Thanks to the Erie Canal, the Niagara River, a naturally commodious harbor and a growing railroad center, the Tonawandas became a thriving lumber port during the last half of the nineteenth century. Lumber from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Canada was shipped here via the Great Lakes and Niagara River before being transported east along the canal.
The Erie Canal ran through the Village of Tonawanda and then along the river to Buffalo.
I was born in Tonawanda on the banks of "Clinton's Ditch,"
'Midst the smell of mules and horses, white pine lumber, tar and pitch.
I grew up where lumber schooners fought Niagara's mighty wrath,
And the floating logs by thousands jammed the Erie's narrow path.
Where the docks along the river held their lumber piles galore,
Where the roads were strewn with sawdust thick as sand upon the shore.
Where the mark of growing manhood was a rough and calloused hand
From the toil of shovin' lumber in this heart of timberland.
Oh, those days have gone forever, but my heartstrings often tug
When I find that we are drinking from the wells our fathers
I will say they did the best they could with what they had in hand,
And the man who laughs at bygone days had best revise his stand.
If my children's lives are better for the place in which they live,
Then at present they are getting all the best that I can give.
For 'tis here I've made my earthly stand and carved my little niche
In the place called Tonawanda, on the banks of "Clinton's Ditch."
Portion of poem "Reminiscences in Rhyme" by Willard B. Dittmar, Executive Director and Curator, Historical Society of the Tonawandas.
Dockwallopers, protected by leather aprons, such as this one at left, unload lumber at Goose Island, Tonawanda, circa 1895.
Lumber-laden canal boats travel through Tonawanda, circa 1910.
Lumber docks line the river along the Erie Canal near Gibson Street, Tonawanda, in 1894. Grand Island is in the background.
During the 1880s, six miles of lumber docks ran from Two-Mile Creek in Tonawanda to Gratwick in North Tonawanda. The Tonawandas had become a booming lumber distribution center, second in the world only to Chicago.
In 1890, having received and distributed 718,650,900 board feet of lumber, the port at the Tonawandas surpassed Chicago to become Number One in the world.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & Commerce
Location. 43° 1.269′ N, 78° 52.674′ W. Marker is in Tonawanda, New York, in Erie County. Marker is at the intersection of Young Street and Main Street, on the right when traveling west on Young Street. Marker is in an area called Tonawandas Gateway Harbor Overlook Plaza. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Tonawanda NY 14150, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Dam (here, next to this marker); Gateway to the West (a few steps from this marker); The Railroad (within shouting distance of this marker); Roll of Honor (within shouting distance of this marker); a different marker also named Roll of Honor (within shouting distance of this marker); Lumber Port (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Long Homestead (about 500 feet away); a different marker also named Long Homestead (about 500 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Tonawanda.
Credits. This page was last revised on February 6, 2021. It was originally submitted on September 21, 2014, by Anton Schwarzmueller of Wilson, New York. This page has been viewed 462 times since then and 84 times this year. Last updated on February 4, 2021, by Bradley Owen of Morgantown, West Virginia. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on September 21, 2014, by Anton Schwarzmueller of Wilson, New York. • Michael Herrick was the editor who published this page.