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UB finds remains of up to 150 people; Bones traced to era of county Poor Farm

Fragments of wooden coffins and skeletal remains from as many as 150 people have been unearthed in recent weeks at the University at Buffalo's South Campus on Main Street, bringing back to mind that these hallowed halls are on the site of hallowed grounds.

Workers replacing utility lines on campus along Bailey Avenue dug up remains believed to date back more than 100 years, when the property was home to the county's poor, and they were laid to rest in a potter's field.

Archaeologists are completing the removal of the remains and transferring them to Forest Lawn for reinterment, said Joseph Brennan, associate vice president for university communications.

"It's an interesting part of our history in Buffalo," Brennan said.

The 178-acre South Campus sits on the former site of the Erie County Almshouse and Poor Farm, which operated from 1853 to 1909, Brennan said.

UB became a school in downtown Buffalo in 1846 and received land from the county in 1909 to build what is today its South Campus.

Some of the buildings on the property were retained. Historic Hayes Hall, for example, was remodeled when the property was purchased for the university, Brennan said.

Traces of human remains were excavated during the 1960s, when the north end of the campus was developed, Brennan said. Old maps suggested the area served as a cemetery for the Poor Farm.

Over the years, traces of human remains have been uncovered during small construction projects in the area around Michael and Clement roads.

But in late March, workers replacing utility lines exposed skeletal remains from about 50 people, along with traces of wooden coffins.

UB archaeologist Doug Perrelli was notified to supervise the removal of the burials, Brennan said.

Then, a few days ago, during the second phase of excavations, workers found remains of about 100 more people.

"You really need to have a trained eye to notice," Brennan said. "Some of the remains are really very small -- pieces of bone smaller than a quarter. Others we are finding are a little larger -- maybe a few inches."

The lack of burial records is problematic for the archaeologists, Brennan said.

"We've done research in the county archives and can find ledgers with names of people who lived in the poor house and people who died when they were there," Brennan said. "In a couple of cases there were notations 'Buried on the farm,' but there is no document of specific people and where they were buried."

The remains are being individually stored and kept in a crypt in case they can ever be identified.

"We're trying to leave a legacy for the future," Brennan said, "but it's unlikely we'll ever be able to identify the individuals."

email: jrey@buffnews.com