Recently there has been renewed excitement on the possibility of a Braymiller Market on Washington Street downtown, but the market won’t be the first ever to grace Washington Street.
For more than a century, the Washington Market – also known as the Chippewa Market – stood at Washington and Chippewa, several blocks north of the current proposed development, and just south of still-standing St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church.
The city-owned market was not only the biggest market in Buffalo, but also one of the largest municipal public markets in the United States.
When it was opened in 1856, the area around Chippewa and Washington was on the outer edge of the city, and was a residential neighborhood with mostly German immigrants living there.
One hundred years later, changing demographics in the city and the dawning of the supermarket era made the market obsolete.
The last-surviving buildings of the 109-year-old Washington Market were torn down in 1965 when the city sold the block to Buffalo Savings Bank for $184,000 to be used as a parking lot. Today, M&T Bank owns the parking lot where the market once stood.
In 1880, St. Michael Roman Catholic Church was an important enough landmark to be one of the 58 landmarks labeled in the city. The German parish was established in 1851 and grew so quickly that a new church building was needed within a decade.
Completed by the Jesuit community in 1868, Nelson Baker was among the first young men to study at the new St. Michael — which served as the chapel for the then-attached Canisius High School. Canisius College became part of the complex in 1870.
Without much change, the St. Michael shown in the 1880 drawing stood between Canisius and the Chippewa Market until 1962, when lightning struck the bell tower, devastating the 98-year-old church.
Storms touched off three huge fires in Buffalo the night St. Michael burned, including a five-alarm blaze at a West Side box factory, spreading resources thin. The church was gutted, leaving doubt as to whether any of the structure could be salvaged.
“Firefighters, with tears in their eyes, went far beyond the call of duty,” said St. Michael’s pastor, Father James Redmond. “I will never forget the spirit of those firefighters” who saved what they could of the church.
The exterior walls — made of 42-inch Buffalo limestone, Lockport silver limestone and sandstone from Albion, were saved — but the interior was completely rebuilt. Church services were held across Washington Street at the Town Casino while the church was repaired.
St. Michael continues to be staffed by Jesuit priests. Just last week on the St. Micahel Facebook page, the pastor, the Rev. Ben Fiore, wrote, “The Jesuit work here is lasting and effective. We are here! All are welcome in this place!”