We know where the Amherst, Cheektowaga and West Seneca school districts are, but how about districts where the name doesn’t give you a clue, like Iroquois, or Starpoint?
Most of the districts centralized in the last 60 years or so seem to have adopted their names in an attempt to unify the new district, which could have been made up of a half-dozen or more smaller districts.
Take Frontier, which combined eight districts into one along the shores of Lake Erie in Hamburg in 1951. At the time, the new School Board had very little time to come up with a new name, said Frontier alumnus and former School Board member Stanley Figiel. But one board member’s wife worked for New York Telephone, and she suggested using the telephone exchange that was assigned to most people in the district: Frontier.
“Initially, the board wanted the district to be called Lake Shore,” Figiel said, adding that, Angola, Evans and Brant had centralized around the same time. “They beat us to the punch, and they named their district Lake Shore.”
“Technically, it would have made sense to call Frontier Lake Shore,” agreed William Houston, the former longtime superintendent at Lake Shore, the district in southern Erie County, which officially is called the Evans-Brant School District.
Elma, Marilla and Wales, as well as parts of Lancaster, Aurora, West Seneca and Bennington in Wyoming County, grabbed the Iroquois name for their new district, since much of it sat on the Buffalo Creek Reservation.
Elma town historian Robert Newton, whose great-grandmother was a Seneca, said Iroquois was the overwhelming choice.
“In actuality, it was named this because of the Native Americans who lived here,” he said.
In Niagara County, the Starpoint district found its name because there are five points on a star, and the district represents five towns: Pendleton, Cambria, Wheatfield, Lockport and Royalton.
Perhaps those in the Pioneer district in Erie, Cattaraugus and Wyoming counties can thank their founders for their foresight. The board avoided combining the names of the former districts, Arcade and Delevan-Machias. Imagine the acronyms: MAD, or DAM. They also passed over another suggestion, Green Bean Central.
Cooler heads prevailed, and Pioneer was chosen because it was the first reorganization under the state’s 1965 incentive plan, according to Jeff Mason, who wrote a history of the district.
Niagara Square is not a new name for the area of open land in front of Buffalo’s City Hall.
Nor is it an inaccurate one – despite what you may think.
Niagara’s “square” has been called that since well before the Civil War, according to one local expert on the area, Susan J. Eck.
In fact, that name appears to go back to the 1840s, Eck said.
Eck, a former high school teacher and University at Buffalo administrator who guest-curated an exhibit on Niagara Square in 2010 for the Buffalo History Museum, said the square was designed to be just that: an open area of land shaped like a square. Early drawings and sketches of that area of the city confirm that, she said.
But, over time, the function of the square changed as buildings were erected around its perimeters, and, later, the way the area was used by cars made it appear to be a circle, said Eck, whose exhibit was displayed in a local court.
If you look at it from above, said Eck, you would still see it as a square.
That helps us out with the origins of the perplexing name.
But why does it persist, even in (circular) modern times?
Local history buffs Cynthia Van Ness and her husband, Vincent Kuntz, offered this suggestion: the word “square” speaks to the area’s role as a central gathering place.
“Dignitaries appear on the steps of City Hall, and there’s a space for a crowd to gather – like when JFK came to town,” said Van Ness, who serves as director of the library and archives at the Buffalo History Museum.
It might be a circle for motorists, but symbolically? It’s a square.
Local malls are like local school districts: If you know the name, you have a pretty good idea where the mall is.
Walden Galleria? Walden Avenue. Boulevard Mall? Niagara Falls Boulevard. McKinley Mall? McKinley Parkway.
And then you have the Eastern Hills Mall.
You could have lived every day of your life in Western New York until today and never heard the term Eastern Hills without hearing the word “mall” come next. It’s a pretty good bet that you could survey every person in the Eastern Hills Mall about where Eastern Hills is (are?), and without the aid of mall knowledge, no one would have a clue.
But the answer is not exactly a shocker.
The name Eastern Hills refers to the ever-so-slight elevation difference that exists in the area near the mall, which is on the eastern edge of Erie County.
“It’s hard to picture it, but Harris Hill Road got its name because there is a little bit of a hill in it,” said Clarence town historian Mark Woodward of the street that runs near the mall. “To us today, it isn’t much of a hill at all, but it’s there.”
The topography that created these “eastern hills” comes from the Ice Age, which is the same geological event that created the more well-known Niagara Escarpment and the more dramatic elevations and drops that can be seen in Lewiston.
It also, eventually, gave us a mall name that no longer needs to be a mystery.
Buffalo was granted a National Hockey League franchise on Dec. 2, 1969, when the NHL expanded by two teams (Vancouver was the other winner). One of the first orders of business was to pick a name for the team.
One thing was certain: If the team was to be distinctive from Buffalo’s other franchises, the name “Bisons” wasn’t a candidate.
After a couple of fits and starts, Buffalo entered the hockey business for the long term when Memorial Auditorium was built in 1940. The team was called the Bisons. That’s in spite of the fact that the city’s baseball team had gone by that same name since 1878.
The NHL team’s ownership opted to have a “name the team” contest, a traditional way of attracting attention. The team’s leaders sought out something distinctive, a name that hadn’t been used by any other professional sports franchise in North America.
The entries came pouring in – 13,000 of them, suggesting more than 1,000 names. How do the Buffalo Flying Zeppelins sound? Or the Buzzing Bees? Other rejected names included the Streaks, the Comets, the Mugwumps and the Herd (singular names weren’t popular back then).
But in the pile of entries were four suggestions for the word “saber” or “sabre.” Here was something different. Buffalo’s first public relations director, Chuck Burr, wrote in a news release that “a sabre is renowned as a clean, sharp, decisive and penetrating weapon on offense, as well as a strong parrying weapon on defense.” That sounded like a good way to describe a hockey team.
But in the release, Burr either misspelled the word “saber” or used the British spelling of “sabre.” History did not record the moment in which it was decided that the team name should be spelled Sabres. Apparently someone in the organization thought the alternate spelling would add a distinctive touch to the name.
The names of the four people who had come up with the winning name were put in a hat, and Mayor Frank Sedita pulled out the name of Robert Sonnelitter Jr. of Williamsville, who won a pair of season tickets for the team’s first season in 1970-71.
Here’s one that you may never have even heard about.
It’s the curiosity of Williamsville – and how it lies in two towns, not one.
Everybody knows, of course, about Williamsville being located in the Town of Amherst. But a tiny part of it – a snippet, really – lies in the Town of Cheektowaga.
“It’s very small,” said Mary E. Lowther, historian for Williamsville and a former mayor of the village. “It’s just one of those little oddities.”
We’re talking a handful of houses.
OK, but – why? This one, we’re not entirely sure of solving. It may go all the way back to 1839, when the Town of Cheektowaga was carved out of the Town of Amherst, said Mary Holtz, who is town supervisor and town historian in Cheektowaga.
Holtz, who has 19th century maps of the town that she says support this explanation, said that Cheektowaga’s land mass was carved out in a jagged fashion along the eastern part of its northern border, in an area with Ellicott Creek, a natural waterway.
The town’s border extends out to enfold part of Williamsville, then drops down with Ellicott Creek and then rises up again along Youngs Road, Holtz said.
Others offered other explanations.
But, the reason for the origins of this whole situation were not known to sources The Buffalo News talked to for this story.
“I think the creek was one of the areas where they created the borders,” said Holtz. “That is my assumption. That would make sense to me.”
“You’ve got to realize, it was 1839,” Holtz said. “It probably was done in terms of who owned property where.”
“There were probably less than 175 or 200 people in the Town of Cheektowaga in 1839. The town didn’t grow until after World War II.”
We have a relatively flat topography in Buffalo area. But sometimes man must adapt. Sometimes man must add steps to sidewalks.
That’s what evolved at one intersection in the Town of Tonawanda.
At the northwest corner of Harrison Avenue and Parker Boulevard, four concrete stairs with handrails lead down to the intersection. On the southwest corner there are three stairs.
The answer to why the steps were installed goes back more than 50 years, to when the town was still being developed.
“They’ve been there as long as I’ve lived in the town, and that’s my whole life,” said Highway Superintendent William E. Swanson, 57.
Harrison Avenue west from Loretta Street to Parker sits at a higher grade than the surrounding area, he explained. Decades ago it was “unimproved” and lined with ditches, he said. As homes were built, sidewalks were added.
“When they put the new road in, they left the stairs,” said Swanson, a 38-year veteran of the highway department. “Otherwise, they would have had to put a retaining wall up to get rid of the stairs. So people would have had a retaining wall on their lawns.”
“If you look at the landscape of the area, it would have been a huge issue to level everything off,” he added.
The town did level off the area further west on Harrison, as you approach Center Avenue where railroad tracks previously passed through.
Meanwhile, town Historian John Percy hypothesized that the steps are better than a slope in slippery weather.
Transit Road can be an endless source of frustration, as anyone who drives a vehicle there can attest.
At least it’s an explainable frustration: Lots of businesses + lots of customers + lots of traffic = Frustration.
But try to come up with an answer about why the addresses on a large swath of Transit make no sense, and you will truly be frustrated.
Here’s what we do know: Transit is one of Western New York’s main dividing roads, serving in Erie County as the border between West Seneca and Elma; Cheektowaga and Depew; Cheektowaga and Lancaster; Amherst and Lancaster; and Amherst and Clarence.
What we can’t explain – and what we could find no one to explain to us – is why after the addresses are in ascending order sequentially through Lancaster, they suddenly change to a seemingly unrelated pattern after crossing Wehrle Drive in Clarence. The last address in Lancaster appears to be on a Verizon store 6733. Cross Wehrle – and on the same side of Transit – the next visible address is 4045 and then continues to the 8800s before hitting Niagara County.
So the 5000s on Transit Road exist in Depew and Cheektowaga and a few miles away on the same road in Clarence.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the road, the sequence of the number does not change, continuing to go in ascending order.
So you could be at the venerable Brennan’s Bowery Bar at 4401 Transit Road on the Clarence side and then travel almost directly across Transit to Transitowne Jeep Chrysler Dodge Ram of Williamsville - which, by the way, is not actually IN Williamsville, but that’s a different story – and be at 7408 Transit.
All of this has given birth to one of the most popular expressions in Western New York: “I’m on Transit Road, and I’m confused.”
Surely someone in Clarence would know why this is. Highway Superintendent James Dussing had no idea, so he brought other people into the room, put the phone on speaker and had them also say they had no idea. Senior Code Enforcement Officer David Metzger? Same. He suggested Assessor Kris Fusco, who noted that not only did she have no idea, but also helpfully volunteered that she had an employee who worked in the assessor’s office for 30 years and – you guessed it – had no idea.
Longtime Amherst Council Member Guy Marlette usually can find the answer to most questions about roads. He vowed to find out, made a bunch of calls and offered a bunch of theories related to road consolidation, but in the end fell into the “no idea” camp.
All agreed that the answer must be out there somewhere, that it must be a simple explanation that someone must know. Maybe that’s true.
Or maybe not. Maybe some questions aren’t meant to be answered.
Includes reporting by Staff Reporters Barbara O’Brien, Charity Vogel, Budd Bailey and Joseph Popiolkowski. email: firstname.lastname@example.org