Lackawanna History

Supplied by the Lackawanna Area Chamber of Commerce and edited by Rev. Robert McArtney.

(This history of Lackawanna is offered because it explains the background of two of the items on this page, Father Baker and Our Lady of Victory, part of the Catholic Health System. Lackawanna is the home of this web site.)

LACKAWANNA: located on the shore of Lake Erie. The city area is about six square miles and is approximately 600 feet above sea level.

GOVERNMENT: Lackawanna has a Mayor-Council form of government, one councilman being elected from each of the four wards of the city while the Mayor and Councilmen are elected at large. The city maintains a modern police and fire department.

POPULATION: 20,585 (1990 Census)

HIGHWAYS: the New York State Thruway passes through the city, Exit 55W serving Lackawanna. U.S. Rt. 62 and New York Rt. 5 also pass through the city. U.S. Rt. 20 passes near but not through Lackawanna.

BANKS: Lackawanna has three commercial banks.

NEWSPAPERS: (one) "The Front Page" (weekly)

HOSPITALS: (one) Our Lady of Victory

EDUCATION: five public schools, one parochial school (OLV).

RELIGION: There are fourteen Protestant churches, one Islamic Mosque and ten Roman Catholic churches. Our Lady of Victory Basilica is famous the country over for its beautiful architecture and is one of two North American Catholic churches designated by Papal decree. The Basilica of Our Lady of Victory is at South Park Avenue and Ridge Road. The title, "Basilica," conveys special privileges and indulgences.


Photo of city hall
LACKAWANNA'S MODERN CITY HALL

At one time the Bethlehem Steel Plant was the principal industry of Lackawanna, but other industries have come to the city and the surrounding area. In 1949 the Ford Motor Company located one of its principal stamping plants just south of the city to be near its source of steel sheets. This development in turn caused an enlargement of the steel plant.

With the growth of the steel plant, at one time the fourth largest in the world, came the continued growth of the city and its institutions. It attracted people from many lands to settle here and make their homes. In the diversity of national origin of its people, it is second to no city in the nation. It is truly one of the great "melting pots" of America.

EARLY HISTORY OF LACKAWANNA

When Erie County was first settled, the area we not refer to as the City of Lackawanna, was still in the possession of the Seneca Indians. Being the strongest of the six Iroquois nations, they eliminated by conquest, all other Indian groups from this area by 1655. the Senecas used the district only for trapping and hunting during the summer months. Around 1780, the British helped the Senecas establish log cabin villages on Buffalo Creek and supplied them with clothing, agricultural equipment and seeds.

An Indian settlement stood on the banks of Smokes Creek which still passes through Lackawanna. The creek was named for a local chief known as "old Smoke." A ridge of high ground separated the watersheds of Smokes Creek from that of Buffalo Creek. A road built along this high ground came to be known as Ridge Road.

After the American Revolutionary War, people from New England began to move westward to the Genesee River and to Lewiston, NY, near Niagara Falls. In 1790 a road was opened, and used by the stage coach, extending along high ground from Batavia to Black Rock.

Under colonial charters, Massachusetts and New York could set up a claim to central and Western New York westward. The Massachusetts land was sold in 1789 to survey and divide the land into townships. These were subdivided for sale, reserving an area at Buffalo Creek as an Indian Reservation. On April 2, 1821, Niagara County was divided into Erie and Niagara counties. As time went on more towns were formed. Nearly all the new settlers came from New England or Germany. Most of them were truck farmers or florists.

By 1826 the Indians had begun to sell some of their land and the first treaty for the sale of the entire Reservation was agreed upon in 1838. The Council House was burned by those who opposed the sale but the white men built a new one near East Hamburg Road. In 1842 a compromise was finally made and the Buffalo Creek and Tonawanda Reservations were sold to the Ogden Land Company permitting the Senecas to retain the Cattaraugus and Allegany Reservations, to which they withdrew. The whites moved in and on October 16th, 1851, the Town of "Seneca" was formed by the Erie County Board of Supervisors from a division of Hamburg and Cheektowaga. The following Spring the name was changed to West Seneca to avoid confusion with the Town of Seneca lying farther east. West Seneca was an area of irregular shape just south of Buffalo. The twenty-seven square miles of level gravelly loam soil was drained by three creeks running east and west. It was this latter area that was called West Seneca or Limestone Hill because of a limestone ridge that ran through part of it. It was made up of the homes of Buffalo businessmen, nurseries and truck farms located along the Ridge (a former Indian Trail) and the Lake Shore.

Through the center of the area passed a highway which had been built across the Indian Reservation from Buffalo to White Corners, now the Village of Hamburg. This old plank road was known as White's Corners Road and is today South Park Avenue. At the intersection of Ridge Road and White's Corners Road, a small Roman Catholic Church was built about 1850. The church had a visiting pastor until 1857 when the Reverend Thomas F. Hines was assigned to the parish as its pastor and as superintendent of the newly completed St. Joseph's orphan Boys Asylum. It stood on the site of the present beautiful marble shrine of Our lady of Victory. These buildings formed the nucleus for what was later to become the nationally known Our Lady of Victory Institutions and Basilica. St. Joseph's Protectory was built in 1864. In 1876 the Reverend Nelson H. Baker came to Limestone Hill as an assistant to Father Hines. Six years later Father Baker was made pastor and given full charge of the orphanage. Under his leadership more buildings were added from time to time - a boys school in 1882, a working boy's home in Buffalo in 1898, the infants home in 1907, a maternity home in 1915, Our Lady of Victory Hospital in 1919 and the Basilica in 1926. Father Baker named the Basilica after the famous shrine to Our Lady of Victories in Paris, France, which he had visited as a seminarian in 1874. Father Baker was in charge of the institutions from 1882 to his death at the age of 94, on July 29, 1936. He was succeeded by the Rt. Rev. Joseph E. Maguire and later by Rt. Rev. Robert Murphy and currently by the Rev. Msgr. Robert Wurtz, P.A.

In addition to the settlement at Limestone Hill another settlement was developed by the Wood Harmon Company, land developers from Boston, Massachusetts. Their development in the nineties was called "Roland." The rest of the area was undeveloped or in small farms. Politically it was part of the town of West Seneca. On the lake shore was an area called Stony Point. After 1870 several railroads were built through the town. Limestone Hill was located on the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railroad, the Erie Railroad, the Lake Shore Railroad and the Nickel Plate Railroads. The movement of freight from the west through congested areas in the City of Buffalo was so slow that these railroad companies decided to establish freight yards in West Seneca. This vast railroad facility and terminal yards furnished a great deal of employment thus encouraging settlement in the area. Another important development, vitally affecting the growing district of West Seneca was the erection by the Federal Government, at the close of the century, of a long breakwall at the eastern end of Lake Erie. The southern arm of this breakwall, 7,500 feet in length, extended to Stony Point in West Seneca and made the lake shore an ideal spot for industry.

Attracted by these facilities, the Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company decided to locate in West Seneca. Therefore in April 1899, John J. Albright purchased all of the land along the shore of Lake Erie on behalf of the newly formed Lackawanna Steel Company. The authorized capital of this new venture was $60,000,000 of which one third was issued, share for share, for the stock of an old Scranton Company, the Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company. Actual construction of the steel plant began on July 14, 1900. By the spring of 1901, several large buildings were completed and the withdrawal from Scranton had begun. Wherever possible both men and machines were removed from Scranton to the new plant site at Stony Point. Many of these people were of Irish extraction. This project out-stripped all other efforts in the steel industry, becoming the greatest individual steel plant in the world and having incorporated in it many ideas new to the industry. It prospered as a leading manufacturer of rails and sheet piling. The first two blast furnaces were blown in February, 1903 and the rail mill started operations in October of the same year. Each year saw further expansion with more products available. In 1922 the plant was acquired by the Bethlehem Steel Company, which at once began an extensive expansion program. The Kalman Steel Company was purchased in 1931 and the Seneca Iron and Steel Company in 1932. The plant's products include bars, sheets, rail, tie plates, structural shapes, sheet pilings, etc. The huge plant fabricating works and non-plant land of the company cover over 1,500 acres of ground and the plant has its own ship canal, locks, bridges and storage space for coal, limestone and coke.

About the time the steel plant came to Limestone Hill, a controversy arose between the eastern and western sections of West Seneca over the payment for certain improvements in the town, with the result that Limestone Hill separated from the town and formed its own city.

On the evening of March 2, 1909 a meeting of the Victory Volunteer Fire Company was held at which John Widmer presided with Edward C. Flanagan as Secretary. The matter of making the Limestone Hill district a separate city was proposed. A mass meeting of residents was held on March 6th to determine the popular feeling for establishing a separate city. The Lackawanna Steel Company and the rest of the business community encouraged the matter and the City of Lackawanna was soon to come into existence. The Lackawanna Chamber of Commerce was established on March 4, 1909 and has been promoting the community ever since.


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