A Brief History of Niagara Square
1805 map by Joseph Ellicott
C. 1912 map illustrates the street name changes. Once City Hall is built over it, Court Street will no longer cross through Niagara Square.
See also Niagara Square for pages on the buildings - past and present
Calvert Vaux, Olmsted's partner
1804 New Amsterdam mapped out
The conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763 ended French domination of the Niagara Frontier and marked the advent of permanent settlement of the area. This trend increased after the Revolution, and in 1804 Joseph Ellicott (1760-1826) mapped a town on the banks of Lake Erie at the mouth of the Buffalo Creek. The site of the city was part of the vast land holdings of the Holland Land Company, a Dutch firm that had purchased most of western New York. Ellicott, who was the local Holland Land Company agent, had earlier in his career helped his brother Andrew survey Pierre L'Enfant's plan for the new capital at Washington.
The influence of L'Enfant's Washington is readily apparent in Ellicott's design for Buffalo (first named New Amsterdam). Niagara Square, located near the lakefront, became the center from which eight streets radiated in several directions. Among the streets passing through Niagara Square was Delaware Street (after 1879 called Delaware Avenue), which Ellicott is said to have named for one of the Indian groups that frequented the portage road around nearby Niagara Falls. Apparently in Ellicott's mind the street was destined to become a magnificent residential district.
Despite Ellicott's lofty vision for the new city -- he said that the site was "developed by nature for the grand emporium of the Western world" -- Buffalo remained for the first quarter of the nineteenth century an inconsequential village.
1813 Buffalo Burned
British troops invading from Canada during the War of 1812 burned most of the buildings that were standing at the time. The destruction, however, was a blow from which the populace, which had fled in advance of the attack, quickly recovered.
1825 Thayer brothers executed
Hanging of the the three Thayer brothers took place in the presence of 30,000 citizens after the brothers were convicted of murdering John Love, a farmer of Boston, NY, over a trivial quarrel. Love had disappeared mysteriously late in 1824 and his body was discovered several months later in a frozen shallow grave on a slope near Israel Thayer's cabin. They were hanged on one gallows near what is now the entrance to City Hall.
1832 Buffalo incorporated
In 1832, when the town incorporated as a city, Niagara Square was its chief residential quarter. Comfortable, freestanding residences must have given it more the air of a New England town commons than the look of urban residential squares in eastern cities.
1874 Olmsted's Plan
For many years Niagara Square was a poorly defined space. In 1874 Olmsted & Vaux presented a plan for it that crated a series of planted angles between incoming streets and envisioned a Civil War memorial arch (never erected) after a design by H. H. Richardson to stand where Delaware Ave. enters the square from the north.
1923 Delaware Avenue Association organized
The Association succeeded in 1924 in having the city widen the avenue from Niagara Square almost up to North Street. The widening of the roadway from forty feet to sixty feet was accompanied by the laying of new sewer lines, the placement of traffic signals, and the installation at one-hundred-foot intervals of 1500-candlepower electric light standards. The modernization of the avenue, however, occasioned the destruction of most of the splendid elm trees that had lined the thoroughfare, two rows on each side, since even before Olmsted's day.
Main source of text:
- "Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, New York," in "The Grand American Avenue 1850-1920," by Francis Kowsky. San Francisco: Pomegranate Artbooks, 1994
Other sources of text:
- "Buffalo Architecture: A Guide," by Francis R. Kowsky, et. al. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981
- "The Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo," Severance, Frank H., ed. Buffalo Historical Society, Vol. 16, 1912
- "Second Looks: A Pictorial History of Buffalo and Erie County," by Scott Eberle and Joseph A. Grande. the Donning Co., 1993.
- Victorian Buffalo by Cynthia Van Ness.