Black Rock -Table of Contents

Black Rock and Riverside
An excerpt from "Buffalo Architecture: A Guide." Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981

Although the village of Black Rock lost its struggle with Buffalo to be chosen as the terminus of the Erie Canal, the northern part of the village, below Scajaquada Creek, did get a canal lock at the foot of Austin Street. The power generated by that lock attracted factories and flour mills. By the middle of the nineteenth century Black Rock was, after South Buffalo, the most heavily industrialized section of the city. Because Black Rock was a separate legal entity until its annexation by Buffalo in 1853, the community maintained its own water supply, marketplace, and political structure. While south Black Rock has been absorbed into the far West Side of the city, the residents of north Black Rock, many of whom are descendants of German, Polish, and other Eastern European immigrants, still retain a strong sense of their neighborhood's history of independence.

Railroads as well as the Erie Canal brought industry to Black Rock. The Tonawanda:Amherst Street intersection became one of the busiest railroad grade crossings in Buffalo. The Belt Line, a freight and commuter line with stops spaced approximately one mile apart, began operation in 1883 and created a loop of new industrial and residential communities around the city. Its impact on Black Rock's development was particularly strong.

Riding the Belt Line from the East Side of the city to the new urban-industrial frontier in Black Rock, hundreds of Poles began to settle on the east side of the tracks along Amherst Street. In 1888, five years after completion of the Belt Line and the expansion of Pratt & Letchworth's foundries on Tonawanda Street, Assumption Church opened. The surrounding neighborhood remains, after the Broadway-Fillmore district, the most substantial Polish community in Buffalo. St. Florian's Church, which opened in 1917 on Hertel Avenue, is a spin-off from this original settlement.

As Black Rock became increasingly industrialized, many of the younger members of families who had lived there for years began to move out. They did not want to go too far, and yet they wanted a change from the pervasive atmosphere of industry. Thus, they chose Riverside. It was here that many second- and third-generation Black Rock families were born and raised. Riverside, a short trolley-car ride from the old neighborhood, was still in an undeveloped section that offered its residents beautiful views of the Niagara River, large buildings lots, curving streets, and the ambiance of suburbia.

The construction of the New York State Thruway in the early 1950s cut off the neighborhood's access to the Niagara River, where the area's residents had fished, swum, and boated as well as worked in the mills nearby. Squaw Island, once a popular picnic ground, was turned into a sewage disposal site by the city.

There are encouraging developments, however. The Squaw Island disposal site is being turned into a park. The residents of Black Rock and Riverside convinced the State Legislature to build a footbridge over the Thruway to the waterfront, and inaugurated an Annual Towpath Festival held on the banks of the old Erie Canal in celebration.

Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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