Reprinted with permission as a public service by the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, now the Preservation Buffalo Niagara

Houses of Worship: A Guide to the Religious Architecture of Buffalo, New York
By James Napora
Table of Contents

The First Ward and the Valley

Although they constitute two distinct neighborhoods, the First Ward and the Valley have long been recognized for their Irish legacy instilled upon the area during the city's formative years.They began arriving in the 1820s, fleeing the poverty of Ireland and chasing the dream of prosperity in the new world. In NewYork State, they found work constructing the Erie Canal and Buffalo's designation as its terminus provided a logical reason for them to remain. For after building the canal, many of them found work in the industries related to shipping.

As many of the early Irish immigrants had lived in the proximity of water in County Kerry near the Shannon River and in county Cork near the Lee River, it only seemed logical for them to settle near water in this area. As industry relating to the transshipment of goods began to cluster along the basins and slipsconstructed at the end of the canal and along the Buffalo River many Irish immigrants began constructing homes there.

Second wave: The initial wave of the 1820s was supplanted by a second wave of Irish immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s. Fueled by famine resulting from the failure of the potato crop, the Irish left their homeland. Destitute, many arrived here via the Erie Canal and took up residence amid the squalor of the waterfront.

Along the docks, the railroads and the factories, they lived in the neighborhoods known collectively as the First Ward.

An incident of note played itself out in the First Ward duringthe 1860s. Known as the Fenian Movement, it had as its base an inherent hatred of England and of all things English. Believing that the British caused the potato famine in Ireland as a means of reducing the population there, the Fenians desired to invade Canada, gain control of it and then bargain with England for Irish independence. The Fenians built up their forces for months prior to the invasion, as thousands of them gathered in Buffalo and the First Ward in preparation for the planned invasion. Storing their guns in the basements of taverns and at St. Brigid's RC Church (destroyed), they prepared for their 2 June 1866 assault on Canada. In the darkness of night, they boarded boats and were carried across the Niagara River to Fort Erie. The battle was short lived for, after reining victorious for the first few days, the ragtag army suffered defeat at the hands of Canadian volunteers. As quickly as the movement began, it ended, leaving its legacy imprinted on the history of the First Ward.

The Valley: To the east of the Ward stands the visible barrier of railroad lines. Separated by the tracks, this area became known as The Valley, as the only way in became via bridges over the tracks. Prior to their removal to the area near William and Fillmore Avenue, the northwest corner of The Valley, near the intersection of Elk and Van Rensselaer Streets, served as the location of the first stock yards in the city. As noted by the presence of St. Valentine's RC Parish, the area contained a sizable Polish population in addition to the Irish. The population of the neighborhood peaked at almost 5.000 people before the Irishmigration to South Buffalo in the 1920s.

© 1995 James Napora
Page by Chuck LaChiusa with the assistance of David Torke
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