Seeds of a New Movement

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The Erie Canal made Buffalo. Joseph Dart made Buffalo memorable.

Through Joseph Ellicott and the establishment of Greater Western New York west of the Genesee River, we’ve seen the importance of the canal from before it was even drawn up. We’ve witnessed how its opening paved the way for the creation of America’s first tourist destination – Niagara Falls. We’ll discover in a few chapters how it allowed our region to become ground zero for Continue Reading “Seeds of a New Movement”

A Bridge Too Quiet

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I never understood the lure of trains. Don’t get me wrong. I love trains. I just can’t figure out why. I mean, I was born at the dawn of the Space Age, watched Star Trek when it was still on the air and followed NASA’s lunar program with diligent pride. Heck, I even majored in physics and astronomy, served on the Strasenburgh Planetarium’s 40th Anniversary Task Force and created an official astronomy outreach project (AstronomyTop100.com) that received the official endorsement of the United Nations during the International Year of Astronomy in 2009.

Many were the times when I thought I was finally done with trains. But, like the mob to Continue Reading “A Bridge Too Quiet”

Postcard Perfect, In Any Season

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On July 4th, 1928, nearly three years after the opening of the Erie Canal, Charles Carroll, 91 years old and the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, turned over the first shovel of dirt, marking the beginning of construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, America’s first railroad.1 With this single action, the Erie Canal’s death notice had been signed. Even before the B&O was created, the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad was incorporated in New York on April 17th, 1826, less than six months after Governor Dewitt Clinton dedicated the grand opening of his “ditch.”2 Ironically, the purpose of the Mohawk and Hudson was to compete with the Erie Canal. When New York’s railroad finally managed to finance itself, (delayed financing allowed the B&O to be constructed first), it could be built. Completed a year later in August, 1831,3 it took less than an hour to travel the 17-mile rail line compared to the all-day meandering 40-mile segment of the Erie Canal it replaced.4 The name of the steam locomotive to make this first run: none other than Continue Reading “Postcard Perfect, In Any Season”

The Wild West Rides Again

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In the heart of downtown Jamestown on a June night in 2002, despite the dim light of the late hours, the construction workers hired to take down the deteriorating brick façade of the ancient hotel on Pine Street thought they were seeing faces, until they came to the word “Buffalo.”1 They stopped all work. They didn’t know what they had just uncovered, but their collective instinct told them it was something historic. It turns out they were right.

Beneath the decaying bricks of Continue Reading “The Wild West Rides Again”

The Secret of New York’s Smallest Town

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Tucked away in the southern portion of Cattaraugus County on the edge of the New York-Pennsylvania border sits the town of Red House. Guess what the town is named after? A red house, right? Nope. It’s named after the creek flowing through it – Red House Creek. The creek is named after a red house.

But did you know the story behind the crimson abode upon which the creek found its name? Originally owned by one of the area’s first settlers, it is a sorry story of family division, betrayed love and mysterious death. In the 1860’s Johnny Frecks went off to fight in the civil war, Continue Reading “The Secret of New York’s Smallest Town”

The Magician Reveals His Real Trick

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One by one the hockey heroes skate up towards the camera from the far blue line, stop with a spray of ice just missing the lens, then announce their name and team. Finally, the last professional pumps his legs forward with the smooth motion of the others and stops in the same controlled fashion. But when he announces his name, I’m shocked to discover he’s no hockey player.

“Bill Shatner. Loblaws,” states the confident former Captain Kirk.

For those not familiar, Loblaws is a Canadian grocery chain. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s they had stores in Buffalo (primarily) and Rochester (maybe just one, but I lived next to it). It was an era before Wegmans went on supermarket steroids and totally dominated the market. Loblaws was Canada’s pride but eventually sold out to Bells Markets.

In 1975 Loblaws was a player – at least in my neighborhood – and no more so because Continue Reading “The Magician Reveals His Real Trick”

Back at the Old Pizza Stand

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In the opening scene of 1962’s The Music Man, Harold Hill, con man extraordinaire, unexpectedly bumps into his old friend and accomplice Marcellus Washburn. Marcellus has since married a “nice comfortable girl” and settled down in the idyllic Midwestern town of River City (“Gone legitimate, huh? I knew you’d come to no good,” laments Hill). When he asks Harold if he’s still pitching steam automobiles, Hill shakes his head “No” and says, “I’m back at the old stand” whereupon he pantomimes conducting a band.

I can’t say Hamburg had the stubbornness of River City, Iowa, (after all, Hamburg is the “Town that Friendship built”), but I can attest to an idyllic feeling growing up off South Park when it had only two lanes. And like the magical concluding scene of The Music Man, my brother and I (and maybe even my mother and father, too), couldn’t wait to Continue Reading “Back at the Old Pizza Stand”

Greater Western New York’s Split Personality Explained

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To the uninitiated, Batavia might seem like a mere crossroads on the map, but the hustle and bustle of Route 5 (a.k.a. Main Street) tells a much different story. Any visitor will immediately see a testament to a thriving community. Without the telltale skyscrapers of a modern city, the heart of Genesee County clearly doesn’t come across as a quaint nineteenth century town. No, there’s a hint of modernity in its traffic, its business and even in the complexity of its inner city layout.

Yet within this bastion of modest progress lies a jewel with a much deeper backstory than meets the eye of the casual passerby. But before we get there, perhaps it makes Continue Reading “Greater Western New York’s Split Personality Explained”

Such is Fame: The Real Enduring Legacy of Niagara Falls

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In crafting a list of hidden gems of Greater Western New York, it’s apparent one must define what one means by the word “hidden.” Of course, if one of these not-so-hidden gems turns out to have inspired something truly outstanding, well, that would be worth writing about. Before I get to that, though, let me share with you my methodology for compiling this list, but allow me to do this by showing you, not telling you (assuming that’s even possible in the format of the written word).

For example, we have plenty of gems that have received broad national attention. Indeed, several people, events and activities from, in and around the Greater Western New York region have found themselves honored with places in our history books.

What school-aged child doesn’t know the name of Continue Reading “Such is Fame: The Real Enduring Legacy of Niagara Falls”

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

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Winters in New Haven, Connecticut aren’t nearly as severe as those in the Greater Western New York region. I had proudly proclaimed my home town ever since that sun-drenched day in September of 1978 when I first stepped onto campus. As a result, when the winds of winter arrived, as a native of Buffalo, I felt obliged to walk the talk. That meant, on a regular basis, when temperatures “dipped” into the low thirties, I would trudge out of my dorm in nothing but gym shorts and walk to the post office to get my mail. (Before you get too impressed, the post office was located in the basement of my hall. There was no interior access, so I had to walk outside into the raised courtyard, down the steps to ground level, then turn a quick right before descending another set of stairs before, finally, entering the mail center.)

I remember one of those treks quite vividly. There I was, sauntering (after all, walking hastily would make it seem as though I feared the frigid temperature) through the courtyard without a shirt one coolish evening. Establishing a different form of cool, I stopped to talk to some friends. (I remember one saying to the other, “It’s cold, why isn’t he wearing a shirt?” The other responded, “He’s from Buffalo.” The first person said “Oh” with a knowing nod.)Continue Reading “It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It”