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The Buffalo of Yesteryear: The long and winding history of South Park Avenue

This post is the first in an occasional series examining the history of the names of Buffalo’s streets.

South Park Avenue is one of Western New York’s major thoroughfares, beginning at the foot of Main Street behind KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo and ending when it enters the Village of Hamburg and becomes Buffalo Street. For most of its length, South Park carries U.S. Route 62, which itself runs between the Canadian border in Niagara Falls to the Mexican border in El Paso, Texas. It passes such landmarks as Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna.

But the route today known as South Park Avenue was cobbled together in 1939 from five different streets in order to make it simpler to travel to downtown Buffalo from the city line at Ridge Road.

The straight stretch of South Park that runs due south between South Buffalo and Hamburg was built around 1850 and originally named White’s Corners Plank Road, according to a history available at the Village of Hamburg’s website. The road took its name from Thomas T. White, who opened a shop in about 1820 at the present-day corner of Main and Buffalo streets in Hamburg, which was then called “White’s Corners.”

White’s Corners Plank Road was renamed South Park Avenue in 1893, according to a document available at the City of Buffalo’s website, one year before Frederick Law Olmsted designed the 155-acre South Park as an arboretum. (The park, at the southern city line and on the west side of South Park Avenue, is now home to the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens.) But maps from that period show that upon reaching South Buffalo’s Triangle neighborhood, South Park Avenue continued along the present-day path of Southside Parkway, eventually crossing Abbott Road and Cazenovia Creek and ending at Seneca Street.

Now, we have to go back to 1855 for a moment. That’s the year that the city built Triangle Street between what was then White’s Corners Plank Road and Abbott Road, so that traffic could avoid the intersection called Martin’s Corners – the present-day junction between Southside (again, White’s Corners Plank Road in 1855) and Abbott at Heacock Place. The new road created a right-angle triangle between the three streets, giving the neighborhood its name. In those days, Abbott Road continued across the Buffalo River and toward downtown, eventually merging into Elk Street. Downtown, Elk Street merged into Ohio Street before Ohio met Main where the KeyBank Center is today.

Confused yet? So were drivers trying to get downtown from Lackawanna. In 1939, the city created the new South Park Avenue, along (from south to north) South Park Avenue (which was previously White’s Corners Plank Road), Triangle Street, Abbott Road, Elk Street and Ohio Street. The portion of South Park Avenue between Triangle and Seneca streets (which crosses Abbott at Martin’s Corners) became Southside Parkway.

Now, drivers could reach downtown Buffalo from Hamburg and Lackawanna and only have to remember one street’s name.

South Park Avenue at Elk Street in the Valley. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

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