Our Village's History
" Better in one ecstatic epic
To strike a blow for glory and for truth,
With ardent singing heart to toss away
In freedom's holy cause my eager youth,
Than bear as weary years pass one by one
The knowledge of a scared task undone."
Headstone marking of Lawrence Tennant Ballard, kill in France during World War I--October 1, 1918. Marker located in Glenwood Cemetery.
(THE SHORTENED VERSION)
To trace the history of the schools in Silver Creek we have to go back to a time when Silver Creek was a small milling town composed of a few rows of houses, a general store and a tavern or two.
It is believed that the very first school house of 1823, stood on Main St. not far from where the Christian Science Church now stands. Our second school house is still standing on its original site on Main Rd. facing Andrus Rd. (Chalon Burgess was the master of this school). A later school once stood on Main St. and it faced the Presbyterian Church.
There were times in our village's development when there was no permanent school building and temporary schools were used. One such temporary school was set up in Clark's Wagon Shop at the corner of Hanover Rd. and Dunkirk St. (Central Ave.).
In the early 1860's, a two story school house was erected on the site where the Municipal building now stands. In 1867, two wings were added to the school building to accommodate the increased enrollment of students.
In 1875, a vote to build a new school house was defeated. Four years later in 1879, it was agreed to change the district into a Union Free School. During the same year it was decided to build a new school building on the site where the present building stood. The present school building was then sold. The two wings became dwellings on Lincoln Ave. and the main building was sold to John Tilton and was later moved.
The new school was built and in 1882, the first graduation of four members took place. In 1883, the main floor of the old building was rented from Mr. Tilton to accommodate the overflow of students from the new building which proved to be too small. Four years later an addition was built adjoining the school building but even that was soon filled. Shortly after the addition it was necessary to rent the entire old school building which had been sold to Mr. Tilton .
In 1897, it was voted to buy a site on Babcock Ave. for the construction of a grade school. The grade school was built and later that same year, the village purchased more land in the rear of the building.
It wasn't until 1916, that the school board purchased the lot for what is now the Main Street School. On this lot in 1920, the construction of a Junior-Senior High School began. The 19 members of the Class of 1921, held their Graduation in the Methodist Church and the 26 Seniors from the Class of 1922, held their Commencement Exercise in the Geitner Theater.
The Babcock Ave. School was completed in 1951. In 1956, our school system was centralized. The cornerstone for our present high school was laid in 1958. Even though the Class of 1960, did not attend classes in the new high school, they had the privilege of being the first class to hold their graduation in its auditorium.
At this time the Babcock Ave. School contained children from Kindergarten to Grade Two. The Main Street School (the old high school) was occupied by Grades Three through Six. The Junior-Senior High School on Dickinson St. contained the remainder of the students; Grades Seven through Twelve.
The village of Silver Creek celebrated its centennial in 1948. In 1848, the settlement was incorporated. The earlier history of Silver Creek dates back much further.
The first settlers of what is now Silver Creek arrived here from Massachusetts with their families in 1803. They were Abel Cleveland, David Dickinson and John E. Howard. These men purchased over six hundred acres from the Holland Land Company and settled on what is now Lake Ave. Both Cleveland and Dickinson had milling experience in New England so they built the first grist mill for grinding corn. The War of 1812, caused these two men to leave their settlement, leaving John E. Howard as the only settler.
Some of the area's first settlers came from New England and had fought in the Revolutionary War. Two Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Silver Creek's Glenwood Cemetery are John Johnson and John Darling.
The first Christian marriage in the settlement took place in 1807, between Elizabeth Mack and Judge Richard Smith. Dr. Jacob Burgess, the first Physician, settled here in 1811. The first town meeting was held in 1814. Silver Creek's once famous shipyards launched their first ship in 1816. Oliver Lee built the first wharf and warehouse, and developed the harbor which made Silver Creek an important port in lake commerce.
One of the most impressive parts of Silver Creek's history is the famous Big Black Walnut Tree that once grew here. It was said to have been the biggest tree east of the Rocky Mountains. The tree blew down in 1822, and remained there for three years. Then Luther Heaton, a local grocer, had a thirteen foot section cut from the tree and hollowed out to be used for an addition to his store. The section measured about thirty-one feet in circumference and over ten feet in diameter. A man was said to have ridden through the tree on horseback. A floor was laid and a roof was built on the tree section. The Black Walnut Tree could now seat twenty people. Soon two area businessmen purchased the tree and took it to Buffalo, via Lake Erie, to be exhibited. After running out of money they were forced to sell the tree. The new owners took it down the newly opened Erie Canal to New York City. The tree was sold and sold again and ended up in a museum in London where it was destroyed in a fire. The Black Walnut Tree stood near where Ward Ave. meets Route 20, and a monument made out of one of the first millstones, now commemorating the spot, was placed there by the N.S.D.A.R. in 1928.
The first post office was established here in 1825, and in the same year Mr. Wheeler began a lime kiln and also the first Sunday school was started. In 1826, Oliver Lee started a petition to change the name of the settlement from Fayette to Silver Creek. Mr. Lee later established the Bank of Silver Creek, the first bank in the village. In 1835, W. H. Stevens opened the first bakery and the first village library opened its doors in 1839.
On August 10, 1841, at eight in the evening, the steamship, The Lake Erie, was taking a load of about four hundred emigrants from Buffalo to Erie Pa. When the ship was only a few miles off the shore of Silver Creek a can of varnish ignited and the ship burst into flames. The captain immediately headed toward shore and while only about a mile from shore the ship went under. The next morning the shore was lined with over two hundred and fifty dead bodies of those who couldn't make the swim. This incident is often considered the most tragic of the Lake Erie disasters.
Charles Lee, son of Oliver Lee, started the petition to incorporate the village and in June of 1848, forty-seven out of fifty-one voters were in favor of incorporation. A few of the first by-laws passed by village trustees are as follows: Any dead animal found in the limits of the village must be buried within three hours of notification to the owner of the animal. A fine of one dollar will be levied if the animal is not buried within three hours and an additional dollar will be levied for each three hours afterward. It is not lawful to fly a kite or roll a hoop within village limits. A fine of 25¢ will be levied for each violation of this law. It is not lawful to bathe in the nude in either Walnut or Silver Creek or along the shores of Lake Erie within the village limits after sunrise or before 9 o'clock in the evening. A fine of 50 cents will be levied for each violation of this law. Noah D. Snow became the first President of the Board.
In 1848, the first village newspaper was printed. It was called The Silver Creek Mail and was published by John C. VanDuzer. Years later after VanDuzer left the village he became one of the first telegraph operators in the United States.
With the coming of the railroad, Silver Creek's shipping industry diminished. The first tracks to be laid were that of the Buffalo and State Line Railroad in 1851. The following year the first train ran through the village.
The S. Howes Co. has been important in the development of the village. It started in 1864, when the first grain cleaning machinery shop began production with Alpheus and Norman Babcock in charge. The following year Simeon Howes became a partner and the firms name became known as Howes Babcock and Company, and in the same year they made and sold 200 machines. Later, Albert Horton joined and soon sold his interest to Carlos Ewell but by 1888, Simeon Howes became sole proprietor and the company still bears his name today. At one time eighty percent of all the grain cleaning machinery was being manufactured in Silver Creek.
At the end of the Civil War it was decided to celebrate General Lee's surrender to Grant. A muzzle loader cannon was used for the occasion. Inexperienced artillery men did not allow the cannon to cool between shots and when gun powder was rammed into the cannon it went off prematurely. The unexpected explosion killed Lee O'Donaghy, blew off Leroy Andrus's hand and caused the loss of Leonard Adsitts arm and eyesight. The cannon was not used again until the Centennial celebration of 1876. Soon after it was dismantled and sold for scrap brass.
Silver Creek's famous Skew Arch located over Jackson St. is similar to only two others in the world. A skew arch differs from a regular arch in that the outside angles are parallel but not at right angles. The arch, built in 1869, was designed by a Frenchman who was deaf and dumb.
In 1886, an eastbound train was traveling to Niagara Falls. Orders called for the train to pass a westbound freight at Silver Creek. The engineer went through the station without stopping. As a result, the two trains rammed head-on around a sharp curve. The baggage car completely telescoped the smoking car. Twenty men were killed. Fortunately, in 1886 women did not ride in smoking cars. The engineer and conductor were indicted for manslaughter for countermanding the dispatchers orders.
One of the biggest attractions in Silver Creek occurred during a Firemen's Celebration in 1890. Over 600 uniformed firemen participated while the village was swamped with over 10,000 visitors. Fireworks and parades completed the festivities. Old Home Week in 1909, was another great celebration in our history. Also in 1909, the Bijou Moving Picture Theater opened in the building that once stood next to the Presbyterian Church. The Bijou or Andy's as it was called was replaced by The Geitner in 1921.
The most disastrous fire in village history occurred in 1921. Firecrackers started the blaze which destroyed the Methodist Church, the Park Ave. Hotel, the trolley station, the grandstand of the ball park and other buildings on the west side of Main St.
There was even a zoo in Silver Creek at one time. "Zoolooland", as it was called, was located near the present post office. It all started in the summer of 1924 when the mayor purchased two ostriches. Soon following some alligators were contributed to the collection and finally a few monkeys completed the little zoo. A concession stand was built in front of the zoo. During the winter months the animals became too much of a problem and finally in 1927 the Chamber of Commerce decided to sell the zoo. A Buffalo man bought the zoo and that ended Silver Creek's great attraction.
Silver Creek's most famous resident is Howard 'Bob' Ehmke. He was the pitching hero of the 1929 World Series While playing for the Philadelphia Athletics, Ehmke struck out thirteen of the Chicago Cubs in the first game. This was the World Series record until 1953.
Updated June 11, 2002