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From 1880 to Today: The Erie County Almshouse

Chronicles continues a weekly look back at an illustrated map of Buffalo from 1880 and examines how the features on that map have — or haven't — changed over 138 years. Click here to explore the map in all its glory.

The 1880 map of the City of Buffalo loses its way as it gets to the most northern reaches of Buffalo, so it’s a bit difficult to tell which, if any, of the drawings represent the Erie County Almshouse, but the institution was a landmark on what was then the rural northern border of the City of Buffalo.

Today, the august limestone building that was built as the "Insane Department” of the county poor house is now UB’s Hayes Hall. Hayes Hall was famously taken over in March 1969 by students protesting the Vietnam War. It was also the site of marches and protests during the much larger and widespread student protests in 1970.

Next door is Wende Hall, which was built in 1885 as the maternity ward for what had become the Erie County Hospital.

That’s what remains of the above ground, but there is still more underfoot. As many as 3,000 of Erie County’s poor were anonymously buried across what is now the UB Campus. As the campus has expanded over the years, construction has unearthed many of the remains.

In 2012, work to replace sewer lines on the South Campus had to wait while another, more personal excavation took place first. UB archaeologists and students removed  crumbling coffins, interred more than a century ago, that held the remains of more than 300 men, women and children who died at the almshouse between 1850 and 1913.

Some still had with them remnants of their impoverished lives – shreds of clothing, rosaries and crosses, and deteriorating books and newspapers, most of them in German and French.

The history of the site was detailed by Melinda Miller in a 2014 Buffalo News story:

On UB campus, stories from old almshouse are pieced together from the bones left behind

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