Grover Cleveland’s Buffalo

On September 1st, the Grand Island Historical Society had its first meeting of the 2016-2017 year. We had a potluck dinner at River Lea, and people brought a variety of tasty dishes. It is now late summer, and it was nice to observe the view from Beaver Island State Park, as well as eat a delicious meal with friends.

Another view.

This is the entrance to River Lea. The house was designed by Lewis F. Allen. He was a Buffalo businessman and community leader. Allen Street in Buffalo is named for him. He owned a house in Buffalo that was burned down during the War of 1812. Then he built another house to replaced the torched house. He bought land in Williamsville and had a cattle farm. However, he sold much of that land because it became quite valuable. Later, he bought land in Grand Island and established a farm called Allenton Farms. He had cows and pigs at the farm. He also planted orchards. Fruits that he grew included apples, pears, and cherries.

Lewis F. Allen was elected to the New York State Legislature in 1838.

He had a nephew who was called “Big Steve” because he was… big. Steve Cichon gave a presentation to the Historical Society about Big Steve. We don’t remember him as Big Steve but that’s what he was called when he was young. He was the son of a Presbyterian minister, Richard Falley Cleveland, and the former Ann Neal. He had eight siblings. He was born in New Jersey but his family moved around a great deal and he grew up in central New York. When Big Steve was sixteen, his father passed away. Big Steve quit school and went to work to help support his family.

Two years later, Big Steve decided to move to Cleveland, Ohio, to find his fortune. Interestingly enough, Big Steve was a distant relative of Moses Cleaveland (1754-1806), for whom Cleveland, Ohio, is named. But Uncle Lewis F. Allen had other plans for Big Steve. He offered him a job on Allenton Farms, keeping records of the animals. He did that job. When he wasn’t in Grand Island, he got a job at a Buffalo law firm. He read the law and became a lawyer. Back then, you could study law books under the tutelage of an attorney and become a lawyer.

At some point, Big Steve decided that he didn’t really like being called Big Steve. He dropped his first name and, from that point on, was known as Grover Cleveland. He fit in well in Buffalo. After he moved out of his uncle’s house, he lived in boarding houses in downtown Buffalo and did Buffalo stuff. According to Steve Cichon, Grover Cleveland “spent a lot of time in taverns and ate pickled pigs’ feet and pigs’ knuckles.” He also ate potato pancakes. Mike Ulrich, who later was the owner of the famous Buffalo landmark, Ulrich’s Tavern, claimed that he served Grover Cleveland potato pancakes in the Niagara Hotel in downtown Buffalo. Mike Ulrich, who immigrated to Buffalo from Germany, probably was not fluent in English at that point.  It is more likely, according to Steve Cichon, that Mike Ulrich made potato pancakes for William McKinley.

Grover Cleveland got into a fight with a guy named Mike Falvey, mainly because Falvey called Cleveland a liar. Cleveland smacked him, causing him to fall in the gutter. The two guys rolled around in the gutter, but, after the battle was over, they made up and went out for drinks together.

Places that Grover Cleveland did eat included Louis Goetz’s restaurant. It was one of his favorites. The restaurant was open until the 1920s.

Grover Cleveland wrote down that he played “peanuckle” at the taverns. 

Grover Cleveland got into politics and had a falling out with his uncle, Lewis F. Allen, who was a Republican. Grover Cleveland was a Democrat. Some things never change. Grover Cleveland’s rise in politics was amazingly fast. His goal was to get rid of crime and corruption.

In the 1870s, crime and corruption were a way of life. There were hundreds of groggeries and disorderly houses. A groggery was a disreputable barroom. It’s amazing that anyone was sober at all. Apparently, there were a bunch of jails in Buffalo. Grover Cleveland, as mayor, cleaned up the bars and the jails.

Grover Cleveland was elected sheriff of Erie County, and he also served as executioner. He had a gallows built on Batavia Street, which is now known as Broadway, where two men were executed. One was a man named Patrick Morrissey who stabbed his mother to death with a bread knife and the other was a man named John Gaffney, who killed a guy in an “alcohol-fueled rage” at the Canal Street Saloon. Cleveland became the executioner because the deputy who had previously executed prisoners truly was mortified at having to kill people and at being called “Hangman Emerick.”

Grover Cleveland later was elected Governor of New York and then president of the United States. He was elected president of the United States twice. There were many rumors about Grover Cleveland having an illegitimate son named Oscar Folsom Cleveland. It had to do with a woman named Maria Halpin, who “had relations with many in the legal community,” said Steve Cichon. “She was everyone’s girlfriend.”

After Everyone’s Girlfriend had a baby, Grover Cleveland had her placed in the Providence Insane Asylum, where she was determined to be drunk but not insane. The baby was put up for adoption. Providence Insane Asylum no longer exists. Sisters Hospital actually constructed its building around the Providence Insane Asylum.

When Grover Cleveland entered the White House, he was a bachelor. Shortly afterward, he married a young lady named Frances Folsom. She was Grover Cleveland’s ward and was the half sister of Oscar Folsom Cleveland. To me, it sounds like a soap opera. He was 49 and she was 21. She became the first lady and had five children. Their wedding was the only wedding that occurred in the White House.

Grover Cleveland was also the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms. He vetoed a large amount of legislation. He presided over the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.

But he was no longer interested in living in or even visiting Buffalo. After he left the White House, he lived in New Jersey. Steve Cichon said that Grover Cleveland felt let down by the people of Buffalo. He was, however, well loved in Buffalo. There are streets and schools named after him. He died in 1908. Frances Folsom Cleveland remarried in 1913 at the age of 48. Her second husband was Thomas Preston, a professor of archaeology at Wells College. She died in 1947 at the age of 83 and is buried in Princeton, New Jersey, next to her first husband.

2 thoughts on “Grover Cleveland’s Buffalo”

  1. Shared this one with my spouse. We are thinking of spending a couple of days in Buffalo the next time we have a few days off from work (I live in the "Triple Cities") – who knows, we may just do it.

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