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Black Rock embraces community

The Black Rock Historical Society opened in a storefront on Niagara Street on Thursday, but it was more than a celebration of past events.

Organizers are banking on the Historical Society to help revitalize one of Buffalo’s oldest neighborhoods and inspire residents who live there.

“It’s a very interesting combination of history and community work,” said Mary Ann Kedron, president of the Black Rock-Riverside Alliance and a trustee of the Historical Society. “We have to understand the history of the place we’re living in. There’s so much history in the area, it just comes up from the ground, I swear.”

Displays in the Historical Society, at 1902 Niagara, represent the neighborhoods of Black Rock, Riverside, Grant-Amherst and West Hertel.

Photographs play a big part in the displays and reflect a 10-year collection effort facilitated by Mark Kubiniec, president of the Grant-Amherst Business Association.

The Black Rock Historic Photo Project received 1,800 photos, said Kubiniec, who operates Joe’s Service Center at Elmwood Avenue and Amherst Street. The photographs depicting the Black Rock Channel, a railroad belt line and Roc-Mar Bowling Center were the subject of three popular events at the Buffalo History Museum in 2012.

“It was amazing that we had so many people, and we even turned some away,” Kubiniec recalled. “Some of the people pictured in the photos were actually in the audience. The photos were so beautiful, they drew collective gasps from the audience. They opened up a lot of eyes.”

In the historical society, Kubiniec sees another opportunity.

“History offers people an identity,” he said. “The Historical Society is a venue for illustrating the historical importance of the neighborhood. Most of the history of Black Rock has been oral, and now we have a place to display it.”

Even the cabinets in the Historical Society have a story. Donated by former School 60 on Ontario Street, the cabinets date from the late 1800s.

Yearbooks from the mid-1940s include one marking the 50th anniversary of the former School 51 on Hertel Avenue.

Doreen DeBoth lived in Allentown for 17 years before she moved to Riverside and became a community activist. As chairwoman of the Historical Society, she recorded a donation of memorabilia from the old Pratt & Lambert Paints at Tonawanda and Amherst streets. The journals and photos donated by the paint company date to 1913, she said.

Directions for several self-guided walks based on the Village of Black Rock, the War of 1812 and Grant-Amherst are available at the center.

One of the walks is a look at community vegetable gardens. And even that one has some history. The Farmer’s Garden Patch at Farmer and Guernsey streets is on land that once was part of an old dairy behind former School 51. This year, a fifth garden will be added to the network of community vegetable gardens in Shaffer Village.

“And they are all tied to some history, as well,” Kedron said.

Attracting volunteers remains a challenge. “Getting people to believe they have something to contribute is a challenge because people may think they don’t have a needed skill set,” Kedron said. “It doesn’t matter what you can do because we can use your help.”

The Historical Society hopes to include history from the hundreds of immigrants who have settled in area neighborhoods.

“We have a lot of immigrants in our community right now and a big Burmese community,” she said. “We would like to tap into their histories. The historical society is our shining star right now.”

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