Black Rock -Table of Contents
History of Black Rock
Black Rock: centers on Hertel Avenue and Niagara Street along the Black Rock Canal
By James Napora
The text below is reprinted with permission from
"Houses of Worship: A Guide to the Religious Architecture of Buffalo, New York," by James Napora. Master of Architecture Thesis. Pp. 123-124, 144. Found at Buffalo Central Library NA5235 B8 N37 1995
Upper black Rock ....................Lower Black Rock
Upper black Rock
Two years before Joseph Ellicott laid out the streets of Buffalo and fourteen years before it was incorporated as a village, the village of Black Rock was founded.
In 1802, New York State purchased the mile wide strip of Indian land along the Niagara River known as the New York State Reservation. Here, adjacent to the river, the state laid out the streets of the village that would, for the next twenty years, serve as Buffalo's rival.
Having long since passed into history, there actually was a black rock in Black Rock. Located along the river at what is today the bend of Niagara Street at Massachusetts, the area under the Peace Bridge, a rock ledge protruded approximately 200 feet out into the river. Standing five feet above the water's surface, it formed a natural eddy on the river. The area downstream of the rock, protected by its mass, served as a naturally protected harbor.
The rivalry between the two towns was almost instantaneous. As the Holland Land Company owned the land on which Buffalo is located, they marketed the area as a desirable place to settle. Black Rock, on the other hand, stood on land owned by the state, and with their reluctance to effectively market the new town, many of the early pioneers overlooked Black Rock and settled in Buffalo, resulting in its somewhat stunted level of growth.
War of 1812: The village did, however, serve as a major strategic point during the War of 1812. In a shipyard located near the mouth of Scajaquada Creek were built the boats used by Sir Oliver Hazard Perry during the Battle of Put-In-Bay in September, 1813. Protected by a block house, the plank bridge over the creek also served as a major strategic point.
Three skirmishes were fought in the area during the war.
- In July, 1813, the British attempted to advance upon the village. Along the river near the foot of West Ferry and Breckenridge Streets, General Peter Porter and a group of soldiers, civilians and Seneca Indians successfully defended their position.
- In December, 1813, immediately preceding the burning of Buffalo, a skirmish took place at the bridge over Scajaquada Creek.
- The final chapter of the War of 1812 in the area, occurred in August 1814. Attempting to win back Fort Erie, General Gordon Drummond dispatched troops to the blockhouse along the creek hoping to cut off American lifelines there. Unsuccessful, he retreated to Fort George in Newark, Ontario.
With Black Rock's energy tied up in defense during the war years, the village did not experience any significant level of growth. But with the close of the war, the village began a period of gradual growth. This once again proved to be short lived as the leaders were unable to devote their full energies to developing their economy. Instead, the people of Black Rock turned to fight a new war, an attempt at being designated as the terminus for the Erie Canal.
Erie Canal: Construction of the Erie Canal proceeded some distance from both Black Rock and Buffalo. However, the state remained unsure of the terminus of it, resulting in a great rivalry between the two towns. Black Rock cited the availability of its natural harbor while touting the fact that Buffalo, with a sandbar blocking the entrance to Buffalo Creek, lacked a suitable harbor.
Immediately the people of Buffalo organized. Led by Samuel Wilkeson, they constructed a pier and dredged the entrance to the creek. With work nearing completion, in 1821 the state selected Buffalo as the western terminus of the canal, leaving Black Rock as just another town along it.
Finally, on 9 August, 1823 the canal arrived in Black Rock as construction there began. Standing in the path of the canal, the mighty black rock, a symbol from which the town took its name, was destroyed. Little by little, the Irish workers blasted away at the rock, leaving only the memory of it behind.
By 1820 the village had developed as a nominal commercial center based on Niagara between Ferry and Breckenridge Streets. But the diminutive prosperity which did return to the area was soon washed away. In April, 1827 a storm blew inland from the lake. With the village's pier destroyed, many of the remaining businesses relocated to Buffalo. As if to replay other false starts by the village, prosperity had once again returned by 1836 only to be wiped out by bankruptcies during the Panic of 1837.
Annexation: The union of Black Rock and Buffalo first began in 1834 when trolley service linked the two villages. In the 1850s, with Black Rock's deteriorated economic condition, talk of merging the two villages began. On 13 April, 1853 the New York State Legislature granted Buffalo a new city charter allowing for the annexation of Black Rock. On 1 January, 1854 the Village ofBlack Rock ceased to be a separate entity, ending almost forty years of rivalry between the two towns.
The area retained its village atmosphere over the next thirty years. By the 1880s it began to develop, coinciding with the increase in the population of the city as a whole. Especially prevalent in the development of the area during the period were the Irish. Being displaced by encroaching industrial developmentin their old First Ward neighborhood, many of them elected to settle in the burgeoning neighborhoods along the canal.
Lower Black Rock
Located north of Scajaquada Creek, Lower Black or Black Rock Dam as it came to be known, developed after the canal had bypassed Upper Black Rock. While the canal functioned as a curse to one, it was a blessing to the other.
In the early 1820s, Lower Black Rock began to develop a residential identity as German and Irish immigrants began to settle in the area. Attracted to work in the area, they quickly formed a tightly knit community.
Being along the canal, the villagers capitalized on the power generated by the lock located at the foot of Austin Street. Here they harnessed the water power for the operation of flour mills, saw mills and other water related industry. Consequently, with the prospects of work nearby, the area gained an increased residential identity.
As important as the lock's industrial purpose was, it also served a utilitarian function for the residents. Prior to its closing in 1913, the lock served as footbridge to Squaw Island. Indicative of the German family nature, they would cross the lock and the mill to hold picnics on the island.