Buffalo, New York, Erie County


1924 aerial view of the Inner Harbor. The sandy-appearing area at upper right is Times Beach.

In a few years (1935), it will be opened to the public for bathing.


Prior to European colonization, the region's inhabitants were the Ongiara, an Iroquois tribe called the Neutrals by French settlers, who found them helpful in mediating disputes with other tribes.


Most of western New York was granted by Charles II of England to the Duke of York (later known as James II of England), but the first European settlement in what is now Erie County was by the French, at the mouth of Buffalo Creek in 1758. Its buildings were destroyed a year later by the evacuating French after the British captured Fort Niagara. The British took control of the entire region in 1763, at the conclusion of the French and Indian War.


Upon the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, Buffalo became the western end of the 524-mile waterway starting at New York City.


Buffalo was at the end of the path for those seeking refuge in the Underground Railroad (safe houses for African-Americans escaping slavery in the mid-19th century).  Many Buffalonians helped refugees cross the Niagara River to Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada and freedom.


Hydroelectric power harnessed from nearby Niagara Falls made Buffalo the first American city to have widespread electric lighting yielding it the nickname, the "City of Light".  Electricity was used to dramatic effect at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. The Pan-American was also notable for being the scene of the aforementioned assassination of President William McKinley.


The village grew relatively slowly until the war of 1812 when Buffalo became a "Military Resort." According to the 1832 City Directory "In December, 1813, the place was entered by the British and Indians, and every building but two was burnt." Many citizens were taken as captives to Montreal and most of the rest fled to avoid capture. The loss and destruction of property was borne by the individuals more than the village itself as Buffalo had yet to become incorporated with the attendant municipal responsibilities and facilities.


Seawall Strip


'Beachers' were families who built their homes along the Buffalo Seawall.  The earliest known cottage was built in 1844.  The Beach community were often referred to as squatters, settling just outside the city tax line yet on city owned property.  The Lattimer and Freitas families were among the Beachers.


"The Beach, Part II" by Edward J Patton

W.N.Y Heritage Institute of Canisius College

Irish Times - December 1993 - January, 1994


"By 1912 the Beach community had survived a number of onslaughts against them by the city and the railroads.  Fishing had been very good especially in 1912 with the men averaging over 100 fish per day each.  The troubles had started back in the late 1870's, the city had intended to lay out a street for the squatters giving some legitimacy to their claims to the seawall.  By May 1881 the street was in but an ominous shadow was looming over the community.  In June 1882 the Common Council received a petition by the DL&W Railroad to lay tracks on the seawall.  Throughout the next six months various moves were made to stop the railroads by the squatters and the city.  The Buffalo Creek Railroad petitioned for the rights to lay track on Dec. 18, 1882.  The railroads were wealthy and exceedingly powerful but the mayor vetoed their request on Dec. 22 of the same year.  From 1882 on the City of Buffalo began a campaign to gain control over the sea wall since the Common Council felt that it was built solely for the city.  Through the 1890s the Irish squatters fought back aided by their local political representatives.  By July of 1900 the railroads began to assert their enormous power.  The Pennsylvania RR had introduced tracks on the Easter portion of the Beach.  The New York Central RR was not going to be upstaged by the "Pennsy" and began laying tracks on land that they claimed they owned.  Early on the morning of July 22, 1900 the Beach community was aroused  by the squealing of pigs on the east end of Wall St.  The railroad workmen were laying the tracks right through the yards of the homes on the wall.  The tracks were aimed squarely at the dining room of Mrs. Reed's home.  Other homes in jeopardy that day were owned by Robert Orr, Daniel Kelly, "Yank" Galivan, Fred Dulys, and a family named Morris.  The neighbors ran to the worksite and demanded to know who the interlopers were.  The workman refused to talk.  The Beachers believed the City was instigating the destruction but had no proof.  Tempers were frayed and the talk in the homes took on a tough line.  The people on the beach,  men and women, were not pushovers, but even they were frightened at the events taking place.  The previous Saturday several railroad workers had approached the first home only to be confronted by the living there.  Early papers recount the events that unfolded:  "One of the squatters came out with a pistol.  "You fellows make your sneak quick" he said "or there is going to be trouble over here."  The workmen laughed at him.  "I don't want you fellows to think I'm trying to give you a kidding match.  You try to do any tearing up around here and there is going to be trouble."  "Better be careful with that gun" warned one of the workmen.  "I'll be careful enough" he replied.  "I've got just as much right to fill you up with shots as you have to fill my yard with tracks."  The men withdrew but the homeowner's neighbors berated him for making threats figuring that their case against the railroad would be weakened.  A few days later the railroad come down the tracks and began leveling the buildings behind the houses.  Mrs. Reed and her neighbor attacked the workmen with their fists and a pickax.  It was to no avail, the locomotives hooked on to the sheds with cables and pulled them down.  The Beachers would be forced to exist in their dwellings with the railroad only a few feet away.  By March 1902 the city began to move against both the squatters and the railroads.  Headlines in the Buffalo Daily Courier proclaimed:  "Squatter Shanties on the Island Must Soon Be Abandoned -- City Asserts It's claim to the Lands and Notices to Vacate Will Be Served This Week On All Unsurping Occupants, Including the Pennsylvania Railroad Company -- Squatters Up in Arms and Will Resort to Law to Resist Eviction."  The Beachers many of whom had lived there since the 1850's were frightened by all the goings-on.  They felt that the law of eminent domain would protect their homes.  The problems stemmed from the fact that nobody living there pain taxes, the houses had been built on city owned property, and the city was determined to protect its interests from the people and the railroads.  It would prove to be a long and bitter struggle for all sides.  By 1917 though, the fight was over and the evictions took place.  Some of the buildings were said to have been salvaged by floating them on barges across the river to the 1st Ward.  Within a few more years most of the homes were gone and only a few places existed such as Myers Fish House to remind everyone of the old days on the Beach."


Erie Canal


"This is a scene in a busy part of a busy city. Here the Erie Canal ends in Lake Erie at Buffalo. You can see by the barrels on the wharves, by the derricks, by the great storehouses, and the large river steamers, what an important commercial center Buffalo is. The population of this city in 1915 was 454,630. According to the census of 1910, it was the 10th city in size in the United States. It ranked, in the same year, 9th in the value of its manufactured products.


The city is located at the right place to command a heavy trade. It is the natural eastern terminus of the lake traffic. The city lies on the northern edge of the great natural gas and oil regions, and near enough to the great coal and iron districts of Pennsylvania to complete with Philadelphia and New York. The Erie Canal links Buffalo with the important cities of central New York, and gives it a direct water connection with the City of New York. Moreover, the Niagara Falls have been harnessed so that they furnish electric power to run great industries in Buffalo.

The combined results of all these factors is a great commercial and industrial city. It is a market for live stock, fish and lumber. It has nearly 2000 manufacturing plants, including such industries as meat packing, machine shops, flouring mills, automobile factories, copper smelters, and refineries. Pittsburgh alone ranks ahead of it in the iron and steel industry.


The city has 17 railroads which run some 250 passenger trains daily. It is on the main transportation line between Boston, New York, and Chicago, and other important cities both in the East and the West.


The Pan-American Exposition of 1901


The Pan-American Exposition, staged in Buffalo, New York, presented in microcosm all of the trends, developments, innovations, and attitudes of the McKinley years. The great and colorful buildings along the Grand Canal, built in ersatz Spanish colonial style, symbolized American suzerainty over the hemisphere. The amazing Electric Tower announced to the world the nation's technical superiority. In memory of the late frontier, there was a wild west show. The subjugation of the American Indian was evident for all to see in the Indian Village. The now-aged Apache chief Geronimo was displayed as a side show exhibit -- accompanied by a U.S. Army guard. The Indian Wars, now just a memory, were turned into spectacle and mock Indian vs. cavalry skirmishes were staged three times daily for exposition visitors.

Pan Am

Visitors to the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 were drawn

to the predominating Electric Tower, center.


The exposition was opened in the spring of 1901 by the new vice president, Theodore Roosevelt.  President McKinley had been scheduled to do the honors but had to cancel because of his wife's illness. It was not until September that the McKinleys were able to inspect the exposition grounds. On the morning of September 5th, the president and first lady crossed the Triumphal Causeway and entered the fair grounds in an open carriage preceded by troops, military bands, and a mounted honor guard. The president gave a major address on trade policy to a large crowd gathered on the Esplanade. Afterwards he toured the exhibits, complimenting all. He had an unscheduled coffee at the Porto Rican Building with the Latin American commissioners.


The following day, the presidential party took an excursion by rail to see Niagara Falls. Upon returning to Buffalo, McKinley returned to the exposition grounds for a reception in the Music Building. The president had been standing in a receiving line greeting the public for seven minutes when an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz shot McKinley twice at point blank range. Despite early hopes that he might survive the attack, a week later the president died, whispering the words of his favorite hymn, "Nearer my God to Thee, Nearer to Thee."


The Milburn Residence on Delaware Avenue.On September 14, 1901 President McKinley died of gangrene at the home of John G. Milburn, president of the Pan-American Exposition.


The McKinley Monument, a 96 foot tall obelisk in Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York was dedicated on September 6, 1907



Genealogy Links:
The Buffalonian
Pan-American Exposition
US GenWeb - Buffalo, New York

Fulton History (online Buffalo newspapers)

Vintage Buffalo, Erie County, New York


Question, comments, and submissions can be sent to Buffalo@digginguproots.com

Page created August 2010