History of the West Side, Buffalo, NY
West Side: centers on Grant Street and is one of the largest neighborhoods by area in the city. The West Side runs west from Elmwood Avenue to Lake Erie and north from Porter Avenue to Buffalo State College

By James Napora
An excerpt from
Houses of Worship: A Guide to the Religious Architecture of Buffalo, New York, by James Napora. Master of Architecture Thesis. Pp. 173-174. Found at Buffalo Central Library NA5235 B8 N37 1995

Lower West Side

Encompassing the area from behind City Hall to Porter Avenue, the Lower West side has long been recognized for its Italian heritage. But long before their arrival here, the area served a pointedly different purpose.

Hemmed in by the Erie Canal on the West, the land immediately adjacent to the canal functioned in capacities related to the canal and shipping. Along the canal slips were cut inland to serve the water related industries such as boat makers and riggers. Numerous other industries competed for space on the lands immediately adjacent to the docks including several cotton and wool textile mills and a paint factory.

During the mid 1850s, residential development of the area began to occur. Unusual in the city, both rich and poor lived together in the area. Amongst the modest frame and brick cottages of the workers stood the larger, more imposing homes of the merchants and factory owners.

Sicilian immigrants: The Sicilians settled on the Lower West side. Forced from their homeland by high taxes and continued crop failure, they arrived here seeking improved living standards. Initially, they did not find life here easy. Living amongst the cramped, dirty quarters of the Lower West Side, their numbers grew to the point that the area contained one of the highest population densities in the city. It was not unusual to find three generations of the same family residing in one two family home. Additionally, not all of them could find work. Conditioned by the agrarian lifestyle of their homeland, many sought 'employment in the fields south of the city. But the nature of that type of work left many of them unemployed for long periods of time. Others labored on the nearby docks while still others worked on constructing the infrastructure of the county.

Sicilian immigrants -- Social networks: By 1922, fifty benevolent societies existed in the city. Many of them, including the Madre Addolorata Society at Holy Cross Church, were founded by immigrants who banded together once again on a parish level. Organized in response to the dire poverty they encountered upon arriving here, members of such societies contributed to a fund and thus ensured that upon their deaths, they would receive a proper burial.

The most important outlet the Italians had however, was the church. Devoutly Roman Catholic in their convictions, their first house of worship, St. Anthony's, was organized with assistance from the homeland. It was here that the immigrant population of the Lower West Side met for spiritual fulfillment.

The parishioners also established the first Italian language school in the United States.

Upper West Side

In the shadows of Fort Porter and the Connecticut Street Armory resided a considerable portion of the city's Italian population. .As their numbers increased, it was only natural that their community expand laterally.

By the 1920s, they had settled north of the Little Italy area on streets which originally bordered the Village of Black Rock. They were joined by a small community of Swedish immigrants, many of whom arrived in Buffalo as a result of contacts they had with family and friends in the then established community in Jamestown, New York. By the turn of the century, they had grown in number to be able to support two congregations in the area.

The area served as a strategic point during the War of 1812. In the vicinity of Niagara and Vermont Street, on what historically was known as Prospect Hill, an important skirmish of the War of 1812 occurred. Originally occupied by a grouping of log cabins, it served as an encampment for soldiers protecting the border.

In retaliation for the burning of Newark, Ontario, present day Niagara On The Lake, the British forces crossed the Niagara River at a point between Buffalo and Black Rock. Upon landing, they proceeded up the hill and were met by Captain As a A. Stannard and a barrage of American artillery. The American forces were quickly overpowered and taken prisoner. The British then proceeded to march down Niagara Street and burn the city.

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