The Buffalo Common Council approved the “Upper Black Rock Historic Preservation District” as the City’s newest designated district on April 28th. The District is a collection of properties that are a significant cultural landscape and historic resource along Niagara Street, Mason Street, the Belt Line Rail Road and Black Rock Canal. The district is adjacent to the Black Rock Canal, a National Register Eligible resource and part of the Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor.
The following information and many of the pictures are from the National Register District Inventory Form that documents the significance of the resource and is a preliminary step in the National Register nomination process. It was prepared by Carmina Wood Morris and Kerry Traynor of kta preservation specialists last summer.
Both the east and west sides of Niagara Street are located within the district between Breckenridge Street and Auburn Avenue, and only the west side of the street is included between Auburn Avenue and Lafayette Avenue. There are sixteen (16) primary buildings and one (1) structure associated with the historic district, all are contributing.
The properties on the west side of Niagara Street have two “faces”. Their west elevations face the Belt Line Rail Road and what was historically the New York Central Rail Road (now CSX and Amtrak), and the Black Rock Canal, while their east elevations face Niagara Street. The properties between Breckenridge Street and Auburn Avenue also face a short alley known as Mason Street.
The Upper Black Rock Historic Preservation District embodies the relationship between industry and transportation networks on water and land that defines the history of the Village of Black Rock, specifically Upper Black Rock. Transportation related commerce and industry were defining factors in the history of the area. The historic district conveys the industrial history of Upper Black Rock by water, rail and truck along the Black Rock Canal, Belt Line Rail Road and Niagara Street.
The industries in the district were directly related to transportation with Sterling Engine, Buffalo Gasoline Motor Company and American Body Company occupying the major factory buildings in the district. The properties in the historic district are primarily industrial/manufacturing, although a house at 19 Mason Street, constructed ca. 1889 and the Union Meeting Hall, First Presbyterian Church of Black Rock, constructed in 1827 at 44 Breckenridge Street, remain extant on the west side of Niagara Street.
The properties on the east side of Niagara Street reflect the diversity of functions required in a working class neighborhood. The property at 1225 Niagara Street, constructed ca. 1877 functioned as a grocery and meat market with boarding rooms above. A plumber and baker occupied the storefront at 1233. Two residences dating to the late nineteenth century remain extant on the northeast corner of Auburn Avenue and Niagara Street. The historic district met Criterion C in the area of architecture and Criterion A for its association with the transportation and industrial history of Upper Black Rock.
The Union Meeting Hall – First Presbyterian Church of Black Rock. 44 Breckenridge Street at Mason; 1827
The Union Meeting House was constructed in 1827 on land donated by Major General Peter Porter, who was the first US Congressman from Buffalo. The street that separated the Union Meeting House and Porter’s home received its name in honor of the maiden name of Porter’s wife, “Breckenridge.” The street retains its historic cobblestones.
When constructed the area was rural and the church looked out toward the Niagara River and the Erie Canal. As documented on the 1889 Sanborn Map, the surrounding neighborhood consisted of scattered frame residences.
The Federal Style meeting house served an Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Methodist congregation before being transferred in 1831 to the Presbyterians who founded the First Presbyterian Church of Black Rock. In 1871 when the property of the church was transferred to the congregation. The congregation sponsored $2,000 in repairs (approx. $38,000 in 2014), and renamed the church Breckenridge Street Presbyterian Church of Buffalo (Church of the Puritans). In August 1883, the church had 172 communicants and 275 students in Sunday school. In the 20th century, the status of the church steadily declined as ownership was passed on to the government. The Breckenridge Street Presbyterian Church of Buffalo later became the Grace Episcopal Church, then a home for the Odd Fellows, then a detention center for Chinese aliens, a detention home and children’s court for juvenile delinquents, and eventually a warehouse for the plumbing supply company, Stritt & Priebe. The building is currently vacant.
The two story brick Federal-style building is raised on a stone basement. The main elevation facing Breckenridge Street, which retains its historic cobblestones, is three bays wide. The pedimented center bay projects slightly beyond the wall plain. The tympanum is covered with asphalt roofing material. Elliptical profiles at the cornice and raking cornice remain extant. The bell tower, documented on a 1912 historic image is no longer extant. The main entrance, with paired doors, is set back within a large brick baskethandle arch. Above the main entrance is a large central window opening, flanked by narrow sash windows.
The bay to the west features paired windows, with flat brick arch and stone lintels on the first and second floors, while on the bay to the east the second floor window opening has been infilled to accommodate a door. The elevation facing Mason Avenue is four bays wide with paired windows, similar to those on the Breckenridge Street elevation, on the first and second floor of each bay.
The Union Meeting Hall – First Presbyterian Church of Black Rock has been previously inventoried and determined to be National Register Eligible. The building is a local landmark (added 9/29/92).
The Sterling Engine Company, 42 Breckenridge Street & 1246 – 1270 Niagara Street
The Sterling Engine Company was a dominant presence on Niagara Street, between Breckenridge and Auburn Avenue for much of the 20th century. The company, which manufactured gas engines, constructed a factory building at 1252-1278 Niagara Street in 1907 (currently 1270 Niagara Street).
The three story, brick masonry second factory building constructed between Mason Street and the Belt Line occupies the entire block between Breckenridge Street and Auburn Avenue. The building retains a high level of integrity with the original steel industrial windows remaining extant on all elevations. At some locations on the first floor the windows have been infilled.
1226 Niagara Street
1226 Niagara Street is located on the northwest corner of Niagara and Breckenridge Streets. The three story, three bay brick commercial building was constructed ca. 1885 and is noted as a drug store on the 1889 Sanborn map. John C. Prong lived at 1226 Niagara Street and opened a boot and shoe repair shop in the retail space, a business he maintained at this location for thirty-years. The property has a history of long term tenants. In 1961 a bait store, which remains today, occupied the storefront.
The building is simply detailed. The storefront has been infilled with brick, however the corner cast iron column and signboard remain. An oriel bay window on the south elevation is documented on the 1889 map, and the addition to the west appears by 1916. The simple composition is terminated by a scalloped corbeled frieze.
19 Mason Street
The frame residence located at 19 Mason Street is noted on the 1889 Sanborn map and the first resident documented by the city directories was Fred Ledor, a maltster who lived in the house in 1889.
The residents in the house did not tend to stay long. In 1900 Sylvester Meyers, a maltster, Robert McComb, a scooper and Philip Hontz a maltster and sidewalk finisher lived in the house. The residents were working class with laborers, carpenters, motor drivers and plasterers listed among inhabitants over the years.
The two story side gable building is three bays wide with center entrance. The residence has been altered with replacement siding and windows, however it is a rare surviving example of the domestic architecture that was located on both sides of Mason Street before the block became the home of Sterling Engine in the early twentieth century.
Buffalo Gasoline Motor Company: 20 Auburn Avenue & 1280 Niagara Street (formerly 1280 – 1290 Niagara Street)
The manufacturing buildings constructed located at 20 Auburn Avenue and 1280 Niagara Street were constructed by the Buffalo Gasoline Motor Company in to building campaigns. The building at the corner of Niagara Street and Auburn Street was constructed ca. 1903, the year the company is first listed at the Niagara Street address. By 1916 the building to the west facing Auburn Street and the Belt Line was constructed. The company manufactured marine engines.
The red-brick masonry building constructed ca. 1903 is three-stories tall and eight bays wide raised on a rough-faced limestone foundation.
20 Auburn Street was constructed by 1916 and was historically connected by fireproof passages to the north and south on the second floor. The two story brick masonry building has eight bays along Auburn Street and six bays along the Belt Line.
Sowers Manufacturing Company: 1294 Niagara Street (1298 – 1310 Niagara Street)
The factory for Sowers Manufacturing Company was constructed in 1914 as documented on the 1916 Sanborn Map. In 1916 the lot to the south was owner by Seneca Clay Company and used as a sewer pipe yard. It is likely that before construction was completed the sewer pipe yard was purchased and the building expanded south given the seamless appearance of the east elevation.
The two story, fourteen bay brick masonry building is simply detailed with brick masonry piers that extend beyond the parapet defining each bay. A loading bay is located in the sixth bay from the south with pedestrian entrances in the flanking bays. A second loading bay is located at the northwest corner of the building. The nine bays to the north have cast sills and iron lintels whereas at the five bays to the south the lintel is faced with brick.
1225 Niagara Street
The three-story Italianate commercial storefront located at the southeast corner of Breckenridge and Niagara Streets was constructed ca. 1877. John Bowers is noted in the city directory as having a grocery and meat market in the retail space and living in one of the apartments above. I 1905 Emory I Smith had taken over the business that he maintained until 1914 when Edward E. Boylan opened his own grocery store at 1225 Niagara Street. By 1950 the storefront was a restaurant.
The three-bay, three story brick building features classical Italianate detailing. The storefront retains its original parte defined by cast iron columns and pilasters. The windows at the second floor feature masonry arches with keystone, while a segmental arch heads the windows on the third floor. The original one over one double hung sash windows remain extant on the third floor. The broad overhanging eaves, detailed with brackets, turns the corner from Niagara Street to Breckenridge Street.
A projecting rectangular bay window is located on the second floor at the second bay in from Niagara Street. The windows, with segmental heads, are functionally located, relative to plan. There are no windows on the north elevation since a building was historically located in the adjacent lot.
1233 Niagara Street
The property located at 1233 Niagara Street is documented on the 1889 Sanborn map as 1233, 1235 and 1237. The two story storefronts at 1233 and 1235 Niagara Street featured cast iron columns and a central stair accessing living space above. 1237 Niagara Street, also a frame building is noted on the map as being two-and-one-half stories tall, with a front porch. Various enterprises were located in the storefronts including William Logan’s plumbing business and Holsa Smith’s Bakery. The businesses serviced the residential neighborhood located to the east.
The properties, specifically 1233 and 1235 have been altered with non-historic siding on the elevations and replacement windows. The original storefront parte remains extant, defined by cast iron columns. The two and-one-half story frame building to the north has similarly been altered with non-historic siding and replacement windows, however the original parte remains extant, including the cast iron at the storefront.
The properties are significant to the district as rare surviving examples of retail properties in the industrial neighborhood that would have provided everyday necessities for the working class community.
1245 Niagara Street
1245 Niagara Street was constructed ca. 1910 and the 1911 city directory notes Phelps Auto Top and Trimming as occupying the space. New Method Laundry is listed as a tenant in 1915 and in 1916 Reed Chocolate Company Candy Factory occupies the space. By 1922 Orgasco Inc., manufacturers of dodge gas burners occupied the space. In 1950 a fire protection equipment warehouse occupied the space.
The commercial/factory brick building is two stories tall and two bays wide. Engaged pilasters and a corbeled frieze define the bays on all elevations. The first floor storefront appears to have been altered as the brick masonry appears to be a slightly darker red tone in locations. In each bay at the second floor are two paired sash windows with precast surround, header and sill. The first two bays on the north and south elevations have windows similar to those on the Niagara Street elevation. The window openings in the bays to the east on the north and south elevations have been infilled. Small, non-historic window openings are located in some of the infilled bays.
The American Body Co., Manufacturers of Auto Bodies: 1255 Niagara Street (formerly 1255 – 1267 Niagara Street)
The American Body Company produced Model L bodies and other medium-priced auto bodies in aluminum steel and wood. The company’s main office was at 1200 Niagara Street, with factories at 1088, 1095, 1200 and 1255 Niagara Street. The company first appears listed at 1255 Niagara Street address in 1911.
The company produced bodies for Lincoln and continued that contract until late 1926. The company’s experimentation drew the attention of the U.S. Aluminum Company (ALCOA) in the hopes of producing cost-effective stamped aluminum automobile body and, in 1927 American was renamed U.S. Aluminum Co.; Fabrication Division. At this time volume automobile body production ceases and the company focused on producing experimental aluminum bodies in the Buffalo factories through the 1950s.
By 1950 the factory at 1255 Niagara Street was no longer manufacturing aluminum auto bodies and lists the various uses in the building as storage on the second floor, used car storage, auto repair and a pattern shop.
The factory constructed for the American Body Company consists of a three story block to the south and a two story block to the north. Although the windows in the three story block have been replaced on the first and second floor and infilled on the third the building retains a high level of integrity. The original stone sills remain extant throughout.
1273 Niagara Street – Residence
The residence located at 1273 Niagara Street first appears on the 1900 Sanborn Map. The Queen Anne style building with gambrel roof is not typical of this section of Niagara Street, which tended to be more industrial in the late 19th century.
The Queen Anne style residence at 1273 Niagara Street retains a high level of integrity. The fish scale shingle and Palladian window in the gambrel remain extant as does the brackets at the eaves. The original siding remains extant as does the Eastlake detailing at the porch frieze. The posts and rails have been removed. The windows have been covered with plywood, but remain extant in a number of locations. The massing features full and partial story bay windows on the side elevations.
1277 Niagara Street
The residence at 1277 Niagara Street first appears on the 1889 Sanborn Map. The Stick style building is not typical of this section of Niagara Street, which tended to be more industrial in the late 19th century.
An addition was added to the front of the building and a restaurant opened by 1950. Despite the later addition to accommodate a restaurant, sufficient historic fabric remains extant to convey the Stick style detailing. The turned posts and frieze at the port remains extant as does the detailing of at the open pediment of the front facing gable dwelling. The clapboard and original windows remain extant.