Reprinted with permission as a public service by the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, now the Preservation Buffalo Niagara
South Buffalo - Seneca Street
The last traces in South Buffalo of the final bastions of Indian settlement in Western New York have long since been erased, but the richness of the history will always remain.
It was around 1650 that the Kah-Kwah Indians of the area were conquered by the Senecas. The Senecas in turn established a number of villages in strategic locations and along the creeks which flowed through the area.
Red Jacket and Mary Jemison: On the crest of the hill at the intersection of Buffum and Fields Streets stands a memorial to the Senecas. The site, one of numerous Indian villages in the area, also served as the location of a burial ground. It was here that Red Jacket, the great leader opposed to the selling of Indian territory to the white man, was buried. Also interned here were the remains of Mary Jemison, the "White Woman of the Genesee." Captured by Indians as an infant, she lived her life with them along the Genesee River before moving to the Buffalo Creek Reservation in 1831. The remains of both were removed from the burial ground by John Larkin in 1894 [Sic?].
Red Jacket is now interned, against his dying wishes, at Forest Lawn and Jemison at Letchworth State Park.
At the rear of the former burial ground is Indian Church Road, originally a trail which passed the first building devoted to Christianity in the interest of the local Indian population.
Buffalo Creek Indian Reservation Land company: In the late 1830s, the reservation passed from Indian ownership to the Buffalo Creek Indian Reservation Land company, initiating the settlement of the area by the white man. Along what originally served as an Indian trail from the southwestern villages to Lakes Eire and Ontario, Seneca Street developed. At first, nothing more than a muddy trail linking Buffalo to East Aurora and beyond, with the construction of a tollgate at the Buffalo Creek bridge in 1848, a period of improvements began. Operated until 1898 by George W. Briggs, he charged six cents for each horse that crossed the bridge.
With the upgrading of the road, traffic through the area increased as farmers from the Southtowns drove their cattle to the slaughter houses in the city.
Weimert's Tavern, located on Seneca near Cazenovia was the first building they would encounter on their way into the city.
Close to the tavern, in 1850 Horace Buffam bought the land through which the street bearing his name now runs. On it he built a carriage factory and his home. He lived here, in the shadow of the Indian Council House and burial ground, until moving his business to 109 Seneca Street in 1869.
With most of the area serving as open pasture lands or relay points during cattle drives, it retained a rural nature until the late 1880s. Amongst the earl y settlers were Charles Hammerschmidt who arrived here from Hesse, Germany, in 1838. Settling in Buffalo, with the assistance of a German architect, he constructed the first private home east of the tollgate. Located at 1849 Seneca, it was also the first house in the city to be insulated. Owning property from the creek to Mineral Springs Road, he raised cattle and poultry on his farm.
Within twenty years, new settlers began to arrive.
- In 1862 the German, John Knoerl, purchased ten acres of land adjoining Hammerschmidt's and planted a cherry orchard there.
- In April 1866, George Leonard Unger, a cattle farmer from Collins, purchased the property through which Unger Street now runs for use as a stopping point during cattle drives. The property remained in the Unger family until being subdivided in 1910.
- The last large landholder, the German, Louis Zittel, acquired a large expanse of land near Seneca and Cazenovia. A storekeeper by trade, he was instrumental in the establishment of Cazenovia Park, donating a portion of his land for it..
Developers: To dispel the belief that the Irish were the first to reside in the area, it was actually the Germans who held title to most of the land. William Durstein, a German member of the Buffalo Creek Reservation Land Company, was amongst the first to develop the land for residential use. On land adjacent to the city line, he constructed a large number of homes, creating a tight knit German community surrounding St. Paul's Reformed Church.
Widespread development of the area was slow in occurring prior to 1900. It was a well noted fact that the area was afflicted by flooding each spring, as both Cazenovia and Buffalo Creeks often went over their banks. Not until the creeks were straightened at the turn of the century did the problem dissipate, clearing the way for widespread development.
The major person responsible for developing the area was not German but Irish. Known as the builder of South Buffalo, William H. Fitzpatrick resided on a farm at Seneca and Bailey. Working with William J. Summers and Charles Mosher, he built most of the homes in the Butler Park area and many of those on Stephenson, Ryan, Geary and in the Seneca Parkside area. In housing he developed, a large number of Irish families, who moved from the old First Ward after the turn of the century, took up residence. In the 1920s he became a vociferous supporter of the construction of the New York Central terminal on the city's East Side, campaigning for the passage of the needed legislative approval prior to its construction.
Seneca Street: The final burst of development in the area occurred in the 1920s. In 1926 the International Railway Company began a project to uniformly pave Seneca Street. With work completed, the intersection of Seneca and Cazenovia developed into the commercial center of the neighborhood, enriching the area with much of the character it has today.
© 1995 James Napora
Page by Chuck LaChiusa with the assistance of David Torke
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