Growing up around Caz Park in South Buffalo, NY

by Donald L. Hamilton

I was fortunate enough to live around the Cazenovia Park area of South Buffalo just about my whole life and still enjoy walking through the park two or three times a week now a days. My first memory of Caz Park was when I was about 7 years old (1936). My Dad took me over to the little circle on the parkway to teach me to ride my two wheel bike. I don’t think the big pool was even built yet. Around this time my youngest sister Barb was born on the same day Father Baker died. I was staying with my aunt Mae while my mother was in the hospital and we all went over to pay our respects to Father Baker who was laid out in the Basilica. I remember standing in a long line waiting to see him.

A few years later my Dad brought me over to the pool to learn how swim in the big pool, which had now been built. I spent many happy summers after that, swimming and soaking up the sunshine in that great pool. That was long before the era of the backyard pools came about. The baby pool had a fancy wooden lattice sand box at one end. I remember it being very nice when it was new.

I remember when “wrong way Corrigan” was honored over in the park bowl by the ball diamonds. The whole bowl was packed with people that day as Corrigan was carried on the shoulders of men to the speaker stand. Corrigan had filed a flight plan to fly to California and said he got lost and ended up flying to Europe. Nobody believed him but he became a famous celebrity for duplicating what Lindberg had done 10 years earlier.

During the ‘40s baseball was very big on the number 1& 2 diamonds on Sundays. They had some great teams and very large crowds watching the games. The two teams that I remember most were Simon Pure (beer) and Texaco. The casino was open at that time and my best friend used to walk through the crowd with a box of goodies, hollering “peanuts, popcorn, and cracker jacks”. He did pretty well but when I tried, I didn’t yell anything and also did not sell anything. I gave that “business venture” up after one time around the park.

I remember the canoes and dock behind the casino before the lake was filled it in. The canoes were stored under the casino. The park department used to put up a wooden dam across the creek every summer which resulted in a nice little lake and wider creek that could be used for canoeing. The canoeing ended but the crew still put the dam up for some years afterward. This made for great swimming just behind the dam. We also used to swim up near the golf course, where there was a rope hanging from the limb of a tree that we could swing out over the creek and drop in. A couple of times we went there on school lunch hour (from school 70 on Buffin Street) but were late coming back so we quit that. You would never know whether our school principal Gordon Higgins was going to give you a whack or not so we didn’t push our luck too much (I don’t think he ever whacked anybody).

Just last Sunday (2005)I took my walk through the old park I came upon a full fledged little league football game going on, where the little lake used to be. The “South Buffalo Lepricons’ were about 6-8 years old in full uniform with about 25 little cheer leaders plus their parents cheering them on and real referees to make sure everything was on the up and up. It was a far cry from the days when the kids used to get together and just play football with no other equipment then a beat up old football.

I remember during the war we used to watch the soldiers getting in shape by going through obstacle courses, so my two pals, Bob Griffin and Bob McMullen and I decided to get up real early and run an obstacle course over by the tennis courts on the Seneca Street side of the park. Well we climbed up over the court fence, ran around for a while and jumped out of a couple of trees and called it a day. As far as I can remember that was the end of our getting in shape.

On the Fourth of July there used to be little stands all along Seneca St. selling fireworks. That used to be a great day just going around shooting off firecrackers and little rockets all day, as long as our money held out. If we could afford it we would sometimes get fancy and buy a rocket parachute and take it over to the park and shoot it off. I guess a few screwball kids would hold the firecrackers to long and blow up their hands so the government stopped the stands from selling fireworks altogether. The Fourth of July was never the same after that.

Summer time was great living around the park. There was always something to do, play baseball, go swimming, go diving for golf balls at the golf course, go fishing over at the little stone bridge, the only fish I ever caught over there was a little bullhead and I threw him back. I knew and still do, know where the acorn and chestnut trees are located and I also knew a spot where the four leaf clovers grew.

In the winter time there used to be skating in the meadow just beyond where the ice rink is now. We used to go sledding over on Strickler’s Hill on Buffin Street just beyond where school 70 is located. We all had a lot of good sledding every winter over there for many years. I remember when I was in 8th grade in late February thinking the winter will soon be over and I’ll be going to high school and these good times will be over forever.

Well after we started going to high school the good old times in the park sort of faded into the back ground. I started working part time at the Mohican market on Seneca Street which took up a good part of my time. After work we would take a walk out to Kafasis or Honeyland at the city line and get a sundae or go to the movies - mostly at the Shea’s Seneca. They used to change movies about three times a week and we saw most of them.

Seneca and Cazenovia intersection was really going strong then, it was like downtown South Buffalo. Sheas Seneca movie theatre was the pivotal point with all the stores up and down Seneca in full swing, Woolworths, Grants, Loves Candy, Southside Furniture, Mohicans, Fishmans, Kimads & Mater, Sears, the old Maxine movie show, etc. It was a great shopping area and a great neighborhood in those days. There has been alot of changes but it is still a good neighborhood.

I sorted of muddled my way through South Park High School doing as little as possible and still squeaking through. I remember in my last year of high school (1945-46) some veterans began coming home and going back to school. Some of them had been through hell in the war. It must have been a shock for them coming back to high school. There was also a grim reminder of the times in the “Dial” school year book of the 118 servicemen who were killed in the war, some of whom were recent students at the school.

At this time our family was living on Mount Vernon St. near the Seneca city line. One day when we were playing in the fields behind the house we heard a little band playing on Seneca Street. It was marching behind the last street car to travel down Seneca street. Another era had come to an end.

After the war all the vets began coming home and starting new families, this created a terrific housing shortage. One of the vets bought our house (we only rented) so we had to get out with no place to go. I remember my mother going to court to get extension from moving. We had rented all over South Buffalo as I was growing up, mostly around the Seneca/Caz area. Finally my parents bought a real nice family home on Knoerl Avenue. It was the best thing that could have happened to them and we were still in the neighborhood.

I remember a few short years later leaving this fine little house on my way to the Navy during the Korean war. I thought to myself at the time, this is another pivotal point in my life, things will never be the same again. (and they were not). While I was in the Navy I married my little blond sweetheart, Dolores, whom I had met at a dance up in Saint Teresa’s school hall. She lived in Kensington and had come to the dance with her girl friends and I “captured” her. We dated until I went in the service and then corresponded until we decided to get married. We got married in Baltimore and spent our honeymoon in New York City. She then came down to live with me in Charleston, South Carolina where I was stationed.

When I got discharged and things settled down we bought a house on Hayden St. right behind Saint Teresa’s were we originally met. We began raising our family. After we had four kids the house was getting a little cramped and when Charlie came along decided it was time to move to a larger house. We found a nice family home over on Ramona off Abbott and have been living there ever since. I liked raising a family in South Buffalo because of the sidewalks and park. Everything was convenient and the kids could walk to school. (That was until Federal Judge Curtin started busing the school kids all over the city. He took away much of the advantage of raising children in the city.)

Our kids are all grown and gone now but I am sure each one has many memories of growing up around Caz Park. As for myself the Caz story is still going on. I am retired from the Buffalo Fire Department and still enjoy walking around the old park in every season of the year, (and the Parks Department keeps putting in more nice new paths, - they just completed one along Potter Road). Its been about sixty three years since I learned to ride my bike around that little circle in Caz park which is still there and still the same. The big pool has come and gone but for the most part the old park just keeps getting better with age.

Donald L. Hamilton, South Buffalo citizen, retired firefighter, author of “The Mind of Mankind”

"The MIND of Mankind"

"Human Imagination is peoples' ability to visualize in their mind. To be creative!
The power to become aware of the wonders of the nature!
An eagle may have much keener eyes then ours but it cannot 'see' the things that we can!"
Donald L Hamilton