Spirit of LaSalle lives on, 90 years after annexation into Niagara Falls - The Buffalo News

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Spirit of LaSalle lives on, 90 years after annexation into Niagara Falls

Ninety years ago June 1, officials of the Village of LaSalle left their Village Hall, carrying the records that documented their municipality's growth.

Led by Village President George Stone, a throng from the village paraded from Buffalo Avenue to the newly built Niagara Falls City Hall on Main Street near Cedar Avenue. There, Stone handed over the records to the mayor and other officials of the City of Niagara Falls, which had annexed LaSalle after hard-fought votes in the city and the village.

The village was dissolved and on its way to slipping from local memory.

Except that didn't happen.

Ninety years later, LaSalle still lives on in the hearts and minds of people who have roots there.

A display illustrating just how high emotions ran before the annexation vote will be displayed in a monthlong exhibit, fittingly, in the LaSalle branch of the Niagara Falls Public Library, 8728 Buffalo Ave. That building was once the LaSalle Village Hall, and also held a post office and police station, as well as a small medical clinic.

Terry Lasher Winslow, a LaSalle resident with deep family roots there, will present a program on the annexation, titled "The Greater City of Niagara Falls is born!" starting at 10 a.m. June 3 in the LaSalle branch library.

"I think it's great to see all this material," said Courtney Geerhart, who has been the local history librarian for about 18 months and selected the display documents from a collection once kept by George Stone, the last president of LaSalle. "People are still very passionate about their politics. This shows that nothing has changed."

Compare LaSalle to the other two villages that became the City of Niagara Falls in 1892, 125 years ago. Manchester, which was downtown, and Suspension Bridge, the northern part of the rough triangle that makes up the city, are seldom mentioned and their exact boundaries are not commonly recalled.

But LaSalle, the southeastern part of the city, remains a robust and well-defined entity. This is even stranger when you consider that LaSalle existed as a village for only 29 years, from 1897 to 1927, before its annexation into Niagara Falls.

Maybe it's the discrete geographic location of LaSalle, set off from the rest of the city by open land, major roads and the river. Maybe it's the fact that until 2000, LaSalle had its own high school, which engaged in a vigorous sports rivalry with Niagara Falls High School.

Or maybe it's the echoes of the hard-fought annexation vote, which happened in late April 1927.

Both LaSalle Village President George Stone and Mayor William Laughlin of Niagara Falls were in favor of annexation. But a Taxpayers' Committee vigorously opposed consolidation and made its arguments in handbills, letters and full-page ads in the Niagara Falls Gazette.

Articles and ads arguing about the annexation of the Village of LaSalle into the City of Niagara Falls 90 years ago will be on display in the LaSalle branch of the Niagara Falls Public Library this month. (John Hickey/Buffalo News/Courtesy of the Niagara Falls Public Library)

"TAXPAYERS, AWAKEN!" thundered one such ad placed on April 26, 1927. "PROTECT YOUR CITY AND HOMES."

"If You Don't Vote 'Against Annexation' You Will Pay for It!" the Taxpayers' Committee warned on April 27, 1927.

A more modest April 27 reply ad from the pro-annexation group "LaSalle Cayuga Inc." titled "Facts and Truths," used the slogan, "Yours for a Greater Niagara."

A handbill sent to homeowners was headlined: "If the Taxpayers of Niagara Falls Vote to Annex LaSalle, They Will Get the Worst Gold Brick Ever Offered to a Thriving, Christian Community." The flyer warned that LaSalle, with a population of 6,258, had no cash on hand, no paved streets, no sewer system and more than $337,000 in debt.

But the Taxpayers' Committee's campaign failed. On April 16, 1927, LaSalle voters approved annexation, 526 to 142. Twelve days later, City of Niagara Falls voters followed suit, approving the annexation by a vote of 2,170 to 1,661.

Former County Historian Terry Lasher Winslow said she wishes that in this year of civic anniversaries, the attention was directed to the formation of LaSalle in 1897, not its annexation into the city. "The village lasted 29 years and six months, to the day," said Lasher Winslow, who plans to give a public lecture in December marking the establishment of the village.

Winslow, whose father, Jerry Lasher, was born on 92nd Street and who often visited her grandparents there, said the mental and emotional divide in the city is clear to this day.

"You can tell who lived in LaSalle because when you ask them where they lived, they say the street, and then they say, 'on the Buffalo Avenue side' or 'on the Pine Avenue side,' because the railroad track, and later the LaSalle Expressway, forever from the beginning broke the village in two," she said. "But the railroad and the trolley were why LaSalle developed into a village. It was the Niagara Falls to Buffalo line, and went through LaSalle when LaSalle was farmland."

To mark annexation day, June 1, 1927, Edward T. Williams, who was both historian and treasurer of the City of Niagara Falls, prepared a commemorative pamphlet. In it, he called the soon-to-be-joined municipalities "the Fastest Growing Village and the Fastest Growing City in the State of New York."

On June 1, 1927, after carrying their records from the Village of LaSalle to the new Niagara Falls City Hall, the officials of both municipalities, which had just become one, posed for a photo on the steps of City Hall. At left in the front row is Niagara Falls Mayor William Laughlin; next to him is the last president of the Village of LaSalle, George Stone. (Image Courtesy of the Niagara Falls Public Library)

However, Williams wrote, LaSalle had a slow start. In 1850, the village, then called Cayuga Creek, had only two homes, a sawmill, a tavern and a blacksmith's shop. In 1862, the village's name was changed to honor explorer Rene-Robert Cavalier de la Salle, who built his barque, Le Griffon, in 1679 near Cayuga Creek.

"LaSalle started as dairy and fruit farms," said Lasher Winslow. As nearby industries developed, such as the Adams Power Plant, homes were built for workers and managers. In fact, said Lasher Winslow, International Paper Co. held title to the houses it built for its employees on 67th and 68th streets, and during World War II, Bell Aircraft built nearly 200 "cracker box houses" on 75th and 76th streets.

"There are 188 of those, and only nine of those have not been altered from the original cracker boxes," said Lasher Winslow.

The community of mostly modest single-family homes was convenient and close-knit. "People could walk to the end of their streets, catch the trolley and go to work," Lasher Winslow said.

When LaSalle was a village, its streets had names, including Evershed (now 56th), Thomas Street,  Erickson Avenue and Roebling Place. After annexation, most streets were renamed with numbers in the City of Niagara Falls style.

Working for the first several years with the civic group LaSalle PRIDE, which formed in 2005, Winslow has produced a popular calendar that that features historic photos of LaSalle. A LaSalle Literary Club and the LaSalle Yacht Club also kept the village's name alive.

In 2016, the history of the one-time LaSalle Village Hall made it a good setting for scenes from the period biography "Marshall." The old jail cells from the former police station were used as a set for filming.

Through the years, Lasher Winslow has frequently spoken about LaSalle, usually drawing a crowd of former and current residents who are as anxious to share information as they are to learn. "People come to the lectures because they love LaSalle and they want to reminisce," she said. "Every time we had one of these lectures, there was a reunion of old neighbors or old classmates that hadn't seen each other in 40 years."

And what about the records from LaSalle's years as an independent village, the ones that were carried from the old Village Hall by President George Stone and other officials and handed over at Niagara Falls City Hall?

"There is very little left of village records," said Lasher Winslow. "I was able for a couple of months to get into the city archives, but it's pretty closed, and there is no index of anything.

"They were handed over before records management existed, so some were saved, some were thrown out, some were passed down, some were pitched. That happened all over the country, there are records missing everywhere. The Village of LaSalle records, if they do exist, they are not accessible at this point."

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