Prominent Families & Individuals
The Gratwick Family
A pictorial history of the Gratwick family country estate, Linwood, in Livingston County, “My, This Must Have Been a Beautiful Place…When it was Kept Up,” as documented in the year 1965 by William Gratwick has been donated in digital format to the growing collections of the North Tonawanda History Museum by Ted Lewis, representing members of the Gratwick family.
The estate was created between 1901 and 1910 by William Henry Gratwick II, with portions of the “Big House,” and all the original garden areas designed by architect Thomas Fox. William Henry Gratwick, who was born in 1870 and died in 1934, purchased the land originally in 1899, then the main farm and three adjoining farms, a total of 350 acres, on York-Pavilion Road in Livingston County. Members of the Gratwick family have lived there since 1900.
In 1933, William H. Gratwick III moved to Linwood with his family. He created the “Rare Plants Nursery,” featuring the Japanese Tree Peony. As an artist, landscape architect, and horticulturist, William H. Gratwick III contributed sculpture and new garden areas to the Linwood landscape. Harriett Gratwick, his wife, erected a community music school on the property, which operated from 1947 – 1963. The Gratwicks hosted many cultural activities at Linwood during those years.
Although much of the “Big House” was destroyed by fire in 1973, part of the exterior was redesigned and part of the original structure is still in use. W. H. Gratwick III’s daughter, Lee, has worked to preserve Tree Peony Collection, gardens, and “Big House.”
The first William H. Gratwick, for whom the Gratwick section of North Tonawanda was named, was born in Albany in 1839, where he began his working career as a tally boy. A self-made man, he became a lumber baron after moving to Buffalo in 1877. He was one of the principals in White, Gratwick, & Mitchell Lumber Company. This lumber operation was located on River Road . In 1879, Mr. Gratwick established a planning mill on 50 acres of land. Our present day Riverside Chemical Company was founded on the site by George Rasch and continues operations there today. In addition to the planing mill operation, Gratwick also owned Wm. Gratwick & Co., and Gratwick, Smith, & Fryer Lumber Company.
Although Gratwick lived in Buffalo , his businesses made a solid contribution to the Village of North Tonawanda . By 1899, Mr. Gratwick had sold his lumber businesses and owned and operated six of the largest ships on the Great Lakes . He died on August 15, 1899 . His Romanesque mansion at 775 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo was the last architectural commission of H. H. Richardson. It was torn down in 1919.
The section of North Tonawanda known as Gratwick, the northernmost area extending from Linwood Avenue to Ward Road , along with Martinsville , was incorporated into the Village of North Tonawanda on January 16, 1891 . From 1887 through 1897, North Tonawanda ’s population increased over 720%, a great deal due to the incorporation of these two sections into what in 1897 became the City of North Tonawanda .
The North Tonawanda History Museum acknowledges the research efforts of Jerry Waldkoetter, historian of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church , and the assistance of the Gratwick family.
The Rand Family
Final Resting Places for One of North Tonawanda's Most Prominent Families. Additional historical material will be added as we verify facts and details. For now, pause a moment and honor the departed members of this wonderful family.
Elmlawn Cemetery in the Town of Tonawanda is the final resting place for Stanley Rand and his wife, Winifred. Winifred was a Vandervoort. Stanley's address at the time of his death was 115 Pine Woods Drive. The home at 115 Pine Woods Drive was built in 1926.
Photo: Courtesy of Museum Volunteer Richard Szczepaniec
For an image gallery of the Rand Family, please click HERE.
James Sweeney Thompson
North Tonawanda’s Thompson Street Honors Banker and Lumberman
James Sweeney Thompson was a native of Niagara County, born October 11, 1855 in the hamlet of North Tonawanda. His parents were Oliver Curtis Thompson and Catherine Sweeney Thompson. Oliver Curtis Thompson was identified for most of his business life with flour mill enterprises in Buffalo. James Sweeney Thompson was one of the most respected and successful businessmen that Niagara County has ever produced.
A banker and a lumberman, he held a prominent spot in the important financial circles of the Niagara Frontier. In the late 1800’s when North Tonawanda was the largest lumber port in the United States, alternating with Chicago for that distinction, first and second, James Sweeney Thompson was a large factor in that industry, becoming a man of independent fortune and serving in responsible offices which contributed to the welfare and improvement of North Tonawanda.
James Sweeney Thompson’s maternal grandfather was James Sweeney, who came to North Tonawanda in 1828. Of Irish extraction, he had a spirit of enterprise which resulted in the rapid development of North Tonawanda. James Sweeney erected the first frame dwelling in the town, built the first school house, and donated lots for the first church. He illustrated a notable characteristic of our pioneer ancestors who recognized that education and religion should form the foundation on which to erect a durable social structure. From his practical, sensible, far-sighted grandfather, James Sweeney Thompson inherited some of the sterling traits of character that marked his own long and productive life.
After attending the North Tonawanda public schools and a private school in Buffalo, at the age of sixteen, James Sweeney Thompson began his business career as a clerk in the New York and Erie Bank in Buffalo. He remained with this institution for eight years, retiring as a teller in 1879 in order to go into business for himself. His later banking career consisted of connections with George F. Rand. James Sweeney Thompson was vice president of both the First National Bank, later the First Trust Company, of Tonawanda, and of the State National Bank, later the State Trust Company, of North Tonawanda. He was also a member of the board of the Columbia National Bank of Buffalo and the Marine National Bank, later known as the Marine Trust Company, then Marine Midland Bank, and now the HSBC Bank. Thompson was also a director of the International Railroad Company and other local businesses.
He was associated for a number of years with R. J. Wilder of North Tonawanda in the manufacture of shingles. In later years, he formed a partnership with William Gombert and the firm of Gombert & Thompson was eventually succeeded by Thompson, Hubman & Fisher. Thompson, Hubman & Fisher owned one of the largest planning and lumber mills in North Tonawanda, the Tonawanda Planing Mill. The volume of business done by this mill made it one of the most important lumber firms in Western New York.
Thompson married Geneva Scribner in 1882. She was the daughter of Philip W. Scribner. They had one daughter, who married Peter A. Porter, Jr., and the Porters resided in North Tonawanda until 1945.
Thompson was always interested in politics and was always active in party affairs. He served as President of the Village of North Tonawanda for five years and was made a member of the first Board of Public Works in the city. He was prominent in local Masonic circles and was a member of Tonawanda Lodge No. 247, Free and Accepted Masons.
Credit: History courtesy of Volunteer Museum Director, Donna Zellner Neal.
The Batt Family
The McCarthy Family
The McCarthy family, probably late 1940's: Front: Rose McCarthy (Mrs. Frank Pascuzzi), Angela McCarthy (Mrs. Joseph Gunta), Mary McCarthy (Mrs. William Pane;
Rear, Thomas McCarthy (spouse: Martha Turchiarelli); William McCarthy (spouse: Mary Cerra). Children of Felice Cordapadre (William McCarthy,Sr.) and Lucia Pane. Original portrait donated by Joseph and Angela McCarthy Gunta.
The Holler Family
“HOCKY” HOLLER AND THE “MATAPAN”
Part of North Tonawanda’s Boating Heritage
Irving J. “Hocky” Holler did experimental work on the “Cruiser of Tomorrow” program at North Tonawanda’s Richardson Boat Co. during the World War II years. In the late 1940’s, he became the plant superintendent after the death of Jim Nogle, a position he held until retiring in 1959. “Hocky” Holler was a designer for Dart Boat Co. of Lima, Ohio, as well as for Richardson Boat Co.
There were two Jim Nogles employed by Richardson Boat, per Tom Nogle, son of the Jim Nogle who was the company purchasing agent and grandson of the Jim Nogle who was plant superintendent.
“Hocky” Holler designed and built his own boat, the “Matapan,” in 1950 at a boathouse on Sweeney Street. “Matapan” is an Algonquin Indian name meaning, “resting place at the end of a portage.” The boat is a 20-foot lapstrake runabout crafted of oak stem, keel and framing, clear western red cedar planking, with mahogany and black walnut trim.
Many of the boat’s features were unique and ahead of their time, such as: two laminated rib frames for a thickness of two inches for added hull strength; full floor timbers with full length bed rails; rear seat assembly, including running water bait well, ice box and live fish well, all with separate drain valves; and an “on the steering wheel” gear shift, replacing the conventional “in the floor” shift lever.
Also new at that time was the deck construction of “airplane spruce,” black walnut (caulk lines) and Honduras mahogany glued and screwed in place.
Three engines have been used in the lifetime of the boat to date, a Chrysler Ace 95 horsepower, a Gray Marine 115 horsepower, and the current Concord Marine Flagship Chevy 283 165 horsepower engine. The engine box is constructed of quarter panel cold molded mahogany plywood used in the construction of the Richardson Cruiser of Tomorrow.
The “Matapan” was Hocky’s own fishing boat. In 1970, he passed away in the boat while in the company of his grandson, David Holler. From then until now, the boat has been cared for with much tender loving care and has been used on a daily basis by the James A. Holler family of Tonawanda.
In the early 1980’s, tragedy struck when the beloved boat struck the downstream mainland abutment of the south Grand Island Bridge. The crash produced five holes in the bottom below the waterline, but she was still able to make it to shore before sinking. It took two years to make all repairs—to the bridge, that is!
In the black and white photo, “Hocky” Holler at the left is shown working on a design at Richardson Boat Company in the 1940’s.
Mary Cay Neal
Untitled Article BY MICHELE REAVES
Mary Cay Neal knew she wanted to teach children how to play the violin since 10th grade.
Now after more than 40 years of teaching, the Kenmore resident’s dream has become a shared vision — the idea turned hundreds of local children into musicians and gave some professionals a start.
Neal brought a new style teaching to the area in 1969, when she founded the Buffalo Suzuki Strings in her home.
The Suzuki Method, created by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki, taught children music in the same manner they learn language — listening, training and repetition.
“It’s a whole program for the family to help the children learn,” she said of the Suzuki Method. “Our philosophy is everyone is born with the ability” to play an instrument.
Private lessons and group sessions are offered to children from birth to 18 years old. Occasionally adults are accepted into the program, too.
Today, there are about 350 students from all over Western New York taught by 17 faculty members in violin, viola, cello, guitar and piano.
But first, there was just Mary Cay Neal.
The Georgia native had been teaching in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda school district.
But after learning about Suzuki and training with him in places like Japan and Australia, she quit to begin her own program.
Seven students made up her inaugural class.
Neal said her exuberance with the new method gave her confidence even though she was sure about everything.
One of her first students, Chris Vasquez, is now a professional violinist with the Orchestra of Asturias in Spain.
“Obviously I didn’t ruin him,” she said.
The program has grown since then.
Several of the teachers on her staff learned the Suzuki method through Neal, now a certified trainer.
The organization also found a home on Webster Street two years ago which allows more interaction and programs for students and parents.
“We’re making the environment ... for them to grow and flourish in,” Neal said.
In the organization's new baby class, toddlers and their moms participate in activities to the backdrop of classical music.
Cristin Krajnak, a North Tonawanda resident, held her son Caleb, 2, close as he shied away from the new experience. It was their second time in the class.
Other children toddled around in a circle to the beat of the teacher’s drum.
Their smiles mark obvious enjoyment.
But they’re learning to “receive information through their ears” a key to learning language and music in the Suzuki Method, Neal said.
There are other lessons too.
“It’s not so much the music I want him to get out of it,” said Krajnak, a piano teacher. “I want him to learn patience through waiting his turn.”
Krajnak added that a study called the “Mozart Affect” showed listening to classical music can help brain development, especially in math. The rhythmic,
repetitious themes of the song work the brain without the child noticing it.
Skill-appropriate classes offer a range of experiences for children and teens in the program from the baby classes to the advanced players’ touring group.
The Friendship Touring ensemble, made up of the organizations most advanced students, recently came back from Brazil and has toured many countries showcasing the Suzuki Method.
Not all the students become professionals, but many take the experience with them throughout life, said Mary Roberts, who has spent 20, years with the organization.
Roberts first learned of the program when her daughter, Julia, showed interest in the violin. An acquaintance told Mary Roberts about Mary Cay Neal, who talked the Roberts into lessons. “I think music should be treated as any other subject,” said Mary Roberts, now on the board of directors.
And “there’s a large staff of dedicated faculty that have helped nurture this vision.”
Credit: TONAWANDA NEWS -
Thursday, October 16, 2003
Charles C. Fleischman
Curator's Note: Charlie died April 21, 2000
From: Steve Litwin - March 24, 2004
There was a man who did a booklet on North Tonawanda in 1965 named Charlie Fleischmann. He made a statement in his book that said, "A city that doesn't remember its past doesn't deserve a future." I've never read a truer statement. We have no choice, this is our past, this is where we come from. With heritage tourism and history, we can make a living. Not manufacturing living, because it's going to be different, but other cities are doing it, and there's no reason we can't too.
I have the good fortune to know Charlie Fleischmann for many years, from the time I was a young boy until the time I was a man. Charlie, who was associated with Amvets Post 26 (first on Washington St.) was (I believe) the Chaplin for the post. He reminded me of Burl Ives, a "story teller." Charlie had several hundred stories in his pocket and could pull one out to fit the situation.
The last time I saw Charlie was at my Father's funeral, in 1993. My father was a member of Amvets Post 26. Charlie was one of those dynamic people you meet in your life who manages to leave a lasting impression. I'm so glad he was part of "my" life.
"Charlie Fleischman in Batavia hospital"
Long-time pillar of the North Tonawanda community, Charlie Fleischman, has been hospitalized for the last few weeks in the Veterans Hospital in Buffalo but has recuperated enough to be transported to the Batavia VA hospital, according to long-time friend and volunteer firefighter Tom Pendleton.
Mr. Fleischman retired last year as director of emergency management for North Tonawanda. He was named Citizen of the Year several years ago for his work in veterans' activities and other volunteer work.
Anyone wishing to send him get well wishes may mail a card to Charlie Fleischman, Veterans Administration Medical Building, Ward E, 222 Richmond Ave., Batavia, N.Y. 14020.
Visiting hours are from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. A nurse at the facility gave the following directions for anyone wishing to pay a visit to Mr. Fleischman:
Take the mainline Thruway to the Batavia exit. At the exit, turn left on Oak Street.
Go to the next light, North Street, and turn right, then drive about three blocks.
The hospital is located on the right.
The phone number for the Batavia VA hospital is 343-7500.
Credit: Tonawanda News - April 3, 1999
"Fleischman recuperating in Batavia VA hospital"
North Tonawanda community leader Charlie Fleischman is in stable condition at the VA hospital in Batavia.
The former Citizen of the Year is well known in the city for his involvement in veterans' activities and a variety of other volunteer work.
Mr. Fleischman was recently transported to the Batavia facility, after having spent the past few weeks in the Buffalo Veterans Hospital. Tom Pendleton, a long-time friend and volunteer firefighter, said Mr. Fleischman had recuperated enough to permit him to move.
Last year, Mr. Fleischman retired as North Tonawanda's director of emergency management and now serves as a part-time first assistant director.
The Batavia VA hospital phone number is 343-7500.
Credit: Tonawanda News - April 10, 1999
A former North Tonawanda Citizen of the Year and one of the founding fathers of the Canal Fest, Charles C. “Charlie” Fleischman, died after a lengthy illness. He was 83.
Credit: Tonawanda News
Ken Mountain (NTHS Class of 1958) is a retired engineer, manager, CEO at NASA, and the Department of Defense and Department of Energy. Was deeply involved in the Moon landings, Apollo 13 (awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom). Currently lives with his wife, Betsy, on a small Texas beef cattle ranch.
Ken is a history buff, who takes an analytical approach to studying history and his writing style combines the historical facts he gathers with a sytems approach to logic and the possibilities of how events played out in times gone by. He has researched and written extensively for the Museum, much of which can be found throughout our site.
Clarence Hurtubise, left, and his little brother, on Bennett Street, across from the family home at upper right, making a purchase from "Popcorn Joe". Probably late 1920's or early 1930's. "Popcorn Joe" was in fact Guiseppe Tramontario and he lived at 281 Vandervoort St.
Peter (Pierre) Blondin
Photo: 1918 - Man in center is Peter (Pierre) Blondin, father of Caroline Blondin Hamilton. He and the gentlemen are working in the W. G. Palmer Lumber Co. on Oliver Street. Palmer was the predecessor to the Ray H. Bennett Lumber Co. which later operated at the site. Blondin later worked for Bennett as well. Bennett manufactured pre-fabricated homes. The plant shown above was located at the Erie Railroa crossing tracks. The company later moved to River Road. Caroline Blondin Hamilton's mother, Pierre's wife, was Gertrude Brown. Her grandfather, Charles E. Brown, was a builder/contractor, who built homes on the Avenues and on Linden Avenue. Brown donated land between Robinson and Schenck Streets on Payne Avenue for the Grace Lutheran Church building.
Peter E. Blondin was known as the "Human Band" and the "One Man Band," and lived at 239 Schenck Street until his death at the age of 53 on December 25, 1933. Blondin was a prominent figure on the vaudeville stage for many years, traveling extensively, and visiting many countries as a musician. He was unusual in that he played only one instrument, a guitar, and imitated numerous other musical instruments through nasal and throat control.
Long after he gave up the stage, he was in demand for entertainment locally in the Tonawandas and other nearby cities. He appeared at luncheons of the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs of the Tonawandas several times.
Born in Montreal, he came to the United States at the age of three and took out citizenship papers early in his life, making his home in Chicago for many years. He relocated to North Tonawanda in 1915. Blondin invented a new guitar and taught lessons on various string instruments.
Prominent Businessmen (1927)
A group of prominent North Tonawanda businessmen in 1927, photo believed taken by the Wittkowski studio. The photo was provided by Mrs. John Lasky, the daughter of Joseph Palka, who is in the top row, second from the left. Per notes on the reverse of the photo, the last names of those in the photo are: front row: Klimas, Lesniowski, Garas, Rudzinski, Marek; second row: Tomaszewski, Sikora, Lewandowski, Pilarski; top row: Sucharabowski, Joseph Palka, Piwowarczy, and Supektrybulec.
Caroline Blondin Hamilton
Caroline Blondin Hamilton and her friend Stella "Stone" Robison in front of Nestor's Restaurant on Webster Street in 2005.
Photos: Courtesy of Caroline Blondin Hamilton
Helen Root Schieffer
Caroline Blondin Hamilton, Helen Root Schieffer, and Stella Stone Robison, old friends meeting at Nestor's Restaurant, in 2005. Caroline and Helen are Charter members of the North Tonawanda History Museum. Helen is a descendant of Elias Root.
Photos: Courtesy of Caroline Blondin Hamilton
The Forbes Family
Matthew Scanlon was a New York State Senator and a prestigious businessman in North Tonawanda. Before the present Buffalo Suzuki Strings Musical Arts Center building was constructed for the Power Company, there was a framed building at the north end of the bridge known at the time as "the long bridge." The building originally housed Scanlon Hall on the top floor, the Seamen's Hotel (which provided room and board for Great Lakes sailors passing through on their ships, and a saloon. Built for Matthew Scanlon, the building lasted until replaced by the Power Building in 1929.
Donna Zellner Neal
The Aurigema Family
Mr. & Mrs. Norton Aurigema, Jr., and baby - 1960's.
The Evarts Family
Wilma Toye Papsidero
Wilma Toye, Miss Twin Cities 1947 - North Tonawanda's 50th anniversary as a city. Wilma won a trip to Washington, D.C. Wilma and her mother took the trip together on Capital Airlines. They toured the Capital's landmarks but couldn't see part of the White House because President Truman was having it remodeled.
1947 Parade - Wilma Toye as Miss Twin Cities. At the front of the float, Regina Sieracki; second from front, Lois Nagel; then Wilma Blair, Sally Reters, and Wilma Toye. Wilma later operated the WIlma Toye Dance Studio in North Tonawanda. She married Joseph Papsidero. Wilma's studios were in the old Four Corners building on the top floor, then in the building at the southeast corner of Webster at Goundry Street at Main; and then on Oliver Street between Thompson and Schenck Street. North Tonawanda History Museum Director Donna Zellner Neal, as Donna Keppen, first took dancing lessons from Wilma in the 1950's and from 1953 to 1956 was Wilma's piano accompanist for her classes and her students' performances around the Tonawandas and Western New York.
Photos from the Wilma Toye Papsidero Collection
The Oelkers Family
The Oelkers family of 366 Goundry Street in 1908
Top: Elsie Oelkers, Carl Oelkers, Dorothy Oelkers.
Bottom: Evelyn Oelkers, John Oelkers, Margaret Oelkers, Ella Sommer Oelkers, and Haidee Oelkers.
Photo courtesy of Thomas Pendleton
The Hurtubise Family
Frederick Sommer was wounded at the Battle of Bull Run, discharged, and then volunteered as a guard at the prisoner of war camp in Elmira.
Credit: Courtesy of Honorary Charter Life Member, Brett M. Sommer
The Fire Family
The Brick Family
The McLean Family
Elsie Ida Van Wiggerin
The Pendleton Family
The Rasch Family
The Goundry Family
This photo was taken in 1933 in front of John F. Wichlaz Bakery, located at 348 Schenck Street. The young man on the far right with the white horse is Ed Parske.
Photo courtesy of A. Daniel & Gail Parske Bille
A. W. Tuxbury
George M. Thompson
Wilhelm H. Stradella
Albert B. Williams