Explore Buffalo’s public tour offerings are back and we are so happy to see everyone again! We are providing weekly highlights from our tours that we are once again offering to the public. This week, Explore Buffalo Master Docent Bob Kiekbusch shares some history and highlights from our Williamsville tour.
A drive on Main St. from Amherst to Clarence will take you through the Village of Williamsville: a quaint village with houses, shops, law offices, churches, and municipal buildings built during the 1800s. This village has a great history and has had economic success. Explore Buffalo has a tour to expand the story of Williamsville.
It starts with Jonas Williams purchasing 300 acres from the Holland Land Company for $2 per acre. The village of Williamsville was developed where Ellicott Creek crossed the Great Iroquois Trail at Glen Falls. Sawmills and grist mills were constructed by Jonas Williams, John Thompson, and Benjamin Ellicott. A raceway was constructed to divert water to all the mills south of Main St., creating an island which is today Island Park.
Because of these mills, it was originally named Williams Mills and changed later to Williamsville. Other important men involved with Williamsville’s growth were Oziel Smith, Timothy Hopkins, former Town Supervisor for the Town of Amherst, Demeter Wehrle, and later Ed Hutchinson
The War of 1812 was also important to Williamsville with a military garrison and field hospital located in the village at Main St. and Garrison Rd. and stretching to Ellicott Creek. General Smyth was in charge of this garrison. General Winfield Scott also recuperated at the Evans house with his 5000-6000 troops after the Battle of Lundy’s Lane.
The Village was incorporated in 1850: one of 50 villages in New York State. The Town of Amherst was incorporated in 1818.
Highlights on the Williamsville tour
The Stone School on South Cayuga was built in 1840 with land and stone donated by Timothy Hopkins. It served as a school until the 1900s and as Amherst Senior High School and headquarters for Amherst Historical Society. The school closed when the New Williamsville High School was built for grades 1-12 at the current site of the Christian Academy.
The Williamsville Water Mill (lead image) was built originally as a sawmill in 1801 by Jonas Williams, substantially enlarged in 1827, and operated in that capacity until 1903. Also on the site was the Water-Lime Works and Williamsville Cement Company Mill during the construction of the Erie Canal, which was later converted to be a gristmill. After 1908, the mills were used for apple cider production. The complex is a rare surviving example of a water-powered seat of local industry in Western New York. It is listed on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places.
The Eagle House was originally built in 1827 by Oziel Smith, owner of mills, quarries, and forests, for travelers on the road between Buffalo and Batavia. However, this building suffered a fire and Smith rebuilt the new tavern with stones from his quarries and wood from his forests prepared by his sawmills. The Eagle House has been in continuous service since 1832 as an inn, stage coach stop, and tavern, and boasts of holding the oldest liquor license in Erie County and New York State. Some evidence in the Eagle House indicates the presence of the Underground Railroad with many tunnels and caverns under the tavern and Main Street.
The Glen Park was home to the Glen Casino owned By Harry Altman, which was a proving ground for many big-name entertainers. The Amusement Park was located next to the Casino. It brought in many people for entertainment in the summer. After devasting fires that scarred the area, a park was constructed as a peaceful park with ponds, benches, and the cascading waterfalls.
The Village of Williamsville boasts ten sites that have been designated as historical sites. This tour is given several times a month and starts at the bridge at the entrance to Island Park at 5565 Main Street, Williamsville, NY 14221, located behind Amherst Town Hall and the Williamsville Library. Free parking is available in the Town Hall parking lot, accessible from Main Street or South Cayuga Street.
You can discover more local architecture and history by joining an Explore Buffalo tour (tickets can be purchased here), signing up for the weekly email newsletter, which is filled with local history content every Monday, and by following Explore Buffalo on Facebook. In a typical year, more than 80% of Explore Buffalo’s revenue comes from tours, events, and other public programs, all of which were suspended until July 2020. You can help Explore Buffalo to continue its mission of promoting Buffalo architecture and history during this time by:
- Donating online at explorebuffalo.org/donate
- Buying a gift certificate at explorebuffalo.org/gift-shop
- Purchasing an annual Explorer Pass at explorebuffalo.org/explorer-pass
Also see Explore Buffalo Building Profiles: