Milk Bottle Caps of 1940s Buffalo

       By Steve Cichon

Over the last few weeks, eBay seller wmlengadairy has been selling a huge collection of Buffalo area and Western New York milk bottle caps from the late 30s, 40s, and early 50s.

These are the paper lids which came on top of glass milk bottles, which were most often delivered daily to homes nearby the particular dairy by a milkman.

Many of these are extremely rare, and together show how the neighborhood dairy was an entrenched part of life not too long ago.

From 1880 to Today: West Side home of the National League Buffalo Bisons

       By Steve Cichon

Baseball’s National League — one of two leagues that make up modern Major League Baseball — was founded in 1876.

Three years later, Buffalo joined the National League, playing at Riverside Park on Buffalo’s West Side.

Riverside Park, home of the Bisons from 1878 to 1883. Bounded by West Avenue, Vermont Street, Rhode Island Street and Fargo Avenue.

The park was bounded by West Avenue, Vermont Street, Rhode Island Street and Fargo Avenue. The park was small, and other teams complained that it gave the Buffalo club an advantage.

The homerun wasn’t as universally well-thought-of in the early days of the game, and some felt Buffalo’s team was a lesser squad for taking advantage of the short fences.

“The day the snow goes,” wrote a Syracuse newspaper in 1879, “the Buffalo nine will commence practicing the knack of knocking the ball over the fence of the corral they call a ballpark.”

It was in part those home runs that helped ignite excitement in Buffalo over the new sport.

“Everyone else is talking base ball, and why shouldn’t we?” asked the Buffalo Express in 1881, after the Buffaloes defeated the Chicago team that wouldn’t officially be renamed “the Cubs” for another 26 years. “Three successive defeats of the champions by the Buffalo team make a ‘base ball’ event of quite enough note to set all tongues wagging.”

Six seasons of Bisons baseball, including five seasons in the National League, were played in the park. Over the next decade, pieces of the lot where the ballpark once stood were sold off to developers, and Buffalo baseball moved to the first Olympic Park at the northeast corner of Summer and Richmond.

When that new ballpark opened, the Buffalo Commercial bragged that “The Buffaloes … had the best base ball grounds in the country.”

Invalids’ and Tourists’ Hotel at Porter and Prospect

       By Steve Cichon

By the time he opened the “Invalids’ and Tourists’ Hotel” at Porter and Prospect avenues in 1878 on the West Side, Dr. R.V. Pierce had long run a mail order quack medicine dispensary from Buffalo and had also been elected state senator.

The Pierce Hotel was destroyed by a fire in 1881.

“There is no quarter of the civilized world where his remedies aren’t known,” said The Buffalo Express upon the completion of the building. Pierce chose Buffalo as his base of operations because, The Express reported, that statistics “prove dispute that Buffalo outranks in healthfulness all other cities of the United States.”

The paper called the finished hotel “superb in its completeness, one of the proudest ornaments of a city famed for its beauty.”

The piazzas and grand porches of the building provided stunning views of the Niagara River and Lake Erie, and newspaper accounts printed around the country gushed about “bath appliances of all sorts, a steam elevator, and a fully furnished gymnasium.”

As the name would imply, the campus was split into two distinct sections. One for summer tourists and “a pleasant and cheerful home for invalids in search of health in a delightful, bracing and invigorating climate.”

“Chronic diseases of every sort will be treated in the sanitarium,” reported The New York Times.

Like many of Buffalo’s grand structures of the era, it was destroyed by fire in 1881. The site is now a part of the D’Youville College campus.

For many decades following, Dr. Pierce’s hotel and dispensary were on the 600 block of Main Street opposite Shea’s Buffalo. The Pierce Building still stands there.

Jefferson & Best: Lang’s Brewery and The Rockpile

       By Steve Cichon

In 1880, the spot where Johnnie B. Wiley Stadium – once known as War Memorial Stadium – stands, was on the far outskirts of the city.

The big landmark along Jefferson Street between Best and Dodge wasn’t “The Rockpile,” but was across the street from the stadium where the Stanley Makowski Early Childhood Center now stands.

War Memorial Stadium – the old “Rockpile.”

The school was built on what was once the campus of the Gerhard Lang Brewery. Built in 1875, the brewery was marked as No. 57 on the 1880 map.

It would be another 10 years before there was any activity on the land on the other side of Jefferson Avenue.

Gerhard Lang Brewery.

In 1880, the Prospect Hill Reservoir was still Buffalo’s primary source for drinking water. Located at Niagara and Connecticut streets, the original reservoir spot has been the home of the Connecticut Street Armory for more than 100 years.In 1893, the new Prospect Reservoir started serving as Buffalo’s stand-by water source on Jefferson Avenue.

The Old Prospect Reservoir stood where the Connecticut Street Armory now stands, on Niagara between Connecticut and Vermont.

A generation later, that second reservoir would be replaced by War Memorial Stadium as a Depression-era WPA project.

The second Prospect Reservoir stood where War Memorial Stadium was built on Jefferson Avenue between Best and Dodge.

The Erie Canal shipyard that’s now an I-190 on-ramp

       By Steve Cichon

Heading north from Canalside toward the Peace Bridge, the I-190 was built in the bed of the Erie Canal.

Erie Canal at the foot of Virginia Street, 1883.

It’s difficult to imagine a ride along the Erie Canal, with some of today’s landmarks there with the old waterway. You’d be floating north past the Channel 7 studios, then Genesee Street going right up to the edge of the water, then the BlueCross BlueShield headquarters, then Court Street going right up to the edge of the water – but that’s what it would have looked like if the canal was magically put back in the spot where it once sat.


The shipbuilding yard of George Notter was at the foot of Virginia Street, where Virginia met the canal. This 1883 photo shows Notter’s shipyard, the Erie Canal, and the strip of land between the canal and the water.

Today, the spot once occupied by the Notter building is about where the Niagara Street northbound on-ramp to the I-190 starts to curve. The canal is paved over with the Niagara Extension of the Thruway, and the strip of land with small houses to the right is now LaSalle Park.

Detroit’s Vernors still gives Buffalo va-va-voom

       By Steve Cichon

Vernors Ginger Ale is an iconic Detroit staple, but for at least a century, Buffalo has been one of the biggest secondary markets of the unique pop brand.

In the mid-1950s, this West Side store advertised Iroquois Beer, Rich’s Ice Cream and Vernors Ginger Ale among other goods.

Not everyone is a fan of the sweet, peppery, spicy, “deliciously different” Vernors – but if you are, it’s one of those tastes that makes this place home.

For decades, Buffalo got its fix of Motor City pop via Great Lakes steam power. Crates of Vernors made their way across Lake Erie on the same ships, like the “City of Buffalo” of the D&C line, that once carried passengers to all the major Great Lakes ports.

A Great Lakes freighter delivers Vernors to Buffalo.

In 1926, the James Vernor Company bought the former Pierce-Arrow showroom at 752-758 Main St., and set up a bottling plant and retail shop after “the success attained by Vernors Ginger Ale in Buffalo forced the company to seek larger and permanent headquarters” in Western New York.

The soft drink was popular in bottles and at soda fountains and drink counters. “The Boston Cooler” was a popular drug store treat, mixing Vernors and vanilla ice cream. It was one of the featured specials in the early days of Anderson’s, and was a big hit at Kenmore’s Henel Bros. Dairy as well.

One less-popular recipe that Vernors printed in newspapers encouraged parents to mix their children’s milk with Vernors for “a drink children find irresistible,” touting it as a “healthful, rich beverage with a stimulating zest and sparkle.”


Through the 1950s and 1960s, Vernors ads could be heard on WKBW Radio, with Danny Neaverth and other KB stars reminding baby boomer teens that “Vernors has va-va-voom,” contributing to the beverage’s ongoing popularity here.

The company’s retail store stood in the beautiful marble and terra cotta Vernor building for 25 years before being sold in 1951. The bottling rights were franchised a few years later, bought up by the same company that produced Squirt and Hires.

The Vernor Building was sold several times and fell into disrepair. It was torn down in 2007, in what Buffalo City Court Judge Henry Nowak called “a classic case of demolition by neglect.”


Detroit Pharmacist James Vernor created the beverage in 1866. His family sold the business 100 years later in 1966. Today, the brand is owned by Dr. Pepper.

Torn-Down Tuesday: The Employed Children’s School

By Steve Cichon

From just about the moment that construction on Buffalo’s City Hall was completed on Niagara Square, the mostly Italian immigrant, mostly poor neighborhood became the target of those wishing to “give the city a cleaner look.”

The Working Childrens Home

One front page Courier-Express headline read, “6,000 dwell in slums in the shadow of City Hall. 85 acres of misery near civic center.”

The story goes on to call the blocks behind City Hall “the most wretched in the city,” noting the area ranked second in murders committed, second in tuberculosis and social diseases. Words like ramshackle, dilapidated and reeking were used.

The 1936 article never specifically mentioned that it was a district of mostly Italian families, but the story of life inside of one building with a hole in the roof left the reader with little doubt.

This drawing accompanied the front page story about the neighborhood behind City Hall, 1936.

Before City Hall was built on Niagara Square, city fathers tried to address the poverty in the area through education. More than anywhere else in the city, children worked to help feed their families.

State law was changed in 1922 to say that all children up to age 17 must receive at least half a day’s worth of schooling. With that new law in mind, Buffalo’s board of education bought an old furniture warehouse at the corner of Georgia Street and Caldwell Place (which was later Newark Alley) right in the middle of this poor, overcrowded neighborhood.

The old brick factory was to become Buffalo’s first “part-time school” for children who worked. They needed special and intricate accommodation according to educators.

“Adolescent working children, it is declared, possess individual differences to a much greater extent than those children without the worldly experience which comes through contacts made as employees,” read the newspaper account announcing the opening of the school.

The school’s primary objectives were to prepare students for citizenship and to “stimulate the moral of these working children, to help them obtain and hold an optimistic viewpoint on life and then keep them on the road to successful, useful, and happy citizenship.”

The building came down during one of many urban renewal projects in the neighborhood over the decades. Neither the buildings nor the streetscape survives. The spot where the school once stood is the in the midst of the government subsidized senior housing which is fronted along Niagara Street behind City Hall.

Buffalo’s milkmen and their Divco trucks

By Steve Cichon

Remember when the milk man used to deliver the milk right to your back door?

Trucks like this restored Rich’s Dairy truck will be on display in Hamburg next weekend.

Well, the people who collect the trucks our milkmen used to drive are getting together in WNY next week.

Fischer’s Milk delivery in a Divco truck in the 1950s.

The Divco Club of America will be holding it’s 2018 convention in Hamburg starting next week, and their trucks will be on display at the Hamburger Festival on July 21st.

Delivering Fischer’s Milk in a 1930s Divco.

Divco trucks were seen all over WNY and all around the country starting in the 1920s, and used for milk and bread deliveries.

Amherst Dairy, 1942.

It was in March 30, 1982, that Carl Heim made one last era-ending trip through the streets of Buffalo.

Buffalo News archives

The cartons shown being loaded into this truck were the last home-delivered milk from Upstate Milk Cooperatives, the area’s largest dairy supplier.

Buffalo News archives

Upstate, which sold the Sealtest brand, was the last of the big dairies to end home service, though several smaller dairies vowed to continue.

Divco ad from 1949

The biggest factor in dropping service to Buffalo’s side and back doors was the growing disparity between the premium cost of delivered milk and the increasingly cheaper prices being charged by large grocery stores.

from a 1939/1940 Divco brouchure being offered in an eBay auction by

Buffalo in the ’30s: Queen City Hospitals

By Steve Cichon

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.

Buffalo Stories archives

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.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives


The Blizzard of ’77 ‘brought out fellowship in people of Buffalo’

By Steve Cichon

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.

During the Blizzard of ’77, streets bound by snow walls became icy block parties where neighbors became friends. This is Niagara Street, guarded by two Military Police personnel enforcing the driving ban. (Buffalo Stories archives)

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.

But still.

“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.”

Read more about Buffalo’s Blizzards past from Buffalo Stories