History of the Lower East Side
Buffalo, NY

By James Napora
The text below is reprinted with permission from
"Houses of Worship: A Guide to the Religious Architecture of Buffalo, New York," by James Napora. Pp. 249-250. Master of Architecture Thesis. Found at Buffalo Central Library NA5235 B8 N37 1995

Click on map for larger view

One of the most interesting areas of the city, this neighborhood served as a melting pot as immigrant groups passed through the area during the early years of the city's history. Notable for the large German population which initially settled in here, it also was home to a large Black community which existed here from the time of the city's founding.

Blacks: Confined to a small portion of the area, by the 1840s the Black community had established itself in the area of Michigan and William. Centered on Vine Street, in an area whose fabric was virtually erased from the city during reconstruction of William Street, this community numbered almost 700 by the 1850s. Three buildings formed the nucleus of their community, the Michigan Street Baptist Church on Michigan; the Bethel AME Church (destroyed) and the Vine Alley Colored School (destroyed), both on Vine Alley, They served as the heart of this tight knit community for years.

Germans: The German population began to settle in the area initially in the early 1840s. Upon their arrival, the original commercial center of the city at the terminus of the Erie Canal had been densely settled. Seeking an area where they could sustain a more agrarian lifestyle, they selected the territory in the lower East Side. Within walking distance of Seneca Street, which formed the northern reaches of the commercial district at the time, the area proved attractive to the large numbers of arriving Germans.

Suitable for agriculture, the flat meadows of the East Side soon became home to the German Village. Clearing the land for farming, they also used the lumber as a cheap source of fuel and building materials. By 1855, almost 25.000 Germans called the East Side home. Here they established their churches, schools, social clubs, stores and taverns. As the area prospered and the city spread, it also became home to wealthy German craftsmen.

South of Clinton Street along Swan, Seneca and North and South Division Streets, the more prosperous merchants of the city built fashionable homes and townhouses. Surrounded by their wrought iron fences, these residences exuded an air of prosperity in the growing city.

Italian Campanese: In this same neighborhood, one of the five Italian communities prospered by the turn of the century. Arriving around the turn of the century, the Campanese, from the area around Naples, lived here until being dislocated by the city's well intended urban renewal efforts in the Ellicott District in 1959. St. Lucy's Church, located in the former Second Presbyterian Church (destroyed) at Swan near Chicago Streets,, will long be remembered as the spiritual and social center of the community.

Polish: The area around Broadway and Pine constituted the nucleus of the earliest Polish community in the city. Prior to the formal establishment of the Polish community around St. Stanislaus Church in 1873, almost 500 men, women and children resided in homes along Broadway, Pine, Ash, Walnut, Spruce, Sycamore, Genesee and Carroll Streets.

Jews: The fifth immigrant group to initially reside in the area consisted of a significant Jewish community. Arriving in the city in the 1840s, by 1847 they had established Temple Beth-El, the first Jewish congregation between New York City and Chicago.

By 1874, they had erected their second house of worship on Elm Street near North Division. By the mid 1880s, their numbers had increased considerably. Quickly forming into a close-knit community, they organized a number of other congregations located on Pratt, Hickory and other area streets.

By the turn of the century, William Street formed the heart of the community, being lined with the shops of Jewish merchants. The Jewish Community Center, located on Jefferson north of William on land now occupied by the Pratt-Willert housing projects, for years served as the social center for the Jewish population.

See also: History of Neighborhoods in Buffalo, New York - Links
Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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