N.Y.) Buffalo Historical Society (Buffalo.

The semi-centennial of the Buffalo Historical Society, May 20, 1912 online

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MAY 20, 1912





On the evening of Monday, May 20, 1912, the Buffalo
Historical Society celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its
establishment with a meeting at which congratulations were
received from sister institutions, the career of the Historical
Society was reviewed in an historical address by its presi-
dent, and tablets were unveiled in memory of Millard
Fillmore and Grover Cleveland, both former members of
the Society. Music and other features contributed to the
pleasure of the evening's programme.

In the absence of the Mayor, the Hon. William G.
Justice, Comptroller of the City of Buffalo, extended the
greeting of the municipality to the Society.

From the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy

In behalf of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Mr. Willis
O. Chapin spoke as follows :

Mr. President and Members of the Historical Society:

Half a century has passed since the Buffalo Historical
Society was formed. Today you reconsecrate yourselves to
the work laid out for you by the founders.


The Young Men's Association celebrated its quarter-
century anniversary in 1861. It had been called the "sole
guardian and representative of the literary, scientific and
artistic poverty of Buffalo." The year following saw the
beginnings, not only of your Society, but of the Fine Arts
Academy and of the Society of Natural Sciences. The
achievements of the little band of pioneers, who, amid the
surging billows of civil war, created these havens of peace,
must not be forgotten. If our three societies had little else
to offer in the early years, they at least gave to each other
their friendship and sympathy. They were inspired with
the enthusiasm of youth, and struggled bravely along,
steadily drawing nearer the goal of their ambition. There
were, indeed, many discouragements, for it was necessary,
not only to secure efficient management, with salaries paid
mostly in the coin of appreciation, but to create public
interest in their work. Success, if delayed, at last crowned
their efforts. For many years our societies were neighbors
in the Library Building. The Exposition gave to you this
beautiful Historical Building, and thus opened a new era in
your own history. The educational work you are now doing
would far surpass the visions of the founders. Today we
of the Fine Arts Academy have our marble palace, across
the lake; our fame has also gone abroad; and we are to
celebrate our fiftieth anniversary in a few months. The
Society of Natural Sciences is planning to join us again in
the near future with a building of its own. Art, Science
and History are indeed inseparable!

Mr. President, as lifelong friend and neighbor, the
Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, through its representatives,
comes to-day to join you in celebrating the fiftieth anni-
versary of your Society. We bring you our greetings, and
we congratulate you upon the great and good work you


have done. Its value is inestimable because it is permanent,
and will increase with the years, and because it has been
guided by experts whose knowledge is sure and whose
respect for their work is high and constant.

In this building you have preserved the records of deeds
and events in our history which otherwise would have
passed from memory. Your publications of this material
have brought you fame throughout the land. No story can
rival real history. What romance can vie in interest with
the thought of this vast continent, wrapped in silence for
untold ages awaiting its white discoverers? Your collection
of books and records bearing on the early history of this
region is one of the best. You have maintained courses of
free lectures. You have collected material for the purpose
of investigating it, and of drawing lessons from the past as
a means of enriching the individual, and of thus improving
society. Your work, as you have understood it, thus be-
comes a means of true intellectual culture something more
than the mere art of accumulating material.

But I must leave to your President the story of your
achievements, and the roll of honor of the devoted band of
workers who have accomplished these results. Your early
struggles have passed, and your work no longer lacks appre-
ciation or support. So long as your society cherishes such
ideals, and is inspired by such noble aspirations, we have no
fear for her best and truest prosperity.

Mr. President, we are glad to be here today. We will
always unite with you in the common cause. We are proud
of what you have accomplished, and we shall carry away
with us some of the inspiration of this occasion for our
own use.


From the Society of Natural Sciences

In behalf of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences Mr.
Henry R. Howland, Superintendent of that institution, spoke
as follows :

It is my fortunate office this evening to bring to one of
the oldest and most useful of Buffalo's public institutions,
the felicitations of a sister society, equally venerable in
point of years, equally virile in its enthusiasms and its zeal
for public service ; equally useful, I trust, in the extent and
the value of its own large work for the profit and better-
ment of the people of this great city.

Tonight our thoughts revert to those days of small
beginnings when in October, 1861, papers were circulated
whose signers urged the need of some permanent organi-
zation for the study and promotion of the natural sciences
and agreed to become members of such a society when it
should be formed. The Historical Society owns the original
documents and it is interesting to note that the first signers
were ex-President Millard Fillmore, who became the first
President of the Historical Society, and the Rt. Rev. John
Timon, the beloved Roman Catholic Bishop of Buffalo.
Their autographs are followed by those of ninety others
whose names have been those of light and leading in this
community, who have wrought their work of usefulness
and have gone to their last rest.

As a result of this effort, a public meeting was held
December 5, 1861, when the Buffalo Society of Natural
Sciences was organized and Judge Clinton was chosen to be
its first President, an office which he held for twenty years.
I have been impressed with the fact that the same prominent
names occur in the early history of both institutions, nor
is it otherwise now. Mr. Fillmore, Mr. O. H. Marshall,


Judge Clinton, Mr. W. K. Hopkins, Judge Hall, Dennis
Bowen, Joseph Warren, William P. Letchworth, Pascal P.
Pratt, John Ganson, James D. Sawyer, M. S. Hawley, S. S.
Guthrie, Jewett M. Richmond, Rev. Dr. Shelton, Rev. Dr.
Lord, Rev. Dr. Heacock, Dr. Joseph P. White, Dr. Thomas
F. Rochester, Dr. C. C. Wyckoff, Dr. John D. Hill, George
Palmer, George R. Babcock, and scores of others who were
earnest in organizing our Society became no less interested
in the welfare of the Historical Society and in its inception
in 1862; and today our memberships are singularly identi-
cal, the result no doubt of that fine feeling of public spirit
which seeks to share in all things that contribute to the
uplift and the help of the people of our city, in all those
agencies that would add to our municipal growth in material
prosperity, that better and higher growth in those things
which are of the intellect, the soul and the spirit.

When these first efforts began, our country was in the
first throes of that great Civil War which through four
terrible years of strife filled men's hearts with sorrow and
apprehension. Many of those who were the founders of
our two societies volunteered in their country's service,
and as those who remained met together for the duties
which were theirs, there was too often present with them
the remembrance of hushed voices and the thought of un-
returning feet; but when those years of storm and stress
were over there came in August, 1866, at the invitation of
the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, the first meeting
since 1860 of the American Association for the Advance-
ment of Science, when it was welcomed by Judge Clinton
in an address in which he claimed for Buffalo "a deep
respect for literature, for art, for science, and a longing to
make it as famous in letters as it is prosperous in com-
merce and manufactures." Again in 1876 it came with


Thomas A. Huxley and many famous savants from foreign
countries, leaving an increased enthusiasm for study that
made many of our young men forget for a time material
striving in an eagerness for those things that are of the
mind. Again in 1886 and again in 1896 the American
Association came hither at our invitation and the work of
our Society grew apace.

From the earliest days it has been realized that to fulfill
its real purpose this work must be educational and not only
for the benefit of the research student but for the enlighten-
ment and pleasure of the common people throughout our
city. It is not my intention to weary you with details as to
how this has slowly but surely been accomplished how ten-
tative experiments have crystallized into systematic methods
which now bring many thousands of Buffalo's grammar
school children to our lecture or class room morning and
afternoon of each day in the school year ; how our weekly
Friday evening, free, public lectures cover a period of seven
months each year and bring to a borrowed lecture room (as
our own is, alas, too small) audiences of 800 or goo persons
each week to see and hear the best lecturers in the United
States ; how our loan collections for school use are widely
and freely distributed; how our museum collections, re-
arranged and descriptively though briefly labelled, have
become doubly interesting and vastly more instructive ; these
things are surely known to you all, but in our years of
growth we have stood side by side with our constant friends
the Historical Society and the Academy of Fine Arts, shar-
ing with them the inconveniences of old St. James's Hall,
the better facilities of the Public Library Building in whose
erection each Society took an honorable share, and always
sharing with them that feeling of a common interest in a
common purpose and with unfailing good will seeking to


advance the coming of prospective good fortune and to
rejoice in the good luck of each of these our friends and
neighbors and to hope it might be prophetic of our own.

From narrow quarters, from days of struggle, you have
been relieved ; and we rejoice that we can offer you a reas-
surance of our hearty good wishes in your own beautiful
and commodious building in its happy surroundings. Your
friends and our own of the Academy of Fine Arts in
their exquisite building are near you still, as we fain would
be if fortune would smile also upon us. We honor the
memory of Bronson C. Rumsey and Dexter P. Rumsey
who have given us a fine site close to your own doors for
such a building as we need. Our work is hampered for
want of it, but we have as yet no fund for its erection. We
did not celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of our first public
meeting and organization which would have been on the 5th
day of last December. Our Society was legally incorpor-
ated on the 23d of January, 1863, and before that anni-
versary occurs I hope that the way may be opened for us
to see some approaching realization of our desires and that
we may ere long be near to you in person and a part of this
fine educational center, as we are near to you in our hearts
tonight in wishing you health, wealth and happiness and
long-continued, as they are well deserved, years of pros-

From the Canadian Institute

Mr. David Reid Keys of Toronto, representing the
Canadian Institute, had accepted the invitation of the
Historical Society to be present, and extended the felicita-
tions of the Canadian Institute in the following happy


An Acrostic Sonnet to the
Buffalo Historical Society 1912

By one great symbol thou art truly great,

Unless thy glory doth thy name belie,

For "Buffalo" sheer greatness must imply,
Foreshadowing from of old thy high estate ;
How well thy sponsors have foretold thy fate,

Involving in thy name thy destiny,

Showing thy citizens how far a cry
Still lies before them e'er they culminate !
O may each effort win beyond the last,

Controlling higher powers than e'en of yore,
Inspiring brilliant histories of the past,

Enriched with art's free grace and learning's store.
Toronto sends this friendly wish to thee,
Yet still intends a rival fair to be.

Canadian Institute, Toronto, Ont, May igth, 1912.

Letters of congratulation were read from many invited
guests and institutions in other cities.

President Henry W. Hill then delivered the Historical
Address which follows:

Historical Address

Honorable William G. Justice, Comptroller of the City
of Buffalo, Mr. Willis O. Chapin of the Buffalo Fine Arts
Academy, Mr. Henry R. Howland of the Buffalo Society of
Natural Sciences, Representatives of other Historical So-
cieties, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The officers and managers of the Buffalo Historical
Society most cordially welcome you all to these exercises in
commemoration of its Fiftieth Anniversary, and assure you
of their genuine pleasure in being afforded the opportunity
of receiving you all in the Society's own home on this, its


The greetings of the City of Buffalo, of the Buffalo Fine
Arts Academy, of the Buffalo Society of Natural Science,
and of the Canadian Institute, gracefully extended by the
preceding speakers, are gratefully appreciated and are
naturally gratifying to those charged with the responsi-
bility of the conduct of the affairs of this institution.

The officers of this Society are pleased to know what its
standing is in the opinion of its contemporary sister organi-
zations and of the people of this city.

Comptroller Justice, we are grateful to you for your
encouraging message to us and to know that our work has
the official approval of the chief fiscal officer and of the
taxpayers of Buffalo. From its inception this Society has
been one of the three leading institutions of this city and
its membership at all times comprising many of its repre-
sentative citizens.

Mr. Chapin and Mr. Rowland, permit us to express to
you on this occasion our appreciation of what your re-
spective organizations have accomplished and are still doing
for the advancement of that

"Art divine,

That both creates, and fixes, in despite
Of Death and Time, the marvels it hath wrought,"

and of that Natural Science that reveals the history of the
earth in its transformations through the geological ages as
well as for the promotion of intellectual culture in this
community; and also to acknowledge our indebtedness to
you for your services and that of other active members of
your organizations as members of the Board of Managers
of this Society. From the first, as you have stated, these
three organizations have been closely allied, and on this
occasion your greetings are evidences of that cordial rela-
tionship that has existed for half a century.


If the administration of the affairs of this Society has
hitherto been such as to merit the approval of the citizens
of Buffalo, we trust that it may continue to be so in the
future and that its business affairs may be so economically
and prudently managed as to merit at all times public
approval. Its Managers have always had this in view in
administering its affairs, and in their desire to carry out the
original purposes of its founders, and wherever possible to
extend its sphere of usefulness by increasing its activities
and making its collections accessible to all classes of our
citizens. In its evolution from a private to a public educa-
tional institution, its activities have been greatly multiplied ;
and in its new building, with its growing collections, it is
now able to serve the public in many ways not possible
before it acquired its new home.


It may be of interest to refer briefly to its origin, and
evolution during the first half century of its existence. So
far as I am advised, the first suggestion of the formation
of this institution was that made by Orsamus H. Marshall
to Hon. Lewis F. Allen, while passing along the streets of
the city on a windy day in the month of March, 1862, as
reported by Mr. Allen to our secretary, Mr. Severance. On
that occasion Mr. Marshall, then deploring his failure to
get something in relation to the Indians, regarding whom he
was an expert historian, said to Mr. Allen : "Come up into
my office, and we will talk it over," in reply to Mr. Allen's
statement to Marshall that "We ought to do something
about these things" (referring to records and relics of our
history, including Indian affairs). Mr. Marshall's famili-
arity with the history of the Niagara Frontier, as evidenced
by his large collection of books on the subject, also appears


in his interesting lecture on the Niagara Frontier, read
before the Society on February 27, 1865, and published in
Vol. II of its Publications. As a result of the conference
between Mr. Allen and Mr. Marshall, there was a call
signed by George R. Babcock, Henry W. Rogers, Orsamus
H. Marshall, William Dorsheimer, Dr. John C. Lord, Rev.
Walter Clarke, and Lewis F. Allen, for a meeting, which
was held in the office of Mr. Marshall on March 25, 1862,
presided over by Lewis F. Allen as chairman, and Orsamus
H. Marshall acted as secretary. On motion of Mr. H. W.
Rogers it was

"Resolved, That it is expedient to organize a Historical
Society for the City of Buffalo and County of Erie, and
that the chairman appoint a committee of seven to report a
plan of organization."

Such committee was appointed, consisting of Orsamus H.
Marshall, Rev. George W. Hosmer, Rev. Walter Clarke,
William Dorsheimer, James P. White, George R. Babcock
and George W. Clinton. That committee met on April 8,
1862, drafted a constitution and by-laws, and presented it
at a meeting of citizens held at the rooms of the Medical
Association, No. 7 North Division street, on April 15, 1862,
which was presided over by the Hon. Millard Fillmore as
chairman, Orsamus H. Marshall acting as secretary. The
constitution and by-laws were slightly amended, and then
unanimously adopted ; and at a subsequent meeting held on
May 20, 1862, fifty years ago tonight, at the rooms of the
Medical Association, the Hon. Millard Fillmore was elected
President, Lewis F. Allen, Vice-President, George R.
Babcock, George W. Clinton, Walter Clarke, Nathan K.
Hall, Henry W. Rogers, William Shelton, Orsamus H.
Marshall, George W. Hosmer and William Dorsheimer were
elected councillors. Charles D. Norton was appointed


Secretary and Treasurer, and Guy H. Salisbury Corres-
ponding Secretary and Librarian. Mr. Dorsheimer offered
the use of his office as a place of meeting for the Board of
Managers and for the custody of its books and papers,
which offer was accepted.

On June 3, 1862, the Committee on Inaugural Address
reported that they had secured the American Hall, which is
the present site of the Adam, Meldrum & Anderson build-
ing, for the meeting of the Society, on July I, 1862, at which
time President Fillmore delivered his inaugural address,
which is printed in full in Vol. I of the Proceedings of this
Society. In that address President Fillmore outlined at
some length his views in relation to the functions of such
an organization, and in conclusion said :

"Finally, let this institution be the grand repository of
everything calculated to throw light on our history ; books,
newspapers, letters, pamphlets, maps, medals and relics of
every description should be deposited here; and let our
citizens unite heart and hand in building up this Society,
which, while it does justice to the dead, reflects honor upon
the living."

The Certificate of Incorporation of the Historical Society
bears date December 31, 1862; it was verified January 6,
1863, approved by Justice Marvin on January 8, 1863, and
filed in the office of the Secretary of State of New York
and the Clerk of the County of Erie, on January 10, 1863,
in which the particular business and object of the Buffalo
Historical Society are stated to be: "To discover, procure
and preserve whatever may relate to the history of Western
New York in general, and the City of Buffalo in particular,
and to gather statistics of the commerce, manufactures and
business of the lake region and those portions of the west
that are intimately connected with the interests of Buffalo."


This Society thus early undertook the collation and
preservation of the important data relating to this entire
territory. The records now preserved in its archives, are
voluminous, and will afford substantial material for the
future historian of Western New York. President Fill-
more's familiarity with public affairs and his interest in all
that entered into our national life, impressed him with the
importance of tracing out and preserving whatever might
relate to the aboriginal life, as well as to the later settle-
ment, family life, political occupancy, commercial expansion
and industrial development of the people in this territory.
Mr. Marshall and others were deeply interested in all these
matters. Accordingly, the founders of this Society made
provision for the collation and preservation of all such his-
torical data, as well as for the collection and preservation
of statistics in relation to the commerce of this port and of
the entire lake region, in order that there might be pre-
served indisputable records of historical events.

In his address on "The Origin and Progress of the
Buffalo Historical Society," delivered June 26, 1873, Oliver
G. Steele, one of its founders, and its treasurer from
September, 1862, to 1870, and later its Vice-President and
President, said :

"The importance of procuring and preserving authentic
memorials of the settlement of the city and county, and of
the individuals who were its pioneers, and gave tone, direc-
tion and character to its early history, became more and
more apparent as the City advanced in population and
importance. . . . The gradual passing away of indi-
viduals identified with the origin and growth of the city,
impressed many of our citizens with the importance of
securing the scattered remnants of early local history floating
through the city and vicinity, and preserving them in a
tangible and systematic manner. In the progress of organi-
zation no interest could be awakened except by the volun-


tary action of such of our citizens as were interested in
preserving such memorials for the benefit and for the
example of those who would fill their places in the future
business growth and intellectual progress of the city. No
legal power existed which would compel individuals to
gather up and deposit such historical memorials as they
might possess ; neither was there any existing fund or pro-
vision in any form which would induce parties to give atten-
tion to the subject. The movement was therefore entirely
spontaneous, dependent upon the interest which might be
created by the action of a few individuals. Such was the
condition of the public mind in 1860 and 1862."

Thus we see that the plan and scope of this Society and
the purposes of its founders comprehended the formation
of an institution devoted primarily to research work in
local history according to modern methods. They did not
extend their investigations into other fields except in so far
as such investigations might be necessary to throw light on
matters of local historical interest, for they felt that the
territory, though limited, was rich enough in historical
material to occupy the entire time and energy of such a
Society as the one they were founding. They did not, how-
ever, limit their work exclusively to local matters, but
extended it to related subjects of a more general character,
as is shown in the range of the papers read during the
earlier years of its existence. In later years the field of its
operations has been somewhat enlarged in order to keep in
touch with the work of other organizations of a similar

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Online LibraryN.Y.) Buffalo Historical Society (BuffaloThe semi-centennial of the Buffalo Historical Society, May 20, 1912 → online text (page 1 of 4)