by Fred Schrock


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.

In Brief Memorium

Today just happens to be my birthday, but that’s not historic.  (Wait until I’m fifty.)  In recent months, however, two of my undergraduate professors passed away.  They left an indelible mark in how I interpret public history.

James Valone passed away on February 4.  His obituary is found here.  Dr. Valone headed up the History Honors program when I attended Canisius College and he taught the two Historiography classes that were part of the curriculum.  This provided us–all six of us!–with a solid overview of the great American historians.  More memorable was the semester spent learning the intricacies of Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers chapter by chapter, often slower.  For those of you not familiar with the book, I must note that it is a reference guide for formatting citations, not a narrative.  I distinctly recall an entire class discussing use of the magical four-dot ellipsis.

I could say the class was tedious, but only in the most positive and enjoyable way.  That kind of detailed focus made research much easier in the years ahead.  And Dr. Valone always took the time to go over papers and discuss brass tacks with students: the class on ellipses was a conversation, not a lecture.  When some of us expressed worry that we could not think of a thesis topic for the next semester’s research, he told us the best thing to do is not to think about it at all.  The thesis would come to us when it was ready.  Heck, Dr. Valone’s came to him while he was brushing his teeth.  When mine hit me as I drove down West Delevan Avenue, probably after leaving a Burger King late at night, I immediately thought of him next–after making sure I stopped at the intersection.

Edward Dunn passed away on March 24, as noted by the College on their blog.  If their post is correct then I may have been in his very last class, in the spring of 2000.  At the same time he was publishing a book on railroad history and his lectures consisted of periods where he would read straight from his copious notes.  My grades say otherwise, and so did Fr. Dunn, but I thought I did poorly in the class.  I knew I could never reach the level of detail he presented twice a week.  My recollections of test days include a lot of agonizing essays and “apples vs. apples” multiple choice questions.

That aside, Fr. Dunn’s work will long outlast him.  There is something about his research that is eminently purposeful, even if his immense scope means that is not immediately recognizable.  For the past thirteen years I have carried around a stack of his handouts.  In every American History class I taught, from middle school through college, I needed to go back to that stack of handouts to demonstrate historical points about the American economy, industrial safety, frontier settlement, regional trade, and more.  Those details were not antiquarian, they were evidence.  His second book about the development of Buffalo’s “Millionaire’s Row” is a difficult read, describing the history of each family on Delaware Avenue by going from door to door.  But its completeness makes it the go-to reference for any person tangentially interested in its subject matter, and there are many.  There is a very good chance that the copy you need right now is missing from the library.

“Buffalo Modern” Architecture and One M&T Plaza

Jennifer Walkowski’s tour of Mid-Century Modern architecture takes place Sunday, with planned visits inside One M&T Plaza, Temple Beth Zion, and the Robert Coles House.  In anticipation, presenter Christopher Brown compiled a great overview of not only the building but it’s context, both in the history of M&T Bank and Buffalo’s development.

The 24-page article (with photos) is found here.

As of this writing, tickets are still available!  The general public and SAH Conference attendees can visit the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center to register.

Free Audio Tours of Downtown Buffalo

65 Tours for Smartphones

There are over 600 architectural historians in Buffalo this week.  Many want to know more about our downtown buildings than can be covered in a single tour, so here is a helpful link.  Each name plays an .mp3 lasting about 1 or 2 minutes.  Enjoy!  These were put together by Preservation Buffalo Niagara.

Society of Architectural Historians 2013 Tour Map

For those of you stumbling across this page from attending the 2013 SAH Conference, I compiled an interactive map of locations visited on the various tours.  Just click the map below to view location info up close.  Highlights are listed by their tour number in the Conference booklet.


The local Tour Planning Co-Chairs for the Conference were myself and Denise Prince.
We hope you explore the sights during your visit!  You may also be interested in a map of
Frank Lloyd Wright-related sites in Western New York.

What is Public History?

The CN Tower under construction.

The CN Tower under construction.

There are several goals for this blog: to write about public history and what makes for public history, to mention references that aid in the study of public history, and to discuss topics pertinent to local history.  For the moment, “local” is very loosely defined as the area in and abutting Western New York State.

But just what is “public history” anyway?  For a definition, the National Council on Public History has a decent article on the subject.  Essentially, public history is meant for use by the general public, not relegated to academic circles.  That does not mean public history should sacrifice academic integrity or bend towards antiquarianism or nostalgia.  More on that later.

Since I’m starting small I might as well list and two go-to resources for the City of Buffalo.  Here is a Cynthia Van Ness’s Built in Buffalo: How to Research Houses.  If you live in Buffalo and need a place to start looking up information on a residence this is the place to start.  For landmarks, commercial buildings, or more well-known homes, Chuck LaChiusa’s Buffalo Architecture and History is a good first step.