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Town of Cheektowaga - History

Cheektowaga

comes from the Erie-Seneca Indian word, Ji-ik-do-wah-gah, or "place of the crabapple tree." The earliest Indian dwellers were Neutrals, who lost their lands to the Seneca tribe of the League of the Iroquois. For almost a century, this area remained hunting and fishing grounds of the Six Nations. Of the few Indian villages along the Niagara frontier, one was located in central Cheektowaga. Ga-sko-sa-da, or Falls Village, sprawled along the Indian trail that was on the north bank of the Cayuga Creek, The village's long houses were built from Borden Road, near Broadway, along the creek bluff to Union Road.

When the Six Nations were defeated by the Americans during the Revolutionary War, they were forced to settle on Indian Reservations and give up the vast forest areas they had held. One of these reservations, the Buffalo Creek Indian Reservation, was located across central Erie County. The southern part of our township was originally part of that reservation, with William Street being part of the northern boundary.

The purchase of these vast Indian lands in Western New York, by the Holland Land Company, led to early settlement by people from along the Atlantic seaboard. One of those early New England settlers was Appollos Hitchcock, who in 1808 built his first home, a log cabin, in our present Cheektowaga near Borden and Broadway. Cheektowaga then was part of a huge town of Erie, in an immense County of Genesee. Appollos Hitchcock and his descendants successfully conducted a series of large farms, a mill and distillery in the Borden Road - Broadway area for over a century. They were active civic leaders in the Town's school and government affairs. Their gracious homes represented the success which had come from their efforts in making Cheektowaga a busy township.

In quick succession, Cheektowaga's present area became part of the Town of Clarence and then Amherst, first in Genesee County, then in Niagara County and finally Erie County, which was formed from Niagara County in 1821. By legislative act, on March 22, 1839, Amherst was divided into Amherst and Cheektowaga, with the latter including all of the land from its present northern boundary south to a line near Cazenovia Creek and the present Village of Ebenezer.

At Elnathan Bennett's residence, on Walden Ave. just east of Harlem Road, the first town meeting was held on April 16, 1839. Alexander Hitchcock, the son of the first settler, became the first Supervisor of Cheektowaga. The list of first town officials included names of many of its earliest citizens. Ely, Green, Vaughn, Warner, Coastworth, Jenkins, Beach, Schunerman and Hanson are all names that are remembered through the years of Cheektowaga's growth.

About this time the Ebenezer Community of True Inspiration purchased land from the speculators who had gotten control of the Buffalo Creek Indian Reservation. So within early Cheektowaga's boundries was established one of the United States' most thriving communal experiments. The Ebenezer villages, and farms around them, became the nucleus of the township of Seneca (West Seneca) that was separated from Cheektowaga, Hamburg and present Orchard Park on October 16, 1851.

The first half of the 1800's found Cheektowaga a rural area. The farmers were busy raising crops for consumption in nearby Buffalo and Black Rock to be shipped east on the Erie Canal. They were busy acquiring their deeds of the property that had been bought on contract from the Holland Land Company. They built and tended roads to connect with the two main roads which crossed the township. One, known as the Plank Road, and a toll road, is the present Genesee Street. The other, Batavia Road, followed along present Broadway and Ellicott Road and was the oldest in the township. The roads which made present Broadway were toll roads until into the 20th century.

Cheektowaga was a thriving rural town. There were taverns and saw mills. Cloth was produced along with record crops of potatoes and grain. Prizes for cheese and livestock were won by farmers and their wives or sons at the early Erie County Fairs.

By Civil War time railroad lines bisected the town. The railroad boom that followed brought a new era of development to the town. In the 1880's, subdivisions were laid out along William Street and Broadway. Germans and Polish from Buffalo moved over the city line to form an early suburb. An 1893 map shows five railroad stations strung across central Cheektowaga. It was this railroad boom that brought about the creation of the Village of Depew in 1892, lying both in our township and in Lancaster. In 1896, the Village of Sloan was similarly created South of Broadway.

The era of the electric trolley brought about further subdivision booms in the town. The Buffalo, Bellevue and Lancaster Electric Railway crossed central Cheektowaga just south of Broadway in 1892. Because of it, Sloan, Bellevue and south Depew grew rapidly. About one year later the Buffalo and Depew Electric Railway was built south of Genesee Street from Pine Hill to north Depew. All along the line subdivisions were laid out to further Cheektowaga's growth.

The trolley lines had been abandoned by 1930, as had been the huge coal trestles of the railroads, although the heavy population around the railroad yards contrasted sharply with the rural aspect of the balance of the town.

During the 1920's a new form of transportation came to Cheektowaga. The Buffalo Municipal Airport brought air age to the town. The Second World War created the need for industrial expansion throughout the entire Niagara Frontier. Cheektowaga with its fine air, highway and railroad facilities was a natural place for industries to come.

After the war emergency the advantageous location of the town attracted more industries. The construction of the New York State Thruway, with three of its main interchanges within Cheektowaga makes the town second to none on the Niagara Frontier. The commercial growth of Cheektowaga can be measured by the many tastefully constructed new business and industrial structures which add strength to the Town's financial position.

Rapid residential development followed hard on the heels of the industrial expansion. The northen part of the town lost its rural character. Modern school facilities were added to serve the fast growing sections.

Each year has brought further expansion of utilities and services within the township. This in turn attracts further industrial and residential growth.

In 1939, when Cheektowaga celebrated the centennial of its incorporation as a town, the population was 25,000. In 1950 the census reported 45,354 and in the 1960 census Cheektowaga's population reached the 84,056 mark. The 1990 census showed Cheektowaga at 99,000 residents.

Cheektowaga has become, still is, and will be one of the most progressive townships in New York State. Its residents and businesses have had faith in its past and look forward to the town's bright future.

A Lesson in Town History: Cheektowaga Town Seal
 

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