A closer look at Buffalo’s First Ward

By Steve Cichon

As “The Old First Ward” the way it once was becomes a more distant memory, “the Ward” becomes more of a caricature of itself in the minds of many.

The St. Patrick’s Day parade, at what was then Elk and Louisiana, and today is South Park and Louisiana, 1925.

If all you know about the First Ward is shamrocks, taverns, and parades, here’s a bit more on the institutions that made up life there.

Elk Street Market:

In 1904, the Elk Street Market was “the largest fruit and garden truck market in the United States.” The traffic in commodities sold rivaled any similar market on the continent. German, Italian, and Irish traditions played out all over the four-block long market that ran parallel to Michigan Street, in an area now largely taken up by the Buffalo Creek Casino. This portion of Elk Street is now South Park Avenue.

Read More: Torn-Down Tuesday: The Elk Street Market

Elk & Louisiana:

Elk & Louisiana

The intersection of Elk and Louisiana streets was the crossroads of the Old First Ward. A block or two in either direction were canals and the homes of scoopers teeming with the Irish immigrants who were the foundation of Buffalo’s milling and grain industry. Today, it’s the corner of South Park Avenue and Louisiana Street– the home of a gas station and a Family Dollar in front of you from this spot and the Commodore Perry Housing Complex at your left.

Read More: Torn-Down Tuesday: South Park and Louisiana, 1890

St. Brigid’s Church:

St Brigid’s

St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church was the center of the Irish immigrant community in Buffalo’s First Ward neighborhood for more than a century. More than just the home of spiritual life, St. Brigid’s — and specifically St. Brigid’s Hall — was a center for union meetings, political rallies, parties, sporting events and theatrical performances. Through the 1920s, it was also the place where thousands came together to organize the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade through the streets of the Ward.

READ MORE: Torn-down Tuesday: St. Brigid’s Hall in the First Ward

The Hamburg Canal:

The Hamburg Canal

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. 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.

READ MORE: Torn-Down Tuesday: The fetid, festering Hamburg Canal


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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.