Millard Fillmore’s downtown Buffalo addresses

By Steve Cichon

When our 1880 map of Buffalo was first printed, Millard Fillmore had died only six years earlier and was someone who would have been a familiar city father among the people of Buffalo.

As appeared in The Buffalo Sunday News, 1912.

After moving as a teen with his father from central New York to East Aurora, Fillmore taught high school and was admitted to the bar. He was elected to the state Assembly, and after three terms, moved to Buffalo, where his burgeoning law practice could thrive. He moved to Buffalo in 1832, the year Buffalo became a city. Fillmore helped write the charter.

As Fillmore was elected to Congress, then to state comptroller and then, eventually, to vice president, he lived in the home pictured above on Franklin Street between Huron and Mohawk.

Even for several years after leaving the White House in 1853, the Fillmores continued to live in the same Franklin Street home.

In 1858, Fillmore moved to a grand mansion a block south on Niagara Square. The larger Fillmore residence became the Castle Inn Hotel after his death in 1874.

Millard Fillmore’s final home, about 30 years after his death, during its time as the Castle Inn.

That building was demolished in 1921 to make way for the Statler Hotel – which was the largest hotel in the country when it was built.

During the years that Fillmore lived in Buffalo following his presidency, he continued to follow the tradition of the time and not return to business. Instead, he became intricately involved in the affairs of building many of the great institutions of the growing city.

Aside from helping write the city charter, Fillmore also was one of the founding principals of UB, the Buffalo Historical Society, the local SPCA, the homeopathic hospital that eventually bore his name and dozens more endeavors.

But now, and even in his own time, many of Fillmore’s accomplishments have been heavily overshadowed by his stance on slavery. While he was personally against slavery, he didn’t feel the federal government had any jurisdiction in eliminating it. Moreover, as president, he signed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which greatly hampered the ability for slaves to escape to freedom.

Fillmore’s Niagara Square home made national news when Buffalonians showed their displeasure with the ex-president.

At the start of the Civil War, Fillmore solidly backed President Abraham Lincoln, even commanding a section of volunteers too old to fight at the front lines, but trained to protect Buffalo in the case of an attack.

Fillmore, however, lost confidence in Lincoln and eventually backed Democrat George McClellan for president, with the understanding that McClellan would have worked to reunite the country, even if it meant slavery would survive.

When Lincoln was assassinated, homes and businesses in Buffalo and around the nation were covered in black bunting and American flags. Fillmore’s house on Niagara Square was a notable exception. Pro-Republican newspapers around the country reported that in reaction to Fillmore’s lack of decorum, a mob flung ink (or in some reports mud) on his home. Many of these reports were gleeful, a few just crude. But the partisan reports were “fake news” 150 years before the term was coined.

Presidential hopefuls who visited Buffalo, ended up in footnotes of history

By Steve Cichon

In 1900, William Jennings Bryan leaves his train to “thousands of howling, hurrahing men—insane with enthusiasm, some said they were—to make those who saw the whole believe that never had Buffalo such a grand demonstration for a political candidate.” (Buffalo Stories archives)
William Jennings Bryan speaks at the Broadway Market, 1900. (Buffalo Stories archives)

As soon as this evening, one of the two candidates for president will be written into the headlines of history — and the other will be written into the footnotes. On this Election Day, we take a look at some of the candidates who have come this close to the White House through the years, and the time they’ve spent here in Western New York.

1900: William Jennings Bryan

As he campaigned against President William McKinley, Congressman (and later Secretary of State) William Jennings Bryan filled the streets of Buffalo’s East Side as thousands jammed into the Broadway Market and surrounding streets to hear Jennings speak.

Buffalo Courier, 1900. (Buffalo Stories archives)

“On the East Side it seemed as if the whole populace had turned out to shout and cheer for Mr. Bryan,” wrote the Courier. It was estimated that 25,000 heard him at the Broadway Market, and another 8,000 heard an address at a convention hall. Another 40,000 lined the route between the two places.


1936: Alfred Landon

Kansas’ governor came to Buffalo in his bid to unseat Franklin D. Roosevelt after Roosevelt’s first term in office.

Alfred Landon waves his hat to Buffalonians lined up in Shelton Square and along Main Street in August, 1936. Today, this spot has One M&T Plaza to the left, and the Main Place Tower and Mall to the right. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Landon rally at Offermann Stadium. The ballpark was one block east of Main Street at Michigan Avenue. The spot is now occupied by Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. (Buffalo Stories archives)

After parading through the streets, Landon stopped at the Statler Hotel for a tea put on by Buffalo’s Republican women. That night, Landon held a rally under the lights at Offermann Stadium, which was the home of the Bisons from 1924 to 1960.
1952: Adlai Stevenson II

Stevenson was the man who took on Gen. Dwight Eisenhower for the Oval Office being vacated by Harry Truman in 1952. He then ran against the incumbent President Eisenhower in 1956.

Named after his grandfather — who was vice president during Grover Cleveland’s second term — Stevenson was governor of Illinois and was later named ambassador to the United Nations by President Kennedy.

Adlai Stevenson signs a campaign poster from the back of his train in Niagara Falls. Stevenson spoke to about 1,000 people just outside Niagara Falls New York Central Station.

1964: Barry Goldwater

The Arizona senator joined his running mate, William E. Miller, in the congressman’s hometown of Lockport for a September 1964 campaign stop.

Buffalo Stories archives

It was declared “Bill Miller Day” in Lockport in honor of the candidate for the vice presidency.  The crowds were compared favorably to four years earlier, when John F. Kennedy — then a senator and candidate for president — barnstormed through Niagara County, including a speech in Lockport.

One difference — despite the crowd’s being made up of people who knew, loved and were proud of their neighbor and his accomplishments — as many as 100 Niagara County sheriff’s deputies were there to keep order and protect the candidates. The stop was only 10 months removed from the assassination of President Kennedy.


1968: Hubert Humphrey

Vice President Humphrey picked up the mantel of the Democratic Party following President Johnson’s announcement that he wouldn’t run for re-election, and then the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

Humphrey visited Buffalo many times during his time in the senate and during his time as vice president.

Hubert Humphrey speaks with anti-Vietnam War protesters, standing on Delaware Avenue, just off Niagara Square in front of the Statler Hotel in September, 1968. (Buffalo Stories archives)


Buffalo in the ’30s: FDR campaigns in front of City Hall

By Steve Cichon

Only weeks before he was to be elected to his second term as president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Buffalo to dedicate the city’s new federal building on Niagara Square.

President Franklin Roosevelt addresses the crowd at Niagara Square, Oct. 17, 1936. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The Oct. 17, 1936, Buffalo visit was Roosevelt’s first as president — although he had visited Buffalo countless times during his four years as New York’s governor. The courthouse was a federally funded New Deal project and was designed primarily by Buffalo architect E.B. Green.

The Depression was on the mind of the president and the thousands who turned out around Western New York to greet him and his train as he spoke in Buffalo and in Niagara Falls.

Buffalo News archives

“I need not compare the Buffalo of today with the Buffalo as I saw it the last time I was here,” Roosevelt said in Niagara Square. “You will recall, I am sure, those years when I had the privilege of being the chief executive of this state. Already in 1930 the problems of unemployment and depression had become severe and you will recall also that it was in 1931 that I, as governor, called the Legislature of the State of New York into special session to provide relief for the distressed unemployed of the state and New York was the first state in the Union to definitely accept the responsibilities of seeing to it that as far as the state’s resources could prevent it, none of its citizens who wished to work would starve.”

The ceremony took place in front of the building which has been known as the Michael J. Dillon Courthouse since 1986. Federal offices started to move from Niagara Square to the former Thaddeus J. Dulski Federal Building (now the Avant) in the late 1960s. The remaining federal courtrooms moved across Niagara Square to the Robert Jackson Courthouse in 2012.

The president’s dedication was carried on radio stations WKBW, WBEN and WBNY.

This print was backwards in The News archives, and has appeared backwards in print at least twice through the years. Here it appears with the proper orientationwith the Statler Hotel to his left, and the new courthouse out of frame to the right.
This print was backwards in The News archives, and has appeared backwards in print at least twice through the years. Here it appears with the proper orientation—with the Statler Hotel to his left, and the new courthouse out of frame to the right.

This brief clip was not from Roosevelt’s Buffalo speech, but it was typical of his talks throughout the 1936 campaign.

Roosevelt arrived in Buffalo at 10:30 p.m. the night before his speech, and left at 11:33 a.m. after the downtown Buffalo dedication and a speech at Hyde Park Stadium in Niagara Falls. The president slept in his special railcar, “The Pioneer,” as it sat on the tracks of the New York Central terminal, surrounded by 25 New York Central Railroad Police.

The day after the president’s visit, an interesting side note about the campaign was the subject of an editorial in the Courier-Express, discussing the media presence of President Roosevelt and his opponent, Kansas Governor Alf Landon.

It is not late for the Democratic organization to show its fine sense of sportsmanship in campaign tactics. Hitherto it has pitted the perfect radio voice of Mr. Roosevelt against the more limited oratorical personality of Mr. Landon, proving Mr. Roosevelt a far superior air attraction than the less unctuous Kansas governor. If the election were to be decided on mere rhetorical counts, the Chanticleer of Democracy undoubtedly would have the edge.

Mr. Landon, however, is really a rather nice looking man with a smile of his own, not overwhelmingly ingratiating, of course, like Mr. Roosevelt’s but still fairly easy on the eyes. The impression is that Mr. Landon, who does not broadcast as well as Mr. Roosevelt, might perhaps screen as well.

These considerations have reference to the campaign movie recently made at Hyde Park House, featuring the Lord High Chief Executive in a story designed to show a typical day at his home. The cameras ground, the sound trucks maneuvered, Franklin the Fair flashed smiles as he sat at his desk — in a word, politics went Hollywood. No release date was set for the attraction at the movies but it certainly should be billed soon now.

What box-office following both candidates may have, if both are offered on their visual merits to the movie fans, could only be conjectured; but at least Mr. Roosevelt’s undisputed radio advantage over Mr. Landon might thus be cut down in the interest of good emotional sportsmanship.

What it looked like Wednesday: The City Hall site, 1913

By Steve Cichon

Nearly single handedly, and through the pig-headed will of his convictions, Judge Samuel Wilkeson essentially invented Buffalo.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

Wilkeson was born in Pennsylvania and first came to Buffalo as a soldier defending the village as it burned in 1813. Following the war, he made his home in the village as it was being rebuilt. As a trader in various items like salt and whiskey, Wilkeson understood the importance of a good port — and knew for Buffalo to grow, the harbor had to be improved.

Despite having never seen an artificial harbor in his life, in 1820, he started overseeing the construction of a new harbor in Buffalo. Two years later, with the widening and sandbar removal almost done, he argued that the planned Erie Canal should terminate in Buffalo, not in Black Rock as argued by future Niagara Falls pioneer and Secretary of War Peter Porter. Buffalo was chosen and the fate of the pioneer village was sealed.

The canal was completed in 1825, and the following year, Wilkeson built his stately home on Niagara Square. After holding a handful of elected offices and judgeships, Wilkeson was elected mayor of Buffalo in 1836 — four years after the city was incorporated.

But Buffalo was still barely a city.

“Buffalo was a pioneer settlement of rough hewn houses on the edge of a dense forest when Samuel Wilkeson had a vision of the important part the square was going to play in the upbuilding of the city,” wrote Roy W. Nagle, one of the great collectors of Buffalo’s history from the 1930s through the 1970s.

It was from this house that Wilkeson waged a national and international war against slavery — denouncing human bondage of any kind as un-Christian. He helped in efforts to colonize freed American slaves in Liberia, and the Florida plantation he owned and managed from Buffalo was one of few in the state which didn’t operate using slave labor.

The future of this “Father of Buffalo’s” home was decided when Judge Wilkeson’s granddaughter, who lived in the home until her death in 1903, called for its demolition in her will.

Most of Buffalo’s still-surviving fine old mansions had met with a fate she did not want to befall her lifelong home. Mrs. Wilkeson wouldn’t allow the place to become a boarding house or lodging house.

Shortly thereafter, one of Buffalo’s oldest homes was razed, and Buffalo’s first gas station was built on the spot.

Buffalo Stories archives

Note St. Anthony’s church to the left, which is still-familiar outside the back door of city hall. (Buffalo Stories archives)

When Buffalo’s current city hall was built in 1929, designers lined up the building’s pillars with those of the Wilkeson House.