Share this article

print logo


This is one in a series of occasional stories that explores Western New York locales.

IF YOU'RE taking a patio vacation this summer and looking for something new in Buffalo, may we suggest something old instead?

With the heightened interest in preservation, it's time to take a closer look at our hometown's heritage.

Coincidentally, history and architectural tours are sprouting up everywhere. Under expert guidance, it is possible to walk Delaware Avenue's millionaires' row, visit East Side churches, hike the world-famous Olmsted park system and ride the Buffalo River.

If you pay close attention, along the way you'll pick up facts and gossipy tidbits such as these:

Indigo dye for blue jeans is produced at Buffalo Color Corp., the only U.S. manufacturer of such dye.

The mistress of actress Katharine Cornell's father lived on Anderson Place.

Corpus Christi Catholic Church on Clark Street
needed an extra generator to power hundreds of lights, installed when electricity was new.

The Canadiana was the last ship built here, bringing to an end 150 years of shipbuilding.

Let's start the overview of tours with one that glides along the Buffalo River; it's sponsored by the Industrial Heritage Committee. This isn't a trip of pastoral beauty, but it is compelling because it's a glimpse into the guts of our industrial background.

As the boat leaves the Miss Buffalo dock, slowly moving past the normally unseen side of a World War II cruiser and submarine at the Buffalo Naval and Servicemen's Park, tour guides Jerry Malloy and Lorraine Pierro talk about Joseph Dart, inventor in 1842 of the mechanized bucket system for loading and unloading grain, which set Buffalo up as a model for other ports.

For years the grain industry dominated the riverfront and elevators continue to dominate the vista.

There's a brick structure, Buffalo's oldest, built in 1897.

There's Concrete Central, a quarter-mile-long fa cility that unloaded three freighters, canal boats and rail cars simultaneously.

And there are examples of elevators built by the slip-form method, another Buffalo innovation that enabled these structures to rise out of grass fields into full elevators within 30 days.

"As historical monuments, these are as important as any statues or Victorian houses," said Ms. Pierro.

But there's plenty of other life along the river: views of residential streets; sailboats moored along the shore; the majestic great blue heron that glides across bordering fields; a dredging boat at work; the Dead Creek inlet, filled in decades ago with debris from the Larkin Building, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

"That's how they treated their landmarks back then," said Malloy.

Some of the newer businesses on the river are a recycling facility that grinds tires into two-inch chips and stores them in tanks that formerly held molasses; a malt producer for Genesee Brewing in Rochester, and junked cars that are crushed and reground at Advanced Metals Recycling.

This tour will be given again Saturday, Sunday and July 28. Tickets may be purchased at the Harbor Inn Restaurant, 288 Ohio St., or by calling 852-4954.

Some of the longest-established walking tours are those offered by the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, which has been doing them since the mid-1970s.

On these tours you'll hear about the Greek revival and Italianate styles, hipped roofs, cupolas, brackets, dentils, mansard roofs and more. But don't be intimidated by the terms. Guides are low-key and helpful.

And they supply reams of information during a two-hour tour: North Street was once called Guide Board Road because it was the main east-west link between Main Street and the Niagara River.

"The Indians put up guide boards on trees so people wouldn't get lost," said Sue Saunders, a veteran guide.

When the name changed to North Street, it was the northern boundary of the city and Linwood Avenue was a farm trail.

Though Mrs. Saunders claims she didn't know much about Buffalo history when she started, she can now talk endlessly about houses, streets and the lives of the people who occupied them.

A sampler of her voluminous knowledge: Children's Hospital started as a 12-bedroom hospital, run by a woman and her daughter in their home. Katharine Cornell was brought up on Mariner Street. St. Michael's Catholic Church used to have a 2 a.m. service, called the Printers' Mass, for printers who were finishing their shifts at local newspapers as well as downtown revelers.

A walk up Delaware Avenue is a walk into Buffalo's moneyed past.

"If you had the money, you lived on Delaware," Mrs. Saunders said.

The Red Cross building, formerly the Clement House, is one of the most extravagant of these and was designed by architect E.B. Green, darling of the rich and famous.

"The Christmas tree that filled the window marked the opening of Buffalo's Christmas season every year," Mrs. Saunders said.

Architectural Walking Tours include these areas: Allentown, Delaware Avenue, Main and North Pearl, and downtown. Tour guides may be arranged for a minimum of six people, or self-directed tapes may be rented. Information is available at the site or by calling 884-0095.

For a stroll in the park, capped off with a breakfast under a grove of trees, join the Parks Tour Breakfast Club 1990 sponsored by the Buffalo Friends of Olmsted Parks.

Tours last about two hours, although they may stretch longer, depending on the interest of the group, said Susan West, executive director.

"You aren't cattle-prodded through," she said. "We try to have an intimate feel even if the group gets large."

Now in their second year, the tours examine configurations and features that are purely Olmsted, Ms. West said.

"Many people use the parks for recreation and relaxation, but this enhances their appreciation and heightens their experience of the park," she said.

The lake in South Park is one example of Olmsted's genius, Ms. West said. "Although the lake is small, as you move around it your view is constantly changing and you have a sense that it's much larger. Though people may experience things like this and think that they are beautiful, they don't know why they are masterpieces of design."

Tours are scheduled for Saturday, South Park; July 14, Delaware Park Lakeside; July 28, Front Park, and Aug. 11, Cazenovia Park. Breakfast on a blanket includes fresh fruit, croissants, sweet rolls, juice and coffee. To make reservations, call 838-1249.

If you venture to the East Side only at Christmas and Easter for a Broadway Market food run, you're bypassing a neighborhood that deserves far more attention.

A morning with the Preservation Coalition of Erie County during its Polonia tour can send you back to the middle of the last century when the immigration of Polish people was at its height.

"It's when the churches were being built because they were always the center of village life. And music organizations were being started to recall the singing in the fields and dancing at festivals," said Peter M. Filim, coalition trustee.

To accommodate the influx of new citizens, residents built "telescope" houses, so called because they got progressively smaller as additions were built onto the backs, said Filim.

"The men who came to Buffalo to work roomed together. They started out with these small additions that they used just for eating and sleeping before they went to work."

The Polonia tour will be repeated Sept. 15. Included are St. Stanislaus and Corpus Christi churches; the New York Central Terminal; Dom Polski, the PolishO Community Center, and the Broadway Market.

Other tours offered by the coalition include:

Joseph Ellicott's Downtown, highlighted by the Guaranty Building, City Hall and Erie Community College.

H.H. Richardson's Twin Towers, inside the Buffalo Psychiatric Center's Romanesque 19th century building.

E.B. Green's Delaware District, a look at interiors of homes once owned by Buffalo's wealthy citizens.

Information on these tours and others designed to fit a group's special interests can be arranged by calling 873-3626.
"Telescope" houses got progressively smaller as additions were built onto the backs.

There are no comments - be the first to comment