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Explore Buffalo: Village of Lancaster

Explore Buffalo docent, Janine Ortman, highlights some of the interesting history of the charming Village of Lancaster!  There’s still time to go on the Lancaster walking tour on November 6, 10 and 14 of 2020.  Reserve your spot for this tour at Explore Buffalo’s website and check the calendar section for other November walking tours!

Lancaster NY is a lovely community 14 miles east of the city of Buffalo. The community dates back to the early 1800s. It was part of the Holland Land Company holdings which were surveyed by Joseph Ellicott and his crew in the early 1800s. Lancaster was once part of Clarence, its neighbor to the north.

The early settlers came to Lancaster from Connecticut. They were veterans of the Revolutionary War – some of the names of these early pioneers and settlers were Bissel, Clark, Blackmen, and Peckham. (The Lancaster Country Club is located on land that was once owned by the Peckham family that had served as their family farm).

The iconic Lancaster Town Hall opened in 1897. It is a lovely structure of red brick and Medina sandstone.  It is the quintessential focal point of the Lancaster downtown area. It is 3 stories tall and was originally “overbuilt.”  The town hall rented out offices and space until there was a need for the town to take these spaces over for their governmental offices.

There were two jail cells in the basement of the building, and the Lancaster library occupied space in the building from 1896- 1941. Today, the first floor basement of the building and an addition on the back are used for the town offices.

The Lancaster Opera House occupies the third floor of the town hall. When it first opened, it was a place where social and political activities took place within the community.  The Opera House was the place to go for high school graduations, traveling vaudeville shows, recitals, dances, and parties.

The Opera House was also an important part of the civic community- engaging in several important local and regional projects. The Opera House was the headquarters of the Works Project Administration during the Great Depression (The Lancaster Post Office was built in 1939 as a WPA Project). The Opera House also warehoused civilian defense supplies. Parachutes were manufactured in Lancaster, brought to the Opera House, and folded there by volunteers during World War II.

For a period of approximately 30 years after World War II, the Opera House was unused, and neglected. Restoration of the Opera House commenced in 1976 as a Bicentennial project. Much of the work came from grants, as well as dedicated volunteers, taking 6 years to complete.  The Opera House reopened on September 20, 1981. Air conditioning and an elevator for handicapped access were also added.  The Opera House was ready to be a star in the local community once again!

The Opera House is presently a performing Arts and Community Center- hoping to get back to its full schedule of shows and events once the current pandemic eases and they are given the go ahead to do so. It is a fabulous place to see a play, concert, or any kind of show.  It is a very enjoyable venue in a 326 seat beautifully restored 1897 theater.

Across Central Avenue to the west of the Town Hall main entrance is West Main Street.  This was the original thoroughfare that went through the town. The post office was originally located on this road when the town was called “Cayuga Creek” (named after the creek which flows through the town). Buffalo was known as “Buffalo Creek” at this time in the early 1800’s.  West Main Street connected to Water Street (now named Aurora Street) which connected to what is now Broadway. This road connected the villages of Buffalo Creek (Buffalo) and Cayuga Creek (Lancaster) and continued eastward towards Batavia.

There were originally wooden homes and retail shops on West Main Street on the part of the road that connected to Aurora Street (Water Street). A series of fires occurred in the 1960s which resulted in the eventual demolition of these homes and businesses. The land, and the street which occupied it was bought by a company called “Harvest the Best.” The street was abruptly cut off with a 15-foot drop in place to make way for the parking lot and the “Big H” store.

Unfortunately, the store went out of business after one year. The Lancaster Schools BOCES took over the building and occupied it until 1996. There is presently a Save-A-Lot Grocery store on the site. However, the street is in the process of being restored to its original presentation!

Six thousand cubic yards of granular fill has been brought in to replenish and refill the drop off.  The street has been graded and is in the process of being put back in place to its original location. The Lancaster Renovation plan calls for this section of Lancaster to be a place to “shop, stroll and stay.”  Apartments, a park, and retail stores are presently being planned for this old part of Lancaster to be made whole again and true to its original roots.  The developer is Tommy Sweeney, who is presently in charge of the renovation.

Explore Buffalo offers a tour of Lancaster, and features historic places that were, and still are an important part of the town.

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:

Written by Explore Buffalo

Explore Buffalo

Explore Buffalo is a nonprofit organization with a mission of promoting Buffalo and Western New York history, architecture, and neighborhoods through quality education to learners of all ages. Explore Buffalo's volunteer docents lead a wide range of guided tours by foot, bike, bus, kayak, and boat to explore our city's history and architecture; in 2019, more than 25,000 people participated in an Explore Buffalo tour or program. Learn more at explorebuffalo.org

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