Tonawanda loves to remember the Delaware Pool

       By Steve Cichon

The removal of the Sheridan Drive pedestrian bridge is stirring memories of the generations of kids who ran across the bridge in anticipation of a jump into the Delaware Pool.

Delaware Pool, Town of Tonawanda.

Sheridan Drive was built as a “super highway” in 1925, connecting Clarence, Amherst and Tonawanda to the waterfront and to Niagara Falls via Niagara Falls Boulevard. The divided highway remained most rural and mostly in use for its original purpose until the postwar expansion of the 1950s brought a dramatic number of homes to the former farm country and the Youngmann Expressway became the preferred route for quickly crossing the suburbs just north of Buffalo.

More than 20 large subdivisions were either built or in the works by 1955, along with supermarkets like Park Edge, hot dog stands like Ted’s and Pat’s, and custard windows like Anderson’s.

Signs touting new Sheridan Drive area subdivisions in the Town of Tonawanda, 1955.

To support the quickly growing area, the Town of Tonawanda built both Herbert Hoover Elementary School and the “glistening” Delaware Pool, both near Delaware Road on Sheridan.

Swimming lessons at Delaware Pool, 1955.

The pool cost $250,000 to build in 1954. The 80-foot-by-120-foot pool was built by contractor Howard Stimm. During the first year, 2,500 residents were using the pool on warm weekends. More than 60,000 people used the pool, and more than 5,000 took swimming lessons in 1956.

The foot bridge over Sheridan Drive was conceived of only months after the opening of the pool. The $40,000 price tag was seen as steep in 1955, but also necessary to keep the free flow of automobiles along Sheridan Drive. A footnote in one 12-paragraph story in 1955 mentions the safety of the children crossing the busy highway, as well.

After years of bickering and a gubernatorial veto by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, it wasn’t until 1965 – 10 years after the bridge was first proposed – that the state finally gave permission and some funding to allow the pedestrian bridge to be built. It was completed just in time for the 1967 school year.

The pool was such an institution, that the town sponsored a big celebration of the pool’s 25th anniversary in 1979, featuring synchronized swimming and salutes to those instrumental in the building of the pool.

Delaware Pool slide, 1956

Numbers of swimmers had dwindled dramatically from the glory days, but Tonwandans were still using the Delaware Pool until the early ’90s, when, in 1993, it was replaced by the Tonawanda Aquatic and Fitness Center in preparation for Western New York’s hosting of the World University Games.

The foot bridge across Sheridan Drive is being dismantled this week. It was closed following a state inspection deeming it unsafe in 2016.

From 1880 to Today: Harvey & Wallace carriage makers

       By Steve Cichon

Harvey & Wallace was a maker of custom carriages in Buffalo starting in 1855, and by 1878, it was the rapidly growing city’s largest and oldest manufacturer of sleighs, carriages and wagons “in all the practical styles.”

When Robert A. Wallace died in 1878, John C. Harvey continued operating the firm as the Harvey Carriage Co.

Harvey & Wallace ad. 1870.

Eight years after Wallace died, his family was still bickering over his estate because the will he had told many people about was nowhere to be found. A sensation was caused when Wallace’s body was exhumed, and the missing will was found “amongst the relics of mortality” in a suit pocket.

When Harvey died in 1891, the business was still going strong, but with the advent and growing popularity of the automobile, business died out for the heirs of Harvey’s Carriage Co. just after the turn of the century.

The business’ earliest address was on Lock Street, which no longer exists (along with the Erie Canal that the street name was associated with). A few steps in either direction, however, took you to Terrace or Erie streets — both of which survive today.

1871 map.

The spot where Harvey & Wallace stood is now a bit of a no man’s land directly behind the studios of WNED-TV and WBFO Radio, between the elevated I-190 and the ramp up at the beginning of the Skyway.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Buffalo’s street corner voting booths

       By Steve Cichon

There was a time when just about every one of Buffalo’s 462 election districts had its own voting booth.

In the weeks leading up to any election, city trucks would start hauling the green sheds around the city and dropping them off at the hundreds of predetermined intersections, often on the street, and causing a traffic hazard.

A portable green voting shed at the corner of Cherry and Goodell in the mid 50s, before the neighborhood gave way for the Kensington Expressway.

The green painted wooden booths were adorned with an American flag and a tin chimney for the cast-iron stove inside. They were already decades-old when a teamster was paid $10 a day, driving two horses, to set out the booths throughout city neighborhoods in 1928.

Although there were still Buffalonians voting in the tiny shacks as late as 1970, Board of Elections officials had been looking for alternatives 40 years earlier.

“We would like to replace them with fire houses, police stations, branch libraries and other public buildings as voting places, to get away from cluttering up neighborhoods with the unsightly booths and to obviate the possibility of traffic accidents, by not having to place the heavy booths on street corners where there is danger of automobiles, in traffic congestions, colliding with them,” said one Election Board member in 1928, who also said similar proposals had been given the cold shoulder in the past.

By the late 1950s, there were regular traffic accidents with the often poorly placed booths, which had also worn down over 30 years of moving back and forth. There was another groundswell of enthusiasm for a different, more modern way to operate the city’s polling places, but the driving force behind keeping the old green sheds around was cost.

In 1958, more than 300 voting sheds were still set out each Election Day. City officials estimated the cost of hauling and maintaining the booths at about $20 for each polling place, but a study showed that number was closer to $50 per booth.

That $50 was still cheaper, though, than the average $250 to $350 it was estimated it would cost to keep other municipal buildings such as police stations and fire houses open for voters.

Election Day 1957, featuring one of the portable green voting booths, and signs for Frank Sedita and Ann Mikol among others.

With the fate of the old portable booths momentarily secured, County Supervisor Gus Franczyk sponsored a resolution investigating the heating of the booths. Old-fashioned pot-bellied coal stoves were the only source of heat on cold November Tuesdays.

Once again, the upgrade of the heating of the booths was abandoned over price concerns. The average cost to keep voters warm with the coal stoves was $5.41 per year, as opposed to $440 for new electric heaters.

The number of portable booths was down to 278 by 1967 when the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo offered space in its 68 parochial schools for voting. The Courier-Express heartily endorsed a plan set forth by then-Councilman Gus Franczyk to take the church up on the offer.

“Mainly it seems in order to rid the city of the obnoxious, obsolete booths by phasing them out as fast as possible. They have become costly obstacles to civic progress,” read the editorial page of the Courier.

In May 1969, the city began selling off the “antique voting booths,” stipulating that they should be given free to nonprofit organizations willing to move them. Among the early takers were a boys’ club and a Little League for equipment storage.

The election booth sheds were stored on city-owned lots all over the city, but a large number of them were kept on Appenheimer Avenue. The Dr. Lydia T. Wright School was eventually built on the spot that, for decades, was the home of voting booths for the 363 days a year when there wasn’t any voting going on.

Going for more than sausage at the Broadway Market

       By Steve Cichon

In the late 1880s, there were a few good years of political wrangling over which wealthy landowner was going to get to sell property to the city to build a market for the growing number of Polish immigrants in what was then the eastern stretches of the city.

postcard, Broadway Market, c.1900

Walden Avenue was an early favorite, but Broadway won out, and in 1888, Buffalo’s “Polish colony” of about 3,500 had a market of their own to match the worship space of their own at the recently built St. Stanislaus Church.

Sophie Frances Nowik remembered the earliest days at the market.

“It was not unusual to see housewives carrying bulging shopping bags made of leather or awning material, with a head of an alert fowl projecting above its top. Occasionally the birds would peck at anyone within reach of their beaks.

“Amid the loud cries of vendors and the whine of blind men with their pencils and wheezy accordions, the housewives stop their baby carriages, sometimes filled with babies, sometimes with vegetables, more often with both, and have their morning chats.”

The original market had a long, skinny building in the middle, but most vendors were outside. That changed when the current market building and parking ramp were built in the mid-1950s.

By 1969, the market was millions in debt with most vendors in arrears in rent for their stalls. Redlinski Meats President Paul Redlinski became president of the market association, and took up the responsibility of collecting the $600,000 in rents each year.

The Redlinski Brothers, Broadway Market, 1983

A decade later, the market seemed to be on firm ground, with 900,000 people visiting the Broadway Market each year. That included what Polish Union President Daniel Kij called the “closet ethnics.”

He told Marilyn Darch in a 1979 Buffalo Spree article that what he meant was the people — not necessarily Polish — who came to the market at Christmas and Easter time for the spectacle of it. Forty years later, these “closet ethnics” make or break a vendor’s year with their annual visits.

To live even part of Darch’s description of the Broadway Market on a weekday 40 years ago, one has to visit during Holy Week or around Christmas.

Broadway Market entrance, 1970s

She says the bland, uninspiring exterior “frames a bevy of activity that assaults, engages, and titillates the senses. The first thing one notices is the sound: the low hum of marketplace banter, the roar of the butchers’ saws, the plop of food onto scales. The cash registers ring out crisp and clear, like cymbals in a marketplace symphony.

“Around the periphery of the building are twenty meat stands where one can purchase not only freshly made Polish sausage, but other ethnic specialties as well. These appreciative eyes noticed fat links of sausage coiled like cobras poised to strike, pale pink ground sausage, speckled white sausage.”

Redlinski Meats, she reported, sold more than 300,000 pounds of sausage the previous year at the family stall.

The sounds of the Polish language being spoken by women with their heads wrapped in babushkas still filled the Broadway Market 40 years ago, and those women were the mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers of those who’ll visit there this Easter weekend.

The Broadway Market is a different place today, but we visit because there is something of that essence that is still there as we watch the butcher uncoil the sausage and the horseradish jars being filled right before our eyes, and we hear people who don’t know more than ten words of Polish wish each other “Wesołego Alleluja” — Happy Easter in Polish — because it seems to be the right thing to do.

From 1880 to Today: East Buffalo Cattle Yards were ‘finest’ in U.S.

       By Steve Cichon

“The livestock business has come to be one of the most important, if not the most important, business now transacted in Buffalo,” read the front page of the Buffalo Morning Express in 1873.

The Buffalo Stockyards.

Buffalo’s location as a rail center located halfway between midwestern ranches and eastern population centers caused the numbers of cattle, sheep, hogs and horses grow exponentially through the 1860s and 1870s.

The stockyards grew up around the East Buffalo tracks of the New York Central Railroad, and the railroad was the original owner and operator of the yards.

Railroad control helped insure “comfortable and safe housing of all livestock” plus “prompt and efficient transportation facilities,” according to a 1903 Buffalo Times article which called the East Buffalo yards “the finest in the United States of America,” with room for 100,000 animals.

The yards ran along William Street, in an area covered today in part by the William Street Post Office and former mail processing center.

Buffalo Stockyards. 1880 map.

At the height of livestock trading in Buffalo, only Chicago’s stockyards were bigger than Buffalo’s. As many as 15,000 cattle passed through the East Buffalo yards each Monday morning. By the early 1980s, those numbers had dwindled to as few as 300 hogs and 75 cattle each week.

The Buffalo Livestock Yards closed for good in 1983.

Buffalo in the ’40s: Advances in WNY helped usher in modern era of bowling

       By Steve Cichon

Just after World War II ended, American Machine and Foundry moved into the former Walden Avenue plant of the Buffalo Arms Company, just east of Harlem in Cheektowaga.

AMF Automatic pinspotter, manufactured in Cheektowaga

Almost immediately, workers there began churning out a device that would allow bowling to become one of the great American pastimes of the postwar era.

AMF had been petitioning the American Bowling Congress to give approval to its automatic pinsetter, and that thumbs up came only weeks before the annual tournament, held in 1946 at Buffalo’s Connecticut Street Armory.

Bowling on Buffalo’s West Side

At a small garage across the street from the armory — now the site of a 7-Eleven store — AMF set up the first public display of the “most revolutionary piece of equipment in the fastest growing of all participant sports.”

The mechanized pinsetter and ball return eliminated the jobs of thousands of boys around the country who acted as pinsetters, but also allowed for the popular sport to be played 24 hours a day.

“Operating as rapidly as the bowler wishes, it automatically runs the gamut of bowling services setting up the pins, returning the ball to the player, and sweeping the alley of fallen pins,” read a press release that was reprinted on sports pages around the country.

The equipment still wasn’t practical for mass production, but four lanes were installed in a Depew bowling alley in 1947 to begin working out the kinks. In 1952, Amherst Lanes was one of the first two bowling alleys in the country to have the final production model pinsetters installed.

By 1953, AMF’s Cheektowaga plant was cranking out 100 automatic pinsetter units every month. Three years later, there were more than 9,000 machines in use around the country.

The automated pinsetting devices that were first unveiled to the public in that West Side garage in 1946 and then produced on Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga catapulted bowling into the national phenomenon it was for several generations, making it a billion-dollar industry when the pinsetter turned 25 years old in 1971.

Buffalo’s last city-owned Polish-language sign

By Steve Cichon

I take a photo of this great bilingual sign every time I walk by it in the Broadway Market parking ramp for fear that it will disappear.

Is it the last still-used city-owned sign in Polish? It’s the only one I know of… and it’s a treasure.

From 1880 to Today: Curling on the lake in Delaware Park

       By Steve Cichon

The Civil War years saw Buffalo’s Scottish population taking national pride in the ancestral sport of curling.

In 1867, Buffalo’s Caledonian Curling Club joined the Grand National Curling Club of America – then North America’s “major league” for curling. Buffalonian David Bell served as the league’s first president.

The Caledonia Curling Club on the frozen Delaware Park Lake.

Traditional Scots bonspiels were held on frozen lochs. The Buffalo versions were held on the lake in Delaware Park. Ontario teams from Toronto, Hamilton and Brantford regularly made the trip to Buffalo for matches.

By 1884, there were more than 70 members of the local Caledonian club, including notable names like William Sydney Wicks – partner with E.B. Green in storied Buffalo architectural firm Green & Wicks.

The matches moved inside in 1886, when the Caledonian Curling Club built their own rink at the corner of Ellicott and North streets. It was the largest covered ice rink in the city at the turn of the century and hosted other curling clubs as well as hockey teams from UB and Iroqouis, Central and Masten Park high schools.

By the 1910s, curling began to fall out of favor in Buffalo, and many of the earliest ties to North America’s first highly skilled players and teams were forgotten.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Bailey and Kensington transforms in 1913

       By Steve Cichon

When this photo of Bailey Avenue was taken just north of Kensington Avenue in 1913, though development was on the way, it was still a mostly rural area.

a street car rides near Bailey-Kensington, 1913

The residential Bailey-Kensington section first jumped on the radar with the cutting up of the Sawyer farm into city blocks in 1892. Plans for street cars and electric streetlights were made as investors were encouraged to buy up blocks of plots at a time.

In 1902, when the intersection was still a long ride out to the country, the City of Buffalo briefly considered the site for a quarantine hospital. Developers who owned neighboring land, however, objected to the building of a “pest house” to house smallpox victims, which was sure to decrease their property values.

Several years later with the smallpox hospital built elsewhere, the Mueller farm, which filled the Bailey-Eggert area, also began subdivision into lots. The Eckert farm at Bailey-Kensington’s northeast corner was developed also.

Growth picked up considerably in the district in 1915 when the International Railway Company invested $120,000 in new streetcar tracks along Kensington and Grider Street.

Liberty Bank, Bailey at Kensington, 1930s

Kensington-Bailey was still growing in 1926 when the Buffalo Times wrote, “The City government should show more militant recognition of the necessities of the Kensington-Bailey section. That district is destined to a large share in the era which is creating a new greater Buffalo.”

The one (losing) game for Tonawanda’s 1921 NFL team

       By Steve Cichon

In 1921, the NFL wasn’t even known as the NFL yet. The American Professional Football Association would be renamed the “National Football League” a year later.

Tam Rose was the coach and star of the All-Tonawandas football team, known for one game in the NFL record books as Tonawanda Kardex.

The storyline for the league that season would become familiar to Western New York pro-football fans. The Buffalo All-Americans finished in second place to the Chicago Staleys, who would later become the Bears.

During the earliest years of professional football, several Buffalo teams took to the field – including the All-Americans, the Niagaras and the Bisons in the 1910s and 1920s.

During the same time, semi-pro and college football were very popular in Western New York as well, and teams at the pro, semi-pro and collegiate levels often played one another.

One popular semi-pro team was the All-Tonawandas, led by former Syracuse football star and Tonawanda High School athletics director Tam Rose. They were popular because they were good.

During the 1920 season, the semi-pro All-Tonawandas beat the professional Rochester Jeffersons twice, including dealing what The News reported as Rochester’s first home loss.

Tonawanda’s only NFL game is a footnote in history– but it wasn’t much more than a footnote when it happened, either. There was only a short story about the game in the Buffalo Courier.

In 1921, as Rose continued as the coach and star for the All-Tonawandas, he also put together a team that played a single game as a professional team against the Rochester Jeffs. The Rochester newspaper called the team the Tonawanda Lumberjacks, but the NFL record books list the team name as the Tonawanda Kardex – named after the American Kardex Co. in Tonawanda.

An NFL team from Tonawanda played in Rochester against the Jeffersons in 1921.

Whether they were the Kardex or the Lumberjacks, Tonawanda’s lone NFL game was a loss, played in Rochester’s baseball stadium against the Jeffersons, 45-0.

It was, as the score might indicate, an ugly affair.

“Jeffs reel off long gains through use of forward pass,” read a subheadline for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle story.

It went on to read, “That intangible something known as class cropped out often in the playing of the Jeffs yesterday afternoon at Baseball Park and the Big Red football team, with its array of triple threat men, went over, around, and through the burly Tonawanda eleven for a mess of six touchdowns.”

Even though the game didn’t count in the official NFL standings, the Tonawanda team that was also known as the Tonawanda Kardex played Buffalo’s NFL team, in 1920.

It was the only professional game for the Tonawanda team and represents the shortest tenure of an NFL club in the league’s history. The Tonawanda Kardex are also in the record books for having the worst win percentage as a franchise at .000.