The History of the Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, N.Y. - Part I, pages 22 - 26

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All those street names, however, and a few more were in the June of 1826 exchanged for such other ones as were preferred by the people. The original name of the settlement, "New Amsterdam", had in 1808 been discarded and the village by act of the Legislature had been christened "Buffalo".

Willink and Van Staphorst Avenues are now Main Street, Vollenhoven Avenue is now Erie Street, Stadnitski Avenue was changed into Church Street, Schimmelpennick Avenue into Niagara Street, Cazenova Avenue into Court Street, Busti Avenue into Genesee Street, Crow Street now called Exchange Street, Tuscarora Street now named Franklin Street, Cayuga Street became Pearl St., Onandaga Street is now Washington St. and Oneida Street now Ellicott Street.

Ellicott, with great clearness of vision foretold the future greatness of the town, of which he was the founder. When asked once if he believed that Batavia would ever surpass Buffalo he replied: "That is to ask, whether the local office of the Holland Land Company or the power of Almighty God is greater." On another occasion he remarked: "God has made Buffalo, and I must try and make Batavia."

The fateful 30th December, 1813

In 1804 the surveying of New Amsterdam was completed and during the same year fifteen pieces of land were sold to people intending actual settlement. It was the earnest desire of the agent of the Holland Land Company to build up the town. He therefore made it a condition of the sales, that the buyer was to build a house on the lot which he bought. Land was not to be sold for speculative

Caption under picture at lower center reads Map of Buffalo Village 1805

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purposes. It may be of interest to be informed what prices were paid for the first building lots. For the land on which the Mansion House now stands was paid $140.00, for the land east of the same on Washington Street $112.00. The site on Seneca street, between Main and Pearl Streets, brought $135.00; for two lots on the west side of Pearl Street, below Court Street, running through Franklin Street, the purchaser paid $35.00 and $45.00. The more distant the land was from Main Street and the Terrace, the lower were the prices; lots on Chippewa Street were in the market at $25.00.

In 1808 Niagara County, which until 1821 embraced the present county of that name and Erie County, was separated from Genesee County, to which it had previously belonged and Buffalo was elevated to the rank of the new county seat. The regular terms of the court, transferred to Buffalo, brought many people to the town not only from the County of Niagara, but also from the neighboring counties. Trade and traffic became more lively and the growth of the town filled the hearts of its inhabitants with confidence in a prospering future. But,
"What chain so strong, what girth so great,
"To bind the giant form of Fate?"
These poetical words were to be fulfilled on our thriving little place.

In June, 1812, war began between the United States and England. Buffalo at that time counted about 100 houses, most of them standing on Main Street between Goodell and Exchange Streets, and numbered about 500 inhabitants. The concentration of military forces in this district, and the disbursement of large sums of money by the Government for the equipment and maintenance of its army, developed a lively traffic, and trade was brisk. Prospects seemed bright to everybody; but then came the cruel fate.

In the course of the year 1813 the American Regulars had left Buffalo to take positions at other places, a small contingent only remaining at Batavia.

In the month of December a British detachment of 800 men, reinforced by an auxiliary force of 200 Canadian Indians, crossed the Niagara, laying waste the whole region between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, and marched to Buffalo. The majority of its terrified inhabitants fled before the approaching enemy, in the extreme coldness of the winter, to the wilderness, with such of their belongings as they were able to carry on their shoulders and in haste to load upon wagons. Some of them found a hospitable reception at Williamsville, a settlement northeast of Buffalo, others at the village of the Indians. The militia, insufficently provided with ammunition and sadly lacking in discipline, fled at the first attack of the enemy.

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Caption under map reads Buffalo 1813.

Translator's note: I set the map on its side since most of the notations were legible from that angle. The map is available as represented in the text at http://www.archivaria.com/GdDhistory/GdDhistory24.jpg.

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On the 30th of December Buffalo was ransacked and burned to the ground, only three buildings escaping destruction by the fire: - the jail, a small stone building on Washington Street, near Clinton; the dwelling house of the widow St. John, on Main Street,opposite the present Tifft House; and a blacksmith shop at the northeast corner of Washington and Seneca Streets.

Thirty of the inhabitants were killed during the sudden attack, forty were wounded and sixty-nine were made prisioners. When the work of destruction was completed the enemy went back to Canada.

Samuel Helm's Tragic Death

The records of the Holland Land Company show that Samuel Helm on the 22nd of December, 1809, bought from the agent of the Company Lot 144 in Buffalo, on the east side of Van Staphorst Avenue (Main Street), a little below Tupper Street. Helm had come to Western New York from Lancaster County, Pa., bringing with him a few of his countrymen from the Palatinate.

He was the first landowner of German descent in Buffalo. Helm was one of the victims of that terrible 30th of December, 1813. He was killed by an Indian's tomahawk. The story of his death is told in a lecture "on the Village of Buffalo during the war of 1812" delivered by William Dorsheimer in March 1863, before the Buffalo Historical Society, as follows:

"The British Indians had left the main column before it reached the village and swarming through the woods came into Main Street near Tupper [1.]. A house which stood at the northwest corner of Tupper and Delaware Streets was the first burned. A man named Dill lived there. Judge Tupper's house on Main Street, near the corner of Tupper was the next. Opposite, above the residence of Mr. Andrew Rich, lived Samuel Helm; he was slain while attempting to escape and his house burned. Going down the street, the torch was applied to every building they found."

In the course of this lecture and in mentioning the names of the inhabitants of Buffalo who lost their lives while defending their homes, it was said of Helm:

"He was a German and an old bachelor, and deserves to be remembered by the epicures of Buffalo, as the first market gardener in the place. He raised the first lettuce, which he used to carry in a basket on his head, selling it from door to door. It was he, too, who dug the ditches to drain the morass south of the Terrace."

The above story and the characteristic represents all the information that to the present time has been discovered in reference to the first German owner of real estate in Buffalo.

[1.] Page 25, paragraph 6, left column - Translator's note: The German text reads "The Indians separated from the British forces before the village was reached. The redskins swarmed through the woods and came to Main Street near Tupper." Return to text

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"And from the ruins blooms a fairer life."

In the Spring of 1814 some of the former inhabitants of Buffalo returned to the place of devastation. New houses began to rise from the ashes.

The "Buffalo Gazette", - published for the first time October 3, 1811 - having been fortunate enough to bring its entire printing outfit in safety to Williamsville before the English reached Buffalo, on the 5th of April reported triumphantly" "Buffalo Village which once adorned the shores of Erie and was prostrated by the enemy, is now rising again."

The arrival of American forces brought security against further assaults of the British. The fugitives regained confidence, returned to the village and new homesteads were rapidly built.

On the 10th of April, 1814, General Scott assumed supreme command of the military forces in this district. Buffalo became the centre of the military operations and business in general was thereby greatly benefitted.

The bloody combat near Fort Erie, on the 17th of September, in which the completely beaten enemy lost all its artillery, ended the campaign in this district, and the treaty of peace, concluded at Ghent in December, 1814, ended the war.

In July, 1815, the "Gazette" was able to state that at that time there were as many houses built or being built in Buffalo, as a year and half ago had been destroyed. The same activity prevailed at Black Rock, Buffalo's rival for superiority of harbor.

In the summer of 1816 a frost of such severity occurred that the produce of the fields and the cereals all over the surrounding country were ruined. Trade, already considerably reduced since the withdrawal of the military forces, decreased continually and at last came to a complete standstill.

**When one business man after the other one on Main Street was forced to close his doors, grocer Jacob Siebold was one day asked by one of his neighbors, George Brown: "Jake, did you fail?" "Oh no, by no means," was the reply. "Well, you will fail, like all of us," said Brown. "I don't owe anybody a cent," answered Siebold. "Never mind, we all have to go the same way." "If this is the case." said the German grocer, "then I must talk to my wife about it." This store was not closed and he passed over the crisis safely.** [1.] In the year 1837 the calamity had gone so far, that a further depression was impossible. It required several years before a recovery from the "hard times" could be enjoyed. Never again has the country, and especially this district, suffered a financial crisis like that of the year 1836. The "crash" during the fall of 1873 was child's play in comparison to that of 1836.

A depression of long duration followed, which was an obstacle to the development of the village. Obligations, which many of its inhabitants

[1.]Translator's note: The entire section marked off by double asterisks does not appear in the German text until page 46 under the heading "On Main Street.". Return to text


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Revised September 13, 2004
Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks