The Glenny Building has intrigued me ever since I learned that the entire facade of the building, all five stories, is made of cast iron. I have never heard of that before. The whole front of a building being built with the stuff of frying pans! I mean everyone who is of, ahem, a certain age, has owned a cast iron frying pan at some point in their lives. I still use the one my mother-in-law received as a wedding shower gift. They absolutely last forever! But buildings?
I guess it makes sense. Especially here in Buffalo, which happens to be located at about the halfway point between the iron ore fields of the upper Great Lakes, and the coal mines of Pennsylvania (coal to fuel the blast furnaces). Iron and steel works have long been associated with the Buffalo area. When the Glenny was built in 1873, Buffalo had at least three architectural ironworks firms, Tift Ironworks, Washington Ironworks, and Eagle Ironworks, all familiar names in this area. Due to renovations of the first floor facade, it is not clear where the iron on the Glenny is from. It is however, the only remaining building in Buffalo with a cast iron front.
The architect of the building is none other than Richard A. Waite, who was the owner of a well respected architectural firm here in Buffalo. He is also the man who hired and helped train the country’s first woman architect, Louise Blanchard Bethune. The Glenny is of the Italian Renaissance Revival style, evidenced by the broad openings in the first floor allowing for large plate glass windows to let light into the building, and the rounded arched windows in the upper floors.
The Glenny’s Namesake
The Glenny was built for William H. Glenny, an Irish immigrant who came to Buffalo in 1836. He found employment as a clerk at a bookstore before opening a small crockery store in 1840. He married Esther Ann Burwell in 1844, and together they had four children, William, Bryant, John and George.
The timing of all this was perfect for a crockery business in Buffalo, and Glenny’s business thrived. Buffalo was growing rapidly and money was being made; and spent. Glenny’s business is a perfect example of what I like to think of as a support business for Buffalo’s giants at the time, which were shipping, railroads, and grain. We tend to forget about all the other businesses that grew up around those giants.
Here’s what I mean. People moving to Buffalo and beyond needed general household items like simple crockery. Not to mention that those giants of industry who were building empires here in Buffalo, also needed crockery, fine china and crystal to fill their mansions. Glenny provided it at a time when it was not readily available here. The business took off, and W. H. Glenny, Sons & Co. went on to become one of the largest crockery businesses in the country.
William Glenny served on several boards in Buffalo, including Manufacturers and Traders Bank, Erie County Savings Bank, and was a trustee of the First Presbyterian Church, of which he was a regular attendee. He passed away a very wealthy man in 1882 at the age of 64. Glenny is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Who Owns It Now?
The Glenny Building was purchased in 2014 by Paul Kolkmeyer’s Priam Enterprises. It’s been transformed into modern upscale apartments and two story lofts, lending new life and energy to the downtown core.
The Glenny is a building that has its roots in a humble immigrant who arrived in Buffalo with virtually nothing and became a leader of industry through, by all accounts, hard work, integrity, and perseverance. His story is one of ‘rags to riches’ in the history of our city. One that was repeated over and over again in Buffalo. This parallels the history of the city itself. From its humble beginnings as a small fledgling village, into the rich gilded age of the late 1800s and early 1900s. And it’s being repeated again through the hard times of the late 20th century, to the resurgence we are enjoying today.
Looking at the building as I walk by it today, I’m glad William Glenny came to America and eventually to Buffalo. I am happy for his success, and the successes of Buffalo itself. I am also happy that we as a city still welcome immigrants and refugees with open arms, promising to them all that we have to offer. And I hope that we will always be a welcoming community. That to me is success.
Every building, every street, every neighborhood has a story to tell. They’ve all meant something to someone. Like William H. Glenny and his building on Main Street. These are the stories that mean something to me. These are the creative, hard working people who built our town. And it’s the same type of people who are rebuilding it even as I write this and as you read it.
Go See It
Next time you’re out and about downtown, take a closer look at 251 Main Street; the Glenny Building. While there, take a moment to think about what it may have meant to all the people who have spent time there.
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The Dun Building. It’s one that I’ve been admiring for a long, long time. There’s just something about it. For roughly 15 years, I drove toward it on Swan Street on my way to work. It’s my favorite view of it. I walked by it daily as well. And still when I see it, I get a feeling that I don’t quite know how to describe.
The Dun Building was designed by none other than E.B. Green and William Wicks for the Union Central Life Insurance Company, who placed a contingency on the plan stating that they’d build it if enough Buffalonians bought policies with their company. Buffalonians didn’t, and the plans were acquired and set into motion by R.G. Dun & Company.
R.G. Dun & Company was founded in 1841 as a credit check service. In those days a small business owner would see his local banker to secure funds for simple loans. These transactions were often completed between virtual strangers, judgments were made in just a few minutes, and the lender frequently lost on the deal due to lack of information about the borrower.
R.G. Dun hired what they called ‘reporters’ to look into the character and record of the borrowers, therefore helping to secure repayment of such loans. Dun had upwards of one hundred thousand reporters in 1900, offices in most large American cities and indeed many cities worldwide. The Buffalo office was one of its most active. And it’s not hard to see why. At the time, Buffalo was still growing by leaps and bounds and business was booming. The need for capital would have been great, going hand in hand with the need for credit checks.
R.G. Dun & Company later became Dun & Bradstreet, which still operates globally today.
When construction began, the Dun Building was to be the tallest building in the city, in keeping with the building trends of the late 19th century, a time when cities were becoming more and more crowded. Up seemed to be the only way to go. There are a couple of other interesting things about the building that you wouldn’t notice at first glance. There’s a restaurant space in the basement which has independent entrances, along with approaches from inside the building. Also, the utilities of the building are located under the sidewalk along Swan Street.
When it was completed the Dun Building was indeed the tallest building in the city. But only for a very short time as the Guaranty Building at 13 stories was completed shortly thereafter.
Let’s take a minute to compare these two buildings.
The Dun Building was completed in 1895. It is Neoclassical in style, but it has both Greek and Roman influences, as evidenced by the giant arched windows and the highly decorative round windows. It is an odd shape as well, referred to as a flatiron.
At 10 stories, its is considered Buffalo’s first high-rise building. But its not considered a skyscraper in the true sense of the word.
And here’s why.
In the late 1800’s architects were struggling to learn how to design buildings that were taller, but the weight of traditional wood frame construction was too heavy to go more than 4 or 5 stories. Major cities had also experienced tragic fires among these wooden structures, with great loss of lives. The job fell to architects to solve these problems.
By 1890 most architects knew that steel frame construction was the wave of the future, but were unsure how to use it, and didn’t quite trust its strength. These architects were pioneers of a sort, testing the newest technology on the newest type of building to date.
When Green & Wicks set out to build the Dun Building, they started with a steel frame design with load bearing masonry walls ensuring the strength the tall, oddly shaped building needed. They built it in three distinct ‘layers’ if you will. Some refer to it as a ‘stacked’ design, or a ‘wedding cake’ design. The first two floors were built first, the third through seventh floors followed, and the three uppermost floors came last. The Dun Building is also a very narrow building, and these extra precautions may have been undertaken to withstand the high winds coming off Lake Erie as well. None of this is in keeping with what we have come to associate with traditional skyscraper design.
By contrast, the Guaranty Building, completed in 1896 by architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, is everything a true skyscraper has become. Tall, drawing the eye skyward with no breaks to interrupt the movement of your eye straight through to the sky. Everything about this building is vertical. It is a total steel frame construction, built with twice the necessary piers in order to emphasize the verticality of the building.
Almost all skyscrapers to this day follow pretty much the same rules of architecture that were employed in the Guaranty Building. The base, which normally consist of the first floor or two, and hold somewhat public spaces. Retail, conference rooms and the like. The shaft, which holds the offices. And lastly, the capital, which is usually the top floor and cornice of the building itself.
Read more about the Guaranty Building in an earlier blog post here.
The Dun Building and the Guaranty Building are equally beautiful in completely different ways, but it’s the Dun Building that holds my attention longer. Not because I think it’s architecturally superior, because I don’t think it is. There’s just something about it.
The Dun Building was purchased in 2013 by 110 Pearl LLC, an affiliate of Priam Enterprises. It remains a thriving office building, with Sato Brewery (which should be on everyone’s list of things to do) in the basement. And to this writer, the building adds an interesting figure in our city’s skyline. There’s that feeling again.
Now this is going to sound strange, but hear me out. The feeling I get when I see it is that it’s almost like the Dun Building represents Buffalo itself. Both were built during a time of huge growth, both were beautifully designed, and both were built to withstand the test of time. And both have. Each in their own way. And I get all this while merely walking by. There’s just something about this building.
See it for yourself at the southwest corner of Pearl and Swan Streets, standing tall and strong against the elements.
The Dun Building is a City of Buffalo Landmark and is located within the Joseph Ellicott Historic District. Thank you for taking the time to read about it!
In 1802 New York State Purchased the mile wide strip of Native land along the Niagara River known as the New York State Reservation. This property became known as Black Rock, named for an actual black rock formation that jutted out into the Niagara River near where the Peace Bridge is today. Black Rock was a village in its own right and the fledgling village of Buffalo was further south near where the Niagara River, Lake Erie and the Buffalo Creek all come together.
Buffalo was owned by the Holland Land Company at this time. The company worked consistently to market Buffalo as a new up and coming town where pioneers would be able to make a prosperous life for themselves under the direction of Joseph Ellicott, their land agent. New York State, on the other hand, was not in the marketing business, and therefore Buffalo grew a bit quicker than Black Rock.
Both Buffalo and Black Rock submitted bids to win the terminus of the Erie Canal. The competition began as a friendly rivalry but it reportedly became a bitter feud.
In Buffalo however, there were several businessmen who worked hard to have the Buffalo Creek dredged and made wider to accommodate ships, they created slips, piers and more. These Buffalonians were George Coit, Charles Townsend, Oliver Forward, and Samuel Wilkeson (more were involved, but these were the four who saw the project through to its completion). In the end Buffalo won out and the rest, as they say, is history. Black Rock eventually became a vital neighborhood within what became the City of Buffalo.
So what does all this have to do with Unity Island? Well, Unity Island is located in what we locals still call Black Rock. It’s not technically on the land that New York State purchased in 1802, but it is within the city of Buffalo and is just off the coast of Black Rock, in between what is now called the Black Rock Canal and the Niagara River.
Photo Credit: The Buffalo News
The Seneca Nation acquired the Island around the 1650’s. They called it Deyowenoguhdoh, pronounced de-dyo-we-no-guh-do, meaning “divided island”. Apparently there used to be a marshy creek that ran through the island, and hence the name. It is said that the French explorer LaSalle coined the name Squaw Island in the late 1600’s, and that’s the name that stuck. Until recently, the island was known as Squaw Island.
Given its proximity to Canada, the island was a staging ground during the War of 1812. A six-gun brig that was launched as the Adams by the United States in 1798, was captured by the British during the War of 1812, effectively giving England control over Lake Erie during the war. The Brig was renamed the HMS Detroit. In October of that same year, the Americans briefly recaptured her, but came under heavy fire, and had to abandon her to the Niagara River’s strong current. The ship ran aground at Unity Island, and the Americans were forced to set it afire.
By Special Collections Toronto Public Library from Toronto, Canada – Prize brig Adams in Lake Erie, Ontario, in 1812 (JRR 1153), CC BY-SA 2.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=38678979
The Senecas held on to Unity Island until early 1816 when they gifted the island to Captain Jasper Parrish, who served them as an agent and interpreter. In 1823 Parrish sold the island to Henry Penfield, a local attorney. The island changed hands several more times after that.
The Black Rock Ferry operated from the island, and ran back and forth to Canada on a regular basis. It is well known that this was the final leg of many a runaway slave’s journey north to Canada and freedom. Remember that even though slavery was illegal here in New York State, it wasn’t illegal for bounty hunters to find and transport escaped slaves back to the south. Buffalo played an important part in the Underground Railroad, and Unity Island was a key player.
In 1873, the International Railroad Bridge was built and effectively ended the career of the Black Rock Ferry.
Stories abound about the island.
There was the story of a hermit, Jason Thorp, a jeweler and an inventor, who reportedly moved to the island after having his heart broken by a woman in Ohio. He chose the island as the ideal place to drop out of society. Thorp apparently kept to himself, growing his beard well past his waist. After his death, it was described as the beard of a patriarch. His story makes me think of our modern day Williamsville Larry; everybody knew of him, but who among us really knew him?
There were other stories as well, mostly true. There were people smugglers and drug smugglers. One Sunday afternoon in 1897, 50 pounds of opium were seized from Chinese nationals who came over from Fort Erie. A U.S. customs agent was shot by a silk and whiskey smuggler. People simply moved in on the island and built ‘shacks’ for themselves and their families. There were several bars who reportedly served fish fries. And with the bars, came the bar fights and more.
And most of this was before 1900!
Photo Credit: The Buffalo News Chronicles
In the 1920’s the Federal Government owned a dike on the island, where 35 or so families lived. They were ordered out as squatters. The people argued that having lived there for 20 some uninterrupted years, they should be allowed to stay. A judge agreed and the people stayed.
Eventually the city of Buffalo purchased a large piece of property on the island and used it as a garbage dump (who makes these decisions??). They also built a water treatment facility on the island and began operations there in 1938.
Through all of this, the people living there stayed once again. They worked, grew gardens, fished in the river. For the most part, they lived simple, quiet lives.
Photo Credit: The Buffalo News Chronicles. In the background of this photo is the International Railroad Bridge. Love the cat.
In my research of the island, which admittedly began a few years ago now, I began emailing with a woman named Sally who used to summer on Unity Island, where her grandparents lived. She wrote to me about how, as city kids, she and her sister felt such freedom there on the island in the summers.
Running through the tall grass, and swimming (swimming!) in the Niagara River! She said the river didn’t run as quickly in those days and the current didn’t come into play until you were 20 feet from the shore. Her grandmother would fish off the end of their dock teaching them both to fish and to prepare it (mostly perch) for their evening meals, which would also consist of whatever vegetables they had in their little garden.
There was no electricity on the island; they had kerosene lanterns for light. They drank well water that supposedly tasted like iron. They used an icebox, and had to travel off the island once a week to buy blocks of ice. They were outside from morning till night and they relished every minute. To a child, Unity Island was a paradise. The wistfulness in this woman’s writing was palpable. I could feel how much she loved her summers there.
Photo Credit: The Buffalo News Chronicles
Sally’s parents moved to California in 1950 and her summers were spent elsewhere. They eventually settled in Arizona, where she still lived. Even though she was close to 80 when we became email pals, she spoke of how she could never forget those summers on Unity Island. She asked me to throw a “pebble” in the water and to say, “that’s from Sally.” I did.
It was during the 50’s when the dump began to fill up and it was suggested by a common council member that if the city kicked out all the “squatters” they could use the north end of the island as a dump as well. Unbelievably, that’s exactly what happened.
The residents argued that it was insulting to be called squatters, as they paid the city to live there ($225/yr). All the same, they were evicted and the last of the residents were gone by 1966. I’ve wondered if Sally’s grandparents were among them.
The city did indeed expand the dump and continued to dump there until that was full as well.
In 2015 Jodi Lynn Maracle, a local Mohawk native, along with members of the Seneca Nation of New York, petitioned the Buffalo Common Council to change the name of the island from the racist and derogatory Squaw Island to Unity Island. The vote was unanimous in favor of the petition.
Photo Credit: Army Corps of Engineers
Extending south from Unity Island is a stone pier called Bird Island Pier. It was built in 1860. It once connected Unity Island to the former Bird Island, which was rocky to the south and held fertile soil on the north side. Natives were known to cultivate corn there. This island was noted in the journal of DeWitt Clinton, who surveyed this area before the construction of the Erie Canal, which began in 1817. By 1880, however, maps show that Bird Island had disappeared. Bird Island Pier, however, is still there and has been extended south of the Peace Bridge. It is well used by walkers, bikers and fishermen alike.
Broderick Park marks the spot where the Black Rock Ferry operated. It serves as a monument to Buffalo’s part in the Underground Railroad, complete with timeline markers. This alone should make Unity Island a destination for all Buffalonians. It’s an interesting look at an important part of Buffalo history.
The dump was eventually capped and Unity Island Park was built. Occupying the north end of the island it is complete with walkways and bike trails. Plenty of space for picnicking, not to mention true interaction with the Niagara River.
As a matter of fact, there is an Aquatic Habitat Restoration Project nearing completion in Unity Island Park as I write this, headed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. It is being described as the recreation of a natural habitat for fish and wildlife in the area. Along with the restored habitat will come the fish, birds and other wildlife, as it should be.
Photo Credit: The Buffalo News. Shows restoration project well underway in May 2018.
This can only be a good thing for an island with a somewhat checkered, but incredibly interesting past, not unlike the city of Buffalo itself.
Sally abruptly stopped writing to me. And since it happened after she asked pointed and specific questions regarding the island, I can only assume that she is either not well, or is gone. Last week, as is my custom now whenever I visit Unity Island, I threw a “pebble” into the Niagara River, and said aloud, “That’s from Sally.”
Put Unity Island on your list this summer. You’ll find it at the foot of West Ferry Street. (Now you know how that street got its name.) If you see any pebbles, you know what to do.
This is the last in my three part series about Buffalo’s Residential Parks. Click the links if you are interested reading about part one, Day’s Park, and part two, Arlington Park.
The West Village Historic District of Buffalo is a 22 acre neighborhood in one of the city’s oldest residential areas. It is one of only a few in our country to achieve three designations as an Historic District under both the City of Buffalo and New York State, and it is also listed in the Federal National Register of Historic Places. The jewel of the West Village Historic District is unquestionably Johnson Park.
It is named for Ebenezer Johnson. So who is he, and why is this park named for him?
Ebenezer Johnson. Photo from Buffalo City Hall photos.
Ebenezer Johnson was from Connecticut. He studied as a physician in Cherry Valley, New York, where he met and married his first wife, Sally. He came here in 1810 and opened his medical practice in what was just a glimmer of what he himself would witness Buffalo become during his time here. During the War of 1812 he accepted a position as an assistant surgeon with the volunteers of New York State.
After the war, he returned to Buffalo and opened a drug store as well as resuming his medical practice. After 1823 he became very active in business and eventually became well known for construction, real estate, trade and banking. No small feat. He became quite successful and next turned to politics. He held several posts and sat on many boards, and in 1832 when Buffalo was incorporated as a city he was elected by the common council as Buffalo’s first mayor. Ah, that’s why the park is named for him! That, and the following…
That same year Johnson broke ground on a grand home located on a large piece of property he owned on Delaware Avenue between Chippewa and West Tupper. It was completed in 1834. The home was referred to as “the Cottage” and was considered the most palatial home in Buffalo to date. On the property itself there was a man made lake, fruit orchards, a large vegetable garden and flower gardens. The 25 acre property and “Cottage” was a well known spot for socializing among the elite in Buffalo.
The “Cottage”. Photo from “Buffalo’s Delaware Avenue: Mansions and Families”, by Edward T. Dunn.
Johnson served a second term as Mayor of Buffalo in 1834-35, after having turned down the nomination in 1833. Mayoral terms at the time were one year.
Sadly his wife passed away in 1834. He remarried a year later to Lucy Lord. Johnson continued to be an influential member of Buffalo society until selling his estate and leaving the city sometime around 1847, when he moved to Tellico Plains, Tennessee, where he owned an iron ore mine with his brother. He passed away there in 1849.
During the 1850’s Johnson’s property was divided up into one of the most elegant residential sections of the city at the time. The lake became part of Rumsey Park on the estate of Bronson and Evelyn Hall Rumsey. The Cottage was re-purposed as The Female Academy, the most elite, all girls school in the city. Incidentally, it was the first institute of higher learning for women in the country. (!) The Female Academy still exists today as Buffalo Seminary, now located on Bidwell Parkway.
The “Cottage” Photo credit to “History of the City of Buffalo and Niagara Falls.” Published by The Times, 1896.
An 1876 map of city parkland indicates that Frederick Law Olmsted redesigned the green space in the center of Johnson Park and incorporated it into his overall design of our Park System. And it shows. You only have to walk through the park to feel Olmsted’s presence here. The flow of the park is just lovely. No other way to describe it.
Many of the homes on Johnson Park that were built in the 1850’s still exist, and many have been recently restored to their former glory. They are close together, fostering that “neighborly, friendly” feel we discussed in the second part of this series. And like the other residential parks as well, Johnson Park is a great place to walk and to meet and talk to fellow Buffalonians, whether you live there or not. The people here are indeed friendly, and more than willing to discuss what they know of the park and the homes lining it.
Johnson Park has suffered through the socio-economic troubles that have touched our city, and indeed our whole country. Thankfully, Johnson Park and the city of Buffalo both have committed residents willing to stay the course. And like the city itself, the results in Johnson Park are showing. This is due in great part to the commitment of the Johnson Park Association and the Cary Street Association, both of whom lead the way in ensuring that both Johnson Park and the West Village Historic District will remain as an integral, thriving neighborhood in Buffalo for a long time to come.
Hutchinson Technical Institute which borders Johnson Park on South Elmwood Avenue
I get a feeling in this park. It’s a nostalgic feeling of days gone by. At the same time I feel a sense of future here, like the residents have a clear vision of what they hope for the neighborhood. It makes me want to stay. Live here. Experience city living at its absolute best. That, is Johnson Park.
Go see it, you will be enchanted!
I hope you enjoyed my series about Buffalo’s Residential Parks.
Buffalo is fortunate enough to have three residential parks within its boundaries. They are Day’s Park, Arlington Park and Johnson Park. This post is the first of my three part series on these parks.
I’m going to begin with Day’s Park, simply because it’s the first one I experienced. My husband and I volunteer at Friends of the Night People, and on our way there one Sunday afternoon, years ago, I happened to catch a glimpse of the park while driving by. My husband is a patient man and he pulled over so we could go explore. I remember thinking to myself, this must be a great place to live!
Photo Credit to Day’s Park Facebook Page.
The park is named for Thomas Day. Although designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Day’s Park was not originally part of Olmsted’s plan for Buffalo’s Park System. In 1886 (well into the building of our park system) the responsibility of the Board of Park Commissioners was expanded to include all public green spaces in the city. The Board requested from Olmsted designs for several new small areas, one of which was Day’s Park. He submitted plans for all of them. So, Day’s Park is an Olmsted design. Cool.
But let’s go back to the beginning.
After the burning of Buffalo in 1813, and after several more fires leveled numerous homes in the city, Buffalo’s fire code was changed (sometime around 1820-21) to stipulate that residences could no longer be built entirely of wood.
Thomas Day arrived on the scene in Buffalo in early 1823, and if you think about it, his timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It was just after the fire code changed, and just before the opening of the Erie Canal and all the incredible growth Buffalo underwent immediately following.
Thomas Day, you see, was a brick maker. When he arrived, he opened Buffalo’s first brick kiln. The need for brick was there, and so was the money. Day of course, made a small fortune. Smart man.
Day’s Park entrance from Allen Street.
Like many who possess an entrepreneurial mind, Day’s next step was to invest in real estate. He used his brick money to invest in land just north of the city. He anticipated that the city’s growth would move northward as the city became more and more industrialized. He was right. That’s exactly what happened. Smart move.
Lewis Allen had a farm adjacent to Day’s land just north of the city, and when his herd of cattle grew too large for his own acreage, he used Day’s pasture. He did this by driving his herd west from what is now Main Street. The well trod path to Day’s pasturage became what is now Allen Street, in Allentown. Named for, of course, Lewis Allen.
In 1859 Day donated the green space where Allen’s cattle pastured, to the city as perpetual green space, Day’s Park. Yet another smart move.
He then built the first two homes on the space for his sons. They are Nos. 25 & 33. They were built with Day’s own bricks and both homes are still standing today.
Left to Right, Nos. 25 & 33 Day’s Park. Homes built by Thomas Day.
Interestingly, Olmsted included a fountain in the Days Park plan. In the entire park system he created for Buffalo, this was the only fountain included in any of his plans. Regrettably, the original fountain was removed in 1923. Fountains can be difficult and expensive to maintain over time, so one can only assume this was the reason for the removal.
The park itself was enjoyed and beloved for many years. Unfortunately though, it fell on hard times in the mid twentieth century, much like Buffalo itself. Sadly, homeowners moved out and rented the properties. Care of the previously well used and well loved park fell off, and so did the care of the homes adjacent to the park. The park deteriorated and the homes became dilapidated.
In 1957, the city announced plans to split the park into a playground and a parking lot. Warren Day Ferris, a descendant of Thomas Day, produced an original deed which stated the land was donated with the stipulation that the land be kept a park, or it would revert to Day’s heirs. When the city balked, Ferris sued. The case was taken to the State Supreme Court, which ruled the space had to remain as one space, and as a park.
In the 1970’s, a college student, David Urgo convinced a farmer to donate 60 wild oak, maple and ash trees and the parks department arranged for planting. These replaced the elm trees that were lost to Dutch Elm Disease in the 1960’s. (Buffalo lost hundreds of Elms at that time.)
The hard times however, continued for the park, as they did for the city. At one point there were drug deals going on in broad daylight right out in front of the school that resides on the park (now Elmwood Village Charter School). Police intervention was slow at best.
Elmwood Village Charter School on Day’s Park
In 1987, the Day’s Park Block Club was formed. At this point more than half of the homes (both one- and two-family) were either owned by absentee landlords or stood vacant. Just 30 trees remained. The Block Club began extensive renovation of the park.
They pushed the city to deal with the drug problem, and also assisted the city in prosecuting the absentee landlord situation, getting the owners to either sell, or make the necessary improvements to their homes on the park.
The movement was under way. The fountain was replaced in its original spot in the park surrounded by a wrought iron fence, as Olmsted had designed it. But almost unbelievably, the fountain was stolen in 1995 by thieves posing as city workers. It wasn’t until 1999 that funds were made available to replace it. With the fountain in place once again, the park looks much as it did on Olmsted’s original design.
When I visited Days Park again recently to snap a few photos for this post, I couldn’t help but notice the ongoing problem the Block Club has been experiencing with getting grass to grow in the park. The trees shade the park so much that it’s difficult for grass to grow. They’ve held fundraisers specifically for this project. It is ongoing. The fountain appears to need work as well, although this might be what it looks like every spring after a long hard Buffalo winter! Mental note to check it out in a month or so…
I hesitated to even include this photo in the post, but when I check back, I’ll hopefully get a great shot of a beautiful working fountain. I’ll keep you posted.
Update: A recent visit to Day’s Park shows the park in full bloom of summer. I am happy to report that the fountain is up and running and looking great, surrounded by a plethora of wildflowers about to burst open! A couple of other shots show the struggle with the grass continues, but you can also see the widespread shade provided by the trees, causing some of the problem. Still, the park is a peaceful oasis, and I found myself wishing I had brought a chair and a good book.
You could say that the story of the park parallels the history of Buffalo. Both built during great prosperity, both fell on hard times, and suffered struggles along the way. But both are emerging victorious through hard work and perseverance.
Day’s Park is located just west of Allen Street at Wadsworth in Allentown, on a piece of property that used to be an open pasture. Can you imagine it? I can. But you know what a daydreamer I can be.
Incidentally, residential parks are perfect for urban hiking. Next time you find yourself yearning for a little urban exploration, get yourself to Day’s Park. Explore it and the surrounding neighborhood reminding yourself of the history this park has seen. From farmland to numerous homes, a school, and a park. It all used to be pasture land owned by a brick maker, Thomas Day. A smart man, who made several smart moves in his lifetime. One of which we benefit from still, our own Day’s Park.
Look for my secondand third posts on Buffalo’s residential parks over the next two weeks.
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