|Why is the Larkin District history so compelling?
From the 1820's to the 1840's, the area was part of the vast Buffalo Creek Reservation of the Iroquois Confederacy and home of Red Jacket (pictured below), legendary leader and orator of the Seneca Nation. The eloquent Native American Seneca leader Red Jacket was the Reservation's most famous resident. Red Jacket was born circa 1750 near present day Geneva, New York and was sachem, or spiritual leader, of the Senecas. His Indian name, Sagoyewatha, means "he who keeps them awake" in honor of his great talent as an orator.
Remnants of the Hydraulic Canal, dating back to 1827, are evident in the district's distinct street pattern, shaped by the layout of the canal infrastructure. "The Hydraulics" was the City of Buffalo's first manufacturing district, even prior to the incorporation of the City of Buffalo.
The district's name comes from the Larkin Soap Company. Corporate magnate John D. Larkin established his mail order business here in 1875, He commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design the Larkin Administration Building (1904), an innovative structure that embodied the Larkin corporate culture and became an icon of 20th century architecture.
The renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted planned a parkway connection through the district to link the North and South sections of the Buffalo Olmsted Park and Parkway System. the un-built Parkway Plan included Fillmore and Seneca Streets, which forms a major intersection and entrance to the Larkin District.
Water Power before Buffalo became a CityThe Buffalo Hydraulic Association, established in 1827, prior to the City of Buffalo’s incorporation, was a forerunner to the Larkin District’s industrialization. The members of the Association, led by Dr. Ebenezer Johnson, who later became the first mayor of the City of Buffalo, hoped to make the area a textile-manufacturing center by providing a source of waterpower. The group built a hydraulic canal and reservoir along Little Buffalo Creek, tapping water for the canal from the Buffalo River near Gardenville and directing it to the junction of Seneca and Swan Streets. By the date of the City of Buffalo’s incorporation in 1832, the area was known as “The Hydraulics,” with six mills in operation and a working community of about 500 people.
This successful manufacturing center resulted in a busy neighborhood buzzing with commerce. In 1850, additional power was created when the height of the millrace was increased resulting in further industrial development in the District. Attracted by the prospects of work in the nearby industry, German and Irish families began to settle the neighborhoods bordering on the canal. The oldest neighbor-hood in the City of Buffalo centered around the many jobs created by this man-made waterpower and continues to be an eclectic mix of residences and industry to this current day. The area’s past as “The Hydraulics” is still reflected in the vestiges of the canal infrastructure and the interesting and unusual pattern of the local streets.
Further Reading: The Hydraulics Press
, written by urban planner Chris Hawley, is a blog devoted to news, people, places, histories, and events related to the Hydraulics.
Just on the opposite side of the NYS Thruway -190 from the Larkin District is the neighborhood known as “The Valley”. The area derived its name from the fact that it was accessible only via bridges over the many railroad tracks in the area. Before construction of the Thruway, the right-of-way was utilized by the Lehigh Valley Elevated Railroad.
The area was settled in large part by Irish immigrants, many drawn to Western New York beginning in the 1820’s following jobs made available by the construction of the Erie Canal. After completion of the Canal, many found employment in the shipping industry and subsequently settled in the City of Buffalo. A second wave of Irish settlement in the Valley occurred in the 1860’s as destitute compatriots of the earlier settlers arrived in the wake of the Irish potato famine. At its height, the Valley had nearly 5,000 Irish residents and in addition to its residential streets and commercial storefronts, was the home to the city’s first stockyards at Elk and Van Rensselaer.