Sep 3, 2013

The History of Hamlin Park Part V: Initial Physical Characteristics of the Neighborhood

Now that Hamlin Park has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places I've decided to do a short series of the history of the neighborhood. This information comes directly from the National Register nomination that Preservation Studios completed. Check back for additional installations in the series in the coming weeks. Stay up to date with all things Hamlin Park by liking the Hamlin Park Historic District on Facebook.

Several factors contributed to the initial physical characteristics of Hamlin Park, including the Olmstedian principles employed in the northeast corner of the neighborhood, the years in which development occurred, and the class of residents moving into the neighborhood.

As noted, Hager planned only the eastern portion of the northern division, and the influence of his friendship with Olmstead is apparent on some of this portion’s design. This is clearest along the northeastern edge that borders the Humboldt Parkway. The sharp southward curve of Blaine at its eastern terminus, otherwise running perpendicular to Jefferson, matches the slow bend of Humboldt Parkway just a block further east. Oakgrove Avenue runs north from East Delavan Avenue and begins to curve eastward, intersecting Blaine at the point where that street begins its own curve, and crosses the parkway only to turn even sharper eastward. 
1927 - Humboldt and Delavan
Loring, Oakgrove, and Eastwood crossed Humboldt Parkway sympathetically to the curve of the Parkway
Loring Avenue, beginning at the terminus of the north-south oriented Meech Street, travels east, before cutting diagonally across Humboldt and then continuing its eastward crawl on the other side. Lastly, Viola Park, a block-long brick street with a small elliptic park that divides east and westbound traffic, is nestled between Pansy and Daisy Place; the latter street is also brick. This small section of Hamlin Park, defined by the unique curves and crosses of these streets, evoke the feeling found in Humboldt Parkway and Parkside neighborhood.

Viola Park from above with the elliptical park and brick streets. Unfortunately the brick on Pansy was paved over

The remainder of Hamlin Park is laid out similar to most of Buffalo’s streetcar neighborhoods, with an intersecting street-grid system between Jefferson and Humboldt. Streetcars traveled along Jefferson Avenue and East Ferry Street, connecting the growing neighborhood to the rest of Buffalo. As Bertha Ader, resident of Hamlin park from her birth in 1929 until moving in the 1950s, remembered, residents often purchased “triple-passes” to catch the Jefferson car downtown, where they would transfer onto a line that would bring them to the Broadway-Fillmore for a day of shopping, before heading back home on the Fillmore line. 

Hamlin Park Subdivison Map
The original rectilinear subdivision plan for Driving Park section of Hamlin Park

Despite the Olmsted-like nature of the Hager Division, the neighborhood as a whole was not planned to attract the same class of resident as the Parkside neighborhood to the north. Unlike the houses lining the curved streets around Delaware Park, Hamlin Park contained smaller lot sizes and more doubles, catering to the burgeoning Jewish and ethnic German and Polish populations on the East Side. By the turn of the twentieth century, Buffalo’s East Side, particularly in the Broadway-Fillmore district, was one of the most vibrant areas in the city, and as the population continued to grow, residents migrated north and further east.  Often the new residents arriving in Hamlin Park were first or second generation Germans who had already established roots in the Fruit Belt, a neighborhood to the south between downtown Buffalo and Hamlin Park. Many started businesses along East Ferry and Delavan, which were thoroughfares connecting the east and west portions of the city. 

1913 4-24 Buffalo Express
Buffalo Express Advertisement from 1913

At the turn of the twentieth-century, several prominent Jewish clothing manufacturers moved their operations to area around William and Michigan Streets, prompting the growth of one of Buffalo’s largest Jewish neighborhoods at the time. As Buffalo’s Jewish population increased by over 10,000 between 1890 and 1910, the neighborhood, already bustling with industry, began suffering from overcrowding, making the new residential developments to the north that much more attractive.  With four synagogues along Humboldt Parkway, walkable neighborhoods like Hamlin Park were very appealing to Jewish families leaving the Broadway-Fillmore area.  A pamphlet released by the International Home Building Company circa 1912 highlighted some of the other qualities of the development:

"Hamlin Park, situated as it is within two and one-half miles from the business center of Buffalo, assures the purchaser of living within easy access to any part of the city and yet in a neighborhood that is strictly residential and away from all smoke and other nuisances. Another feature about this beautiful tract of land is that the smallest lot has thirty-five feet frontage, which gives sufficient room to have a side drive and yet leaves plenty of space between the houses so that their individuality is well shown."

Butler Avenue at Wohlers (4-17-1917 Buffalo Express)
Looking west down Butler Avenue from Wohlers Avenue in 1917

Since there were only two streets (East Delavan and Northland) that traveled through the boundaries of the neighborhood, there was very little non-local traffic. The near-secluded nature of many of the streets created a distinct community, and the neighborhood was a blending of ethnicities, as Jewish, German, and Irish families moved into the development. Children would play all over the neighborhood and in the nearby parkway, and families were very close to one another, often owning and working in stores and shops throughout Hamlin Park, or in the slaughterhouses and rail yards to the south.  Hamlin Park allowed those workers to escape the industrial and bustling landscape for a small-secluded subdivision right within the city.

Butler Avenue at Wohlers
The same view as above nearly a century later. Historic integrity of the homes and streets is remarkable


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