The facility was the first free, open bath house anywhere in the country, and put Buffalo on the cutting edge of health and sanitation.
In 1901, a second public bath house was built on Buffalo’s East Side at Woltz Avenue and Stanislaus Street.
This larger building had separate bathing facilities and waiting rooms for both men and women. While there were bathtubs for women and infants, men were offered showers. The idea of showering was brand new — so new, in fact, that a 1901 article in The Buffalo Express explained how a shower works.
“The bather stands erect in the shower, and the water falls down upon him. There is a depression in the floor, with perforations which carry away the water that has fallen.”
The interior of the shower area had stalls separated by wrought iron. Water was heated to approximately 100 degrees, and bathers were allowed 20 minutes in the showering and adjoining dressing rooms.
The buildings’ rules were written on the walls in English, Polish, Italian and German. They read:
No swearing or obscene language
No intoxicated person allowed in the building
Walls, furniture, and property must not be defaced or injured
Soiled clothing must be taken away by the bather
Towels must be returned to the keeper or matron
No bather may occupy an apartment longer than 20 minutes
There were also laundry facilities for underclothes to help further improve sanitation.
Dr. Wende said the free services, with more than 394,000 baths taken in the first four years, cost Buffalo taxpayers 3 cents per person per year, with most of that cost going toward the purchase of soap.
Well into the 1950s, these two bath houses, along with two more at Grant and Amherst and 249 William St., remained in demand providing as many as a million baths a year.
One slight modification was made as time went on — a new rule prevented singing in the showers.
“If we let people sing in our 52 showers,” said the keeper of Bath House No. 2 Stanley Molik, “we’d be in trouble for disturbing the peace of the neighborhood.
The Office of Price Administration was actually established several months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as the country prepared for the possibility of war.
Weeks after the declaration of war, price controls and rationing were implemented on all manner of consumer goods except agricultural products.
Ben Dykstra, butcher and grocer at the corner of Main and Merrimac in University Heights, shows off the full March, 1943 ration of canned goods for a family of four.
Buffalo News archives
Families had to register for ration books, as Mrs. EW England was doing at School 16 on Delaware and Hodge in 1943.
Women jammed markets when they knew they could get good meat. Such was the case at Neber & McGill Butchers on William Street in 1943.
Additional ration points could be earned by turning in food waste, like grease, for the war effort. Mrs. Robert Bond of Hampshire Street collected four cents and two brown ration points for turning in a pound of rendered kitchen fat to Anthony Scime, of Scime Brothers Grocery, at Hampshire and 19th on the West Side.
Even after the war, shortages continued. This is the scene at the Mohican Market on Main Street near Fillmore in 1946, on a day when butter was available.
The News called it “a mob scene” inside, where Office of Price Administration rules dropped the price to 53 cents. Some markets, confused by the change in rules, were selling for 64 cents.
The OPA was dissolved and price controls ended in 1947.
Any of us who have spent time away from Buffalo have our rituals when we return to Western New York. Loganberry. Wings. Super Mighty. Hot dogs (Texas hots). Hot dogs (Char-broiled). Hot dogs (so long as it’s a Sahlens).
Guercio & Sons’ Grocery during a construction project on Grant Street in 1985. (Buffalo News archives)
Aside from — you know — seeing mom, many of our immediate “musts” revolve around food. One stop for many who grew up in or have roots on Buffalo’s West Side, one stop combines food and family.
The mention of Guercio’s can fill a West Sider with a yearning for the pungent aromas of cheese and pickles and cured meats. It’s the type of old-world store which barely exists anymore, making a visit to Grant Street special whether you’re coming from Amherst or the Carolinas.
Guercio’s was known as the Grant Street Market in the days before Vincent and Nancy Guercio came to Buffalo from Sicily in 1954. They bought the place in 1961, and in 1967, the name was officially changed to Guercio & Sons.
Guercio & Sons has been a bastion for the ingredients that make food Italian, and for generations the shop has made the experience of buying those ingredients part of the experience of being an Italian in Buffalo or a West Sider or just someone who appreciates great food and great service.
From the fruit and vegetables displayed on the sidewalk to the cheese and meat counter inside, Guercio’s is a throwback without feeling like an anachronism. Even if you’ve never been there before, somehow walking in, it feels like it’s already etched in your DNA. It’s one of those places you can take your grandkids to.
While it’s the nonnas and bambinos who are mostly likely to wax poetic about Guerico & Sons, it’s the newer Buffalonians hailing from Africa, Asia and Latin America who make up more and more of the everyday neighborhood shoppers there. This is the wonderful little store for current West Siders, just like it was for a previous generation or two.
Neither Grant Street nor the entire West Side have too many institutions that help bridge the gap between yesterday’s West Side and today’s West Side. At Guerico’s, there really hasn’t been a yesterday and today, just a long-standing commitment to being the kind of place that feels right for anyone who walks in.
Dr. Ray V. Pierce’s Palace Hotel brought taste and opulence to the West Side spot now occupied by D’Youville College.
Buffalo News archives
Opened in 1877, the place was half hotel, half hospital. Two generations of Pierces were known for the sale of patent medicines and the cutting-edge “curing” of disease. The baths and gymnasiums on the campus were known nationwide for their healing and restorative powers.
1879. (Buffalo Stories archives)
It was from the Prospect Avenue balcony of the Palace Hotel that Buffalo industrialist Frank Baird introduced Gen. James Garfield to Buffalo shortly before he was elected president in 1880. The throng of people welcoming the candidate stretched from the Central Depot at Terrace and Court (behind today’s City Hall) all the way to the hotel. President Ulysses S. Grant was also a guest at the Palace.
Pierce’s Palace Hotel was open only four years before it burned down in 1881. After that, Pierce opened his Invalids Hotel and Surgical Institute on the 600 block of Main Street; that survived until 1941.
In 1959, Buffalo industrialist, banker and former Assistant Navy Secretary Edward Germain seemed to vanish without a trace.
When he left a small group of friends at the Buffalo Club, the longtime president of Dunlop Rubber told friends he was going to drive to his summer home just over the Peace Bridge in Canada.
He never arrived. A 32-state search ensued, and the case made national headlines.
A $10,000 reward was offered, but the only information on the case came from a man who watched Germain’s blue 1958 Chevrolet scrape along several parked cars on Buffalo’s Lower West Side. The car was moving slowly enough that the man could run alongside and offer to help, but the man behind the wheel — who appeared to be the 69-year-old Germain — seemed to be in some sort of trance and unable to stop or move.
Another less-certain report told of a car like Germain’s traveling the wrong way on a I-190 offramp.
When this was all the investigation netted, one doctor supposed that Germain could have had a stroke, but those who knew him said that he was as healthy as a man going on 50 even though he was going on 70. Germain’s family seemed to think the wealthy man, who lived on Nottingham Terrace, was robbed. They feared they wouldn’t find him alive.
Police seemed hung up on the fact that the car hadn’t been found. Divers searched the Niagara River but found nothing, and the case went cold for four years.
Then in 1963, kids playing in the Black Rock Canal found the decomposed remains which were matched to Germain by the still-intact clipping of his sister’s obituary in his pocket. Robbery didn’t seem to be a motive. Along with the newspaper article, his wallet also was filled with cash.
Buffalo News archives
Divers searched the river again — this time north of the Peace Bridge, instead of south near where his car was last seen.
Buffalo News archives
After 365 search hours, the mangled remains of Germain’s car were found, with the key still in the on position, and a shoe with bone fragments in it near the accelerator.
Buffalo News archives
Once the car and car were found, the case was closed. No further reporting was done on any investigation after the accident. The final mentions of the incident came with the probate of Germain’s $740,000 estate.