History at Main & Jewett: The Chapins, The Jewetts, and the Willow Lawn Subdivision

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Willow Lawn is a short street with a long history.

Elam Jewett, Buffalo publisher. (Buffalo Stories archives)

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.

Shortly after the death of Mrs. Elam Jewett, her home at the corner of Main Street and Jewett Parkway was put up for sale. It was rented out as a temporary residence during the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. William P. Northrup was Jewett’s nephew, and lived in another grand Parkside residence which is no longer standing– on the southwest corner of Jewett and Crescent, where Hillside Children’s Center now stands. (Buffalo Stories archives)

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.

The Willow Lawn Estate, as the house stood at Main & Jewett around 1905. Home to The Jewetts and The Chapins, it was celebrated as one of Buffalo’s most beautiful and palatial homes in the second half of the 19th Century. (Buffalo Stories archives)

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 drew the Chapin log cabin from memory many years later. (Buffalo Stories archives)

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.

The first and only appearance of this story of Elam Jewett’s home being a stop on the Underground Railroad comes in the 1940s, making it seem that it’s likely apocryphal. (Buffalo Stories archives)

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.

Elam Jewett donated the land to build what was originally a chapel to the memory of his friend and priest, Edward Ingersoll. This is the preliminary drawing of The Church of the Good Shepherd by Marley and Burnett. (Buffalo Stories archives)

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.

The original School 54 stood on land donated by the Jewett family on what is now the current School 54’s parking lot. The current School 54 stands on the site of what was the Peter Hagner Dairy from 1909-1964. (Buffalo Stories archives)
The Peter Hagner Dairy stood on the site of the current School 54 from 1909-64. 1910 ad. Bill Blake, a long time Parkside resident, collector of stories, and great storyteller himself, remembers that there were cows at the dairy up until the late 1950s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

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 Jewett Era on Jewett Parkway came to a close with the death of Elam’s widow in 1901. Buffalo Courier obituary. (Buffalo Stories archives)

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.

Outdoor classes for the Park School at Main & Jewett. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The Park School became a nationally renown beacon of progressive education.

Central Presbyterian Church, now the Aloma B. Johnson Charter School, can be seen in the background as children repair an animal house as part of their school day at The Park School. (Buffalo Stories archives)

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.

Outdoor fun for Park School students at Main & Jewett. (Buffalo Stories archives)

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.

The Jewett Apartments, Jewett Parkway at Main Street. 1927 ad. (Buffalo Stories archives)

 

Prohibition, Depression, & Wars in Parkside

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Main 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.

One noticeably absent diversion in Parkside (and the entire country) during the 1920’s: The neighborhood watering hole. Anyone desirous of legal booze had to belly up to the pharmacy, like Smither’s Parkside, with a script like this one from a doctor for ‘Spiritus Fermentus.’ Many Parkside homes saw wet bars, if not full blown speak easies, built in basements during this time.

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.

Student Army of Canisius College drill on the College Grounds, Main and Jefferson Streets. From the book “Buffalo’s Part in the World War”
Falchaire, noted French Ace, About to land on Meadow at Delaware Park, 1918

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 celebration.

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. 

America’s 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 somebody new.

“Hey!” one machine operator exclaimed. “What happened to Harry?”

“I got told this morning to come over here,” was the reply. “Who’s Harry?”

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.

In 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 craft.

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.

Planes were moved about with artificial propellers attached, to disavow any thought that the plane was powered by jet propulsion.

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.

©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

This page is an excerpt from The Complete History of Parkside by Steve Cichon

The 174-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

Parkside develops around churches

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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 original 1864 church, just before it was torn down in 1899. Below: Church and School, 1904

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.

St Vincent De Paul Church, Main and Eastwood, c.1926. After the church was closed by the Catholic Diocese, in the 1990s, the building was purchased by Canisius College and renovated as the Montante Cultural Center.

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.

The Mother-house, Main Street, 1899.

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).”

Mt St Joseph Academy, Main at Humboldt, 1891

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.”

St. Mary’s School for the Deaf, 1898.

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.

The Church of the Good Shepherd, 1890

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.


William Sydney Wicks, c.1896, in front of his home on Jewett, with Good Shepherd in the background.

©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon

The 174-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York.