The 1832 City of Buffalo Directory states that "The village was
originally surveyed and laid out, by the Holland Land Company, to whom the site
belonged in 1801; and the settlement may be said to have begun in the following
The earliest map we have been able to locate is of
Joseph Ellicott's 1804 survey which shows the today's downtown area as the
original Village of Buffalo and looks quite similar to present-day downtown.
We believe that the accounts in the 1832 City of Buffalo Directory may be based
upon preliminary surveys and not the finished survey of 1804. According to
Buffalo Architechture: A Guide, "Joseph Ellicott - brother of Pierre L'Enfant's
assistant in the laying out of Washington, D.C. - came to parcel out in 1797 the
enormous tract of land that had been purchased by the Holland Land Company".
This illustrates the magnitude of effort required in the survey project, at
least seven years of toil in laying out the basic fabric of Western New York.
Much of his work endures to this day, for example, the pattern of streets
radiating out from the Niagara Square hub, most of the city's main
The village grew relatively slowly until the war of 1812 when Buffalo became a
"Military Resort." According to the 1832 City Directory "In December,
1813, the place was entered by the British and Indians, and every building but
two was burnt." Many citizens were taken as captives to Montreal and most of
the rest fled to avoid capture. The loss and destruction of property was borne
by the individuals more than the village itself as Buffalo had yet to become
incorporated with the attendant municipal responsibilities and facilities.
In 1821 Erie County was carved out of Niagara County and Buffalo became the
county seat. Buffalo had officially been a part of Niagara County since 1808.
The rebuilding of Buffalo was a painstaking process due to several factors, not
the smallest of which was a lack of convienient transportation from the remote
markets. Modest attempts at rejuvenation were made once peace was declared, but
it was not until westward progress of the Erie Canal, then known as "The Grand
Canal," in approximately 1819, brightened the city's prospects and encourged
further settlement. A western destination for the canal had not been determined
and Buffalo sorely wanted to be chosen over Black Rock.
Great effort was expended to render the mouth of Buffalo Creek navigable so that
vessels would not have to tie up in Black Rock, Buffalo's earliest rival in
commerce. A loan of $12,000 was procured from the state and additional private
donations were used to re-engineer nature. The mouth of the harbor was moved
60 rods to the south in an ingenious plan by Samuel Wilkeson to thwart the sand
bar which continually rebuilt itself, thus preventing an open channel for
navigation. The Erie Canal wouldn't help Buffalo if the vessels didn't have a
harbor to use and everyone knew it. Near the end of the project a torrential
storm threatened to undo everything. Wilkeson rallied the villagers and in a
tremendous community effort they worked tirelessly to direct the rushing waters
of the swollen Buffalo Creek to their advantage. The creek itself carried the
scores of tons of earth into the lake and Buffalo Harbor was born.
Buffalo could now compete with Black Rock for the honor of being the Erie Canal's
westernmost terminus. General Peter Porter, Black Rock's champion, was an
eloquent statesman, but Buffalo had a solid advantage in the fact that it was
situated higher on Lake Erie while Black Rock was on the Niagara River at a
considerably lower elevation. In the days when manual labor was the only power
available for excavation projects this was a much greater concern. General
Porter argued persuasively while Wilkeson, though less of a statesman, conveyed
the sensibility of terminating the canal at Buffalo. When the canal
commissioners left the Eagle Tavern and the area in 1822 they had given the
people of the area the impression that Buffalo had the edge. That winter the
decision was final, Buffalo was to have the Erie Canal!
What this meant in the long run was that the Village of Buffalo would become
the City of Buffalo and Black Rock would eventually be absorbed, but not until
another 32 years had passed and some severe resentment by Black Rock citizens
had finally subsided.
The Village of Buffalo was incorporated in 1822. Its government was administered
by a President and board of trustees.
In 1825 both the reciept of federal monies in compensation
for the 1813 destructions and the completion of the Erie Canal to Buffalo
helped to ensure the needed future expansion of this small village.
Buffalo now had an excellent harbor for the many wharves storehouses and
supporting facilities which quickly sprang up. The Grand Canal had brought great
prosperity to the small community which then began to grow in leaps and bounds.
Because of the navigable Great Lake Erie and "Clinton's Ditch" Buffalo became
the largest grain handling port in the world. Buffalo truly was the gateway
to the west.
By 1832 Buffalo had banks and insurance companies, gaudy houses and even a
water works project to take over for "Water John" who had been trundling a
horse cart with potable water around town for years. There were even a few
local breweries which was the beginning of a local brewing tradition which was
to endure until 1972.
Buffalo had a very bright future indeed, far too bright to remain a mere
village. April 20th, 1832 Governor Enos T. Throop approved the charter of the
City of Buffalo.
You are Time Traveler # to 1801
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Text - Copyright 1997-2002 J. Henry Priebe Jr.