After the American Revolution, British troops refused to evacuate the areas east of the Niagara River. They occupied Fort Niagara and maintained their posts along the Niagara River until the Jay Treaty in 1796. A year later, Dutch investors acquired 3,300,000 acres of land in western New York, with the exception of eleven Indian Reservations and the Mile Strip along the Niagara River. Joseph Ellicott, chief surveyor of the Holland Land Company, began surveying the large territory in 1798. Within two years time Ellicott had completed the survey. In 1802, New York State secured Native American title to the Mile Strip reserve. Three years later, the surveyed lots were sold at public auction in Albany. The site that would in time become home to Farell-Birmingham is located on Lot 103 of the Mile Strip. Archibald McIntyre purchased the 132-acre parcel in 1831.
|The approximate location of the Farrel-Birmingman project area on the 1855 Geil Map of Erie County, N.Y.
Though stagnant in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Euro-American settlement along the west bank of the Niagara River heightened after the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825. The City of Buffalo served as the western terminus of the canal. Completion of the canal facilitated the exchange of goods between the larger Great Lakes region and the Atlantic seaboard. In addition to marked trade, the canal also contributed to the development of towns along its route through New York State. The project area is located several blocks east of the former canal, currently the NYS I-190 Thruway.
Settlement increased along the banks of the canal and, by the mid-nineteenth century, development had intensified along River Road in Tonawanda. The Town of Tonawanda was officially formed from Buffalo in 1836. At that time, it also encompassed the Town of Grand Island. By 1855, the area around Lot 103 was part of the sparsely populated northern limits of the City of Buffalo. Mid-nineteenth century development was limited to the east side of River Road, north and south of Lot 103, in close proximity to the Erie Canal.
Located in Tonawanda, Lot 102 is the present location of the main General Motors Tonawanda Engine Plant property. Five properties, including a schoolhouse, were identified on the west side of River Road on Lot 102. The Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad ran immediately west of the project area. Constructed in 1836, this early railroad line fostered the rise of early industry in the northern section of the Town. The Buffalo and Niagara Falls soon surpassed the Erie Canal as a way of getting both people and goods into the outlying areas of the City of Buffalo. The railroad was also responsible for the tremendous industrial growth the area saw during the latter part of the 19th century.
By 1866, three properties were associated with Lot 103, on the east side of the Erie Canal. The rest of the lot remained undeveloped. For the first time, the present Vulcan Street is depicted bisecting Lot 103. According to the Buffalo Bureau of Engineers, O'Neil Street was formerly adopted in 1855. Initially, the thoroughfare was given the namesake O'Neil after one of the property owners on the southwest corner of the lot. The map documents only three properties on Lot 102, along River Road. A new structure is shown on the lot, on the west bank of the Erie Canal. At that time, the Lot was owned by Sarah A. Hopkins.
In 1880, O-Neil Street formed the northern boundary of Buffalo. Lot 103 was incorporated into the limits of Tonawanda where it was subdivided into 41 parcels. The last decade of the nineteenth century signified the beginning of the transformation of western Tonawanda, from a primarily agricultural region, to a nascent industrial center. Tonawanda's extensive waterfront, coupled with cheap electrical power from Niagara Falls, lured industries to the eastern bank of the Niagara River. In turn, the growing industrial nature of the western part of the Town attracted immigrant workers to the area.
|The project area as seen in an 1880 map. The subdivision of Lot 103 can be clearly seen.
Many eastern Europeans settled in the Riverside area of Tonawanda and Buffalo. New industries also contributed to suburban growth in the southeast section of the Town, in the Village of Kenmore. The electric railway enabled workers from neighboring communities to access factories in western Tonawanda. The New Century Atlas Map from 1909 and the Century Atlas Map from 1915 show the Farell-Birmingham Lot 103 area as well as the neighboring lots prior to the rapid industrial development of southwestern Tonawanda. On both maps, Lot 102 is still undeveloped and is associated with J. Amm and F.P. LeFevre, whereas Lot 103 has been subdivided. In 1909, it was an unidentified lot and, within six years, it was part of a 91-acre tract owned by the Riverside Land Company.
By the early 20th century, the development of the Riverside area of Tonawanda and Buffalo continued at a brisk pace. The area would soon become a major industrial center of Western New York.