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Postcard From Buffalo: Terrace Park, 1902, or What was there before the Skyway


Terrace Park 1902 pano 1
Postcard with colorized Terrace Park, 1902. North is to the left, south to the right. This is a detail from a 1902 panorama of the city. The original park extended four blocks farther south, but was abandoned by the city for tracks and a station built by the NY Central, seen in the middle of the illustration.

POSTCARD FROM BUFFALO: TERRACE PARK 1902. Buffalo's very first public park—going back to Joseph Ellicott's original 1803 survey and platting of New Amsterdam—was The Terrace Park. It ran from Seneca Street northwest to where Court and Jackson Street intersect today. Topography argued for it to become a public park and promenade: It was a steep slope, which Joseph Ellicott described as being up to 40 feet high. The top of the slope (which became Upper Terrace) offered views over the flats extending to Lake Erie several blocks away, while the slope itself was difficult to build on.


Until Olmsted's Park and Parkway system was laid out in the 1870's, Terrace Park was Buffalo's primary outdoor recreation and social space. You want a balloon ascension? The square at The Terrace and Church Street was the place. You want to build a market or raise a liberty pole? The square at The Terrace, Main & Lloyd was the spot. The implementation of the Olmsted plan ironically led to the piecemeal destruction of the Terrace; The Terrace must have been viewed as no longer necessary.

In the early 1880's, the city allowed the New York Central to build tracks across Main Street (these would shortly be routed through a tunnel) in exchange for establishing a passenger service on a belt line. A trench was cut across the slope to create a gradient to Church Street, where the tracks turned to run along the Erie Canal. A station was built between Swan and Church streets. Several footbridges were built to cross the trench and keep the Canal District connected with downtown. A four-block stretch of Terrace Park was thus abandoned. Part of this became the site of a new and imposing Buffalo Police Headquarters in 1884. With the building frontages on lower Pearl and Lock Street, a de facto square was created. 

Another de facto square was created where The Terrace met Church Street. This was the closest open space to the civic heart of the city, the interface between the proto-industrial waterfront and emerging office and government precincts. This square was where perhaps the most famous aeronaut of the 19th century, Samuel Archer King, launched his hot-air balloon Buffalo, on September 16, 1873. The balloon was manufactured on an upper floor of the Aetna Building on Prime and Lloyd streets in the Canal District, and its ascension warranted a story in the New York Times. King called it the largest balloon in the world; it contained over 94,000 cubic feet, and the letters of Buffalo were seven feet high. King took the Buffalo all across the country. In 1877, it delivered the first airmail-stamped letters on a flight from Nashville to Gallatin, TN.

Ascension of balloon Buffalo from Terrace
Samuel Archer King's balloon Buffalo shortly before its maiden flight, Sept. 16, 1873. It was launched from Terrace Park near Church Street

The comparative illustration immediately below shows that the lands of the original Terrace are almost entirely free of buildings to this day. Removing the Skyway would be the first step in a process that could reconstruct the entire Terrace as the broad, long public promenade it was designed to be and a role it fulfilled from 1803 until the late 1960's. The only remnants are visible at Genesee Street west of WKBW-TV, and behind the Erie County Holding Center.

Skyway 1927 & current 1

1872 Hopkins Terrace and Niagara Square
Terrace Park, 1872. This shows Terrace Park at its original extent. Removing the Skyway would enable the reconstruction of the long-lost promenade
New Amsterdam proposed plan 1800
Joseph Ellicott's sketch of proposed village of New Amsterdam, c. 1800, which shows the slopes of the terrace, and a broad belt of public right-of-way which informed his formal survey of 1803 and the platting of the city in 1804.

A Skywalk for Buffalo

19_1105_Photo - 5From Skyway to Skywalk: Campaign proposal preserves the main Skyway spans, the southern viaduct, and the Outer Harbor Embankment to create a new walking and bike artery that doubles as a recreational amenity offering great views of the city, rivers, and Lake Erie.

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo has, since its founding, supported removal of the Buffalo Skyway and its interchange with the Thruway. In 2007, it issued an illustrated concept called the Skywalk to mitigate the damage the bridge caused and allow reconstruction of the Canal District, Terrace Park, and the historic neighborhoods around them. The Campaign is working on refinements of its 2007 proposal, but it is timely to re-introduce the concept. 

The Skyway was directly responsible for the demolition of the remaining two blocks of Canal Street in the Canal District in the 1950's, the demolition of an entire block the occupation of the lower three blocks of what had been Buffalo's first public park, Terrace Park, and was indirectly responsible, through its visual and noise bight, for the weakening of adjacent blocks of historic buildings that were scraped clean during Urban Renewal. 

The Skyway-Thruway interchange has been for 65 years the greatest source of noise pollution in downtown Buffalo. This is beyond the obvious air pollution emitted by cars and trucks accelerating and de-accelerating 40,000 times per day at that spot. To be near it for a day's work would be to physically endanger not only your hearing, but risk other physiological damage. Below dangerous levels farther away, the noise is an ever present nuisance. This will hamper reconstruction of the Canal District, especially the North Aud Block, currently under study for redevelopment. 

The Skywalk would remove the physical and psychological barrier of the Skyway, eliminate  threats to public health, and allow full reconstruction of not only the Canal District, but also Terrace Park and the north side of Canal Street, as well as a further stretch of the historic canalway between Pearl and Erie streets. Let's hope Governor Cuomo makes the right decision in the upcoming days: The Skyway and its interchange must come down, and we must begin reconstructing the historic neighborhoods that tied the city and its waterfront together.

Skywalk from Wharf


Removing the northern half of the Skyway and its Thruway interchange would allow historic reconstruction of Canal District and Terrace Park, among other neighborhoods
Skywalk foot of Main




Postcard from Buffalo: William St.


POSTCARD FROM BUFFALO: WILLIAM STREET NEAR KRETTNER C. 1910. The subject of this postcard is probably the newly constructed Savoy Theatre, which, in 2019, stands in a long-derelict state. Of special interest is the classic commercial-residential wooden structures and the continuous strip of display window along the sidewalk. There are two display cases projecting onto the public sidewalk, one housing a mannequin in a fancy dress at the Slotkin clothing store—much like a cigar store indian—and one in front of a retail space in the Savoy building. Streets such as this provided a person walking along with a new display every seven seconds or so (with storefronts 20 to 25 feet wide). There was plenty of room to window shop, with recessed entries greatly expanding frontage, and prismatic transom glass above the main windows refracting light deeply into the store. The south side of the street (right) was always shaded during the warmest part of the day on the east-west running William Street, obviating the need for awnings. Conversely, the south-facing side of the street has very deep awnings, which were extended to moderate solar gain inside the store during summer afternoons.—Collection of Tim Tielman