Notorious finger amputee, First Ward boss and Buffalo Courier Publisher William J. Conners – known to Buffalo’s grain scoopers and dock workers as Fingy Conners – lived in what his own newspaper called an “elegantly pretentious mansion,” saying the house at South Park and Tifft was “by far the handsomest and costliest dwelling at South Buffalo.”
But there was Conners’ “Columbia Villa” estate, and little else in 1894.
Tifft Street south of South Park was described as a “picturesque, unimproved dirt road – a miry and murky pathway after a heavy rain storm, and on sunshiny summer days a veritable ‘lover’s lane,’ being narrow and charmingly enclosed on both sides by luxuriant foliage.”
By the turn of the century, Conners had moved his family from the biggest house in South Buffalo to uptown’s elite Delaware Avenue. He spent at least five years trying to sell the sprawling estate at South Park and Tifft before it was bought by Rev. John Nash and the Catholic Church in 1902.
Holy Family church was built on the spot. The large house that was the centerpiece of “Columbia Villa” wasn’t demolished – it was moved across Tifft Street. In 1904, the house was sold to the Sisters of Mercy to become South Buffalo’s first and original Mercy Hospital.
Both the church and the hospital were a part of the ongoing efforts to develop the part of South Buffalo which had been known simply as Tifft Farm.
“The opening of a much-needed hospital in South Buffalo is of civic interest, as between the Steel Plant hospital and the Emergency Hospital, the distance to be covered has often proved fatal to the person suffering from a serious accident,” reported the Buffalo Catholic Union and Times in 1904.
“The hospital site is well chosen. It is convenient to the street car, and the open country lying on every side not only brings fresh breezes to the invalid, but allows a further purchase of ground before he wide stretch of vacant land (at South Park and Tifft) becomes dotted with dwelling houses and business blocks.”
That wouldn’t happen, though, as plans eventually called for a new, expanded hospital at Cazenovia and Abbott.
At the time the cornerstone was laid at the present hospital site in 1926, more than 9,700 patients had come through the old hospital that was being replaced.