Wise librarians saved this article in the "Scrapbooks" collection of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, available in the Local History Room of the Central Library.
Thaddeus Joy developed the site of the Commercial Slip terminus. I confirmed in the NYS Archives that Townsend, Joy & Co. were paid for this work. Joy also built the Seneca Chief.
Transcribed by Charles I. Hendler
Buffalo, New York
August 22, 1848
Mr. Joy's Address
There was quite a large meeting this morning at the Merchants Exchange, of our commercial men and others, to hear the address from Thaddeus Joy, Esq., of Albany, upon the early reminiscences of Buffalo and its commerce. Mr. Joy became a resident of Buffalo about thirty-three years ago, and therefore was familiar with its early history, which he has sketched, in the address below.
At the conclusion of the Address, the President of the Board of Trade, P. Durfee, Esq. Took the Chair, and on motion of N.P. Sprague, the thanks of the Board, and of others present, were tendered to Mr. Joy, and a copy of his address requested for publication.
My Friends and Gentlemen:
Although I am a resident of the City of Albany, I have ventured so far to intrude upon your time and your indulgence, as to invite this interview, that I might have the pleasure of meeting here upon the floor of this Commercial Exchange, some of the citizens of this great and famed city of Buffalo, who are, and who have been, traveling the same ruddy paths of commercial pursuits that I have myself long been accustomed to toil in, C And in thus meeting you, gentlemen, I beg leave to tender to you my sincere and unfeigned respects. And I propose to detain you a few moments with a short sketch of my personal knowledge of the rise and progress of this city and its commerce. And in doing this, gentlemen, it is proper that I should apprise those of you who are not familiar with the fact, that I once resided here with my family. But I claim not to be one of the Pioneers of Buffalo -- no, no, there are many worthy and respected citizens here now, who can go far back of me in their knowledge of Buffalo. And to them and to their enterprise, I here tender my veneration and my commendation.
The War of 1812
I do not, however, profess to be quite a stranger to the early settlement of Western New York, having been familiar with it for fifty years save one. But my personal acquaintance with Buffalo, did not commence till the breaking out of the last war with Great Britain in 1812. Since that period I have been quite familiar with it, though I did not come here to reside till some years after that. When this was commenced, I was keeping a country store in Cayuga county, and during its continuance, carried on considerable trade with persons at this place who were supplying the multitudes which the war brought into this frontier.
After Buffalo was burnt by the enemy, and about the close of the war, I had occasion to spend two or three months here in the later part of winter and fore part of spring, in closing up the sale of such produce as I had previously accumulated at this point. And I never forget how difficult it was for anybody to get entertainment, for the want of buildings to even shelter in. There was now and then a little frame house for boarders, where you could get food, if you did not all go at once; but lodging was out of the question -- it could not be had for love nor money.
I found a man here, however, from my own country, who had a little shanty, called a store, where he was retailing such things as he had. He had a little narrow counter about 8 feet long, which he slept on nights, and I made a bargain with him for 4 feet of his counter to sleep on myself; and then both using the same pillow and letting our heads lap by each other in the center, with the use of Buffalo skins we made pretty good fare of it.
Spring of 1815 - Joy & Colton’s
At any rate I liked it so well that I became very much attached to Buffalo, and I have always liked it ever since. And, however splendid you can entertain people now, that was Buffalo, and Buffalo fare, in the winter and spring of 1815 – thirty-three years ago. In process of time, however, I bought a lot on the west side of Main street, just above where Pratt & Co.’s hardware store now stands. The lot was 30 feet front, and some 70 or 75 feet deep. I paid one thousand dollars for it; which was about $ 33 per foot front. But I made the man promise not to tell anybody how much I gave for it, because I was afraid of being laughed at for paying so much.
Afterwards, in connection with one of your now old and respected residents, Manly Colton, Esq. we built a two story frame store on the lot, with dormer windows in the roof; and at that day this store was considered one of the most magnificent buildings in the western country. Indeed it was so celebrated, that Mr. R.H. Heywood the owner of this capacious and splendid exchange in which we now stand, has told me that when he was first coming to Buffalo, he heard by common fame of this splendid store of Joy & Colton’s, before he got within one hundred miles of the place.
Well gentlemen, a part of this store is still standing in its primitive grandeur. But amid those granite pillars and towering structures which soar above it on either side, it looks so diminutive as only to be spoken of as we sometimes speak in familiar parlance, when we describe the size of a small child by saying he is about "knee high to a man."
The Erie Canal
At this period of time, I resided in Le Roy, in Genesee county; and the canal was not then finished through, nor had it been fully decided that it should come to Buffalo at all, some of the commissioners being for terminating it altogether at Black Rock. But it was not long before they held a meeting and decided to bring the canal through to Buffalo. This caused people to look with a little more interest upon the land along the creek which forms the harbor.
I looked a little that way myself; but as there was no docks then on the creek except a little short one about half the length of the only steamer there was then in existence on all these inland seas, and she only about 300 tons burthen, things did not look very promising down on these flats, I can assure you. What commerce there was done on the Lakes at that time, was carried on by a few sail vessels which did their business mainly at Black Rock. However, I concluded Buffalo was destined to be something sooner or later, and I determined to establish a commercial house here.
While looking round for this object, I stumbled on the ground which formed a kind of land basin between Little Buffalo Creek, Big Buffalo Creek and Main street. It was the ground which is now bounded by the west side of Main street, and crossed Prime street, Lloyd street, Rock street, Hanover street, the Prime Canal and embraces what is now called Central Wharf, except a small point which had been previously purchased at the foot of Main street and lying between that and Big Buffalo Creek; and is the ground on which we now stand, and upon which we see these massive, elegant and towering buildings, as well as hear the rattle, and feel the jar of the busy multitude trundling along its paved streets.
This land basin as I have called it, contained about eight acres and a half of ground, and was owned by two gentlemen at the east – one resident in New York, and the other in Boston. And after some correspondence with a view to obtaining a location, I was finally desired and authorized, to come out and survey the premises and make such a plot of it as in my judgment would be deemed proper and expedient for business purposes. Accordingly I employed a surveyor with whom I was acquainted, and in the summer of 1823 came out with him for this purpose. And after getting the outlines of the ground, we adopted the plan of cutting it up into streets and lots with the Prime Canal laid down across it, upon the principle which is now used and occupied.
At that time, (1823) there was not upon this 8 acres of ground a single building of any description, not even a squatter’s shanty: nor indeed was there but two buildings on the Creek from its mouth up to where the toll bridge now stands; one of these stood a piece down the Creek from where we now stand, and that stood on stilts, and looked very like a farmer’s corn barn, with a kind of gallows looking scaffolding running out into the Creek to reach sufficient depth of water for a small schooner to get her gangway up to the end of it.
The other building stood at the foot of Main street, and has been known till within a year or so, as the old red warehouse, and which has some what recently had to give way for the erection of more magnificent structures. The Little Buffalo Creek came along encircling a good portion of this ground, and was a dark, muddy, sluggish looking stream, grown full of water grass and water lilies, besides having its surface pretty well covered with green frog spawn. Its banks were also tolerably well lined with a stinted growth of scraggy thorn trees and alder bushes. And the merchants up town looked upon these grounds as being away down under the hill.
And here it should be borne in mind that this was all very natural, for the Terrace at that time was quite a steep and bold bluff. Indeed it was so much so, that in passing up Main street from Little Buffalo Creek to the old Mansion House, you rose quite a steep hill, that was what may be called a sharp pitch to draw a load up. As an illustration of what the merchants that were then doing business away up on Main street, thought, of the land along down here.
I will state that while my surveyor and myself were plotting out the eight acres, we quartered at the old Eagle Tavern, near the present American Hotel, and where most of the merchants then boarded.
After we had laid out the streets, and the Prime Canal, the balance was cut up into lots, pretty generally, of 30 feet front and 75 feet deep, and of course 8 1/2 acres made a large number of lots of this size. And after we had got a fair sized map of the premises completed, I thought it looked so well I wanted to show it. And availing myself of a suitable opportunity when the boarders were in the sitting room, I brought down the map and spread it on the table and invited the gentlemen to look at. This they did, and all generally I presume as a matter of courtesy, spoke favorably of it. But after a while one of them put his hand on the map, and with rather a sarcastic look, asked me what I expected to ask a dozen for those lots.
The others seemed rather to partake of the same waggish spirit, and from the winks and blinks I thought I discerned among them, I imagined I could almost hear them say. "We have got a green one out here this time." This was rather a "wet blanket" on my spirits, but I told them I could say as the man did who lived on a terrible hard looking, sterile farm, all covered over with briars and thistles, said to the travelers who stood looking at it—"Gentlemen, I am not as poor as you think I am, for I don't own this land."
However, I made a report to the proprietors, accompanied with a map of the plan we had agreed upon, which they at once adopted, and appointed me their agent.
The next spring (1824) I came here with my family to reside. But as the canal was not yet done, the appearance along the creek was just as lonely as ever. The steamboat went up to Detroit and back once in about eight days; which, with the appearance now and then of a small schooner, made up the sum total for that season.
During the winter of 1824-5 I collected together materials for building a warehouse and wharf; and on the opening of the spring of 1825, in connection with Mr. Webster, established the house of Joy & Webster, and built the warehouse which has been occupied by that firm to the present day; and it is now the oldest firm in the City of Buffalo, although I have not been a member of it myself for many years. And I may say of this building, almost as I did of the one on Main street, that at the time of its erection, it was looked upon, not only as elegant, but was thought to be of mammoth size. What that firm have done since, toward building up and beautifying the City, by the erection of numerous, elegant and more costly structures -- and how much they have contributed to its commercial growth, by the construction of marine craft upon the lakes, as well as canal craft upon the canals, is generally known to most of you, and had better perhaps be spoken of by others than myself.
Early in the spring of 1825, the Canal Commissioners and Engineers were out here, and assured us that the canal would be completed, so as to run through from one end to the other, in all the month of the ensuing October. And I believe the then old and respected firm of Townsend & Coit and myself, look the last contract which was let out on the canal, and that was for excavating little Buffalo creek, and making a general connection of the canal with the harbor at the point where the warehouse spoken of above, now stands. About the same time I cut the Prime canal, and wharfed up the creek in front of this eight acre plot. The grubbing out of the scrubby thorn trees and alder bushes, together with the general improvements of which I have spoken, wrought such a change in the general appearance in the quarter, that the merchants up town began to look at it with considerable complacency.
During the season of 1825 I became interested in a couple of small schooners on the lake, and had a canal boat built; and as the canal was to be finished that autumn, I determined to contribute something to increase the interest of that auspicious event.
I therefore resolved to collect from the borders of these accessible lakes, specimens of what the lands produced -- and I engaged Capt. Ransom, who owned a schooner with me, to perform this service. We therefore procured a good up freight of Government and fur companies stores to Mackinac and Green Bay, and the Capt. put off with the vessel for Lake Michigan. On his return he landed upon my wharf, the produce he had collected. And that portion of it which came from Lake Michigan, consisted of a birch bark canoe, some mocks of maple sugar, with a few Indian moccasins and other trinkets procured of the Aborigines of that country. There, said the Captain, is some of the produce of the country bordering on Lake Michigan, and whenever you want another cargo from that wild tomahawk country, you must go after it yourself, for you'll never catch me there again while my name is Ransom. He brought me from the State of Michigan a few sticks of red cedar, and a few half barrels of white fish. But as he came down the coast of Ohio, he brought me some of the more stable articles of agricultural produce, such as bags of wheat, barrels of flour, barrels of pork, kegs of butter and kegs of lard. From Chautauqua County in this State, he brought a few black walnut boards, and some very handsomely sawed pieces of birdseye maple. All these articles I carried to New York, in the first canal boat that ever passed from the lakes to tide water.
On the Erie Canal
So I believe I may say without being charged with egotism, that I descended the combined locks at Lockport, from the Lake Erie level unto that of the Genesee, with the first boat that ever went through their gates. And I may say in this connection, that I carried the first barrel of flour, and the first bushel of wheat, that ever went from the State of Ohio, to tide water on the Erie Canal. This boat was called the "Seneca Chief," and left here on the 26th of October 1825, amid the roar of cannon, and the shouts of a vast multitude from the town and surrounding country, who had assembled to witness the event, as well as to make public expression of their heart felt joy and gratitude, at the completion of so important a work. That noble Patriot, -- that great Statesman -- that master spirit, Gov. Clinton, was on board; and in this expedition, he fulfilled a prophetic expression which he once made on the floor of the Senate of this State, while advocating the construction of this canal -- and before a spade full of earth had been raised upon it, he said – "I have no doubt, if I am not prematurely cut short in this life, that I shall yet ride in a canal boat from Lake Erie to tide water."
And this he did do, to my certain knowledge, for I carried him in the Seneca Chief every inch of the way.
It is not my purpose gentlemen to detain you here with a detailed account of that grand glowing celebration; indeed if I was disposed to do so, my powers of description are altogether inadequate to the task; suffice it therefore to say, that this boat with its distinguished guest and the various committees on board, passed through the canal amid the roar of cannon, the sound of music, the wavering of flags and banners, the shouts of the inhabitants – as well as bonfires and illuminations, by night and by day, until by the aid of steam on the Hudson River, she was towed out on the broad Atlantic, where the waters of Lake Erie, which had been carried in casks, were mingled with the briny deep, by the hand of that illustrious benefactor whose energies had the accomplishment of this great work.
The water of the Atlantic was then dipped up, put into casks, and the boat returned to Buffalo and mingled the water of the Atlantic with that of Lake Erie, which closed the ceremony, and the navigation closed the same night.
The Common Council of the City of New York, for the purpose of preserving from the ravages of time, a faithful record of this great celebration, appointed a committee to superintend a compilation of the facts, and to have them printed and bond in the form of a book. This was done, and a sufficient number of volumes issued to furnish each of the members of the various committees with a copy as wells as some for presents to such distinguished statesmen both at home and abroad, as they might desire to distribute. And here the publication ended. They were never published for sale, and of course there is at this day but a few copies to be found.
I possess one of these volumes, (here it is). And desiring as I do, that it should be preserved for all time to come – and feeling as I do that the Common Council of the City of Buffalo are well entitled to such a work, I hereby tender to them this volume: to be kept in the archives of this City as a memorial of a great event. The volume is entitled, "COLDENS MEMOIR AND GRAND CANAL CELEBRATION"
The memoir, was written by the learned and eloquent, Calwallader D. Colden, Esq., and embraces many very interesting historical events, and contains minute history of the rise and progress of the Erie Canal from its earliest conceptions to its final completion.
The grand celebration portion of the narrative, was written by various individuals, and is made up of isolated matter, such as reports from committees, as wells as many extracts from the newspapers of that day, and from other sources. The volume also contains Autograph Facsimile letters written by such distinguished men as John Adams, Thos. Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Charles Carrol of of Carrolton, Gen. Lafayette, and John Quincy Adams.
The Effects of the Erie Canal
You will now perceive, gentlemen, that I have brought my narration of the commerce of Buffalo up to the final opening of the Erie canal, from the Lakes to tide water. From that period, the commerce of the Lakes began to grow. And your city, then a small village of less than two thousand inhabitants, began to increase. Its growth, and the importance of its commerce from that period, is well known to most of you, and is more familiar to some of you, than to myself. -- The change has been rapid and wonderful. The country bordering on Lake Michigan, which less than a quarter of a century ago, only produced bark canoes and Indian moccasins, is now sending forth a volume of the staff of life, in magnitude so enormous, as to astonish the whole world. And whoever looks over the statistical accounts of the commerce and shipping upon these inland seas, recently and so ably compiled by one of your old and intelligent citizens, James L. Barton, Esq., cannot but be astounded at its almost inconceivable magnitude and importance.
Having called up these reminiscences, gentlemen, I will only say a few words merely to express the pleasure I feel in meeting upon this ground so many enterprising, elastic men, and of beholding Buffalo a great City, of more than forty thousand inhabitants, flushed with a prospect of still further and increasing greatness. I see the rich products of the west wafted into your laps from the Lakes on the one side, and crowding the canal with its departure on the other. I see you going and coming with the speed afforded by the powerful steamboats on the one hand, and by flying locomotives on the other. And I behold you standing in yonder Telegraph office, holding converse with the wheat buyers of Chicago and Milwaukee at the west, and with the flour sellers of New York and Boston at the east. But this spectacle is so sublime, that I can scarcely believe what I see.
What further improvements this country is destined to witness, I have no prophetic eye to discern. If I were to measure the future by what I have witnessed in the past, I should fall short in capacity to comprehend its results. But I have been actively engaged in mercantile and commercial pursuits for a little more than forty years – and having now numbered my three score years and three, I cannot expect to see things move along for any great number of years to come – Yet I cannot but feel that I have been permitted to live in a very interesting period. For I have certainly witnessed in the main, the settlement of Western New York. I have seen its stately forests yield to the power and industry of the Woodman’s axe; and have seen blooming and fertile fields, as well as splendid mansions and comfortable dwellings, occupy the places where formerly stood the howling wilderness, and only dotted here and there with log cabins. I have traveled from the western part of the State to the city of New York and upon the noble Hudson, before there was a steamboat afloat upon the face of the waters on the whole earth. And whoever may witness in the future, as great changes as I have in the past, I hope may have as intelligent and attentive an audience to listen to his recital, as have honored me with their attention at this time. -- And now Gentlemen, with a tender of my thanks – as wells as my best wishes for your happiness and prosperity, I bid you an affectionate, and kind adieu.
Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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