Behind the Scenes of Buffalo’s 165th Anniversary

By Stephen R. Powell

Buffalo was born in a tavern. The very idea for establishing Buffalo as village was conceived in a tavern over strong drink. Did you know that our school system was established during a meeting in a tavern? Or that the first business in this area was a tavern in the late 1700’s? Last month (1997) was the 165th anniversary of the incorporation of the City of Buffalo. I thought it would be fun to look a little further back in time to the very beginning of this city’s foundation.

In the last issue we learned about a man that was arguably the first permanent settler in what is now Buffalo. Although he did not know it, he was the first of literally millions of people to live and die in this area. Aside from being one of the first residents here, Joseph Hodges (alias "Black Joe") did one other significant thing, he founded the first tavern. Later, many more taverns would follow and they would play a seminal role in the development of our city government. In the old days, taverns often served as town hall and general meeting and entertainment center. The Buffalo of the early 1800’s was certainly in need of these types of establishments.

It was the tavern of John Crow that played host to Buffalo's first town meeting. Later, on March 30, 1807, Buffalo’s school system was established during a meeting at that same place (except by then it was under the ownership of Joseph Landon). Shortly after that, the exact date of the building of the first school house was established by the fact that storekeeper Joshue Gillett was credited for 2 1/2 gallons of whiskey on that date following that meeting at Landon's. By the way, in case you are wondering, it was considered normal for the men of that time to procure and drink large amounts of whiskey during a building raising (or any other construction project for that matter).

 

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The year 1832 brought the incorporation of Buffalo as a city. By then the city was in a boom phase and with it came many taverns. In fact, tavern keeping which had thrived on the Erie Canal trade became one of the largest industries in Buffalo during the 19th Century. The fact that so many of them existed here enabled some tavern owners to gain considerable power and wealth. One such person was a man named Benjamin Rathbun. Rathbun eventually became one of the main architects of this thriving and growing metropolis. His start into notoriety and wealth began with his acquisition and ownership of the famous Eagle Tavern. Later, owning and operating several other businesses Rathbun came to be known as the "builder of Buffalo." Unfortunately for him, he was later convicted for forging the signatures on bank notes of some of his best customers and was sent to jail.

So you see Buffalo does have many ties in its roots to the tavern. Next time you look around town think about the fact that almost every block of this city had at least one tavern (if not many more) on it at one time or another, remember where it all started. Proof of the power taverns had here is the fact that Buffalo bars are allowed to serve alcohol until 4:00am (one of the latest last calls in the country)...

If you know of any place with a later last call than Buffalo, let me know via e-mail at: spowell@bluemoon.net

All material contained in this article is copyright 1997 all rights reserved by Stephen R. Powell