The Town of Amherst, NY is celebrating its 200th Anniversary in 2018. As part of this celebration a workgroup led by Councilmember Deborah Bruch Bucki has worked together to assemble information that includes elected officials and appointed positions as well as facts about the Town’s formation and important dates along its 200 year history. We hope you find the information provided on this website interesting and join in the Town’s celebrations throughout 2018.
Formation of the 200th Anniversary Celebration Work Group
(Amherst Town Board Resolution 2017-771)
Contributors to this project include Dave Sherman (Town Historian; Managing Editor Amherst Bee), Jennifer Nickeson (Director of Education & Museum Historian - Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village), David J. Willer (Interim IT Director & Web Developer - Town of Amherst), Helen Roedl (Clerk Typist - Town of Amherst Town Clerk's Office), Brian Reagan (U.B. Intern - Data entry), Andrew Ruff (U.B. Intern - Quality control for data entry).
By the mid-1600s all of Western New York was a part of Seneca hunting grounds. One of their footpaths, the Great Iroquois Trail, is now Main Street from Clarence to Lake Erie. Another footpath that led to Fort Niagara, an important trading center, became North Forest Road. In 1797, Iroquois chiefs ceded most of their land in Western New York paving the way for settlement of the area. In 1798, the Holland Land Company bought about 4,000,000 acres and began surveying the land in order to sell it to settlers. In 1799, the Holland Land Company began selling 150 acre tracts of land to people who would open taverns along the main road, and a 300 acre lot with rich soil was sold to John Thomson and Benjamin Ellicott along what is now known as Ellicott Creek. In 1817, the first public school in Amherst was established in Williamsville. In 1818, New York State established the Town of Amherst. It was named after Sir Jeffrey Amherst, an English lord who was Commander-in-Chief of the British troops in America from 1758-1763. A town government was formed in 1819, with Timothy S. Hopkins serving as the first elected Town Supervisor. At the first town board meeting, local residents appointed a town supervisor, a town clerk, three assessors, three commissioners of highways, two overseers of the poor, a tax collector, two constables, and fourteen path masters. The town was still sparsely populated and largely rural through the mid-1820s, with only one-tenth of the acreage improved and a population of 1,308. There were several businesses operating in the town including two gristmills, five sawmills, four textile operations, one iron works, five distilleries, and one ashery(1).
In 1825, the Erie Canal opened a transportation line east to west across the state and contributed significantly to the growth of Amherst. It opened up new markets for farmers, manufacturers, industry, and businesses. German and French immigrants began settling the region in significant numbers. In the 1830s, Oziel Smith bought an unused mill, opened a water works, built the Eagle House, and bought a hops farm, jumpstarting the local economy. By 1850, there were seven grist mills, several saw mills, two forges, a tannery, a bedstead factory, a blacksmith, cooperages, a stave factory, lime kilns, a tailor shop, a paper mill, a broom factory, breweries, cabinet makers, a vinegar factory, two potteries, slaughterhouses, several taverns, churches, and two schools. At this time, Amherst had a population of about 3,500 people. The town’s commercial operations continued to grow, with three hotels, lawyers, doctors, insurance agents, real estate agents, grocers, and specialized merchandise stores opening in the ensuing decades. In 1879, the Amherst Bee began publishing. Between 1860 and 1890 Main Street, Transit Road, North Forest Road, and Eggert Road were developed and settled.
In the late nineteenth century, an electric trolley, the “Toonerville,” connected Williamsville to the city of Buffalo, while improved roads and automobiles linked Amherst to Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Improved transportation increased population, which doubled between 1920 and 1930 from 6,286 to 13,181, as the hamlets of Amherst became the first trolley car suburbs of Buffalo. There were 73 major subdivisions approved by the town’s building construction committee between 1923 and 1930. For example, Cleveland Park Terrace a subdivision of 1,300 homes priced from $8,000 to $40,000 began in 1926 and was completed just before the onset of the Great Depression. In 1929, the town became classified as a suburban town under new state laws, with a local government consisting of a supervisor and four council members. These improvements necessitated a larger local government, with a police force, fire companies, a new library, water authority, and a new town hall. By 1936, Amherst had 220 miles of federal, state, and county roads, the most of any town in Erie County. Amherst consists of the village of Williamsville, as well as the hamlets of Eggertsville, Getzville, Snyder, Swormville, and East Amherst.
The development of the highway and interstate systems spurred postwar development. Large-scale residential development followed, consequently while the population in 1940 was 19,356, by 1960 the population had increased to 62,837. This growth continued through the present day. The 2010 census showed the population of Amherst as 122,366. Residential development spread from Eggertsville, Snyder, and Williamsville northward. This brought about commercial development catering to the new suburban population. This growth resulted in the establishments of the Williamsville Central School District in 1948, Sweet Home School District in 1950, alongside Amherst Central School District. New colleges in the town were also founded during this time, with Rosary Hill College (later Daemen) in 1948, Erie Community College North Campus in 1960, and SUNY University at Buffalo North Campus in the 1970s, which could accommodate more than 20,000 students. Suburban Amherst was firmly established as a center of regional commerce.
(1) An ashery burned newly cleared hardwood timber making lye and potash.
Historical News Articles
The following news articles were graciously contributed by the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village.