Irish WNY / Life on the Beach
The beach community was somewhat isolated from the rest of the ward and had its own shops and other amenities. Photos from Timothy Bohen’s Against the Grain
The original settlers of this area must have been hardy souls. In 1837 the city of Buffalo built an earthen and masonry seawall, about 3,770 feet long, across a strip of beach just south of the present day Coast Guard station to stop Lake Erie waves from pushing over the slender strip of land that separated it from the Buffalo River. Now that the seawall offered relative safety, Irish and Portuguese squatters began to build small houses along it (usually frame homes with tarpaper roofs); they were squatters because the land was owned by the city but outside the tax base. The Irish immigrants dominated the area, and it is estimated that close to 1,000 people lived along about one mile of shoreline. They were construction workers, grain scoopers, sailors, fisherman, and stevedores, among other working-class occupations. This community became quite established and had its own saloons, rowing clubs, boathouses, bath houses, restaurants, and stores. There was even a church, Mother of Mercy, and an accompanying elementary school. Residents were able to live on Lake Erie fish all year long, with the help of ice fishing. For recreation, they enjoyed boating, baseball, and skating, among other pursuits.
The Beachers had a rough and tumble reputation, but they also endured many hardships; hurricanes, seiches (lake tidal waves), and other storms engulfed the Beach dwellings several times, but the residents rebuilt and stayed on. In 1917, the Beachers were officially evicted by the city, though it took a couple more decades to remove the final, most stubborn residents. Over time, this strip of land underwent many changes, but if you visit the Times Beach nature preserve, you may be walking (more or less) in the footsteps of these legendary Buffalonians.
Sources include Western New York Heritage magazine, digginguproots.com, Bohen’s Against the Grain, and research papers included in the Buffalo and Erie County Central library’s vertical files.