by Fred Schrock

Author Archive

Travel Thru History: Upstate New York

Here are both episodes of Travel Thru History featuring Upstate New York. This week they aired “Buffalo/Niagara” and last week they aired “Albany/Saratoga” (I’m featured at the State Capitol segment starting at 14:30).

A Heritage Guide to Albany: First Look

Back in March I had the opportunity to work with Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s Heritage Tourism Committee, where I drafted the first-ever guide solely dedicated to heritage sites in the city.  Two weeks ago, the first edition was released. I may be biased, but their results look quite impressive.

Cover of the 2014 guide

I created the original layout, wrote almost all of the text, and introduced a number of other additions (QR codes, site hours in grid form, et cetera). After April, the Committee made their necessary revisions and brought in graphic artists to bring the project to life. You can download the entire booklet as a PDF here.

Two listings inside

It was a challenge to organize 400 years of history succinctly, let alone provide directions to all the disparate sites. One of my suggestions was to map out not only the sites a tourist would visit but the great architecture they would see along the way. The back of the guide provides a way to find the city’s many buildings and sites on the National Register of Historic Places:

I even tried my hand at defining themes for the featured sites; an extra layer of info for visitors who are tight on time and have particular interests in mind. I hope Albany revisits and revises these themes as develops its heritage tourism strategy in future editions. Special thanks goes to all the people I worked with listed below.

The Legend of Murder Creek

Murder Creek in Akron Falls Park. The quickly moving water powered small mills in the early 1800s.

Happy Halloween. . . . This story has been retold around Akron, New York, a village in the town of Newstead, over the last two centuries. Even the official website for Erie County has a variant of it online. The definitive tale is by Arthur C. Parker, who recounted it in The Life of General Ely S. Parker: Last Grand Sachem of the Iroquois. It was published by the Buffalo Historical Society in 1919; any more recent publication appears to derive from that source.

A professional historian and folklorist, Arthur was Ely’s great nephew and a Seneca Indian. He made the story part of the biography “for it was gossiped about the Parker fireside in the years of the early [18] ’30’s, and its dramatic incidents happened but a little way from their own doorstep. It is of importance, too, to those who live today, for it explains the ghosts that hover about the haunted corners.”

The below version of The Legend of Murder Creek was part of their 4th Grade local history curriculum at Akron Central School in the 1980s. I do not know who wrote it or if any other copies exist today, but it is definitely a direct adaptation of Parker’s book–even reusing the final sentence.

Akron Falls was known as Falkirk Falls for a time, and Falkirk a distinct settlement from Akron. This map from 1855 added an extra “L” to the name. East Avenue now runs along Murder Creek.

The Legend of Murder Creek.

Murder Creek was originally known to the Indians as See-un-gut (roar of distant waters). This legend tells how the name was changed.

In the spring of 1820, a white man, named John Dolph came from Mohawk country near Utica and built his log cabin close to the See-un-gut. The creek attracted many settlers in those days because it was necessary to be near water as a source of power to operate mills. It was also important for the settler’s personal needs.

John Dolph and Peter Van Deventer had planned to build a sawmill on the Creek. One evening in October, John and his wife were discussing plans when they heard a shriek from the woods. John opened the door and saw an Indian girl running towards him breathlessly yelling, “Save me. Please save me!” John let her in his cabin and closed the door on a man on the outside yelling “Let me in!”

The Dolphs hid the girl and allowed the man in.

“My name is Sanders,” said the man, “and that girl is a prisoner, whom I am to take to authorities in Canada. Her father, a chief, placed her in my hands, because she wishes to marry a bad Indian.”

He looked around the cabin to see if he could find her. He couldn’t, and flew into a rage muttering, “She shall not escape, I will find her yet!” He then left the ca[b]in and hid himself in the woods.

Mr. and Mrs. Dolph then listened to the story of Ah-weh-hah’s (Wild Rose’s) life.

My home is near Spirit Lake, under the cliff about a mile below the Tonawanda Falls. My mother has been dead several years and my father, a chief of the Senecas, has just been murdered by Sanders. For more than a year, this dreadful man has been staying around Spirit Lake begging me to marry him. I love Toh-yon-oe (Gray Wolf) and will become his wife very soon. Sanders told me that rather than see me the wife of a Seneca, he would murder me and all who stood in his way.

My father and I were going to the Cattaraugus nation to avoid trouble. Gray Wolf was going to meet us there. We started out on foot, taking the old trail, leading to Te-os-ah-wah, a place called Buffalo by your people. When we reached the See-un-gut my father sat down to rest. Sanders came up behind us and said he was sorry for his past conduct. He wished me happiness in my life with Gray Wolf. The man spoke so nicely, he tricked us. When I turned to look eastward, I heard a blow strike and then a groan. Quickly I turned to see my father laying dead on the ground with Sanders standing over him with a club in his hands.

I fled into the forest with him close behind yelling he would kill me too. Here I am. You know the rest.

The Dolphs located Gray Wolf and informed him of the tragedy. He came to his sweetheart and together they journeyed to her father’s grave where John had buried him. They chanted the death song, as a last token of their affection. A grave fire was lighted and the sacred tobacco incense rose to life the burden of their prayer to the Maker of All.

Suddenly Sanders appeared from behind a tree. He and Gray Wolf struggled with knife and tomahawk until Sanders fell from losing too much blood. He was dead. Gray Wolf tried to speak to Wild Rose but instead staggered forward and fell. They had both died at her father’s graveside.

Mr. Dolph heard her cry. He found her on her knees sobbing the death chant. John then buried both bodies and comforted Wild Rose.

She often went to visit the graves of her father and sweetheart to chant her grief. One day the Dolphs missed her, they went out to the graveyard and found her lying upon the grave of Gray Wolf, dead of a broken heart. Beside the graves of her father and sweetheart she was buried.

As the legend goes ——- if you stroll along Murder Creek at midnight, you may hear the voices of the two lovers as they wander over the new dust on the ancient trail. Death united them in a bond the years have not broken.

Alfred E. Smith Building: The Lobby Ceiling Murals

Samuel F.B. Morse, John Roebling, William Cullen Bryant, and Peter Stuyvesant (clockwise from top) on the Smith lobby ceiling

David C. Lithgow; from a 1978 edition of The Times Record.

David Cunningham Lithgow was born in Sheffield, England on 12 November 1868 but immigrated to the United States from Glasgow, Scotland as a young man, finally settling in the Capitol region in 1890. Some of his art depicts scenes of the Adirondacks, where he once had a cabin. Some family members believe he lived for a time on an Iroquois reservation and sketched many of its residents. Starting with odd jobs—draftsman for the Gilbert Car Works, drop painter at the Strand Theatre in Albany and Proctor’s in Troy—Lithgow became a nationally recognized artist. Some of his works include civic auditoriums in Cleveland, Ohio and Long Beach, California, and the courthouse in Elizabethtown. Lithgow lived at Hudson Avenue on Green Island until his death on 26 May 1958 at age 89.

Lithgow’s mural of Lafayette above Proctor’s Theater in Troy; from After the Final Curtain

Lithgow’s sculptures can be found throughout Albany, including the Spanish-American War Monument at Townsend Park and the St. Andrew’s Monument at Albany Rural Cemetery. Some of his other murals can still be found in financial institutions such as the Fleet Bank at State and Pearl Street, the State Bank of Albany, and the Cohoes Savings Bank. His most well-known murals, however, are probably the Iroquois paintings in the State Education Building.

William Andrew Mackay; from Camoupedia

WWI propaganda by Charles B. Falls; image from Wikipedia

The Smith Lobby Ceiling Mural is attributed to Lithgow, but in the center panel, four small faces are painted next to three names: William Andrew Mackay, Louis J. Borgo, and Charles B. Falls. Mackay and Borgo also painted the ceiling of the State Office Building in Buffalo, and Falls was a professional illustrator. Interestingly, Falls developed propaganda posters during World War I, including some of the earliest uses of the “Devil Dog” by the Marines, while Mackay helped design camouflage for ships. This center section features four modes of transportation and commerce: trucking, flight, shipping, and locomotives.

The surrounding eight panels altogether depict the visages of thirty-two famous New Yorkers, from political leaders to explorers, scientists, engineers, inventors, artists, authors, and entrepreneurs. (Many of these faces in the Smith Building can also be found carved in the Great Western Staircase just across the street at the New York State Capitol.)

About a decade ago, Evergreene Architectural Arts restored the paintings in the lobby ceiling and several other rooms; this image comes from their website

A diagram of all the faces in the ceiling murals can be found by clicking here.

From 1933 to 1946, Lithgow worked on a series of fourteen murals at the Milne School in what is now the second floor of the Nelson A. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University of Albany. It is no surprise that the themes he explored in those later murals—the Mohawk people, Albany as a trading port, and Henry Hudson’s 1609 voyage—reflect a long painting career accentuated by his projects on Capitol Hill. Those paintings are currently being restored. In fact, one of the University murals is of Capitol Hill itself, complete with an image of the Smith Building.

“1943–Capitol Hill–Modern Albany–Three Forms of Architecture” by Lithgow for the Milne School, now part of the University of Albany

Why a Presidential Assassination is Proudly Displayed in a Government Building

Panoramic view; click to enlarge

Edwin W. Becker was born on 10 December 1912 in Brooklyn. He moved to the Albany area in the 1930s, eventually living on Nathaniel Boulevard in the suburb of Delmar, and enlisted in the Signal Corps during World War II. An employee of the New York State Department of Civil Service, he was an agency artist for four decades. The Civil Service Mural he completed in 1962 was located where he worked: the Harriman State Office Building Campus just outside the city. In 2006, when Civil Service workers relocated into the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building across from the State Capitol, they brought the mural with them. It has been on display in the Department’s reception room ever since.

Civil Service workers, from teacher to park ranger

The Civil Service Mural highlights New York’s movement from a “spoils system” of patronage to the modern merit system of today. Users of patronage—DeWitt Clinton, Martin Van Buren, and Thurlow Weed, for example—are shown next to important reformers such as Dorman B. Eaton, Elihu Root, Theodore Roosevelt, and Grover Cleveland. In the left background, one can see the Hudson River, Henry Hudson’s ship the Half Moon, Robert Fulton’s steamship the Clermont, and packet boats on the Erie Canal. On the right, different Civil Service occupations are represented by various figures in occupational garb.

The killing of President Garfield

The most shocking feature of the mural reenacts a presidential assassination. Slightly left of center, the disgruntled patronage job seeker Charles Guiteau puts a bullet into James A. Garfield. The figures of several other men seem to watch as the shooting takes place, looking interested but unwilling to stop it. As listed by name at the end of this article, those men were politicians infamous for their use of patronage in political machines and opposing reforms. Though Vice President Chester A. Arthur had his own shady personal history with the spoils system, he made civil service reform the highlight of his short presidency. When he signed the Pendleton Act in 1882, it created a federal Civil Service Commission. New York was quick to make its own reforms, even instituting them directly into the State Constitution of 1894. President Arthur is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery.

Mastodon mural on display c.1960. Historic photo from the current mastodon exhibit

Along with three other Delmar artists, Edwin Becker was part of a group called “The Village Four.” They held local art showings and contests in the 1950s and 1960s. The Albany Institute of History and Art exhibited some of his works as well, where he taught art classes in his spare time. Becker also painted murals for the mastodon display at the New York State Museum as seen in this black and white image from a 1957 issue of the Knickerbocker News. His 1960 mural depicting the history of Schenectady can still be seen in the First Niagara Bank on State Street in that city. Becker died on 6 February 1989 at the age of 76.

Becker’s Civil Service Mural

Building on the Past for Our Future

preservaion 4

Back in 2009 I worked with filmmaker Diedie Weng on this documentary as part of Squeaky Wheel’s Channels program. Through this film, Diedie aimed to promote a conversation about low income communities’ efforts and struggles in revitalizing neglected historic Buffalo neighborhoods. It’s hard to believe the project began five years ago. Her efforts to film all those locations and edit all those interviews was an immense task, compounded by her living situation at the time. A Chinese national, she was living primarily in Toronto at the time, traveling between all three countries frequently.

Granted, my work mostly involved driving her to locations, procuring the right equipment, and other off-camera details. but it was still an eye-opening experience.  Since Diedie was not from the city she had a fresh take on every place and person she saw. Probably a thousand people watched the film at the premiere night or online soon after. Later I took the film to presentations at libraries, classrooms, and community centers, and distributed dvds by request. At least five hundred more people watched the films through those “screenings.”


I think the film has held up remarkably well. There is nothing so unique about the problems being faced in Buffalo five years ago that cannot be understood by any city in America today. The recent Congress for the New Urbanism conference in the city tangibly articulated this. And issues in many of the places presented still persist: the bar being refurbished near the Central Terminal closed quickly, for example, and there is no new community museum in the Fruit Belt. The Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre, where the premiere and reception took place, will show its last movie tonight and close its doors.


One location where we did a lot of filming has shown an amazing transformation: the German Roman Catholic Orphan Home on Dodge Street. Below is a photo from showing what the outside looked like.

Now I can admit that we swung around the back and entered through some loose boards. This photo from FixBuffalo shows the inside:

German Roman Catholic Orphan Home - Buffalo, NY

A smashed piano lay in pieces in the chapel, exposed in the darkness by holes in the roof. Down the hall, the floors were either covered in damaged tile or incredibly soft. I distinctly remember Diedie so concentrated on her camera that she did not realize the floor had given way right in front of her. Had I not warned her she would have fallen twelve feet right into the basement.

None of that footage made it into the film. Thankfully, the chapel and the adjoining building (seen above) is now part of St. Martin Village, a private redevelopment that uses part of the original campus as new housing. Click here to see a panoramic view on Google Maps. It’s not a perfect example of preservation but a sea change from what existed there half a decade prior.

St. Martin Village

Schrock Family Photos

An aunt recently passed away, and in her home a number of old photographs were rediscovered.  My cousin Jasson Schrock of Heipile scanned the photos below, as well as many more.

My grandfather, Tobe Schrock, was stationed in Japan after World War II. He is the one on the right.

Tobe was trained as a paratrooper while in the Army.

Joseph “Dynamite Joe” Schrock was a grandfather of Tobe, living from 1836 to 1912. Tobe’s father–also Joseph–lived from 1872 until 1946, right when Tobe was about to leave for Japan.

The Schrock farm in Indiana

This photo is captioned “Ezra Lantz, his wife, and Emma Schrock.” Emma Schrock, left, was Joseph Schrock’s husband and lived from 1888 to 1989.

Tobe, Atlee, Perry, Alvin Schrock playing in the snow.

Schrocks eventually moved to Akron, New York. This silo used to be on the property until it went down from being too full.

Manley, Tom, Paul, Tommy, Jerry, Kathy, David, Shirley Cummings, 1956.  According to my father Jerry, this “picture of everyone on the porch eating candy apples, was taken at the farm of Walter Host on Burdick Road. Walter was Fred’s and Jasson’s Great Grand Father [father to Tobe’s wife Margaret, Jerry’s mother].”

Taylor Photo Archives c.1930-2010

Shortly after my wedding just a couple months ago, a relative dropped off a box of personal photos collected by my grandmother who passed away three years ago.  Not all photos were found with labels, and over time faces and places were forgotten. Some of the 1000 images go back to at least 1930.  Below is a slideshow featuring just a fraction of the images I digitally scanned over a week’s time.

Catherine Taylor (born Catherine Euphemia Graham) was the child of Canadian missionaries who owned a home in Jasper, Ontario.  She also lived in Egypt for a lengthy period of time during childhood–long enough to learn Arabic and get sick of the Pyramids, she recalled–and again doing her own missionary work as an adult. She also traveled Europe and the Middle East shortly after World War II. With training as a nurse and a schoolteacher, she eventually settled down on a farm in Cardinal, Ontario with my grandfather Charles.

The collection is a fascinating look at a world that looks vaguely familiar to today, but not quite. Nations like Palestine, Transjordan, and West Germany don’t exist in the same way anymore. But then again, neither does Canada. . . .

Buffalo Themed Wedding

Jennifer and I were married on Saturday. Photos may come later but I wanted to post some images of the centerpieces. They are custom laser etchings designed and produced by Sean Nowicki of BFLOMADE, with Jennifer’s input. Sean recently put up an Etsy page so people can contact him directly. Our centerpieces were a bit large but he can create 2-D and 3-D etchings of most anything in different sizes.

Is This the Most Architecturally Significant Building in Buffalo?

The century-old Delaware Court is an elegant, unobtrusive building on the Chippewa Strip. The events that took place inside, however, changed the city forever. For decades, Delaware Court was a mecca for Buffalo’s most important architects as they built Buffalo’s most important buildings.

The Delaware Court Building, planned for demolition. Photo from September 2013

A much earlier photo with Delaware Court in background. From listing on Preservation Ready Sites

Delaware Court was designed by architects Lansing, Bley & Lyman and opened in 1917. Lawrence Bley hailed from nearby Hamburg, while Duane Lyman, once declared the “Dean of Western New York Architecture,” was originally from Lockport. Williams Lansing worked previously as a draftsman for the prolific Green & Wicks firm, then partnered with Green & Wicks draftsman Max Beierl to build landmarks such as the Connecticut Street Armory and St. Francis Xavier Church (now the Buffalo Religious Arts Center). Lansing, Bley & Lyman worked together for less than ten years and Delaware Court is one of their few remaining commissions. Still, they created some notable buildings, including the current President’s House for Buffalo State College on Lincoln Parkway. Lansing left the firm in 1919 to partner with Chester Oakley, but Lansing died a year later. Oakley continued until his own death in 1968, best known for a trinity of ornate Catholic Churches: St. John the Baptist, Blessed Trinity, and St. Casimir’s.

Minoru Yamasaki, lower left, and Duane Lyman, upper right, in 1963. Photo from Chris Brown

Bley & Lyman worked together for another two decades, designing the Saturn Club, building 800 West Ferry for Darwin R. Martin, and partnering with EB Green for what is now the Old Federal Courthouse on Niagara Square. When Bley died in 1939, Lyman carried on as Lyman & Associates until his passing in 1966. That firm supervised the addition to the Liberty Building, Minuro Yamasaki’s One M&T Plaza, and several buildings on the University of Buffalo’s South Campus. Like many later architects they used the Delaware Court location as a springboard for bigger and bigger opportunities.

Postcard of Rand Building at night

Delaware Court immediately attracted other architects as tenants.  In 1917 architect William A. Kidd moved in with partner and brother Franklyn J. Kidd, where they remained until 1922. Their most well-known work from that period is probably the Rand House on Delaware Avenue’s “Millionaire’s Row.” Today the mansion is home to Canisius High School. Later, Kidd & Kidd would also design the Rand Building on Lafayette Square and assist Eliel & Eero Saarinen on the world-famous Kleinhans Music Hall on Symphony Circle.

After World War I, Delaware Court became a hive of activity.  Buffalo’s booming population required the city to set aside $8 million for construction of not one but eighteen new public schools. Rather than compete for eighteen separate commissions, thirty-five architectural firms banded together to form Associated Buffalo Architects, Inc. and opened an office in Room 40 of Delaware Court. Individual firms would be given buildings but recognition would go to the ABA. Contracting directly with the Buffalo Board of Education, the entire project was put under the auspices of an internally chosen board of local architects. Duane Lyman was appointed Secretary.

A rendering of Intermediate School #11 by the Association of Buffalo Architects, designed by George Cary and located at Doat Street and Poplar Avenue. Cary was on the Board of Architects for the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 and designed the Buffalo History Museum.

“It will no doubt come as a shock . . . to learn that fifty architects in the city of Buffalo consented to have seven of their number pass judgement on their professional qualifications,” noted the Journal of the American Institute of Architects. The Engineering News Record called the association “A very striking example of disinterested service to the public by a group of professional men–the most striking we can recall in the construction professions.” Contractors could still bid on specific construction projects through the BoE, but blueprints and other plans were only available through the Delaware Court office.

A rendering of Intermediate School #2 by the Association of Buffalo Architects, designed by Esenwein & Johnson (closed in 1961 and later demolished). Esenwein & Johnson are best known for the Electric Tower, the Calumet Building, and Lafayette High School.

Even more notable, the association brought in the nationally renowned William B. Ittner of St. Louis as Consulting Architect for all school designs. Ittner promoted a general “E” formation of central schools throughout the country, using distanced wings for subject-specific classrooms and labs and a middle third wing for gymnasium, auditorium, and cafeteria use. If you attended a school built between World War I and World War II you were probably in some version of an “E” plan school, and the man who popularized it worked out of Delaware Court.  This format was used in cities as well as rural schools, as the era of one-room schoolhouses subsided in favor of central school districts around this time. Ittner’s push for orderly and efficient school plants was promoted in earnest with the aid of the Department of the Interior. The “E” type is probably the most ubiquitous public architecture in American history.  ABA no longer exists, but Ittner’s firm established in 1899 still creates schools.

Did your school look like this? Image from the American School Board Journal; click to enlarge

Buffalo City Hall under construction. Photo from Library of Congress

In 1926 the new firm of Dietel & Wade moved into Delaware Court.  For the next five years, plans for one of the biggest buildings of its kind in the nation came out of their office.  While at Delaware and Chippewa they designed and oversaw the construction of Buffalo City Hall–one of the premier examples of Art Deco anywhere.  Architect John Wade brought in extra staff including his mentor, Sullivan W. Jones, to assist on the large project.  Jones was simultaneously the State Architect under Governor Al Smith.  (One of the few remaining buildings by George Dietel, the St. Francis de Sales church in Hamlin Park, is currently for sale.)

National Gypsum Company headquarters on Delaware Avenue. Photo from WNY Heritage

Like Duane Lyman, Frederick C. Backus was a veteran of World War I; he worked as a draftsman for Bley & Lyman for a time.  At one point Backus was also Buffalo’s City Architect before striking out on his own, and the City Architect’s office is where he found draftsman Donald Love.  Backus originally hired David Crane, who worked in EB Green’s office, as his personal draftsman in 1936 but elevated him to partner.  Love would take leave during World War II but would return after being wounded in battle. Backus, Crane & Love remained in Delaware Court into the 1960s and were trailblazers for Buffalo’s modernist, post-war construction period.  They designed major projects including Erie County’s Rath Building, the Marine Drive Apartments, and the National Gypsum Company Building.

Willert Park Courts. Photo from the Library of Congress

Backus, Crane & Love’s most historic accomplishment–like the Delaware Court building where it was conceived–is under threat of demolition.  The Willert Park Courts, the first public housing open to African-Americans in Buffalo, began construction in 1939.  A WPA project, the first phase consisted of 172 apartments.   For years it was the only public housing for the city’s African-Americans, and it remains a cultural landmark for generations of residents to this day.  Walls and private entrances still exhibit unique sculptures by Depression-era artists Robert Cronbach and Harold Ambellan.  In 1940, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City published a Guide to Modern Architecture featuring the most vital modern buildings of the 20th century.  MoMA highlighted Willert Park alongside Louis Sullivan & Dankmar Adler’s Guaranty Building and commissions by Frank Lloyd Wright as Buffalo’s best examples of modern design.

The office of Backus, Crane & Love in Delaware Court c.1946. Photo from American Institute of Architects

Delaware Court’s convenient location for networking, its large windows able to flood sunlight onto drafting tables, and an attractive, classically designed facade (as if to advertise “Professional Architects Inside”) are all reasons why it became a mecca for Buffalo architects. Recent hotel development plans for the property involve complete demolition of the building and the removal of all tenants.  New construction, however, would mimic the curved corner entrance. Developers have hinted as preserving pieces of terra cotta decoration but those plans appear tenuous at best. Toronto’s Allen Lambert Galleria in Brookfield Place comes immediately to mind as an example of how older buildings can be woven into new construction if an inspired architect is involved.  One wonders what a Duane Lyman, John Wade, or Frederick Backus would design for the property if they were alive today. . . .

Proposed new building for Delaware Court Site. Image from Buffalo Rising.

Thanks to Jennifer Walkowski for some of the information in this post.

Buffalo Bills Boogie: You’ve Lost That Winning Feeling

Recently I rediscovered my old Buffalo Bills Boogie cassettes, song parodies played the week before each Bills game on oldies station 104.1 WHTT-FM. Here are the songs I have; maybe you can help me find more. Coincidentally, one track is “You’ve Lost that Winning Feeling” from the 1993 season opener versus the New England Patriots.  (The Bills won at home, 38-14).

Cassette cover from the 1992 edition. Tapes and CDs were sold at Dunn Tire locations and supported local charities.

For anyone meeting up with friends before kickoff, you can turn these tapes into a game.  For example, take a drink anytime a player is mentioned who is in the Hall of Fame.  Take another drink whenever the singer references “Oldies 104” and personalities like Danny Neaverth.  Also below are the final scores of each game and what song is parodied (except for one I just can’t recall).  Unless that team relocated or did not exist twenty years ago you will find a song for each team Buffalo will play in 2013.

I only own tapes from 1991 and 1992, the Bills’ second and third Super Bowl years.  Someone named Matt Mavi uploaded the years I have to YouTube in addition to the 1993 song above.  (Thanks!)  Another blogger named Tim Minneci posted earlier files dubbed right from radio broadcasts.   Once I read there were recordings made from 1988 through 1994 but I can’t confirm it.  If you know anything about these or other parodies, please leave a comment!  The closest modern equivalent to these songs would have to be the weekly Let’s Go Bills Rap.

Buffalo Bills Boogie 1991 (Intro)

Buffalo is Going to London Town (Eagles-Preseason)
Parody of “I Feel Fine” by The Beatles; Won 17–13

Go Bills (Dolphins)
Parody of “Good Lovin'” by The Young Rascals; Won 35-31

Please Mr. Bubby (Steelers)
Parody of “Mr. Custer” by Larry Verne; Won 52-34

We’re Gonna Beat the Jets (Jets)
Parody of “I’m Into Something Good” by Herman’s Hermits; Won 23-20

Return to Tampa (Buccaneers)
Parody of “Return to Sender” by Elvis Presley; Won 17-10

Beatin’ the Bears (Chicago)
Parody of “Draggin’ the Line” by Tommy James and the Shondells; Won 35-20

Kansas City Here We Come (Chiefs)
Parody of “Kansas City” by Wilbert Harrison; Lost 33-6

The Bills Went On a Tear (Colts)
Parody of “I Saw Her Standing There” by The Beatles; Won 42-6

Blowin’ Away Cincinnati (Bengals)
Parody of “Working My Way Back to You” by The Four Seasons; Won 35-16

Rock New England (Patriots)
Parody of “Rock Me Gently” by Andy Kim; Won 22-17

We’ll Beat You (Packers)
Parody of “She Loves You” by The Beatles; Won 34-24

Buff-Buffalo (Miami)
Parody of “Barbara Ann” by The Beach Boys; Won 41-27 (See photo at end of post)

Blowin’ Out New England Again (Patriots)
Parody of “Travelin’ Band” by Creedence Clearwater Revival; Lost 16-13

Rock & Roll the Jets (Jets)
Parody of “At the Hop” by Danny & The Juniors; Won 24-13

See Ya Later L.A. Raiders (Raiders)
Parody of “See You Later Alligator” by Bill Haley & The Comets; Won 30-27

Indy Colts (Colts)
Parody of “Charlie Brown” by The Coasters; Won 35-7

Ain’t No Cure For the Buffalo Bills (Lions)
Parody of “Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran; Lost 17-14

Buffalo Bills Boogie 1992 (Intro)

Football Season In Buffalo (Rams)
Parody of “No Particular Place to Go” by Chuck Berry; Won 40-7

Goodness Gracious, Bills Are On Fire (49ers)
Parody of “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis; Won 34-31.  Fun fact: The first game in NFL history without a punt by either team.

Beat The Colts (Colts)
Parody of “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay” by Danny and the Juniors; Won 38-0

Roll Over New England (Patriots)
Parody of “Roll Over Beethoven” by Chuck Berry; Won 41-7

Put The Whammy On Miami (Dolphins)
Parody of “Woolly Bully” by Sam the Sham & The Pharoahs; Lost 37-10

Beat L.A. (Raiders)
Parody of “Gloria” by Them; Lost 20-3

Beat’em Up Buffalo (Jets)
Parody of “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations; Won 24-20

Beatin’ New England (Patriots)
***What song does this parody? I can’t remember!*** Won 16-7

Taking Care Of Pittsburgh (Steelers)
Parody of “Taking Care of Business” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive; Won 28-30

Beat Up Miami (Dolphins)
Parody of “Wake Up Little Suzie” by The Everly Brothers; Won 26-20

Beat Atlanta (Falcons)
Parody of “Glad All Over” by The Dave Clark Five; Won 41-14

The Buffalo Bills (Colts)
Parody of “Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee and The Starlighters; Lost 16-13

Blowin’ Out The Jets (Jets)
Parody of “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” by Creedence Clearwater Revival; Lost 24-17

Right Here In Buffalo (Broncos)
Parody of “Runaway” by Del Shannon; Won 27-17

Battle Of New Orleans (Saints)
Parody of “Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton; Won 20-16

Take The Team Plane To Houston (Oilers)
Parody of “Last Train to Clarksville” by The Monkees; Lost 27-3.
Fun Fact: Backup quarterback Frank Reich would take over for an injured Jim Kelly. The Bills would play the Oilers one week later in what simply became known as “The Comeback,” winning 41-38 in overtime.

Where is he now?

Bonus Boogies (1988? 1989?)

Linebacker Cornelius Bennett had a forced fumble, sack, and a touchdown on a Monday night game against the Dolphins in 1991, so McDonald’s created a sandwich. Click the photo for more info.

50 Ways to Beat Seattle
Beat Miami
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Taking Care of Pittsburgh
We Are Going to the Top

The Oldest Building in Erie County . . . is Moving?

Sometime this September, a 200-year-old log cabin will be picked up and transported four miles to a “new” historic site.

According to an article by John Conlin in the Winter 2003 issue of Western New York Heritage, the oldest surviving building in Erie County is the Gipple Log Cabin built by a frontier settler named Asa Woodward in Lancaster c. 1803.  The Hull Family Home and Farmstead plans to place it on its property for interpretive use.  Rev. Walter Kern took this photo of the cabin in 1974:
This structure represents the very earliest history of organized settlement in Western New York.  Asa (or Amos, depending on the source) and  James Woodward bought this plot of land directly from the Holland Land Company in November 1803 (Lot 6. Section 12 of Town 11 in Range 6 to be precise).  A year would pass before Warren Hull bought the property where the cabin will soon move.

Some refer to the Gipple Log Cabin as the Bowman-Gipple Cabin.  Benjamin Bowman was another early settler and a mill operator; the hamlet of Bowmansville in Lancaster is named after him as well.  Like many frontier settlers such a cabin would be a “starter home” that could be assembled quickly before the first winter set in.  Subsequent years of land-clearing would allow families to add additions or build more permanent homes.  The Gipple family, while not the original landowners and who probably did not use the cabin as a residence, probably lived on this land the longest.  A cursory look at census records shows Clement Gipple owning the farm as early as 1910.  Clement’s mother Ella was a Bowman.  His son Russell remained on the land as an adult; both men passed away in the 1970s.

Russell Gipple c.1917 and c.1949. Sister Edith and wife Hazel are also pictured. All images from

A couple years ago I went out with a camera to get a better look.  The Gipple Cabin can be found at the southwest corner of the intersection of Harris Hill Road and Wehrle Drive in Lancaster.  It now exists at the very corner of an expanding office development whose parking lot ends only a few yards from the front door.  What is left of the building has been threatened with demolition several times in the past few years.  According to locals, previous efforts to manage or restore the former home–even to visit it–were prevented by owners.

Long story short, the cabin is in horrible shape.  It is held up by force of habit and could hardly be considered a building anymore.  I highly recommend checking out this 360-degree view of the interior where sunlight can be seen from every side.  Here is my photo of the home taken thirty-five years after Rev. Kern:

Exploring the 1803 Gipple Log Cabin from Jafafa Hots on VimeoMore photos here.

Of course there are serious questions about the ability to move such a compromised structure, harming the building’s historicity through relocation, and even why the land should be given up for suburban sprawl.  Considering its ragged state, however, moving the Gipple Cabin to a place where it can be safely appreciated by the general public is a whole lot better than the inevitable alternative.  Perhaps it will be moved and kept at its current state; perhaps it will be restored and become a visitor draw like the c.1820 Goodrich-Landow Log Cabin at the Clarence Historical Society.  To keep up to date with developments, please visit the Hull Family Home’s Facebook page.

Hull House volunteers clear debris to access the Gipple Cabin.

Below are some other photos I posted on the former Buffalo Tours blog in 2009.  You can see the cabin predates Bowman’s 1808 saw mill by the axe-cut logs.  The no-nails construction is original but the many alterations–some haphazard–to repair walls and supports extend over the centuries.  Window and stovepipe holes can be found, temporary roof patches dangle from the ceiling, and vegetation hides the rest.

UPDATE: I received a note on 8/30/13 from Hull House Foundation President Gary Costello about their progress: “We have cleared the vegetation over-growth, documented the structure and ‘tagged’ the logs; will visit it with several knowledgeable architects to further ‘diagnose’ it; then dissemble and move to the Hull House site; seek funding to rebuild and develop a plan for its placement on the HH site and for its interpretation. A great addition to the Hull Family Home & Farmstead!”

The Market Arcade: Buffalo’s Past Reborn

Note: With news that the Market Arcade is for sale by the City of Buffalo, I thought it a good time to post this article I originally published in the now-defunct Buffalo Downtowner.

One of the feature buildings in downtown Buffalo is probably better known to vacationers than Buffalo natives.  The Market Arcade at 617 Main Street is home to Visit Buffalo Niagara and its Visitor Center.  Overshadowed by Shea’s and other gems in the historic Theater District, it is just as historic and architecturally significant.*  The stories surrounding the building play out as a microcosm of Buffalo’s past.

A gift from a long-closed jewelry store on the second floor. Note the writing on the box. (Click to enlarge.)

While post-Civil War America boomed economically, the nation’s switch from guns to plowshares pushed people farther westward.  Buffalo served as a gateway to the western frontier in its role as a hub for rail transportation and inland shipping.  This is when Buffalo experienced its greatest growth spurt: the population grew from 150,000 people in 1880 to 350,000 by 1900, making Buffalo (for a very short time) the eighth-largest metropolis in the United States.  By 1890 Americans had effectively populated the West to the point that the US Census Bureau could no longer draw a frontier border on a map.  Interestingly, the 1890 census was calculated by what is considered the first computer, invented by Buffalo native Herman Hollerith.  The company he founded is known today as IBM.

At Chicago’s World Colombian Exposition of 1893, which was supposed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage, historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the frontier closed.  Downtown Buffalo rebuilt itself as a commercial and financial center during this period.  Residential neighborhoods shifted to the area’s outskirts, creating what is now considered a modern American cityscape.  Many of our most famous downtown buildings, including the Ellicott Square building (by Chicago’s D. H. Burnham & Co., involved in building the Chicago Exposition), the Guaranty Building (by the Chicago firm of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan), and the gold-domed Buffalo Savings Bank (by the local firm of Green and Wicks) were erected between the 1890 census and the Pan-Am year of 1901.

The Market Arcade, known for a while as the Palace Arcade, was designed by Green and Wicks in 1892.  At one entrance, Main Street was a bustling business district of Civil War-era structures with numerous small storefronts.  At the other, Washington Street bordered the busy Chippewa Market (also known as the Washington Market).  Though a parking lot today, the open-air farmers’ market accommodated dozens of stands and hundreds of urban customers at a time.  The largest retail market west of the Hudson River, it was known as the “Belly of Buffalo.”  Much like Buffalo was a gateway between the eastern and western halves of America, the Market Arcade was a pass-through for local commercial traffic on these two streets.

Instead of looking toward Chicago for ideas, however, property owner and oil tycoon GB Marshall asked architects EB Green and WS Wicks to contemplate European arcades.  Though built before 1820, the Burlington Arcade in London resembles a modern shopping center.  With its bright but narrow interior and floor-to-ceiling windows for shops on both sides, the Burlington Arcade connects Burlington Gardens to Picadilly and bears a striking resemblance to Green and Wicks’ building in Buffalo.  Indeed, the Market Arcade is Buffalo’s first mall.

The multi-leveled convergences of commerce and office space were similarly used in Naples, Italy for the Galleria Umberto I, completed just one year earlier.  The Market Arcade’s floor is covered in terrazzo tiles and the exterior composed of yellow Roman brick, which is longer than regular bricks and emphasizes horizontality.  Frank Lloyd Wright utilized this quality of Roman brick when building the Darwin Martin House and other Prairie Style homes.  Large Roman numerals top the building’s identical facades.  Corinthian Vermont marble pillars at both entrances and egg and dart molding also demonstrate Italian Renaissance Revival flourishes.

Some of the best features of the Market Arcade are both practical and aesthetic.  Built before electric lighting, the frosted glass skylight makes the atrium seem like an outdoor alley.  Overpasses on the second and third levels and sections of the floors encase glass blocks, bringing natural light all the way into the basement.  Large glass panes, rare at the time of construction, are perfect for window shopping.  The long, straight passageway resembles a tiny street but also provides excellent ventilation in summer without the use of air conditioning.

Green and Wicks’ use of terra cotta is probably the most stunning feature of the Market Arcade.  Visitors are greeted by two bison heads located above the Roman arches.  They keep watch over Main and Washington streets and are detailed to the last hair.  While seemingly extravagant today, terra cotta (Latin for “baked earth”) was originally a cheap substitute for carved sculpture.  The terra cotta forms of the Market Arcade—the garlands, crowning acroteria, and rosettes—can be replaced at a cost 80 percent cheaper than stone.

The material is also fireproof, an important selling point for storekeepers in the late 19th century.  Between the formation of the modern Buffalo Fire Department in 1880 and the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, eighteen firefighters died in the line of duty.  Entire city blocks would burn at a time.  One of the most famous city fires occurred on Ascension Day, 1888.  A gas line ignited, blowing the roof off of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and setting small fires throughout the city.  Today, many skyscrapers still enclose their steel beams in terra cotta to avoid buckling under intense heat.

A 1974 city directory shows numerous vacancies in 617 Main St. (click to enlarge)

By the 1970s the Chippewa Market had long closed down (though yesterday’s Buffalo News suggests it is still open) and Main Streets across America lost customers to suburban strip malls.  Business in the Arcade followed suit and the building was shuttered; the city acquired it in a bankruptcy proceeding in 1979.  By the mid-1980s, enough interest led to an $8.3 million restoration.  One of the leaders of this renovation, Dennis Powers, is memorialized on a plaque next to the building’s new elevators.  The Allentown-based firm of Hamilton Houston Lownie, which converted the St. Mary of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church to the King Urban Life Center at about the same time, completed the restoration in 1995.  Visiting both landmarks, one can see the vibrant splashes of reds, purples, greens and oranges that became the firm’s calling card.

Mid-’90s restoration photo from

Today, the building boasts the CEPA Gallery and the headquarters of Shakespeare in Delaware Park, as well as several small businesses.  Many visitors still freely walk through this impressive building to access the Metro Rail or catch shows at Shea’s Performing Arts Center or the Irish Classical Theatre.

*Official documents pertaining to the designation of the Theater District as a historic district use the -er spelling for “theater.”  However, area theaters now market the overlapping entertainment district known as the Theatre District using -re.  For more background, check out this very interesting Artvoice article by Anthony Chase.

Fire in Black Rock

When I saw fire trucks roll down the street the other day I could tell the emergency was somewhere close, but it was a shame to find out what burned.  Seeing the this photo in The Buffalo News made me cringe.  What caught fire was the John Esser House, an Italianate home built circa 1887.

You can see the intricate jigsaw work on the gable and fenestration.  Fire also exposed the original clapboard hidden away by vinyl siding.  Below is what it looked like before.  If it hasn’t happened already, it is scheduled for an emergency demolition.

John Esser House, 81 Amherst Street, in a photo from several years ago.

The building is/was located in an especially historic part of an historic neighborhood.  Just half a block away at Market Square are new plaques commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Burning of Black Rock during the War of 1812.  The building to the east is St. John’s United Church of Christ, a congregation founded by German immigrants back in 1847.  (Coincidentally, the church sanctuary caught fire in the 1970s.)  To the west is the Jacob Smith House and Tavern, dating back to the 1830s.  Across the street is what used to be the St. Francis Xavier Church and School, now known as the Buffalo Religious Arts Center.  I highly recommend touring their museum.  And just two doors away, somewhat ironically, sits the former Engine #15 Firehouse.  It was built in 1912 but closed decades ago.  Converted into an apartment, for a time the building was the residence of the famous poet Robert Creeley.

Pardon the pun, but John Esser had a banner year in 1887.  At the time he built this home he was Erie County Treasurer as well as President of the Black Rock Business Men’s Association.  That same year, H. C. Zimmerman sold out to his partners Esser, Frederick Ogden, and Henry Shuttleworth of the Banner Milling Company, who expanded their operations by buying the Erie Mill.  A few months later he would create the Black Rock Land Company, the first development company in the area.  Esser Ave., Angus St., Roesch Ave., and Ullman St. in Riverside are named after him and his Land Co. investors, with the exception of John Hertel.

Luckily no one was hurt and fire did not spread to any neighbors.  I feel bad for the people displaced by the blaze and would rather not post more photos of their misery.  When I visited a few hours ago the roof was completely gone, the entire back of the building charred, and the smell of smoke still hanging in the air.  But the demolition of this home does seem to erase the deep imprint the Esser name left on Black Rock.  The aforementioned St. Xavier’s, closed several years ago, featured an ornately carved, wooden lectern dedicated by the Esser family.  (Note: I have not confirmed any direct connection to John Esser himself.)  Very recently, the Key Bank at the corner of Amherst and Dearborn moved out.  That building can trace its history back to the Black Rock Savings & Loan, founded in 1892 by–you guessed it–the Black Rock Business Men’s Association.

The corner of Amherst and Dearborn Streets circa 2012 and 1912, respectively. This building was constructed in the 1870s. The 2012 photo is from

Within four blocks you had the Erie Canal, a mill, a tavern, two churches, a school, a market, and a locally supported bank that funded it all.  John Esser had his hand in much of that.  Here’s another sad irony: a photo of John Esser as a director of the Erie Fire Insurance Company.  He is at the top row, second from right.  Click for a larger version.

Taken from The History of the Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, N.Y. by way of

Appleton Fryer, 1927-2013

Tony will be sorely missed.  He helped save the Coit House from demolition and formed the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier–now Preservation Buffalo Niagara–back in the 1960s.  He used to come by the old office often just to say hello.

Read more about him at The Buffalo News.

His death notice and guestbook can be found here.

The Sum of All Villainies: Research

Note: This is the second of two posts enhancing my upcoming article in Western New York Heritage magazine, to be published in the Summer 2013 issue.

B.T. Roberts’ tiny Buffalo home, while covered in vinyl, is still occupied on the West Side after 150 years. (Thanks to Chris Brown for pointing it out to me.)

In researching this project, the most difficult problem with sources was the lack of quality. Besides an abundance of texts by Methodist ministers and bishops who used documents as soap boxes for a particular side, or bureaucratically heavy official minutes, almost nothing existed. Matters worsened when discussing regional topics, such as the excommunication of Benjamin Titus Roberts, and small sects, such as the Wesleyan Connection. As far as I know, there exists today not one history devoted to the following events concerning Methodism in Upstate New York that a church body did not commission or write itself. Historiographically, the goal of this paper is to present, for the first time, a discussion of Methodist slavery politics as it pertained to a particular area of the United States, free of denominational rhetoric or proselytizing.

Still used today, the first works on the subject of difficulties in the Genesee region were yoked to the Church. Written by a former Genesee Conference Secretary, F. W. Conable’s History of the Genesee Annual Conference remains the best official account of the events surrounding the General Conference of 1860. As an official history, however, it is the infertile seed of a disappointing family tree. Edited by Bishop Matthew Simpson, 1878’s Cyclopedia of Methodism drew greatly from the details of Conable’s work. Simpson failed to acknowledge the value of Free Methodist reformers, describing the creation of the organization as if it were a sect of fundamentalist outsiders whose leaders “encouraged a spirit of wild fanaticism.” In the one-page article “Free Methodism,” the massive Cyclopedia devoted about one-third of its one hundred line text to the reasons behind the Churches’ split.

On its title page the 1838 edition of the “Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge” purports “an impartial account of the principal Christian denominations that have existed in the world from the birth of Christ to the present day, with their doctrines, religious rites and ceremonies, as well as those of the Jews, Mohammedans, and heathen nations.”

Firstly, Simpson insinuated that the leaders’ actions were unusual and corrupted, with reasons foreign from the author’s beliefs and point of view. The early Free Methodists “professed themselves to be moved by the Holy Spirit, and believed it was their duty to bear open testimony against what they alleged to be the sins of the church” (emphasis added). This description tried to place doubts on the veracity of the Free Methodists’ beliefs. Secondly, Simpson made the blanket statement that these leaders’ complaints were “of the decline of spirituality in the church.” Absolutely no mention of abolition or the slave issue exists in the entire entry, let alone any hint of problems with the episcopacy. The author did mention “various church trials” and that “two of the leaders were expelled,” but failed to mention the names of the leaders. He named B. T. Roberts later, but only as the Church’s first superintendent and founder of The Earnest Christian. Roberts took offense at the Simpson article, so much so that he wrote the Bishop personally. The Free Methodist founder included this correspondence, the Cyclopedia entry, and other commentary in his 1879 book Why Another Sect.  In it, he argued fifteen separate complaints he held against the published tenets of “Nazaritism” and ideas of “wild fanaticism” as written by the Bishop.

Though consisting of much one-sided information, many previous religious historians considered the Cyclopedia of Methodism an authoritative account of the Methodist Episcopal Church decades after its compilation. Histories of the entire Methodist organization, such as Dr. James M. Buckley’s History of Methodism in the United States, relied heavily on the Cyclopedia. Histories by Free Methodist members or sympathizers provided better information. The first official Free Methodist account by Rev. Elias Bowen, one of the original Susquehanna Circuit pastors from 1816 to 1817, looked at numerous sources including the Buffalo Christian Advocate and the Northern Independent, Conable’s minutes, and Roberts’ writings for a more balanced and total depiction of the story. In some places the author copied entire newspaper articles and speeches into the main part of the text. This writing style may not be very literary, but at least it possessed specific, concrete facts and acknowledged the differing points of view of Church members. Two other important Free Methodist histories followed using similar sources and historiographical technique: the Free Methodist Church published Bishop Wilson T. Hogue’s History of the Free Methodist Church of North America and Bishop Leslie Ray Marston’s From Age to Age: A Living Witness during its golden and centennial anniversaries, respectively. Hogue devoted fully half of his two volume History to the denomination’s formation in much the same style as Bowen. As expected he found Roberts’ works most accurate, forming most of his perspective. Hogue’s criticism of Conable and his followers was harsh and defensive of the Free Methodist sect:

Published in 1918, “Daybreak in the Dark Continent” appears to reflect similar impressions of “heathen nations” as the “Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge.”

It is equally difficult to conceive of how such honored men as the two last named authors [Simpson and Buckley] could have been betrayed into giving general currency to such unauthorized, inaccurate and harmful statements. . . . The most charitable view that can be taken of their action in this matter is to attribute it to prejudice on their part. But even this is a reflection upon their credibility as historians.

he Western New York Heritage article is a careful synthesis of these and other unstable sources. Though most of the information used showed bias, misinterpretation of facts, quotes, or opinions are entirely mine. It is the author’s hope to enlighten the casual reader as well as those with a working knowledge of the topic.

The Sum of All Villainies: Credits

This is the first of two posts enhancing my upcoming article in Western New York Heritage magazine, to be published in the Summer 2013 issue. Original research took place beginning in 2001 and was updated in 2012. Though the article lists only my name as an author to this project, if not for the efforts of a score of others—including Matthew Biddle, who edited the most recent version—there would be no completed product.

At Canisius College, thesis advisor Dr. Bruce Dierenfield contributed the greatest amount of input, as well as the most important. Dr. Larry Jones and Dr. Robert Butler, of the History Honors and All-College Honors programs respectively, were also an influential source of guidance.

The aid of a number of United Methodist and Free Methodist Church members helped as well, especially in the earliest stages of research. Thanks must go to archivist Kate McGinn at the Free Methodist Church’s Marston Historical Center in Indianapolis, as well as Marston assistant archivist Dr. R. D. Simpson and Howard Snyder of Asbury Theological Seminary, who offered their expertise. Charles H. Canon III of Roberts Wesleyan College also helped provide access to Free Methodist rare book rooms and special collections. The research assistants at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society and the Special Collections Department of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library deserve a nod of gratitude as well.

Reverends Jacob Denny and Matt Stengel at the Historical Archives of the United Methodist Church’s former Western New York Conference went to great lengths to find and deliver the rarest of the documents used in this paper. Reverend Rick Rouse of the Akron Free Methodist Church allowed temporary use of his own materials, as did Margaret Schrock and the late Catherine and Charles Taylor. Special thanks must be given to Jerry Schrock for phone numbers, fact verification and special arrangements, and Jeffery Gross for his assistance in editing the final draft.

It is ironic that I must thank an unknown person at the Akron Free Methodist Church who, about twenty years ago, gathered the oldest and rarest texts in that church’s library and left them in boxes on the curb. If not for this author’s fascination for history at a young age and his parents’ acceptance of their son’s pack rat behavior, those books and their history would now lie, wasted, in a landfill.

Just a few church histories thrown out by the Akron Free Methodist Church in the 1990s.

The last shall be first. Most importantly, I wrote this thesis with the late Rev. Thurber Thayer in mind. Though he passed away several years ago, he possessed a gracious soul and possessed a wealth of knowledge about Genesee Methodism; the texts rescued from the trash were originally donated from his personal library. Rev. Thayer’s devotion to his Church and his God will not be forgotten by those who met him. While an amateur attempt, this project was the best way I could think of memorializing him.

LBJ in Buffalo, 1966

Over years of leading tours on Buffalo’s waterfront, I heard one story that stuck in my mind.  I may have heard it from a ship hand on the Edward Cotter but can’t be sure.  It was about how President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird visited Buffalo and at one point in the visit were taken on a boat.  During the ride, someone dipped a bucket into the Buffalo River.  Dumping from nearby factories made pollution so bad the river was “dead” by the 1960s; the water was devoid of life and the oxygen to support it.  So when Lady Bird was asked to stir the bucket’s contents with a stick, she was unable to as it was completely full of sludge.  Shortly after, LBJ signed new pollution controls into law.

That always seemed like too good a story to believe 100 percent until I bought the below photo for sale.  I was asked not to post the original online, but here is a version with a watermark.  It’s a unique photo of a sitting president, with or without Buffalo City Hall in the background. Come to visit sometime and I’ll show you the original:

The Associated Press caption reads:

BUFFALO, N.Y., Aug. 19–RIDING ON LAKE ERIE–President and Mrs. Johnson (center) and others cruise on Lake Erie Friday as the President discusses water pollution. They’re aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Ojibwa. Another Coast Guard vessel and the skyline of Buffalo is in the rear. 1966

The Clean Water Restoration Act of 1966 authorized the Secretary of the Interior to make a comprehensive study the effects of river pollution on wildlife throughout the United States.

Everywhere A Sign

If you are like me you tend to notice errors in historical signs.  I don’t just mean misused apostrophes and spelling mistakes, but signs with inaccurate dates or facts.  Up until a few years ago my favorite local sign was the plaque under Buffalo’s own copy of Michelangelo’s David.  Not only did it mess up the artist’s birth and death years, it credited the sculptor as “Michel Angelo.”  You know, of the artistic Angelo family.

Our attempt to be classy and erudite took another hit.  (Building an expressway between David and a bust of Mozart was the first blow.)  Local Italians were not too impressed, either.  They complained to local government and a new, corrected plaque now adorns the pedestal.

My search continued for a new favorite and frustrating local sign.  Frontrunners have not been permanent displays.  A Buffalo History Museum exhibit on US Presidents declared that John Kerry won the popular vote but not the electoral college over George W. Bush in 2008.  How soon we forget!

A more recent showcase at the Buffalo Central Library focused on book publishing as art.  One book, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth incorrectly captioned the main character as “Billy Corrigan.”  I assume the person who typed that caption was my age, subconsciously thinking about Smashing Pumpkins lead singer and guitarist Billy Corgan, who is also bald and thinks he’s the smartest kid on earth.

These errors aren’t big or embarrassing; this blog post probably has much worse.  And the exhibits were very well done, educational, and entertaining if not 100 percent perfect.

Last week, however, I walked along the waterfront and remembered one sign that always bothered me.  It isn’t historically or grammatically incorrect.  It doesn’t suffer from a committee mentality, either, where the text and images are tortured to irrelevance and too much space lists donors and sponsors.

The sign is not this sign, but located right next to it:

And below is the sign in question.  The “You Are Here” mark is on the leftmost end of the map.  You can click on it for a larger image:

The sign’s subject is the grain elevator industry which first began on that spot in the 1840s.  It even diagrams how a grain elevator works on the inside.  But here is what surrounds the sign.  Where are all the elevators?  While the sign mentions that many elevators are demolished or inaccessible, it also lists the very spot as a “Viewing Opportunity for Listed Attractions.”

So over here–on the visitor’s right–should be a bunch of grain elevators to look at, right?  That is, until the visitor realizes the map is upside-down in relation to their location.  Lake Erie is to the west, not the Buffalo River.  Only one grain elevator is really in the vicinity, but not close.

Several years ago the waterfront was not well developed and tourist-friendly locations were sparse.  The Industrial Heritage Committee made an informative sign, it’s just on the wrong side of the river.  Imagine not being from the area and visualizing this after navigating the spaghetti system of roadways leading to the Erie Canal Harbor.  And since the average person will not see the river terminate from that vantage point, they may consider the map as-is and travel the wrong way.  Speaking from experience, most locals don’t know the difference between the Buffalo River and the City Ship Canal.  They’re disoriented, too.

I suggest moving the sign somewhere else–perhaps somewhere near the Ohio Street Bridge–with the sign looking north instead of south and with a quick edit to “You Are Here.”  With all the new interest in Silo City it’s bound to get some fresh readers.

P.S.: For more maps of Buffalo’s grain elevators, as well as some legal-or-otherwise travel tips, visit Buffalo History Works’ Grain Elevators: How to See Them.

Stars Along Scajaquada

Last Saturday the Black Rock-Riverside Good Neighbor Planning Alliance organized a War of 1812-themed block party just steps from the site of the Battle of Scajaquada Creek.  A number of other groups, including the Black Rock Historical Society, the Buffalo Maritime Center, and a host of reenactors took part in the event.  Several hundred people took in the historical lectures, buggy rides, and live music, too.  Here are a few photos from the event.  (Some of the many “stars” along the creek are seen in the tree above.)

Local researchers Chris Andrle, Doug Kohler, and John Percy gave presentations.  There was even a live blacksmithing demonstration among all the other activities.

Above all other Buffalo neighborhoods, Black Rock has been defined by its involvement in the War of 1812.  The village, then independent, was burned right before the more infamous attack on what is downtown Buffalo.  The shore near Scajaquada Creek, which itself was a naval shipyard during the war, was the site of numerous crossings into and out of Canada.  The remains of the HMS Detroit still sit at the bottom of the Niagara River only a stone’s throw from Squaw Island.  Residents continue to find bullets, arrowheads, and other artifacts buried on their properties.

Lately the community has used this unique past in their renaissance, especially in the commercial area near the intersection of Grant and Amherst.  Scores of fifteen-star American flags are now displayed up and down streets and a new 1812-themed mural was recently dedicated where Amherst meets Thompson.  Several historic plaques were put up at the corner of Amherst and Niagara, historically known as Market Square, in the past year.  A Binational Heritage Peace Garden opened on nearby Dearborn Street.  Market Square and several other important properties were added to the National Register of Historic Places in late 2011.

Be sure to visit the neighborhood this December for the 200th commemoration of the Burning of Buffalo.  As part of the festivities, locals will build and light a massive bonfire on Squaw Island with a twin bonfire visible on the Canadian side.  But until then, the next big community event will the Discover Amherst Street parade on Saturday, June 15th.  See below for details.

St. Ann, Pray for Us

By now most people have read about the dire straits of St. Ann’s Church in the Buffalo News.  Until the Catholic Diocese had fencing put up around the building, the church’s congregation was holding services outside.  Despite all the warnings, inside is one of the finest church interiors in Western New York.

The building was constructed on donated land between 1878 and 1876.  Back then, developers gave land for church construction hoping that it would entice prospective families to buy into a neighborhood.  But when the Steel Belt became the Rust Belt after World War II, congregations moved with families to the suburbs.  A free and easy look online shows what really led to St. Ann’s current condition, as descendants of the predominantly German-American community quickly vacated.

The neighborhood in 1959 (St. Ann’s is in the center), from

The same neighborhood c.2012, from Google Maps

I organized several tours into the church, right up until a couple of weeks before it was closed.  My photography skills do not do it justice, especially when it came to lighting, but here are pictures of its fantastic decorations.  Some of these photos were taken less than two years ago.

More history on the church can be found here,on their official website, and Broadway-Fillmore Alive.

TEDxBuffalo 2013 is Looking for Speakers

TEDxBuffalo 2013 is looking for potential speakers! The Montante Cultural Center at Canisius College will host the event on October 15. The updated TEDxBuffalo website provides a general overview.

This is the link for speaker submissions and information.

As stated on the submission form, potential speakers should present what they want to speak about (or perform), how they plan to explain and tell a story, and why they are a good candidate to talk about their topic. Our theme for 2013 is “Renaissance Citizens,” celebrating the multiple talents (and sometimes jobs) of Buffalo’s people, and their energy to bring about a new age in the city. But, any topic that fits a speaker’s passions could be suitable. Our theme is not a final factor in determining our speakers and performers. TEDxBuffalo is taking pitches from March 1 to May 31, 2013.


Facebook at
Twitter at @tedxbuffalo
Full website at

2013 Tourism Excellence Award, and Other Honors

One of the major programs I coordinated at Preservation Buffalo Niagara–the Buffalo Niagara Docent Training Alliance–just won the 2013 Tourism Excellence Award for Visitors Services!  I wrote and submitted the nomination in March.  The awards are given out by the New York State Travel & Vacation Association and co-sponsored by the NY Department of Economic Development (the “I Love NY” people).

Here is Todd Mitchell “presenting” the award to me today.  As part of the program and a long-time volunteer, he won the award too.

This year, there were about fifty new docent trainees taking part in the five-week class.  The other participating organizations included the following, so congratulations to them as well.  It was great working with all of them:

Buffalo Tours (Preservation Buffalo Niagara)
Central Terminal Restoration Corporation
Richardson-Olmsted Complex
Roycroft Campus Corporation
Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Inaugural Site

The “award ceremony” above took place today at a going-away party in my honor.  It was organized and attended by about thirty docents.  Thanks to everyone who showed up and brought food, gifts, and well-wishes!  I recommend checking out Eleanor’s poetry.

It’s been a good week for awards.  Just the day before, Denise Prince won the 2013 Beacon Award for Tourism Volunteer of the Year.  This was another nomination I helped put together, with Visit Buffalo Niagara.  Denise has worked with me for the past eight years and this year we were Tour Committee Co-Chairs for the Society of Architectural Historians National Conference.
Here is her award video.

I am the 6th Great-Grandson of Martin Van Buren

That is, according to I am.  So I’m probably not.

Or maybe I am.  All my life I had been told I was related to a President but those were stories passed along from family members.  I am undoubtedly related to Van Burens: not only did I go to the same school as some of them, I even get invited to the reunions.  Here I am sporting striped blue socks:

From the Van Buren Family Reunion, 1986, Clarence Town Park, Clarence, NY

Being related to President Van Buren is a different matter entirely.  When I was six it was difficult to decipher family trees so I’m sure I missed out on some pretty useful information.  My interest in learning more did not happen until a couple of years ago when I toured a cemetery in Lockport, NY with my father.  While there he bumped into a large Van Buren plot and found his great grandfather, Charles Frederick Van Buren.  Not only that, he suddenly recalled being at his funeral in 1962. We took a few photos and I uploaded them to my father’s Ancestry account.

Cold Spring Cemetery, Lockport, NY

Coincidentally, my father did not know Charles’ middle name was Frederick, or that Charles also had a grandfather named Charles Frederick, even though my name is Frederick Charles.  That’s spooky.  The earlier Charles Frederick Van Buren is as far back as we could take it without doing any sleuthing.

After uploading the photos I pretty much ignored the site until two days ago when I tried to find the 8th President on my family tree out of curiosity.  Speaking of coincidences, wouldn’t it be great to show that so many descendants of Martin Van Buren, a man who virulently opposed construction of the Erie Canal, settled in Lockport, its engineering centerpiece?  Anyway, here’s what I saw:

Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) and Hannah Hoes (1783-1819) begat
John Martin Van Buren (1810-1880); with Elizabeth Shufelt (1822-1906) begat
Charles F Van Buren (1831-1875); with Barbara Bluman (1833-1915) begat
George van Buren (1857-1932); with Minnie Bars (1860-1918) begat
Charles Fred Van Buren (1882-1962); with Hattie M Miller (1882-1924) begat
Alice Esther Van Buren (1907-1969); with Walter B Hoste (1906-1987) begat
Margaret R Hoste (1927-2004); with Tobias Schrock (1923-2010) begat
Jerry James Schrock (1952-present); with Margaret J Taylor (1957-present) begat
Frederick Charles Schrock (1980-present)

John Martin Van Buren, second son of Martin Van Buren. The year of death listed above is incorrect.

But something didn’t add up. Martin Van Buren did have a son named John and he was quite a character.  He was Attorney General of New York for a time and a gifted, well-traveled orator.  In fact, he died at sea on a boat coming back from Scotland.  If one account is to be believed, a storm that took up soon after his passing scared crew members who thought the corpse was cursed, and they nearly threw it overboard.

His Wikipedia entry mentions the following tidbit, too: “Van Buren was a man surrounded by innuendoes, even after his death. He was rumored to have lost $5000, and with it, his father’s home, Lindenwald as well as a mistress, the very popular Elena America Vespucci, descendent of Amerigo Vespucci, to George Parish of Ogdensburg, New York in a card game at the LeRay Hotel in Evans Mills, New York.  This story has not been verified, but it has plagued Van Buren’s reputation.”

Well that’s juicy. Less racy is his obituary in the New York Times: “He married Miss Vanderpoel, of Albany, by whom he had one child, a daughter, who was the companion of his recent tour in Great Britain, and who still survives him. . . . His wife died soon after her marriage, and Mr. Van Buren never married again.”

If there are lessons to be learned here, it is never to trust what people suggest at Ancestry, Wikipedia, or the card table at the LeRay Hotel. I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about John Van Buren’s mysterious second wife Elizabeth “Eliza” Shufelt–only found on Ancestry–and if she was the same Elena from Wikipedia story.  It would explain a lot, like how the Times missed all the other kids he had besides that one legitimate daughter from Miss Vanderpoel.  (Miss Vanderpoel’s first name was also Elizabeth.)  It would also make Charles F Van Buren one heck of a poker chip.  You can almost envision a smoky room where 19th century men go all in with their remaining pouches of silver coins, pocket watches, and the deeds to their homestead, before tossing a mistress and a baby on the pile.

Albany Rural Cemetery, from

Questions remained.  How did Eliza Shufelt give birth to Charles when she was the tender age of nine?  Also, how did her secret lover John Van Buren live well into the 1870s when he died on a boat in 1866?  Was it a Carnival Cruise?

For anyone who researches genealogies this probably happens often, but it was a first time for me.  However, I found this and other photos after a bit of Googling: a family plot for John Van Buren, married to Eliza Shufelt, dying in 1876, with a totally different set of kids, none of them named Charles.

What I discovered was that in the year 1810, in a community of less than 10,000 people, two people named John Van Buren were born. Both stayed in the area and married women named Elizabeth.  They died ten years apart and are both interred in the same cemetery.

John P. Van Buren (1810-1876) and Eliza Shufelt Van Buren

I’m somehow reminded of the first minute of this sketch.  Their poor mailman!

Finally, neither appear men directly related to me.  While President Van Buren traces his lineage back to a Dutch immigrant who came to America in 1631, Charles F Van Buren was apparently born in Prussia exactly two hundred years later.  This is only based on one day of pseudo-research, but my guess is that “Van Buren” is a corruption of something like “Vonbieren” and that my ancestors were from what is now western Germany.

I think it is plausible my ancestors never spoke a word of Dutch unless it was Pennsylvania Dutch. That will require me to ask some questions and start digging, but that is for a future post.