Canal Street, Buffalo
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (June 2008)|
Canal Street was the name of a thoroughfare as well as a district in Buffalo in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Originally called Rock Street, Canal Street ran parallel to and just to the west of the famed Erie Canal at its western terminus in Buffalo. The area had been the site of the original Village of Buffalo, near a Seneca Indian village on Buffalo Creek. The city eventually expanded outward from the waterfront location.
The Canal, completed in 1825, opened up the western United States to travelers and trade from the east coast. With it came a tremendous increase in Great Lakes freighter traffic at Buffalo harbor, and with that an influx of canal and freighter crewmen who were often paid off in Buffalo and spent freely in the bars and brothels that sprang up in the district, known variously as "Canal Street", "Five Points" "the Flats" and "the Hooks".
In the early 20th century, the district became the home of Italian immigrants, mostly Sicilian. Canal Street's name was changed to Dante Place and the neighborhood became known as Dante Place or "Little Italy." Most of the bars and brothels gave way to three- and four-story brick tenements, each housing multiple families.
Throughout its existence, the neighborhood suffered numerous fires, explosions, and other disasters. The most notable occurred on January 1, 1936 very early in the morning. Joseph Lopresti at 40 LeCouteulx just across the street from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church came home from Mass, lit a candle, and went into his tenement basement to get some wine. He was outside accessing the basement doors when the building exploded. The cellar had apparently been filled with natural gas that had leaked into it the night before. The force of the explosion, for a split second, lifted the entire tenement off its foundation and then it collapsed with a horrible, sickening sound and a shower of bricks, broken glass, and splinters of wood. The windows in the church across the street all blew out. Five people died in the blast - Lopresti and his wife, and Gaetano (Thomas) and Mary Scorsone along with their eldest child Anna, aged 12. Rescue workers had to pull people from the rubble. There were several survivors. Eyewitnesses say that there was a man with a motion picture camera filming the incident, which leads to a theory of a possible mob hit. This brought national attention to slum areas and new legistlation was passed. The sad part, according to survivor Antoinette Scorsone Militello, was that her father had put a downpayment on a house and were to be moving out shortly. Mary(who was with child) & Thomas were survived by three of their children - Antoinette, Peter & baby Rosalie.
By the late 1920s, the Canal had been filled in, and in the 1950s, urban renewal obliterated the historic site. In recent years, an Erie Canal Redevelopment project has unearthed building foundations from the Canal-era neighborhood and restored the Commercial Slip, which formed the original natural outlet of Little Buffalo Creek into the Buffalo River. These restoration efforts resulted in the opening of the Erie Canal Harbor in 2008.
- Vogel, M.N., Patton, E.J., Redding, P.F. America's Crossroads: Buffalo's Canal Street/Dante Place. Buffalo, NY: Western New York Heritage Press, ©1993 (ISBN 1-878097-12-1)
- http://www.eriecanalharbor.com/pdf/72BuffaloGuide.pdf THOMAS X. GRASSO
President, Canal Society of New York State
- Antoinette Scorsone Militello, survivor, in stories related to her Grandchildren.
- The Relationship of the Canal to Buffalo and its Harbor, 1845-2000: a collection of maps and images