Niagara Square - Table of Contents

 The Reason Niagara Square is Round
By Martha Neri
April 2019

Over the years I have heard that Niagara Square is round because early autos were difficult to steer and it was hard for the cars to drive around the square’s corners. I just had to check that out.

Part of that statement is true. The early vehicles, from the late 1880s to the first decades of the 20th century, were physically challenging to steer. Steering was nothing more than a wooden circle mounted inside the car and the whole procedure was done mechanically. The driver pulled the steering wheel to the left or right. Naturally the wheels resisted the commands due to the friction with the surface below especially when the car was starting from a parked position.

In 1911 Francis W. Davis, a Harvard graduate with engineering degree, went to work for the truck division of Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company, Buffalo, New York. He began exploring how steering could be made easier. In 1926 he invented, patented and demonstrated the first practical power steering system. Davis left the Pierce-Arrow Company in 1926 and moved to Detroit first working for General Motors then for the Bendix Company.

Now about Niagara Square. It has been the center of all things Buffalo since 1804 because all towns need to have an open place where everyone can gather whether for celebrations or protests. In 1797 Joseph Ellicott (1760-1826) was hired by the Holland Land Company to survey all the lands in western New York. When the project was completed three years later, Ellicott was then engaged to design a street plan for the village of New Amsterdam also known as Buffaloe (sic) Creek. This drawing, labeled “New Amsterdam” is dated 1800. This was the village center where all the streets converged. It is labeled ‘Public Square.’

In an 1832 Buffalo City Directory the address of some residents was stated as ‘Public Square.’ The City Directory for 1835, however, now calls this Niagara Square.

Two horsecar companies were founded in 1860: the Niagara Street Railroad Company had one line on Niagara Street from Main north to Fort Porter; and the Buffalo Street Car Company was formed to provide service on Main Street.

There were several plans to beautify the square. In 1874 Maria Love and the Ladies Union Monument Association approached Frederick Law Olmsted to design a monumental stone arch to honor the Civil War Veterans. A lack of funds, however, prevented the arch from being erected. City Engineer Thomas J. Rogers proposed a plan in 1895 but it was not adopted.

Niagara Square 1907 after the completion of thMcKinley Monument
There you have it: The answer to why our public square is round.

Text  Martha Neri in 2019
Page by
Chuck LaChiusa in 2019
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