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Out of the Past: Exploring William Potter’s world, circa 1901

WELCOME HOME — William Potter and a neighbor are shown at the wheel of an early vehicle. They are pictured with others from the area in front of Potter’s home, located at 70 Pearl St. in Blasdell. Photo was taken from the historian’s files.
Pictured is William Potter with a neighbor at the wheel of an early automobile in front of Potter’s home at 70 Pearl St. in Blasdell, circa 1901.

His wife Ella is standing in front of the home, which was built for the sum of $1,475. At that time, it was called Blasdell Park. Potter came to Blasdell Park in 1896, two years before the village was incorporated, and soon became known as the village photographer.

It was said by many in that day that “no social affair in early Blasdell was complete without Mr. Potter and his tripod, to record the event for prosperity.” Though photography was Potter’s vocation, his avocation was the writing of verses, in which he satirized the events of the village, political and social.

One spring morning, while taking pictures of an ice jam at the mouth of Smokes Creek, Potter was carried out into the lake with the treacherous ice flow and drowned. Many of his photographs are still in existence; the above photo is an example of Potter’s work.

In 1990, Potter’s village of Blasdell was a work in progress. The village had just been incorporated in 1898 and the first decade of the 20th century was in its developmental years. This photo shows the village with a few houses, dirt streets and nonexistent public utilities.

In the 1890s, Buffalo-Hamburg Road (the modern South Park Avenue) was the only one with a hard surface; its wooden or plank surface soon became very inadequate, because knots protruding every few feet provided a major hazard. When the planks were finally taken up, the heavy mud of spring was relieved only by the choking dust of summer.

One of the fist actions of the board in 1901 was to pave the Hamburg-Buffalo Road, also referred to as the White’s Corner’s Road. They did not specify what material was to be used, but in 1903, five carloads of slag were put in place on the road. In that same year, 15,000 feet of lumber was ordered to build sidewalks, primarily on Lake Avenue. The greater part of the early village board’s business had to do with maintaining roads and sidewalks, to make streets passable and keep small creeks in its channels.

As more homes were built in the emerging village, there came more demands for better services and utilities.

In 1903, a special election was held, to bond the village for $30,000 to install a water system. Water was to be piped from a reservoir near Hamburg. When the system failed in 1915 and the legion hall burned to the ground from lack of water to fight the fire, the village board turned to the Depew Water Company and its unlimited supply of water from Lake Erie, to take care of village needs.

In 1903, telephone service was established at the rate of $12 per year for home service and $15 per year for a business phone. These charges did not include Buffalo calls, which were considered long distance. In 1904, gas was piped to the village, but was not immediately available for home use.

As the village infrastructure improved after the turn of the century, large modern homes were built by some of the village’s oldest and most prominent families. These included the Osborne, Skinner and Stambach homes on Helen Avenue, the Salisbury and Pierce homes on Lake Avenue, and the Eighme house on Orchard Avenue.

Although the early village eventually began to grow and prosper after 1900, it was not until the coming of the steel industry, which brought steel workers from Pennsylvania towns, to fill the available jobs in the village.

The opening of the Seneca Iron & Steel Company Plant on Mile Strip Road in 1906 endured the future growth and development of the village.

Source – “The Day Before Yesterday in Blasdell” by Ethel Thompson, 1951.

This column is written by Hamburg Town Historian Jim Baker. To submit photographs and/or materials, call Baker at the Hamburg Town Hall on either Wednesday or Thursday, between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., at 649-6111 ext. 2400. Readers can also provide feedback by writing to The Sun and mailing correspondences to The Sun at 141 Buffalo St., Hamburg, NY 14075.

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