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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

An Historical Account--Second Draft:
Why publish a Buffalo story that becomes national and international?

History has always been my favorite subject. That interest was further stimulated as I began my family geneaology study. It was fascinating for me to place my family's generations into the historical patterns of America's historical accounts, wanting to know what was going on behind the family's life experiences. The last three generations might have been quite different were it not for three major wars and the U.S. Draft Boards.

My guess is that some of the unofficial conversations around this summer's SLI and SLE tables will include "the Buffalo Shooting" since it happened so close to our summer. Let us keep the mind and love of God in our hearts as we pray together for our nation.

This manner of thinking rejuvenated itself as I began to write a history of the Silver Lake Institute several years ago. Taking the dates of America's history and plugging them into the known dates of SLI, seemed to take on a much more indepth meaning just by knitting together the SLI "family history" with national history. I still marvel at how they ever talked President Theodore Roosevelt into coming down Walker Road to speak at an unplanned event at the old auditorium in the Park. Now there's a real combining of history.

For example, the question has often been raised by the dwindling lot of Old Timers, "Why would the SLI Trustees of the 1950-era ever agreed to hand over a significant swatch of land and road to a government municipality in order to create a thouroughfare right through the center of the Institute grounds from Camp Road through Burt Park and over to Chapman Road?"

What could have possibly happened to turn a close-knit, gated community with toll booths into what at times becomes a "speedway" of sorts lacking respect for even stop signs? That's where U.S. history and policy begin to enter the picture. 

The easy answer is that the Institute needed a public access road in order to keep its Post Office in the center of the original acreage. It would have been quicker, easier, and perhaps more beneficial to SLI overall, to have located a post office on either Camp Road or Chapman Road, both of which were already muncipal roads with SLI property on both sides of the road.

The Trustees turned down a post office location for both Camp and Chapman roads and approved a major road building project that wound up placing a Town-owned road right through the center of all of the original acreage from Camp Road through to Chapman and the western end of Burt Park. This is what today, combined, is simply known as "Perry Avenue."

The new Perry Ave. divided up the original acreage--east and west-- making it necessary to cross a Town road when walking to different buildings or homes in the Institute. Also making it necessary for all on the west side (Lake side) to cross a Town road to get to the newly-located Post Office** or even get to Epworth Hall.

** The Silver Lake Post Office, at one point, was located on a Wesley Ave. spot--a lot or two down from Perry Ave. Both streets were privately owned by SLI; in addition, Perry dead-ended at Burt Park. The location of the Post Office didn't matter for train delivery because there was a "mailhook" where the mail bag hooked onto as the train passed it in its traditionally slow speed along the Lake. In later years, they no longer used the mailhook but pitched the bag at the waiting boy(s) who picked it up and delivered it to the Post Office (probably not technically authorized but the train men knew the old Silver Lake RR mail delivery was not long for this world). One of those boys was Bob Cook who still lives in the old Cook Cottage on Embury (2022).


The Trustees approved giving up ownership of the original Perry Ave. and ownership of Kingsley Ave. (the extension of Perry Ave. from the Park to Chapman), and the newly constructed road running through the west end of the Park. So the road would meet Town minimums, it was also necessary for SLI to purchase a previously abandoned cottage on the corner of Genesee Ave. and Kingsley Ave., dismantle it and haul it away so the new Perry Ave. extension could meet minimum width standards. As mentioned above, SLI also needed to move the old Post Office from Wesley Ave. over to the newly-owned Town road of Perry Ave. so the Post Office would have an address on the public access road.

The United States, at this point in history was made up of an endless series of local roads that caused travel, as we know it today, to be unthinkable for relaxed and time-efficient enjoyment.

A strong desire developed among American G.I.'s, upon returning home, to modernize the U.S. mainland. Veterans of World War II created a whole new conversational phenomenon which they knew and loved as the "Autobahn," the origin of today's American expressways. Among the veterans was one Five-Star General, Dwight D. Eisenhauer, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe.

Pushing this talk of the Autobahn was the new national pasttime of conversations evolving around all the new models of cars coming to the market after a number of years of no new models at all during the war years. Car factories, for the most part, had been transformed into war vehicle and plane factories.

Most importantly, this new conversational phenomenon, brought about by those who had experienced it or at least heard a lot about it, brought a hopeful fascination and a dynamic interest to the American population. If Germany, Austria, and Switzerland could have autobahns, certainly the United States could and should. 

New homes, new suburban developments including shopping plazas; new, aerodynamically styled cars, some with automatic transmissions created a hunger to "hit the open road." One popular sales song, sung by Dinah Shore, was "See the USA in Your Chevolet." Yes, this sales song became popular and even children could be heard singing and enjoying it. My father was "a Chrysler man" but we kids were never once told not to sing the Chevrolet song!

(Hear the whole song as it tempts customers to try the new interstate highway system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhR8GZ_WWMM (or click HERE). 

That decade of desire for new homes, new cars, and new roads, proposed in 1953 by President Eisenhauer, took hold and eventually passed the Congress with a funding proposal.

Thus, the SLI Trustees of the early and mid 1950's were well aware of this enthusiastic thinking and may have been mentally prepared for thinking in terms of what would keep our post office centrally located after the Silver Lake Railroad ceased mail delivery. Road construction would enable them to bring it all about because the post office would not deliver to private and/or dead-end roads such as Wesley Ave. or the original Perry Ave. 

But was it progress or, as some Walker Road residents muse, "a shortcut to the Charcoal Corral." Let's hope the Corral lasts longer than the uncertainty of the Silver Lake Post Office remaining open. At the very least we'll always have the snow plowing done for Perry Ave.
Post Script:
Ironically, almost the same thing happened to the beautiful Humboldt Parkway in the Masten Park District of Buffalo which is now scheduled for a $3M re-construction in an attempt to return it to its original wonder and beauty (an impossible task). They cut down all the hundreds of trees the same Spring I was confirmed as a confessing member in the EUB Church--1960--the saddest sight I've ever seen in a time of peace.

Another project in my lifetime which needed to be fixed, or at best, altered, was the Harlem Road bridge over Indian Church Road. Or the Kensington Expressway where they cut through a cemetary and had to move family graves. And then there's always the Hamburg (Rt. 5) Expressway also known as the Skyway. They still debate whether this needs to stay or go.

It's exciting to think about adding the Silver Lake Experiences of recent history and the upcoming SLE of this summer, August 4-6, because it is such a strong sense of rennaisance for the Silver Lake Institute that takes us back to our chautauqua teaching-and-learning roots prior to adopting the Institute style in the 1920's. 

In remembering the SLE history, the Institute must never forget the leadership and hard work put in organizing and executing the last three and this year's fourth SLE, by Bill and Kathy Schaefer, and each of those who served along the way on the SLE Planning Committee. Registration is now open for the 2022 SLE. Go to: SilverLakeExperience.org (online) or contact the Asbury Retreat Center office.

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