Buffalo’s Kensington-Bailey neighborhood is an area rich with commercial activity. 150 years ago, the area was likewise bustling with commerce, although the nature of it is much different than it is today. Instead of the streets filled with cars and lined with businesses, Kensington-Bailey was covered by forest and farmland. One of the first notable businesses in the area was a timber business, owned by William Bailey. Bailey Avenue, which gets its name from William Bailey, was once just a trail through the timberland. In 1890, much of the forest was destroyed by a fire, so Bailey shifted from the timber business to farming.
Unfortunately, farming in the area wasn’t the most prosperous pursuit because of the rocky soil. Luckily, the residents began turning to other forms of income, such as quarrying. In 1892, one of the local farms, the Sawyer farm, began to be transformed into city blocks and in 1893 William Bailey began constructing homes on his land. The area saw a large change in 1895 when a streetcar line was installed. More farmland in the Bailey-Eggert and the area northeast of Bailey-Kensington was turned into city lots. More people, many of them Germans, started to move into the area, which caused local development companies to begin to rapidly build homes.
By the early 1900s, several churches were constructed in the neighborhood. St. Gerrard Roman Catholic Church was founded in 1902 by German immigrants. Reverend Schreck, who helped found the church, was a proponent of reducing the Scajaquada Creek’s flooding in the area to attract more residents. In 1915, the International Railway Company invested $120,000 in streetcar tracks along Kensington and Grider, which also attracted people to the area.
After World War One ended, private reality companies boosted local development. One such development company, Chicago’s Kinsey Reality Company, noted that a property on the corner of Kensington and Bailey increased in value from $2,500 to $25,000 in the span of a single year. In the 1920s, the neighborhood experienced great population growth. In 1930 the population was 49,000, compared to just 18,000 in 1920. The 1930s saw an influx of Italians and Polish individuals into the area. The Italian immigrants founded St. Lawrence’s Roman Catholic Church on East Delevan.
Elements of the burgeoning neighborhood in the 1930s remain to this day. Liberty Bank established a branch on the northeast corner of Kensington and Bailey which can still be seen today. University at Buffalo’s campus was consolidated on Main Street during this era, ushering in the presence of higher education in the neighborhood which continues today.
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