Tonawanda News

May 4, 2013

TUCKER: The rest of the story

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Last week’s column was cut for space, this week’s is a catch-up.

A few weeks ago a social studies teacher inquired about Goose Island. Doug Taylor sent the following which was forwarded to the teacher who said Doug’s reply cleared up questions and brightened her day. With that in mind, perhaps Doug’s reply will brighten your day as well.

Doug wrote: “The original Erie Canal required that the water level in the canal at the Tonawandas be roughly six feet higher than it is today. This is because the water level in the Niagara River at Tonawanda is roughly six feet lower than that at the Buffalo Harbor and the resulting current made it impossible for the old canal boats, especially those pulled by horses, to go upstream. To fix this problem, a spillway dam was located close to the present Main-Webster Street bridge to raise the canal water level. There was a series of locks at Tonawanda to allow you to ‘lock up or down’ to the river. The canal itself ended at these locks and from Tonawanda to Buffalo the boats traveled what was called the Black Rock Channel which went down the middle of the present Niagara Street and continued towards Buffalo along what is presently River Road, although a bit closer to the river’s edge than the present River Road location. The Black Rock Channel and the Tonawanda locks formed a man-made Island informally called Goose Island starting at where the HSBC First Trust Bank is located. The bank’s site was actually on Goose Island along with the present site of Tonawanda City Hall, Tops, and the condos. By the 1920s, the Black Rock Channel was no longer needed, since the boats running cargo on the canal had enough power to make it upstream on the Niagara River to the present day Black Rock Ship Canal, bypassing the high speed currents by the Peace Bridge, and then head to the Buffalo Harbor. The Black Rock Channel was eventually filled in, and Goose Island ceased to exist. Note that despite the rants and whining by the Buffalo politicians, the Erie Canal today terminates at the Twin Cities and has always terminated here since in early times it terminated with the last locks on the Canal at the Tonawandas.

“If you want to view Goose Island in it’s heyday, go to www.historicmapworks.com and hit the search link. On the page that comes up, select “location” and enter Tonawanda and New York. Scroll down to the maps listed as 1908 or 1909 and select Tonawanda 001 and 002, or Tonawanda 1 and 2. Many of the smaller buildings and sites were pretty dingy waterfront bars, or what people in those days referred to as ‘Bawdy Houses.’

Stan Nicholson, added that, “when I was about 12-years-old, my pals and I would go there and hide in the tall grass to watch the ‘red light district’ girls wave at prospective clients who walked by. ... The old canal boat men used to love Goose Island and its recreational opportunities.

Here’s history Bob Derner found regarding Goose Island.

“It was located where now there is the River Edge Townhouses. At one time in the late 1800’s after the State Barge Canal opened in 1825, the Tonawandas became the second largest lumber port on the world, Chicago was the first. The Twin Cities reached that status because of their location at the western terminis of the Canal before it reached the Niagara River. The canal opened the route to the west and allowed lumber from Minnesota and Michigan to flow east. Large piles of lumber were stored on Goose Island and the North Tonawanda shore. ... The railroad swing bridge, built by the New York Central and Hudson Railroad in 1885-86, to connect the lumber yards is still there, the last hand operated swing bridge left on the Barge Canal.

* Mary Lou Schlagenhauf sent in wonderful memories of Goose Island.

“I remember going over to see my Aunt Claire and Uncle George Johnson who live on Chestnut Street on Goose Island across from the foundry.... My aunt and uncle had a big parrot they would let fly all over the house. There were bird feathers, poop and seeds all over. We sat and had tea and cookies. ... Goose Island wasn’t an island, it was over where the condos are now.”

Mary Lou said one of the seniors at the Salvation Army lunch program said he used to drive cab and took so many lumberjacks to Goose Island every Friday and Saturday night they changed (the fare) to 25 cents. He said that’s where the son “Buffalo girl won’t you come out tonight” came from.

Thanks to all who responded.

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The saddest news of the day is that Rev. Ken Wood, a remarkable clergical leader and long time pastor of Tonawanda Church of Christ, is retiring and moving west, An active member of the Kiwanis Club, he was praised in its newsletter for his expertise in all matters of concern in the club. We join the Kiwanis in their wishes for good health and a world of happiness.

This past week also brought sad news of the deaths of Dona Hopkins and Vince Salisbury. Dona and her husband “Bud” were our neighbors and you’d be hard put to find a more fun, dedicated, energetic couple. Dona’s sewing projects were well known in particular at Halloween. Never without a smile, she loved everyone and everything and dedicated herself to her family.

Vince, an active member of St. Francis of Assisi Church, could be found every morning as sacristan for the 8:30 a.m. Mass. He was committed to the St. Vincent dePaul Society, active in the Cardinal O’Hara Booster Club and he and his wife were long time volunteers at DeGraff Memorial Hospital. A quiet, gentle person, he greeted everyone with a smile and will be missed.

Condolences to both families. 

Contact community editor Barbara Tucker at 693-1000, ext. 4110 or email barbara.tucker@tonawanda-news.com