Willow Lawn is a short street with a long history.
Like the rest of the southern two-thirds of Parkside, the properties on Willow Lawn were once a part of newspaper publisher Elam Jewett’s Willow Lawn farm and estate, most of which was sold in part to the city for Delaware Park and in part to the Parkside Improvement Company (and others) for development into the Parkside neighborhood designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
Elam Jewett died in 1887, but until his widow’s death in 1901, Mrs. Caroline Jewett retained the family home at the corner of Main and Jewett Parkway and parcel between School 54 and the parkway which bore the family name.
This ad appeared in the Buffalo Evening News in 1901.
To take a step back, the history of Willow Lawn goes back another century or so to the earliest days of Buffalo, when the Parkside area– far outside the village and then city limits– was known as the Buffalo Plains.
Dr. Daniel Chapin was among the area’s most sought-after medical professionals when he moved to the rugged frontier that was Buffalo in 1807. He built a rustic log cabin on his 175-acre farm on the Buffalo Plains stretched from what is now Main Street west back through Delaware Park, The Buff State campus, and the Richardson Complex property.
Chapin traveled on foot between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, with little more than his dog, his gun, and the tools of his medical trade. He was a naturalist and insisted on keeping the natural plant life on his farm in as natural a state as possible. We have him to thank for the native beauty of the area of his land that is today Delaware Park.
During the War of 1812, part of the Chapin farm also acted as an encampment for soldiers who had come from the south to defend the nation’s border at Buffalo. Many of those men died of exposure and disease, and at least 300 of them remain interred in the part of Daniel Chapin’s backyard where he helped bury them– in the Mound in the Meadow underneath the Delaware Park golf course.
Chapin’s son was commander in the militia of Erie County during the War of 1812, and around 1820, Col. William W. Chapin built the family a larger log cabin much closer to what is today the corner of Main and Jewett.
Barton Atkins, a prolific writer who grew up in the Buffalo Plains, had great memories of playing with Col. Chapin’s son Harold on the property he remembered well during the 1820s and 1830s.
A primitive home of a pioneer farmer, a log dwelling, the yard dotted with trees indigenous to the soil, and enclosed with a rail fence. The barns, corn-cribs, sheds stored with farm implements all in plain view. Multitudes of domestic fowls, turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens. peacocks, and guinea hens, rambling about, the pastures alive with horses, cattle, swine, sheep, and goats; the whole presenting a scene decidedly rural.
-Barton Atkins, describing the scene at what is now Main & Jewett in the 1820s
Col. Chapin’s 1820 log cabin was expanded and encompassed by a home that was larger and more aesthetically pleasing as the years went by. the place became known as Willow Lawn, named after the many willows planted by Dr. Chapin on the property.
By the time Elam Jewett purchased the Willow Lawn estate in 1864, he was one of Buffalo’s leading citizens. The lifelong Republican and publisher of the Commercial Advertiser newspaper was close friends with Millard Fillmore.
Fillmore and Jewett traveled through Europe together in 1856, and it was likely in Europe that Jewett was introduced to “the love apple,” today known as tomatoes. The tomatoes Jewett grew at Willow Lawn were thought to be the first tomatoes grown in Buffalo.
In the run up to the Civil War, Jewett and the Commercial Advertiser took a hard line against slavery. This sentiment may have been overplayed in a grand-niece’s retelling of the Jewett story in the Courier-Express in 1941. Along side several other over-statements of fact, “a concealed subterranean room” at Jewett homestead is mentioned as a one-time stop on the Underground Railroad.
It’s mentioned here primarily to debunk it– in hundreds of pages read on Jewett and Willow Lawn, and tens of thousands of pages read on the history of the Parkside area, I’ve never seen another reference to the Underground Railroad outside this one article, again, with a descendant speaking 80 years after the Civil War as a source.
Before his death in 1887, Jewett gave the Episcopal Church the land for the Church of the Good Shepherd, and donated most of the cost of it’s construction.
In 1892, Mrs. Jewett donated land to the City of Buffalo for Public School 54– known for many years as “The Parkside School.” That school was built on the land currently occupied by the present School 54’s parking lot.
In the following years, the Willow Lawn Estate would be opened to the public in raising money for the church and the school. The Beltline trains and Cold Spring horse-cars were listed as convenient modes of transportation for folks visiting Willow Lawn for one such fundraiser in 1889.
The life of Mrs. Caroline Wheeler Jewett , filled with years and graced with all womanly virtues, came to an end at 8 o’clock last evening, when she passed away at the family home, Willow Lawn.
In 1905, Jewett’s heirs split off the southern most part of the remaining Willow Lawn parcel for new development.
“The magnificent homestead lands of the Jewetts, at Main Street and Jewett Avenue, have been subdivided and are now offered for sale to parties
desiring home-sites in an exclusive, scenic section,” read one ad.
Another touted the “euphoniously titled” Willow Lawn’s “semi-private park style” in “the most beautiful section of the city.”
Willow Lawn, 1906. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Beautiful Willow Lawn Homestead, corner of Main Street and Jewett Avenue, has been subdivided and placed with us for sale. A new street, 70 feet wide, has been opened from Main Street to Crescent Avenue. Sewer and water pipes laid on each side are already in, and the pavement nearly finished. The lots are being sold under restrictions for residential purposes only, making some of the most desirable home sites in the Parkside District. Nearly one-half of these lots have been sold, so it is up to you to hurry if you want a lot in this desirable subdivision, the highest and healthiest section in the city where attractive surroundings are assured at a very low price.
“As a setting for a fine piece of domestic architecture,” the Buffalo Courier reported, “the site is ideal.” All but two of the lots on the street had homes built on them by 1911, and the last home was built on Willow Lawn in 1917.
As homes were being built in the “Willow Lawn subdivision,” the buildings of the original Willow Lawn estate– including the home of the Chapins and Jewetts– still stood at the corner of Main & Jewett.
Willow Lawn’s final hurrah would be as the home of a newly formed school based on learning from nature while in nature.
In 1913, after a year on Bird Avenue on the West Side, The Park School and it’s open-air approach to learning took over the last vestige of Daniel Chapin’s estate 106 years after he first built a log cabin there.
The Park School became a nationally renown beacon of progressive education.
For nearly a decade, children walked the same grounds Barton Atkins talked about 100 years earlier. Not confined to desks, children often weren’t even confined to indoors– with classrooms built in tree houses and screened bungalows. Days were often spent outside, even in the dead of winter, with the pupils warmly cocooned in woolen sleeping bags for lectures.
The Willow Lawn home was torn in 1922 after The Park School left for the school’s current home in Snyder. The current apartment buildings on the lot were built shortly thereafter, and available for rent by 1927, as shown in the ad below.
While maintaining the value and physical appearance of housing stock is of critical importance, so too, were a number of other battles the PCA has fought along the way. The Parkside Community Association has led many charges over the years in keeping the community one of the city’s most envied, as “Parkside’s voice” as the city evolved.
As Buffalo hemorrhaged population, and the city made infrastructure changes and consolidations, Parksiders and the PCA fought to maintain a fair share. When Buffalo’s neighborhood Police precincts gave way to the plan dividing the city into 5 much larger districts, PCA was there making sure that Police protection wouldn’t drop off when the Precinct 17 House at Colvin and Linden was closed in favor of the D District house on Hertel Avenue.
The PCA was also there a decade earlier in 1982 as Councilmatic districts were re-drawn, with one proposal cutting Parkside in half. This plan was quickly abandoned by city planners with the voices of Parksiders heard.
The Association also played a major role in the development of School 54 first into a Center of Excellence School, and then as an Early Childhood Learning Center, riding the changes of the Buffalo Public Schools over the last several decades. Through the 1970s and 80s, the PCA went after funds to help in a defined preservation and restoration program for the homes of the community and the neighborhood at large. Ruth Lampe, once the PTA President at 54 has taken great pride in the positive change at the school saying, “the magnet school concept and Buffalo’s successful desegregation efforts made the community more attractive because families moving to Parkside could choose from a range of options.”
Since the building of the Scajaquada and Kensington Expressways in the 1950s and 1960s, the streets of Parkside have become heavily traveled by the people of North Buffalo, Kenmore, and Tonawanda as the quickest way to get to the expressways to get downtown or to get back home.
Among the early proposed solutions to congestion, a 1965 investigation into the feasibility of an underpass where Parkside Avenue and the Scajaquada Expressway meet. It was the first of many times the community would become involved in traffic patterns in the neighborhood.
It was the work of people living in the neighborhoods that brought 4-way stop signs, and all of the traffic signals along Parkside Avenue to the area as traffic calming measures.
The first block of Russell became one way at the request of residents; the traffic signal at Parkside and Russell Avenues was added at the behest of residents and the zoo in 1987.
A decade earlier, it was a much more intense battle for the traffic light at Parkside and Florence Avenues. Even after deaths occurred in traffic accidents at the dangerous curve and intersection, it took years of fighting to have the device finally erected.
Residents argued that the signal wasn’t just necessary for drivers, but for pedestrians looking to get into the park. In 1976, the light was deemed unnecessary by the City Commissioner of Transportation Daniel Hoyt, despite that sharp curve and the numerous reports of damage to trees and homes at the intersection as motorists left the road.
A compromise was agreed upon with Commissioner Hoyt, as he promised to erect a traffic light at Parkside and Florence Avenues if neighbors agreed to allow a playground on park land near the intersection. $23,000 in block grants built the tot lot, which stands today; very near the still standing traffic light.
The Parkside Bar Scene
Like most city neighborhoods, traffic wasn’t the worst of it. At one point in the not too distant past, a handful of bars and taverns dotted the Parkside neighborhood, especially on Main Street and Parkside Avenue.
The PCA investigated and wrote letters on behalf of neighbors near the Casa Savoy Bar at Main Street and Orchard Place in 1968. In the late 1980s, neighbors and the PCA fought against efforts to turn the former Parkside Candy Shoppe at Main Street and West Oakwood Place into a bar. The Parkside Sweet Shoppe was open for several months selling desserts and booze, but didn’t last.
However, since the advent of the Parkside Community Association, there has been no one single business to receive more complaints, from more neighbors, than the Park Meadow Restaurant.
Located at the corner of Parkside and Russell Avenues, The PM was originally a restaurant where many parishioners of St Marks and St Vincents grabbed their Friday fish fry, and left the neighborhood swathed in the inviting classic Buffalo smells of grease-soaked beer batter.
All during the 60s and 70s, the Park Meadow was a big hangout for Canisius College students, as well as several area high schools. At night it would get pretty rowdy, lots of beer drinking; not illegal activity per se, just a public nuisance for the folks right around the bar.
In the mid 70s, Dennis Brinkworth purchased the property, removed the kitchen, put in a full bar, and the problems amplified. Neighbors had more complaints about drunken youths, tossing beer cups and tossing their cookies onto lawns for blocks around the gin mill.
Neighbors and the PCA viewed Brinkworth as hostile towards their concerns. Brinkworth always claimed he was just trying to run a business. Before the conversion to a full bar, Brinkworth said he “was lucky to make $40 a night and practically had to give away the fish fry.”
In 1979, three young men who’d been drinking all night at the Park Meadow, broke into the zoo and began attacking the polar bears, throwing large stones and trash cans into their pit. One of the young men was injured as, in a drunken stupor; he fell into that bear pit.
This and other incidents lead to the eventual revocation of the bar’s liquor license. The PCA has fought numerous attempts since to sell alcohol at the building, and has let subsequent restaurant managers know from the outset, that the community wouldn’t support the sale of any spirituous beverage on the premises.
The experience also hardened PCA activists to other business in the neighborhood as well, making sure that business plans, and plans for keeping the peace were clearly spelled out.
In 1983, neighbors fought an attempt by one-time Buffalo State basketball star and Buffalo Braves great Randy Smith from opening a video arcade on Main Street near the corner of Vernon at 2612 Main. The Common Council twice rejected a bid for license from the on-time NBA iron man because of concerns the Buffalo News reported as potential “loitering and minor crimes.”
While Parkside has dealt with petty crime just as any other city neighborhood has, violent crime – even random murder – has also scarred the neighborhood on rare occasions. In 1961, Delaware Park took on a very sinister feel. Young Andrew Ashley was kidnapped from his family’s Jewett Parkway home, his body later found in the artificial lake in the quarry behind the Lodge (at Parkside and Florence Avenues) in the park.
Some remember a liquor store owner was murdered inside his Parkside store in a holdup in the early 1970s, and around the same time, three teens were stabbed in an apparently racially motivated attack near Main Street and West Oakwood Place.
In the early to mid 1980s, a string of rapes occurred in and around the Delaware Park area, close to the David statue. A West Side man, Anthony Capozzi was convicted for several of the attacks. However, it was only two decades later that a task force convened to catch a serial killer collared the actual Delaware Park Rapist.
Through DNA analysis and the man’s own admission of guilt, these rapes were properly connected to the man who had become known as the Bike Path Rapist and Bike Path Killer, Altemio Sanchez. Capozzi, who bore a striking resemblance to Sanchez at the time, was exonerated and set free from prison.
Greenfield Street was rocked both literally and figuratively when, in 1987, an explosion and fire gutted the 46 Greenfield Street home of Gerard Ciccarelli. This, the fourth arson at the home, coincided with the day Ciccarelli was to be released from prison after serving a year for luring a 16 year old Cheektowaga girl to his home and molesting her.
Though Judge John Dillon denounced Ciccarelli as a “reprehensible lecher” who’d been arrested 14 times on 35 charges, neighbors told the Buffalo News at the time of the fire that they “resent the implication that anyone in the neighborhood was involved in anyway.”
Unfortunately, homicide isn’t foreign to the area, either.
In 1984, 89-year-old Alma Strasner was raped and viciously beaten to death at her Willowlawn Avenue home. The case went unsolved for 24 years, until 2008, when Buffalo Police Cold Case Detectives ran evidence from the scene through the national DNA databank. They came up with a hit.
Edward Richardson, who was in jail in Seattle on misdemeanor charges, was once a handyman who had done work for and lived on Crescent Avenue, around the corner from Mrs. Strasner.
Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark credited Detectives Charles Aronica and Mary Gugliuzza with reopening the investigation and submitting blood evidence for a DNA analysis. Richardson eventually pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison.
More recently, on Good Friday 2006, 41 year old George Pitiliangas was gunned down as he closed up his 2285 Main St. Restaurant. The long-time owner of Tony’s Ranch House was closing up the popular Parkside eatery– was once home to Henry’s Hamburgers– when 23 year old Amhir Cole gunned him down in the store.
Cole is serving life without parole, plus 25 years. Judge Michael D’Amico leveled the unusually heavy sentence after Cole had convinced a mentally challenged man to admit to the murder.
A memorial for Pitiliangas in the restaurant’s parking lot drew hundreds from Parkside, Central Park, and the Fillmore/Leroy neighborhoods, with more than one observer commenting that George’s tragic death brought folks from all walks of life, and both sides of Main Street together, just as his restaurant did. Pitiliangas’ mother reopened the restaurant 45 days after the shooting.
Parkside’s Houses of Worship Today
After 129 years on the same block of Main Street, Parkside’s first church, St. Vincent de Paul was closed. In 1992, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo began announcing plans to reduce the number of parishes on the Central East Side of Main Street from ten to five.
Despite consternation and the heavy hearts of many in the financially sound parish, St. Vincent’s was merged with Blessed Trinity, several blocks away on Leroy Street. The buildings of St. Vincent de Paul were sold by the Diocese to Canisius College for $250,000. Many St. Vincent’s parishioners harbor a deep anger and resentment about the process to this day.
At the final mass on the Feast of Pentecost, May
30, 1993, a remembrance booklet was handed out to parishioners. It’s fitting
closing quote, as noted by Michael Riester, “the physical structure may
not last forever, but the love and spirit of St. Vincent’s will live on in
us… These things of God indeed do not perish.” The prayers of many
Parkside residents were answered when the church was not torn down, but given a
$3.4 million face lift and opened as the 515-seat Montante Cultural Center in
The closure of St. Vincent de Paul leaves St. Marks as the neighborhood’s lone Catholic church. Msgr. Francis Braun and Sr. Jeanne Eberle have spent more than 25 years at the helm of St. Mark Church and School. Dubbed the “Dynamic Duo” of St. Mark’s by Bishop Edward Kmiec, he awarded them The 2009 Bishops Medal for 60 combined years of faithful and dedicated service to the parish.
Both have lent their names to buildings on the St Mark campus. In 2004, as the community celebrated his 24th anniversary of service to St. Mark’s, his Golden Jubilee as a priest, and his 75th birthday, The Rev. Francis Braun Auditorium was dedicated. Upon completion of improvements at the school in June 2008, the lower level classroom wing was named The Sr. Jeanne Eberle SSJ Wing of Academic Excellence.
Upon receiving the area-wide recognition of the Bishop’s award, neither Msgr. Braun nor Sr. Jeanne wanted to speak about themselves, but did want to talk about the school and the community.
“We want to feature the school,” Msgr. Braun told the WNY Catholic. “People in North Buffalo already know about it, but (the award) is a means of letting the rest of the city know about the school.”
“Father (Braun) is very interested in the school, which is great,” said Sister Jeanne. “He boosts the school all the time.”
“Because it’s good for the neighborhood,” added Msgr. Braun. The school has been good for the neighborhood, and vice versa. While many parish schools closed through the 90s and 00s, people moved to Parkside because of St Mark’s School, and St. Mark’s School stayed open and healthy because of the health and vitality of the neighborhood.
Over the years, many have made comments about the pair working together for so long, a rarity in this day and age, that one of them, let alone both, would stay in the same post for so long. “They said it’s like being married,” joked Msgr. Braun. “I said, ‘No, no. We send notes to one another and see each other every few weeks.’ And they said, ‘That’s like being married!'”
The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd continues on as well; searching for a rector at the time of publication. Whoever takes the job will be filling the large shoes of Rev. David Selzer, who was at Good Shepherd for over 13 years.
Selzer always made sure that his church was part of the larger community, and vice versa.
“In the same way the founders of this church, as a memorial chapel to Rev. Ingersoll of Trinity Church in Downtown Buffalo, envisioned both a church and a community center, we are continuing that tradition of being a presence in the Parkside Community. We obviously do worship, and are a part of that sense of a worshipping community, but were also doing outreach in terms of community service. AA meetings, dog obedience classes, ballet classes, PCA meetings, planned parenthood meetings, being the home base for the Parkside Home Tour, any number of activities in which the community is involved.
“Part of the result is you have people who see themselves as members here by virtue of their worship, but there are also people who are members by participating in any one of those activities.
At the same time, there’s the outreach function of this congregation. We’ve had a viable food pantry for the past 15 years, on Monday morning, a lot of folks who see people coming and say, ‘They don’t look like Parkside people,’ but they see themselves as a part of the community because they receive food.
is both a place to worship, and a place to be a part of. The Halloween Party
has been here 25 years plus. So now we have parents, who came here for
Halloween bringing their kids here. This is their Halloween party. It
doesn’t belong to the church or the Parkside Community Association. It’s a
place to be safe, and place to get treats that they know won’t have something
awful in them, and it’s also a place where the fire department, and the police
department can bring canines and do their stuff with the kids as well. “
Just up Jewett Parkway, Central Presbyterian had been experiencing a steady decline in membership for years. At its height, there were over 3,000 members at Central.
By 1985, membership had shrunk to about 800; by the mid-2000’s, it was in double digits. The huge costs of maintaining the buildings overwhelmed the congregation’s ability to support them, and a buyer was sought for the whole campus. After two years of leasing its buildings to a charter school, the grounds were sold to Mt. St. Joseph Academy in 2007.
In May 2008, the 30 members of Central Presbyterian officially merged with First Presbyterian Church. Ironically, it was approximately the same number, roughly thirty, that left First Presbyterian over 170 years earlier to form Central.
Since 1971, just outside the boundaries of Parkside, at the corner of Amherst Street and Parker Street, stands Masjid Taqwa, a mosque owned by The Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier.
While still maintaining the Parker Street building, An-Noor Masjid was built established in Amherst 1995 and is one of the largest Masjids (the Arabic word for mosque) in Western New York. Currently, ISNF is supervising the complete renovation of the interior of the Parker Street Masjid.
After having spent most of the last half century as a funeral home, Parkside’s oldest home, The Washington Adams Russell house, is now the home of The Church in Buffalo. On its website, The Church writes,” We are Christians who frequently meet together at 2540 Main Street in Buffalo, as well as in our homes.
“The building in which we meet on Main Street is our meeting hall; it is not the church. We, the believers in Christ, are the church. The word church in the original language of the Bible, and in its true meaning, simply stands for the believers themselves, the called-out congregation. We are not any special kind or group of Christians, but simply those who believe in and love the Lord Jesus and meet together in one accord with gladness and singleness of heart (Acts 2:46).
“We do not really have a name, although some have tried to give us one. We are simply believers in Jesus Christ who desire only to hold and honor the precious Name of our Lord Jesus. In the first century, believers were simply Christians (1 Peter 4:16), and that was a name given to them by others (Acts 11:26).”
Springs Church is in the building that was built as the Park Presbyterian
Church on Elam Place, between Crescent Avenue and Jewett Parkway, in 1897. Refreshing Springs vision is “Helping men,
women and families from multiple economic and ethnic backgrounds to truly know Jesus,
making disciples throughout W.N.Y. , and the world, through evangelism,
planting churches, equipping workers, and establishing leaders.”
Aside from bringing a certain air to the neighborhood, the many institutions of learning in Parkside, including two of the three largest private colleges in the area, have also brought many real, tangible positives to Parkside as well.
Canisius College actually financially encourages its employees to live in Parkside. Its Employer Assisted Housing Program began in 2002, and faculty and staff can receive up to $7000 for buying a home in Parkside or another eligible city neighborhood.
But even more tangible, Canisius, as well as the other neighborhood schools, have been at the forefront of reusing buildings that, in other parts of the city, might have gone abandoned. Since the mid-80s, Canisius College has grown from 12 acres to 30 acres, with much of that growth in Parkside.
Indeed, Canisius has purchased and invested millions of dollars in many buildings mentioned in this narrative. In Parkside, the college purchased the former Streng Oldsmobile Dealership. The former Sears Store, more recently the Western New York Headquarters for Blue Cross/Blue Shield is now the Canisius Science center.
All of the buildings that were once a part of the St. Vincent de Paul parish are all now Canisius buildings. Many of the Sisters of St. Joseph buildings on the west side of Main Street have been sold to Canisius, including, the most recent home of Mount St. Joseph Academy, which has been raised by Canisius to make way for future development.
It’s caused somewhat of a domino effect, with Mount St Joseph’s Academy then moving into the former Central Presbyterian church at Main and Jewett. No longer directly affiliated with the Sisters, the students of Mount St. Joe’s Elementary enjoy a 7:1 student to teacher ratio.
At the heart of the Buffalo area’s third largest private college is another former Mount St Joseph’s structure. The main building at Medaille was until the mid-80s, the home of Mount St Joseph High School.
Medaille saw a 138% increase in enrollment 1995-2003, and its over three thousand students ranks the school just behind neighboring Canisius and Niagara in size. Medaille owns many of the beautiful homes on Humboldt Parkway near the school.
Another institution started by the Sisters of St. Joseph still going strong in Parkside is St. Mary’s School for the Deaf. SMSD carries on the traditions brought to the corner of Main Street and Dewey Avenue over 110 years ago.
The school’s efforts to reach out to the neighboring communities continue with plans for a student-run coffee house in Parkside. Hoping to capitalize on the explosive popularity of the Darwin Martin House, plans to open The Elam Jewett Café in Jewett Hall at the Church of the Good Shepherd continue to progress.
While not an educational institution, the Tri-Main Center is perhaps the area’s most creative re-use of a building. A year after Trico abandoned its factory at Main Street and Rodney Avenue, in 1988, Tri-Main began offering its mixed-use office, studio and light industrial facilities.
whatever you call Tri-Main, don’t
call it a plant. Matt Wolfe has helped market the complex over the years, and
told Business First in 2002, “It’s funny because if you can get them away from
thinking of this place as a factory, most people walk around here and say
‘Geez, I didn’t know all this was here’,” Wolfe said. “Besides, I
guess by calling it the ‘old Trico plant’, it does give them a point of
reference and an idea of where we are.”
Tri-Main is also Parkside’s best link to the current White
House. Kittinger manufactures its fine furniture at its Tri-Main factory and
workshop. In the same space where Ford Model-Ts and America’s first jet plane
were manufactured, Kittinger artisans design and build furniture for the White
House, including the “fireside chairs” both Presidents Barack Obama and George
W. Bush sat in during their inaugural ceremonies.
This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon
Street was the backbone of the Parkside neighborhood that was pretty well built
out by about 1920; most structures built after then were built either on
subdivided larger lots, or on lots where a previous structure was either burned
or by some other means destroyed.
The 1920s were a wonderful time in the prosperous neighborhood. Stately elm trees had started reaching maturity and formed a shady canopy over each of the streets of the neighborhood.
A mix of horse-drawn trucks and motor vehicles carried men plying their wares from house to house. The glass bottles of the milkman clanked; groceries were left on porches; 25, 50, and 100 pound blocks of ice delivered in the summer; loads of coal dropped into basement chutes in the winter. Children looked forward to the more colorful bakery trucks, scissors grinders, and ragmen as they shouted and sang hoping the ladies of the houses might need their services.
These services were used and enjoyed with the sacrifices of war fresh in the minds of Americans. The Great War, as World War I was known until a greater war 30 years later, forced meatless Sundays, heatless Mondays, coalless Tuesdays, and wheatless dinners at Buffalo Hotels several times a week.
Late in the war, college students drafted into the Army were trained before shipping overseas right at their respective colleges. Canisius College holed up their recruits in special barracks put together at St Mary’s School for the Deaf. Those student-soldiers drilled on the lawn right at Main and Jefferson Streets, on the lawn of the College’s main building. The young men from Canisius were never needed overseas, and were all honorably discharged.
But many did
leave from Parkside for the fighting in Europe. A crowd of 50,000 jammed into
the meadow at Delaware Park to bid farewell to 3,000 local soldiers on their
way to battle with Germany’s Kaiser. The
Buffalo Evening News described the scene in June, 1917:
A full moon climbing through the heavy clouds gave the final touch
of splendor to a setting which made the Meadow a fairyland. There was a touch
of awed surprise in the attitude of the great crowd that filled the meadow to
overflowing when the first note of music burst forth and song and light became
one harmonious whole. Paths between the trees were transformed into lantern-lined
vistas. The lanterns beckoned everywhere. They pointed the way for the throngs
that flowed through every entrance toward the flowing center of the
The years that followed World War I, The Roaring 20s, were indeed a sort of golden time for Parkside even more than the rest of the nation; a prosperous decade that was to be followed by an especially rough decade and a half.
The Great Depression
The Parkside neighborhood of the 1920’s was an upper-middle class neighborhood; just the type of place that was hit hardest by the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the ensuing decade of economic depression. All over the country, the wealthier the individual, the harder they fell as depression struck. Jack and Wally Flett remembered the way the crippling economy changed their grocery business, which they ran on Russell Avenue, one door from the corner of Parkside Avenue, for over 50 years.
The best years of the business were the first years- before the depression– the Fletts remembered, when every home on Jewett Parkway had a chauffeur and a maid. The maid would call in an order, and the driver would come pick it up. That changed quickly, but the Fletts weren’t complaining, knowing they were lucky to not lose everything. “We had a customer on Summit who was a millionaire one day, and a pauper the next. He had a huge account with the store, and though he was broke, he eventually paid every cent.”
And it wasn’t just the Fletts. The elegant, luxurious Pierce-Arrow
Motor Company opened its brand new showroom at Main Street and Jewett Parkway just
weeks before the market crashed in the fall of 1929. The company and the
showroom languished for a few years, the economy had taken its toll, and by mid
30’s, was selling Pontiacs and Cadillacs from the Art Deco automotive palace.
Just as Pierce-Arrow fell on hard times, so too, did many families of the Parkside neighborhood who drove those cars. At one time or another, Darwin D. Martin owned three Pierce-Arrows. By the time he died in 1935, he was comparatively penniless. Martin’s son, Darwin R., had assumed control of the family’s fortune, and heavily leveraged the fortune his father had created with a lifetime of hard work.
The younger Martin was described by a niece as “selfish,” “a wheeler dealer,” and “a hard drinking man.” He was a real estate developer, who built the very stylish 800 West Ferry Street Apartment building (as of 2009, recently acquired by Canisius High School) and at one point ran the Stuyvesant Hotel on Elmwood Avenue. Within two years of the senior Darwin Martin’s death, in 1937, the younger Martin had moved his mother into one of his apartment complexes, leaving the Frank Lloyd Wright “opus” at Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue abandoned.
As the property fell into arrears on taxes through the ‘30s and ‘40s, the younger Martin made no effort to maintain the home; worse, he expedited the home’s literal downfall. He removed all the doors and all of the lighting fixtures, as well as other original trappings and accessories from the home. These he installed in his other stylish properties like the Stuyvesant and 800 West Ferry. He also stripped the home of copper electrical wire and copper plumbing. Nine years after Mrs. Martin moved from the home, the City of Buffalo was the sole bidder at a foreclosure sale. The property was taken over for $76,468 in back taxes, and a $394.53 payment to Darwin R. Martin.
Parkside children of the late ‘30s, ‘40s, and early ‘50s remember the future landmark as a somewhat spooky and dangerous place to play hide and seek. Other kids took advantage of the smooth open floors to roller skate. The now-world-famous art glass windows and glass and tile fixtures were the stuff of target practice for stone throwing kids. The home remained neglected and vandalized until the mid-1950s.
The fate of the Darwin Martin house showed the extreme end of what happened to some of Parkside’s homes during the period between World Wars. The lean times of the Depression, followed by the rationing and requisitioning of materials during the World War II years left many homes much worse for the wear. However, the ones who were in those homes- no matter how worn- knew they were the lucky ones. Parksiders of the Depression Era will remember smoke from hobo’s winter fires wafting up over the bridges in the Park Gully.
Parkside Goes to War… Again.
“I can remember when, as we used to say, the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor. I was outside playing football,” recalls Jack Anthony, who grew up Greenfield Avenue. “Bob Bickel, who lived at 121 Greenfield, came out and yelled, ‘Hey, did you hear the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor?’ I was in sixth grade, and I said, ‘What does that matter? You want to play football or don’t you?'”
The kids played football that day, but they, too, would contribute to the war effort. Jack Anthony, destined to become one of the founders of the Parkside Community Association, was a lad on Greenfield, and later on West Oakwood Place during the war years.
“We had a gang… We played at the Dewey Playground, and the Parkside Candy Shoppe. It was a real routine, the way real men went to a bar, we went to that candy shop. During the war, the government made us Junior Rangers,” Anthony remembers. “We did tire drives and scrap drives, collecting metal scraps people left out, and newspapers. We filled up the back lot at School 54 with the stuff. The war was a part of our lives, part of my life.”
An interesting time for children, but a trying time for adults. While the Depression years were hard for the Flett Brothers, the most difficult time for the brothers and their store came during World War II. “The government didn’t think our store was an essential service, so we worked ’til 3 in the store, and then worked in a defense plant ’til midnight.”
Mrs. Martha Lang, who lived in a flat on Crescent Avenue
for over 50 years, remembered vividly both her own home and her mother’s house
just up the street on Humboldt Parkway in the 1940s. She shared some of her wartime memories of
the neighborhood in a 1990 issue of the Parkside News.
During a particularly cold wartime winter, there were natural gas shortages, which sent Mrs. Lang to live at her mother’s coal heated home for a week. Her apartment, however, had an electric range which forced her to shuttle back and forth to prepare and serve meals.
It was after all, wartime. Jack Anthony remembers, “We had an air raid drill here, and we stood out on the porch on Greenfield. I was really amazed at how dark it was, truly dark. No lights on anywhere. That’s stayed with me. And I took a walk once with my father to School 64 on Amherst St, because he had to register for the draft. He was 42 years old.”
Anthony remembers Saturday afternoons at the Central Park show, where Main Street and Fillmore Avenue meet. “I was just a kid, but I sure knew I hated Japs. We’d watch the newsreels, and the American Soldier would stand at the edge of a cave with a flamethrower, and with a woosh we’d cheer in the movie house, Get those bastards! and then we’d go wild cheering when Japs’d run out on fire. I had a job done on me in terms of propaganda, but I never knew it.”
While those newsreels showed the war being fought in exotic locations, little did young Jack Anthony (or anyone else, at that time) know that groundbreaking, top secret Government work was being done right in Parkside, right in the old Ford Plant.
First Jet Plane: Parkside Built.
With the war at full tilt, and America on the brink of entering on the side of the Allies, Larry Bell had fallen asleep listening to an Indians night game on the radio. He was awakened by his wife with a phone call from Washington. The Pentagon was on the line, and Larry and his top engineer would be on a train to the nation’s capital by midnight.
On September 5, 1941, Bell Aircraft entered into a top secret agreement to begin producing the first American versions of the world’s first jet aircraft. Up until this point, no American plane -ever- had flown without the whir of a propeller. Bell would produce the planes; GE, the engines. With no one sure what the Japanese and Germans were up to, speed was a priority. By the end of the month, a $1.6 million contract was signed to build three of the as-yet-designed jet planes.
The design work on three different aircraft began on the train trip back to Buffalo, and by the next morning, the site for the design and manufacture of the aircraft was decided. The Ford Motor factory, on Main Street in Buffalo, had been mothballed when the company’s manufacturing operations moved to Woodlawn ten years earlier. The last remaining vestige of Ford at the building, a Ford Dealer and Sales Agency on the ground floor, was moved out overnight.
Now the TriMain building, the hulking red brick structure undertook a quick makeover to make in an appropriate home for one of the war efforts’ most secretive projects up until that point. The windows were welded shut; a special pass was needed to get past the sentry which guarded the location twenty-four hours a day. The security was on-par with that surrounding the Manhattan Project, and it was all in Parkside.
As the FBI began screening production workers for the top secret job, “Drinkers, bar-room talkers, and womanizers were ruled out as risks.”
The ground floor was made into a machine shop, assembly on the second floor. Some components that had to be made at other Bell plants were given false names; an exhaust pipe might be labeled a heater duct.
The work force at Main Street and Rodney Avenue were mostly selected as the best of Bell’s other factories. Donald Norton wrote of it Larry: A Biography of Lawrence D. Bell:
(P)eople began to disappear at the Elmwood and
Wheatfield plants. A lathe operator or draftsman would come to work in the
morning and find that the man next to him suddenly had been replaced by
one machine operator exclaimed. “What happened to Harry?”
got told this morning to come over here,” was the reply. “Who’s
Men excused themselves from car pools with a
standard reply that sounded almost too casual. “Just assigned to a temporary
job. No Sweat. Be back in the pool in a couple of months.” One car pool group went to plant security
with the suspicion that a recent dropout may have fled with secret papers.
Employees engaged on the XP-59A project could not
tell their families what they were working on or where they were working. If a
family emergency arose, the spouse would call an unlisted number. The operator
at the Main Street facility would take the information, send it by guard to the
employee, and then the employee placed a separate call home.
Work began on the “XP-59A” in early 1942. It was so designated to give the impression that this new venture was simply an improvement of the XP-59 propeller craft.
On August 4, 1942, the first engine arrived at the plant via the beltline railway. Security was ratcheted tighter. On September 10, workers began removing bricks from the wall of the building, facing the rail lines, so that crates containing the aircraft’s fuselage and wings could be lowered onto railcars bound for testing grounds in California’s Mojave Desert.
America’s first jet was successfully flown September 30, 1942. It had been about a year since the phone call during the baseball game.
March 1943, a second, improved XP-59A was shipped from Buffalo for testing,
this one wrapped in canvas, with a mock propeller attached to the front of the
craft to disguise the generally unthinkable jet propulsion ability of the
Eventually, 50 P-59 aircraft were built for use by the Army and Navy. They weren’t used in combat, but mostly for testing and training. It was written in the Government’s summary of the program in June, 1945, that, “Even though a combat airplane did not result… the development was very worthwhile, since it proved the principle of jet propulsion for aircraft was sound and practical.” The work in Buffalo provided the ground work for the US’s venture into the jet age.
As quickly as Bell swept into the old Ford Plant, the aerospace giant left when it no longer needed the extra space. But, in May 1942, the Navy enjoyed the fruits of Parkside’s wartime labor as the Hercules Motor Corporation began building diesel engines at the plant, and did so through the end of the war. After the war, The Trico Products Company manufactured windshield wiper components at the building for the next 3 ½ decades.
A (Vice) Presidential Visit
As the war continued to churn, Harry Truman’s last public appearance before becoming President upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt came in Parkside, specifically, at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd. Truman worshipped there April 8, 1945.
According to “Forth,” the Diocesan news magazine, and as chronicled in A Century in The Fold: A History of The Church of the Good Shepherd, The Vice President was in Buffalo to make a speech at a Democratic Dinner at the Hotel Statler on April 7. Truman’s friend, tour guide, Buffalo Democrat, and Good Shepherd Warden Charles Diebold, Jr, surprised the congregation by bringing the Vice President for services.
After introducing Truman to children at the Sunday school, Diebold asked him to autograph a copy of the church bulletin. But the always wry Vice President responded with, “I usually do the autographing, but this time I want you to do it; and I’m going to present this autographed bulletin to Mrs. Truman to show her that I attended church today.”
Four days later, he was President of the United States. A month later, the war in Europe ended. 4 months later, the war in the Pacific ended when President Truman decided to use atomic weapons against Japan.
Which brings us back to Jack Anthony– he remembers the end of the war as well as the beginning of it. Four long years after it started, he wasn’t busy playing football when he heard the war ended.
“In 1945, when it ended, I walked all the way downtown from here. For the celebration, I guess, I don’t know. I didn’t kiss any nurses or drink any beer; I just walked downtown to see it.”
The war years were difficult in Parkside, as they were all over the nation. According to the 1947 accounting of Buffalo’s 1,835 war dead in the Buffalo Evening News Almanac, no less than 22 mostly young men who listed a Parkside home address died overseas.
On the home front, it was during World War II that many large single family homes were sub-divided into apartments to meet the growing demand for housing for war-effort factory workers. The Federal Government declared Buffalo a “Labor Shortage Area” in 1942.
But once the war ended, production fell quickly.
Adults were left without jobs, and children were left without the organized activities of the war. In his book Coming of Age in Buffalo: Youth and Authority in the Postwar Era, William Graebner talks about the growing problem of juvenile delinquency in the early 1950s:
In the fall of 1953, Buffalo Police and magistrates
began to enforce a city ordinance against “corner lounging,” a
relatively innocuous if irritating activity believed to have some relationship
to more advanced forms of delinquent behavior. Police made arrests at Cazenovia
and Seneca, French and Fillmore, Broadway and Madison, Louisiana and South
Park, and the 2600 block of Main Street. (That’s in the vicinity of Main and
Fillmore on the east; between Orchard and Amherst on the west side of Main.)
Graebner quotes the Babcock Precinct Captain McNamara as saying, “Bring these adolescent apes into the station and don’t treat them gently. These punks have more respect for a cop’s night stick than for the entire Code of Criminal Procedure.” He also writes that the church began playing an increasing role in the social needs of postwar youth, sponsoring parish dances and, later sock hops.
In North Buffalo, the Friday-night parish dances
rotating among St. Margaret’s Holy Spirit, St Vincent’s, (and St. Mark’s) were
the most important social events of the weekend, and not just for Catholics.
“Back in those days, ” recalls one resident, the CYO (Catholic Youth
Organization) was the big thing.”
As you’ve already read, the powers that be also made sure that the younger set had to snap to strict guidelines. School 54, the public elementary school on Main Street across from Leroy Avenue, started its day with a prayer in the 1950s, but also found it a necessity to ban “slacks for girls, and dungarees for all pupils.”
And while corporal punishment was still meted out with some regularity, some thought children were “getting away easy” without long-time principal Clara Swartz roaming the halls with her rubber hose, for use on errant students.
What the newly christened “teenagers” were doing didn’t matter to some anyway. By the early 1950s, many men who’d fought in Europe and the Pacific had already graduated from college and other training paid for by the GI Bill. Those better educated men wanted something better than the tired city in which they were raised. The depopulation of the city for the suburbs was underway, and city leaders were literally making it easier to leave– via ribbons of asphalt highway.
This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon
Early Catholic Neighbors: St Vincent’s and The Sisters of St. Joseph
While most of the earliest development inside what we know now as Parkside was an effort of mostly wealthy Protestant men, the Main Street corridor leading into the neighborhood was developed in large measure by the Roman Catholic Church.
St. Vincent de Paul church was built in 1864 on Main Street just south of what is now the Kensington Expressway interchange. St Vincent’s Roman Catholic Church was founded by the Rev. Joseph Sorg to serve the German-speaking Catholics who lived in the area. Generations of southern Parksiders attended mass at the church just south of Humboldt Parkway on Main Street until the parish closed in 1993. When St. Mark’s parish was established in 1908, the boundary line was drawn between the two parishes at Jewett Parkway, but was later moved south the West Oakwood Place.
The church grew fast enough that 3 different buildings, all on the same block, served as St. Vincent de Paul Church, each building growing larger. The most recent church buildings, built in 1924 in the Byzantine Romanesque style (see photo next page), are now a part of the Canisius College campus, and the church itself is known as the Montante Center. Many affluent Parksiders gave heartily to have the building erected.
One of the Parkside area’s earliest enthusiasts was Mother Mary Anne Burke of the Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph. Mother Mary Anne and her sisters marveled as they strolled up Main Street “north of the horse-drawn trolley tracks.”
The Sisters of St. Joseph built a convent for novices, a novitiate, south from St. Vincent’s to Delevan Avenue. The now densely built up property was then described as an “expanse of land and… groves of trees.” A decade later, when the Sisters of St Joseph abandoned the property for the current site of St Mary’s School for the Deaf, Jesuit Fathers purchased the land to farm in 1874. In 1911, the Fathers built Canisius College there.
The Sisters also purchased 30 acres of land across Main Street from St. Vincent’s in 1883. The frontage of this land is now part of the Canisius College Campus, and the rear portion is Medaille College; Mount St Joseph Academy when it was built. Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart Dunne wrote about in The Congregation of St. Joseph of Buffalo:
No more desirable property than this, for its purpose, could be wished for. Situated at the north entrance to Delaware Park, overlooking the great expanse of Park Meadows and, on two sides, adjoining Forest Lawn, Buffalo’s City of the Dead, the chance for seclusion was ideal. The place had been the home of George Bailey, an English Gentleman whose artistic taste led him to lavish time, care, and wealth upon a spot already beautiful by nature. It was known for many years as one of the finest estates in the surrounding country with its extensive lawns, patterned garden plots, fruit orchards, patches of forest with trees from every clime and a charming residence of English Architecture. Time brought about a change of fortune for the owner and there was a rumor of putting the property in the market for sale. Many who had hoped one day to secure it were deterred from opening negotiations because of the price when a fire occurred. The residence was destroyed and a sale became imperative. The fact that the pastor of the nearby church saved the life of the owner, now an invalid, by carrying him out of the burning structure, dispelled whatever of prejudice may have existed against letting the property fall into Catholic hands.
That was the sanitized version approved for publishing in the Sister’s official history. The well told tale told by early Parksiders was closer to what Michael Riester wrote in the Parkside News in 1998:
For years, Mother Mary Anne Burke had pleaded with Bailey to sell the former S. V. Ryan estate to the sisters. Despite his refusals, Mother Mary Anne prayed that he might change his mind. By 1883, Mr. Bailey was elderly and an invalid when Rev. Martin Phillips, Pastor at St. Vincent’s, was aroused from his slumber by the roar of fire at the Bailey Estate, directly across Main from the church. Father Phillips risked his own life, charged into the building, and saved Mr. Bailey. Soon thereafter, Bailey sold to Mother Mary Anne and the Sisters of St. Joseph, who erected a motherhouse on the grounds in 1889.
The cornerstone laid in 1889, the Mother House and Academy of Mt. St. Joseph was completed on the site of the former George Bailey home by 1891 for the sum of $80,000. From the 80 foot vantage-point of the cupola, it was written that “the panorama of the entire city was visible, and, on clear days, the shining mist of the mighty Niagara (could also be seen).”
To raise money to add to the buildings the Sisters had constructed, in 1908, the Sisters sold ten lots facing Humboldt Parkway and raised $150,000. Coming full circle, these properties, and the homes on them are now the property of Medaille College, which was originally built to house Mt. St. Joseph School for Boys.
Mother Mary Anne was a forced to be reckoned with, but also a gentle soul. On the Anniversary of her silver anniversary as a sister, Fr. Patrick Cronin wrote in the Union and Times, on December 26, 1888, “A woman of rare worth is Mother Mary Anne. Large-minded, just, generous and kind, her heart and brain have especially fitted her to be the guide of others… The history of her life and labors would be the History of the Sisters of St. Joseph in western New York. The tiny mustard seed of three Sisters and four deaf pupils in 1854 has developed into a body of one hundred-fifty Sisters, fifteen schools, a property unequaled for beauty… and an Institution for the Deaf which is the rival of any other of its kind.”
Anna Bancroft Coushaine wrote about the St. Mary Le Couteulx Deaf Mute Institute in the Buffalo Courier in 1901, saying it had been furnished with “every modern convenience to be had in the home of wealth and refinement,” and was a great atmosphere to for the pupils to learn to “talk with their fingers, which they do just as rapidly as hearing children can speak with their lips.”
The Church of the Good Shepherd
Back in the middle of Parkside proper, in the mid 1880’s, Elam Jewett began plans for developing a piece of his property to act as a central meeting place for the fledgling Parkside neighborhood, to honor his friend and late pastor, and to serve as a beautiful place of worship.
As previously mentioned, Jewett was a devout Episcopalian, and was a vestryman at Trinity Episcopal Church downtown. He and his wife were rather close with the pastor of Trinity, Rev. Edward Ingersoll. When Ingersoll died in 1883, Jewett made every attempt to join with the church in an attempt to build a suitable memorial to Ingersoll. When an agreement on what was to be done couldn’t be reached, an aged Jewett poured all of his energy into an effort that would memorialize his friend, and at the same time cut down his long, dusty ride to church every week. Plans for the Ingersoll Memorial Chapel, soon to become Good Shepherd Church, were set in motion.
From his time at Trinity, he was acquainted with men and women of the relatively new and idealistic Arts and Crafts movement. He contacted the firm of Silsbee and Marling (later Marling and Burdett) to design the church. Herbert Burdett was an early assistant in the office of H.H. Richardson, and helped capture the Richarsonian style that Jewett was after in his church. Work began in 1888, with the cornerstone laid just months after Elam Jewett’s death in 1887.
As the structure was being completed, it was outfitted with nine prime examples of Louis Comfort Tiffany windows, most notable the representation of the Good Shepherd carrying two lambs in the chancel. The work was said to be among the last works to be done by Tiffany himself.
Another Tiffany window, a scene of Christ with children, is found in Good Shepherd’s children’s chapel. The children are said to be modeled after the children of Jewett’s nephew William Northrup, as well as other kids of the neighborhood. (See above.)
As published in A Century in the Fold: A History of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Good Shepherd’s first pastor, Rev. Thomas Berry, wrote his view from the back porch at Jewett’s Willowlawn estate, as the church was being built. Parkside was still rather rural in 1888:
Contiguous to the lawn yet separated from it by a picket fence and a hedge of stately roses, was a garden. Oh! What a garden with its old fashioned flowers and its prim borders, where children romped and through which Mrs. Jewett often led her guests. Departures from the house were always accompanied by gifts of flowers or fruit, wile the tables of many less fortunate people were literally kept supplied with vegetables in season.
The first service was held at Good Shepherd in March 1888, at which time from the steps of the brand new church, the Rev. Berry could see only trees, grass, and the Jewett Homestead. It was Jewett farmland for as far as the eye could see, and it was from that corner that Parkside was to blossom.
Only two years after that first service at Good Shepherd, in 1890, prominent Buffalo Architect William Sydney Wicks, partner of E.B. Green in the firm Green and Wicks, built his English Tudor mansion across the street from Good Shepherd on the corner of Summit Avenue and Jewett Parkway. Wicks was an early and long time promoter of the Parkside neighborhood, and kept his neighborhood in mind as served as Park Commissioner from 1897-1900. The Wicks Mansion remains to this day one of the more recognizable landmarks in Parkside.
This page is an excerpt from The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon