By Neale Gulley
The Tonawanda News
North Tonawanda’s newest roadway starts near the corner of Oliver Street and 9th Ave., loops back through a century of the city’s industrial heritage and continues, in perpetuity, into the future.
A public contest was initiated months ago to find a name for the looping access road at the former Buffalo Bolt factory site, now home to one of the city’s brightest future development prospects.
The 22-acre property is not only an icon of the city’s industrial past, but represents the latest hope for attracting new business to the once industry-rich city.
About $1.2 million in recent infrastructure and roadwork installed there was capped off with the cul-de-sac now dubbed the city’s newest street.
Elizabeth Harmon of Homestead Drive was officially handed a street sign bearing the name “Buffalo Bolt Way” by North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt last week, in honor of her winning submission.
“It is my feeling that this name takes into account the rich history of this site from the days when Buffalo Bolt was once present,” Ortt said regarding the name.
As obvious as Buffalo Bolt Way might sound, he had solicited emails and letters for weeks from residents with ideas for what to name the road, as a way of generating civic pride, he said.
Though some of the ideas residents sent in are great stories unto themselves, city officials opted for a name that clearly reflected the property’s important industrial past.
One submission, for example, was to name the road after a female solider from this area who was involved in the D-Day landing.
“The council made a decision with me collectively that we didn’t want to name it after a person — it’s almost too personal in that situation — even though there were several that were very worthy.”
Gratwick Place, Precision Corridor and Buffalo Bolt Way were all finalists.
William H Gratwick, one resident explained, owned much of the property in that corner of North Tonawanda and established the Gratwick White Lumber company that dominated the waterfront along the river.
“When the lumber business faded the steel business took over and many of the Gratwick residents acquired jobs at Buffalo Bolt, Roblin Steel and Tonawanda Iron as well as other industries that replaced the lumber concerns,” resident Randall Warblow wrote to Ortt. “William H. Gratwick never lived in North Tonawanda (Delaware at Summer in Buffalo) but was the reason for the influx of laborers moving to that corner of the city.”
Ortt, in his early 30s, said the land has been vacant his entire life, though many of the city’s older residents might remember working there before and after Word War II.
One of them, Henry Hojnowski, spoke last year with the News about the 17 years he worked there starting as a high school student in 1942.
The son of Polish and Lithuanian immigrants, the then 86-year-old resident still recalled the way the hot metal chips burned his arms while removing burs from the hardware the factory produced.
“The next day I came into work with long sleeves,” he said, recalling the night shift he started before the war while attending school during the day.
The former bolt factory parcel’s imposing wrought iron gates and grand brick pillars still stand as a testament to the city.
The company, which as the name suggests produced bolts and other hardware, was founded in 1897 in Buffalo and moved to North Tonawanda in 1915.
Today, there are currently seven individual lots on the property that spans west to River Road, once the city’s largest and most enduring employer, and later Roblin Steel.
Decades after the height of the Lumber City’s industrial boom, planners and more than one city administration have reinvented the property as a light industrial park now ready for business. As many as eight individual lots are for sale to businesses looking to relocate or expand, each about 3 acres in size.
Two of the lots have already been sold to Aquasol Corp, now located on Thompson Street. The remaining lots can be combined, if necessary, or increased to a maximum of nine.
Three other companies including Armstrong Pumps, also in North Tonawanda, have been in talks about potentially buying one or more of the lots.
Ortt said job creation is the main focus in courting tenants as the property is sold.
In naming the symbolic roadway, Ortt and members of the Common Council scoured through some 40 submissions.
“You do something like this to foster a sense of civic pride and input,” Ortt said. “Especially as this piece of property that’s known so much history.”