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Buffalo History: An Urban Battlefield?

By Chris Brown

It’s hard to
believe that this nondescript two-story brick industrial building located at
1270 Niagara Street (at the corner of Auburn Avenue), sits at one of Buffalo’s most
historic sites. It is, and it perfectly represents the challenge that
volunteers face as they plan the commemoration of the War of 1812 in Buffalo
and Erie County.

It was on
this site where Peter Buell Porter lived, one of Black Rock’s most famous
residents. While most people know that the British burned Buffalo to the ground
in December 1813, fewer know that the British invaded in July 1813, but were
successfully repelled during what is referred to as the First Battle of Black
Rock. 

Peter Porter
was an American lawyer, soldier and politician, who served as Congressman,
member of the Erie Canal Commission, and was U.S. Secretary of War. When Porter’s
house was located on this site, it was set back from the street and had two
entrances. The back of the house had grounds that extended all the way to the
Niagara River. The front of the house faced the Niagara Street side.

The British
landed near Squaw Island and invaded the military outpost located along the
Scajaquada Creek. They continued to march south towards Buffalo. The British
entered Porter’s house from the back, but Porter was able to escape through the
Niagara Street side, wearing only his linen nightshirt. Porter, who was 40
years old at the time, ran down Niagara Street to the home of Robert Franklin
near Connecticut Street. Franklin, an African American, loaned his horse to
Porter, who then road to Buffalo and assembled a militia of Buffalo citizens
and Seneca Native Americans who fought along with army regulars. It was the
first time that the Senecas fought alongside the Americans.

The U.S.
assembled defense met the British on Niagara Street near Albany Street and
drove them back before they could get to Buffalo. Heavy fighting took place on
what is now Mason Street, just west of Niagara Street between Breckenridge
Street and Auburn Avenue. The British retreated after suffering heavy losses
(between 100 and 300 men) and their commander, Col. Cecil Bishop, was killed.

Porter’s
house was destroyed six months later, when the British returned to burn Buffalo
and Black Rock. The house was rebuilt after the war (although not occupied by
Porter) and occupied until it was demolished in 1912 in order to construct the
building currently on the site.

Currently,
the Erie County War of 1812 bicentennial commemoration planning group is
working with planning groups from Canada and Niagara County (US). The Erie
County group is determining how to re-create a sense of place for historic sites,
such as 1270 Niagara Street, that were so extensively redeveloped during the
late 19th and 20th centuries. 

Despite the
challenges, there have been many creative ideas put forth including creation of
Peace Gardens, historic markers, books, geocaching, battle re-enactments,
walking/bicycle tours,  and theatrical
and musical performances.

Proposals
are being formulated right now and funding sources are being sought. A meeting
will be held on Thursday evening, August 20, 2009 at 6:30 PM at the chapel in
Forest Lawn cemetery, Buffalo to discuss proposals and possible funding
sources. The group is open to the public and welcomes those with ideas and
potential proposals. 

The
commemoration of the War of 1812 and its legacy of two centuries of peace
between the U.S. and Canada will be a significant event for the Niagara region.
How do we make sure that Buffalo and Erie County does not miss out?

 

Written by WCPerspective

WCPerspective

Buffalo and development junkie currently exiled in California.

View All Articles by WCPerspective
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