Monday, August 12, 2013

The History of Hamlin Park Part III: Agrarian Past and August C. Hager

Now that Hamlin Park has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places I've decided to do a short series of the history of the neighborhood. This information comes directly from the National Register nomination that Preservation Studios completed. Check back for additional installations in the series in the coming weeks. Stay up to date with all things Hamlin Park by liking the Hamlin Park Historic District on Facebook.

Statement of Significance:

Hamlin Park is significant under Criterion C for community planning and development as well as landscape architecture as an illustration of several important aspects of nineteenth and twentieth century subdivision planning in Buffalo. The residential development in the northern section, called the Hager Division, began in the late nineteenth century and contains Olmsted-inspired street layouts and feeling. The southern section initially contained the large Driving Park, but began to develop in 1912 similar to other streetcar neighborhoods in the city after the land was sold in 1912. The district encompasses two neighborhoods that are united by their architectural styles, development patterns, and homebuilders.

1894 - Atlas Upper Section
Northern portion of Hamlin Park - 1894 Atlas

The district is also significant under Criterion A in social history as a successful example of the Model Cities program’s utilization of Baltimore Plan-inspired rehabilitation loan programs in Buffalo. Hamlin Park was heavily influenced by post-World War II demographic shifts in the city, particularly as German, Polish, and Jewish residents migrated to the suburbs, prompting the movement of middle class African Americans into formerly all-white neighborhoods. Homes in Hamlin Park began to transform according to postwar aesthetics, utilizing wartime savings and disposable income, though many residents also benefitted from funding through the federal Model Cities program in the late 1960s. 
1894 - Atlas Lower Portion
Southern portion of Hamlin Park, Home to the Driving Park - 1894 Atlas

Developed partly in response to the failure of many urban renewal programs to deliver the kind of city-revitalization envisioned after World War II, Model Cities grants funded both physical projects, such as home improvement and code enforcement, and social ones, such as education and job opportunities, seeking the active involvement of residents in neighborhood improvement. In Hamlin Park, the Model Cities program was crucial in maintaining the housing stock through grants and low interest loans to homeowners who required work to make their residences code compliant.  

Many residents took advantage of the program to replace deteriorated roofs, gutters, porch columns, and windows. As a result of the rehabilitation loans, as well as the community organizations that were encouraged by the Federal program, the housing stock in Hamlin Park has remained largely intact and in good condition, particularly in comparison to adjacent neighborhoods.

The wrought iron porch supports on the house in the foreground, compared to the original wood columns on the home next door is a good example of something that would have occurred during the Model Cities era

The period of significance, 1895-1975, encompasses the period from construction of the oldest home during the subdivision development through the end of the Model Cities program.  The district also includes the c.1860 Stone Farmhouse at 60 Hedley Street, which has been individually listed on the National Register, and the Robert T. Coles House, 1961, also listed individually

The Hager Division

The Hager Division is named for August C. Hager, a German born resident of Buffalo who had a prominent role in developing this area of the city at the turn of the 20th century. Hager served as park commissioner in Buffalo from 1887 until his death in 1901 and supported the Progressive Era goal of bettering urban life by incorporating nature into urban design.  August Hager was born in Bliescastle, Bavaria in 1830. He was educated in France and immigrated to Buffalo in 1849, where he worked in his brother-in-law’s hotel briefly before buying a lamp fuel company. He also started a small grocery store and went into wholesale liquor and wholesale tobacco trades. He married Mary Backe, of Buffalo, in 1852 and the couple had eight surviving children.  

Hager Mansion - 1907
Hager's Mansion on his East Delavan Avenue farm, no longer extant

In 1874, Hager purchased a farm on the outskirts of the city, now within the Hamlin Park neighborhood, and he parsed out the land to his children as they came of age and married. He recognized the imminent transition of this area from agrarian to residential and established a land company to sell off large portions of his farm for new streets. He created many streets, including Viola Park, Daisy Place, and Pansy Place, named after some of his favorite flowers. Hager Street was named in August’s honor and runs roughly through what was center of his property.

Ariel view of Viola Park at the center with Daisy and Pansy Streets on either side

Hager’s interest in city affairs led him to serve as 12th Ward Alderman (1866-1867) and parks commissioner from 1887 until his death in 1901. Hager’s passion for nature is evidenced by the greenhouse he kept on his farm and which is rumored to be where Frederick Law Olmsted visited during his time working in Buffalo. Hager was also credited with improving the park system and creating Humboldt and Delaware Parks, suggesting that he had a prolonged relationship with Olmsted, who, with his landscape architecture firm, designed the Buffalo Park and Parkway System.

Hager Greenhouse and Barn
Hager's barn and greenhouse to the left, where Olmsted was rumored to have visited Hager on occasions

His development of the Hager section exemplifies on a smaller scale some of the same principles evident in the Olmsted Park and Parkway System (NR listed 5/26/1982), showing that the philosophy pervaded beyond high style and large-scale designs. Viewed in relation to the Parkside neighborhood (Parkside East NR listed 10/17/1986, Parkside West listed 12/10/1986), an Olmsted designed area located kitty-corner across Main Street from Hamlin Park, the Hager Division contributes to a fuller understanding of city neighborhood development by illustrating the way that builders and developers played off of the Olmsted design to create a middle class residential development in the image and shadow of the upper class neighborhood.

Humolbdt Parkway, North from Utica
Humboldt Parkway looking north from East Utica, long before being destroyed by the Kensington Expressway

The Hager Division is nestled between Forest Lawn Cemetery and Humboldt Parkway (now the Scajaquada Expressway), two major elements of the Olmsted Park and Parkway System. The primary street boundaries are Jefferson Avenue, Main Street, Glendale Place, the Scajaquada Expressway, and Delavan Avenue, with a small projection on the south bounded by Daisy, Florida and Hager Streets. The southern border of the Hager Division approximates the Scajaquada Creek, which fed Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park and ran through Forest Lawn Cemetery (both Olmsted plans) until a tunnel averted the water c.1920 and the expressway further stifled it c1960. Although it bears his name, Hager only owned a portion of the land within these boundaries; the remainder was owned by St. Vincent’s Church, B.C. Rumsey, and other smaller interests.

The eastern portion of the Hager division was established before the western side, reflecting the land ownership patterns of the mid-nineteenth century and the primacy of Humboldt Parkway. Through the 1880s, St. Vincent and St. Michael parishes owned large tracts of land immediately east of Main Street and Pleasant and Meech Streets, which run north-south through the Hager Division, likely reflecting the back boundary of the St. Vincent Orphanage & Asylum tract. The street layout east of this line exhibits curvilinear streets that contrast the rectilinear pattern on the western side.

1895 Map illustrating original street names, the belt line, and the Steele Street (Kensington Avenue) station
The Belt Line Rail Road, completed in 1883, provided access from the inner city to this undeveloped but growing residential area via the Steel Street station, located northeast of the Humboldt Parkway. The Belt Line is also credited with facilitating development in the Parkside neighborhood, which had been planned in 1876 but remained relatively empty until the 1890s.  The shift in Hager Division street patterns, from curvilinear east to rectilinear west, coincide with mounting real estate interests as access and demand increased over time. At the same time, alterations to the Parkside design plan accommodated real estate interests with more bisecting streets and smaller plots of land in order to create more sellable tracts.

Development Of Hager Division

Between 1880 and 1891, the first streets were established within the Jefferson-Humboldt-Delavan border: Oak Grove Avenue extended north from Delavan to the Parkway (it curved to the east across the parkway) and Hedley Place, Belmont Avenue (now Blaine Avenue), Parkway Avenue (now Hughes Avenue) and Loring Avenue extended west from Oak Grove. Belmont curved southeast of Oak Grove to meet Delavan Avenue, and this section paralleled the curve of Humboldt Parkway to the northeast. These streets (with exception of Loring Avenue, which abuts the Canisius College campus) did not join another north-south road until Pleasant and Meech Streets were established, c. 1893. They would not extend west to Jefferson Street until c1903.

This home at 37 Oakgrove was built by one of Hager's sons, Charles in 1913

By 1893, the unique area south of Delavan Avenue began to take shape, as Hager, Pansy, Daisy and Queens (now Regina) Streets emerged. Viola Park, between Pansy and Daisy Streets, is the most obvious attempt to bring picturesque aesthetics into this newly developing area of the city. Glendale Avenue, the northernmost street in this area, also emerged, avoiding the harshness of a straight line by curving northward at each end as it approaches Main Street and Humboldt Parkway. The street names changed the following year, in 1894. The street patterns in this section of the Hager Division are very similar to Olmsted’s street patterns in Parkside, with curvilinear forms and extensive landscaping, as exemplified on Oakgrove Avenue and Viola Park. While the street patterns and lot lines were clearly established by this time, the area remained relatively open, with a few identifiable clusters of buildings; there were seven southeast of the intersection of Hager and Delavan, five near Delavan and Humboldt (with another few across the parkway), and about ten built lots between Loring Avenue and Eastwood Place. There were also several buildings on Main Street.

Brick streets and the elliptical grass plot at the center of Hager's Viola Park

This early construction pattern reflects the appeal of the Humboldt Parkway and the desire to be further away from the Carnival Court, a late-nineteenth century exhibition and theme park between Main and Jefferson Streets. All of the lots along the parkway are oriented towards the Parkway, and, with the exception of the first cluster, most of the initial construction is proximate to Humboldt.  The area near Hager and Delavan is across from the Lutheran Church Home, which may have spurred construction on that block. Hager gave this land to the church in 1890, after a fire destroyed his property. By 1915 almost all of the Hager Division was built, though the western section remained less inhabited, remaining so until the following decade after the Carnival Court closed.  While the lots of the western section were not developed as early as the eastern section, the area remains significant because the streets of the Hager Division were planned beforehand, with the foresight that development would occur later.

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