When I left Buffalo in 1974, I knew next to nothing about my hometown. I had never heard of Millionaire’s Row. I thought houses everywhere were upper/lowers with built in closets, stained glass windows and pantries off the kitchen. I had never seen the Central Terminal, and I had never entered City Hall. I had absolutely no appreciation for the architecture, the history, the sense of place.
When I came across the 1907 Buffalo Old Home Week program in the Grosvenor Room in early 2006 during what was supposed to be a relatively brief stopover in Buffalo en route to Baltimore, I was stunned. It contained 47 pages of history of Buffalo prior to 1907. At the time, I had no idea that Buffalo even existed prior to 1907. The gorgeous B&W photos of magnificent buildings and the stories they told inspired me to "learn Buffalo." Resurrecting Buffalo Old Home Week and holding the four-day Citybration event for years was a very effective (and demanding) way to do this.
Canisius College Press was on the verge of shutting down in 2006. Classic Buffalo, Buffalo's Delaware Avenue: Mansions and Families, and other important books that document and showcase Buffalo's illustrious past would have become unavailable. No more beautiful books about Buffalo would have been published. Joe Bieron, who ran the Press for many years, and I joined forces to take this endeavor off campus and form Buffalo Heritage Press. Over the ensuing decade, dozens of gorgeous books have come off the presses, from the GardenWalk Buffalo book and DVD in 2006 to Allentown: A Photographic Journey in the Heart of Buffalo and B is for Buffalo: An Aerial Alphabet in 2016.
Every book about Buffalo that I publish is like a full four-credit college course. For instance, yesterday I learned that John J. Albright’s magnificent home on West Ferry Street and all of its contents were auctioned off, and the E.B. Green structure was demolished in the 1930s. Dozens of striking B&W photos archived in the Buffalo History Museum library are all that remain of the home of the man who founded the Albright Art Gallery. Stay tuned for a fabulous book about Albright by the inimitable Mark Goldman. It will be released by Buffalo Heritage Press during The Albright Weekend, June 2-4.
Admittedly, these are pretty unusual ways to learn about Buffalo--I seem to do everything the hard way. There are much easier ways to know this place well enough to understand and appreciate it.
Explore Buffalo is your best first stop. In addition to offering dozens of vetted, informative, docent-led tours throughout the year, from Silo City to Millionaire's Row, this growing not-for-profit's Adventures in Buffalo History series takes place every other Thursday evening at First Presbyterian on Symphony Circle. On January 26 "Planes and Trains" will explore Buffalo's rich history in these two key industries, from the development of the first jet aircraft to the role of railroads. Forts, grain elevators, ship-building, and public art are all on the agenda. The series runs through March 9.
If you're fascinated by Buffalo's amazing architectural legacy, consider getting a handle on Queen Anne Style and H.H. Richardson with the master, Chuck LaChiusa. In just four Wednesday evenings in February, the Buffalo Architecture Course 2017 will provide you with a whole new understanding of who built Buffalo and why. If you're already imbued in Buffalo's history and architecture, you can take it to the next level and become a tour guide. Explore Buffalo's Docent Training Program runs Saturday mornings from February 11 through April 1. It's a serious committment, but it's a great way to both learn Buffalo and pay it forward.
A much easier way to give back is to support these Explore Buffalo endeavors by attending the Grain Alley Gala fundraiser this Saturday, January 21, a great evening of live music at the newly renovated historic Barrel Factory. Take a tour of Lakeward Distillery and check out the raffle. It will feature unique Buffalo-themed experiences and items, including original artwork by some of Buffalo’s best known artists. You may even find some Buffalo Heritage books there, and Buffy will be there to meet and greet you in this brand new, historically significant venue in the Old First Ward.
If you've only been to City Hall to pay a parking fine, choose any lunch hour Monday through Friday and take a free tour by Buffalo Tours of this art deco masterpiece. The tours start at Noon in the vaulted lobby and go all the way up to the 28th floor observation deck for those who wish to make the climb. It's an amazing hour-long crash course in both history and architecture. The sunburst skylight in the 13th floor Council Chambers alone is worth it.
Think you already know Buffalo pretty well? Test your knowledge of Buffalo's music, sports, politics, scandals, architecture, geography, art and artists, food and drink, and more during the new Trivia Night at The Center. This free, interactive series has just been launched by the Burchfield Penney and will highlight all things Buffalo. Which current Supreme Court Justice was born in Western New York? What event led to Mayor Jimmy Griffin’s nickname, “Jimmy Six Pack”? Which well-known 19th century author lived in Buffalo and served as editor for a local newspaper? Which classic, surreal children’s novel published in 1865 “delighted” Charles E. Burchfield as he read it several times throughout his life? It's like a game show, only live and local!
If you like your Buffalo trivia with a brew and a burger, head to Founding Fathers on any first Tuesday of the month. Not only is the décor an eclectic collection of memorabilia relating to Buffalo and American history with a emphasis on presidents, owner Mike Driscoll is a former teacher and he knows his trivia. Head there to be grilled. And the popcorn and nachos are free.
The Tim Russert exhibit alone is worth a membership, but there is so much more at the Buffalo History Museum. M&T Third Fridays offer an excellent way to get in the door and look around (this Friday is quite appropriately all about inaugurations), as do the iconic monthly Party on the Portico events all summer. But if you look beyond the festivities you'll discover the amazing Research Library, the leading Buffalo "house history" resource. Search FRANK before you go, the online catalog for the 27,000 books and manuscripts in the collection, and check out the great online intro.
The Grosvenor Room at the Downtown Library is another treasure trove of local history, maps, geneology, and more, and it's free and open to the public seven days a week. While you're there be sure to stop by the Mark Twain Room and check out the ever changing exhibits. If you time your visit to take place on Tuesday at Noon, you'll learn a great deal about Buffalo at the C-SAAHN weekly series of lunchtime lectures at the Ring of Knowledge.
If you're tracking down your family history and geneology is your fancy, the Margaret L. Wendt Archive and Resource Center houses Forest Lawn's collection of more than 1.2 million historic documents, including the most comprehensive family archives in WNY, which are being digitized and made available. This is the story of Buffalo, told through our family stories.
Back at Buffalo Heritage Press, I am pleased to announce that the encyclopedic Buffalo's Delaware Avenue: Mansions and Families is now indexed! A new and improved 2nd edition that offers excellent access to the amazing stories of Millionaire's Row will be released on March 29 at the Buffalo History Museum. The work needed to upgrade this important book led me to this discovery that Starin Avenue was not named after my great-grandmother, as family lore holds. It was probably named after her uncle, Admiral Starin of Fultonville, NY. Both my daughter Starin and my Aunt Starin are quite disappointed.
What are your favorite ways to learn Buffalo? Tweet them using the hashtags #coolbuffstuff and #citybration. Or post them on the Citybration Facebook page!