Orchard Park History
History of Orchard Park
by Suzanne S. Kulp, Orchard Park Historian
In his Journal describing his “religious visit” to the Native Americans on Buffalo Creek and Friends in the Niagara Peninsula of Canada in 1797, Quaker Jacob Lindley of Pennsylvania referred to our area as an “uncultivated part of nature’s garden.”
The Holland Land Company had acquired all of western New York State that year, and placed Joseph Ellicott in charge of surveying and recording its features. Ellicott prepared leaflets extolling the natural attributes of this primitive land: “…. rich soil … level land, or gradually ascending …. finely watered with never failing springs and streams, affording sufficiency of water for gristmills and other water works …. luxuriantly timbered …. reasonable terms …. cash will find a liberal discount from the credit price.” The price of this virgin land averaged $2. per acre as compared to land in the settled areas of eastern New York and Vermont, where land averaged $20. per acre at that time. The HLC’s terms were so liberal, however, that many families homesteaded totally on credit, obliged only to clear a percentage of their acreage within an allotted time.
The first settler in today’s Orchard Park Township was Didymus C. Kinney, his wife Phebe (Hartwell), and family. In October 1803, they purchased land in the southwest corner of the Township and built a cabin where they remained through 1810 (census), but by 1811 had moved on to Ohio. However, the impressions of Quaker Jacob Lindley and the leaflets of Joseph Ellicott had reached the Quaker (a.k.a. Society of Friends) communities in Vermont, eastern New York, and Pennsylvania. Soon this area became a destination for a tide of migrating Quaker families from those areas. Agrarian Quakers preferred life in quiet communities which were detached from the “corrupting influences” of the larger world. This “uncultivated part of nature’s garden” was attractive.
In June 1804, two Danby, Vermont residents, Ezekiel Smith, and Quaker Amos Colvin contracted for the purchase of large tracts of land located in the same southwest quadrant of present Orchard Park as the Kinney family. In October 1804, Quaker David Eddy arrived from Danby, and “reserved” property, all of Lots 7 and 15 for $2.25 acre. This land represents almost 600 acres, including much of present Orchard Park Village. David reserved Lot 15 in the interest of his father and mother, Quaker Jacob and Susannah (Sprague) Eddy, and Lot 7 in the interest of himself and wife, Hannah (Arnold), and other members of the Eddy, Arnold, Sprague and related families. The Jacob Eddy family, including most of their grown, married children, came to the area in about March 1805. Jacob subsequently completed purchase of all of Lot 15, 286 acres with today’s Four Corners of Orchard Park roughly at its center. The entire Eddy family were central players on the stage of the early settlement.
In 1804, the Holland Land Company was informed by Joseph Ellicott that a road leading from Lake Erie through part of Township 9 in the 7th (now Orchard Park) and 8th (now Hamburg) Ranges had been completed. This was key to settlement. It is was to be called the Middle Road, and was later incorporated into Big Tree Road.
Obadiah Baker and his wife Anna (Wheeler) had come from Danby, Vermont in 1807, and within a few months Quaker Meetings “at the dwelling house of Obadiah Baker“ were sanctioned. By 1811 there were over twenty Quaker families, and by 1814 upwards of 25 Quaker families in the community. In December, 1811, a half-acre property “with a log house standing thereon” on the northeast corner of the Four Corners (today’s Village center) was purchased by the Society of Friends “for the sole purpose of building a meeting house thereon”. It was to serve them until the early 1820s when they built and occupied the picturesque meeting house we know today. From all accounts, the original “log house” was the first church structure of any denomination in all of present Erie County. The pioneers were primarily Quakers; surnames among them also included Baker, Chilcott, Deuel, Freeman, Griffin, Hall, Hoag, Hambleton, Hampton, Kester, Potter, Shearmen, Sprague, Tilton and Webster, some of whom came from eastern Pennsylvania.
Although a society which valued its privacy, the Quakers coexisted cordially, cooperatively, and peacefully with the non-Quakers who also discovered “nature’s garden,” although early Quakers were strict and ever watchful over their fellow Quakers, lest they be tempted by any of the evils that attended the non-Quakers, and discouraged marriage outside of the Quaker community. Surnames in addition to Smith that were among the early non-Quakers were Coltrin, Fish, Abbott, Bemus, Clark, Sheldon, Bradley, Newton and Wright. Most of these families, like their Quaker counterparts, have descendants living in the area today.
The area we now know as Orchard Park Township was originally part of the Township of Hamburgh; the area we know as the environs of the Four Corners of Orchard Park Village became known at an early day as Potter’s Corners due to the homesteading of the prolific Quaker Potter family. A decision was made in 1850 to separate Hamburgh’s east half from its west half, the new eastern Township to be named Ellicott. This designation lasted for a little more than a year, and was then changed to East Hamburgh. The name Potter’s Corners gradually was replaced by Orchard Park, informally, about 1882 when it was noted that the community resembled a park of orchards. The community had been known as Orchard Park for many years before it officially was incorporated into a village in 1921. Finally, the entire township of East Hamburg became known as Orchard Park Township in 1934, the final “h” of Hamburgh having been lost about the time of World War I.
The first lending library was established by the Quakers in February 1823 with an assortment of books which had been donated to the Meeting with the charge that their curators “lend them to such families as they shall find to be most in need, having a particular regard to women Friends.” The first public library in southern Erie County was established pursuant to a meeting of concerned citizens at the home of Seth Abbott in present Armor in April 1824. Subscriptions were solicited to fund the project, and by November 1824 the library was begun with $102. in seed money.
In early days on this frontier, responsibility for much of a child’s education had to be assumed by the family. From an early age, the chores of the farm and household included a wealth of “hands on instruction”. Inventories found in old estate records show that parents owned various school books, and used these to teach their children the basics of reading, writing, arithmetic and geography. The first common school house that can be documented, District #5 School House, was constructed in the southwest part of present Orchard Park Township (then Hamburgh) sometime prior to March, 1820, when it is referenced as pre-existing in a deed. It served the children of the Smith and Colvin families among others, and was located near the intersection of Bunting and Draudt Roads. Local Quakers were mindful that a “guarded education” for their children was desirable, but a Select School for Friends was not established until, on December 28, 1825, their minutes reveal that they requested of their governing meeting “the privilege of building a school house on the meeting house lot.” The concept was approved and a log school was built in early 1826, the first Friends’ school house in present Orchard Park, built facing present N. Freeman Rd. on the grounds of our still-standing meeting house. David Eddy recalled that its first teacher was Henry Hibbard. It was in existence for only ten years.
Quaker John Allen and his wife, Chloe, purchased a large tract of land in 1854 bordering the south side of West Quaker and the west side of South Lincoln Streets. About 1866 they built a boarding Academy on 3.8 acres of this land, a plot which roughly coincides with the site of today’s Middle School minus the athletic field. “It was a long, handsome three story building with dormitories and classrooms.” In 1869, John and Chloe Allen sold the Academy to the newly formed East Hamburgh Friends Institute which operated it for some twelve and one-half years. In 1881, a wing of the building and a portion of the land were split off, and deeded to the East Hamburgh’s Public School District #6. Within months of that sale, in April, 1882, the remainder of the building, which was then being used for tenement housing, burned: “the large building at East Hamburgh known as the Quaker Academy caught fire as supposed from a defective chimney and with the contents was totally destroyed. Loss and insurance could not be ascertained. The loss, however, is estimated at $10,000.” This was the final blow to Friends’ endeavors in education locally.
As our community grew, our links with neighboring communities improved. Some dirt roads became plank roads in the 1840s, and were gradually upgraded to stone, macadam, and brick, especially after the invention of the horseless carriage. The railroad was extended to Orchard Park in 1883, and a very small wooden depot was built just south of the Thorn Avenue crossing. In 1900, this town of then 800 people saw an electric trolley line established to run between Buffalo and Orchard Park. It was abandoned in 1932, when buses took the trolleys’ place but not their adventuresome thrill.
By 1851, a series of events led the Seneca Native Americans to give up their Buffalo Creek Reservation, part of which lay north of East Hamburg, specifically, all of present-day Orchard Park Township located north of Webster Road. Township lines were redrawn, and investors opened all of that land to settlement. This coincided with an influx of German immigrants escaping tyranny and unrest in Germany. Many of these new immigrants discovered the former Buffalo Creek Reservation land, and before long, a sizeable German community was established in the northeastern part of Orchard Park. Also during that period, many Germans settled on farms to the south of Orchard Park Village.
With the advent of fast and convenient transportation, the farming community of Orchard Park began to see more city folk arriving as residents in the 1900s. The Irish of South Buffalo were the first to come down from the north. Orchard Park soon became a bedroom community of Buffalo. Greater attention to social and cultural affairs ensued.
No history of Orchard Park can be complete without mention of successful businessman and philanthropist Harry Yates (1869-1956), Orchard Park’s greatest single benefactor. A Buffaloian, he came to Orchard Park shortly after the turn of the century looking for pastureland for his coalwagon horses who were suffering from sore feet due to the cobblestone streets of the city. He was so impressed with our rolling countryside, that he decided to add farming to his business interests, built a home here, and eventually purchased multiple farms including some 3,500 acres of land. Ultimately, he created and donated Green Lake (1912) to the community, the adjacent Girl Scout Camp (c.1920) and Yates Park (1942), the site on which the present railroad depot is located including the present library site (1911), and land for the construction of two churches, Nativity of Our Lord Roman Catholic and St. John’s Lutheran, and a portion of the land for Nativity’s cemetery.
In the years since our beginnings, Orchard Park has seen many changes, yet we could still be considered somewhat rural with our many farms and expanses of land. We enjoy a superior centralized school system, many cultural opportunities such as the Orchard Park Symphony, the summer Pavilion, and the Quaker Arts Festival, and a generally serene lifestyle. The labors and dedication to duty of all of our pioneers cannot be overestimated. They transformed a vast wilderness into a lovely community. They brought with them an estimable work ethic, a strong sense of fairness, and a spirit of community harmony. They also left us a legacy of graceful, functional landmarks built as their residences, churches, and public places, and which now speak to us of their culture, life style, and values. Their architectural vestiges give character to our tranquil byways and have served to inspire modern likenesses. Yes, the footprints of our pioneers left an indelible impression on the character of our community, an impression nourished by discerning continued cultivation of “nature’s garden” as we look to the future.