Retired New York State Department of Transportation worker, Ron Donheiser, gave me this picture a while ago. He believed this to be on Boston State Road, or Springville-Boston Road at a time when roads were maintained by horse and wagon. The wagon reads, “Patrol 963 State of New York Department of Highway Maintenance,” as indicated by the broom and shovel. The job most likely included cleanup patrol, as well as filling the occasional rut.
By Derek M. Otto
Some people have seen robins in their yard the last week or two, sending a distinct message that spring is coming. For many the traveler on our asphalt roads, the definite sign of spring is the many potholes appearing.
This past week, Springville was featured on local news stations for the lack of repair; the erosion of the Springville-Boston Road was a major concern. Last summer, that same road was actually featured on the news for the same reasons. Is the blame on the Erie County Highway Department or the political ping-ponging between the legislature and county executive? It has me wondering if it was always that way.
The first road laid out in the town of Concord was Genesee Road. According to Briggs Original History of the Town of Concord, the road started in the eastern portion of the Holland Land Company in Pike, cut through Wyoming County, Sardinia, and Concord, and ended in Lawton’s Station. The current Genesee Road still follows that route.
Briggs mentioned that boundaries of the lots went to the edge of the road and the property that the road encompassed was a gift of the Holland Company. Just a portion in Sardinia and Wyoming County was hired out; the rest of the work was done by the settlers and inhabitants along the road. In 1810, a road was cut from Buffalo to Olean, southward through Hamburg, Eighteen Mile Creek Valley through Sibley Settlement to East Concord, then over to Yorkshire and Machias to Olean. For many years, this was called the “State Road” and money came from the state and Niagara County (Erie County formed in 1821) to pay for the road. Today, that would be Springville-Boston Road, Sharp Street, Sibley Road, Vaughan Street and Pratham Road.
In 1830, a road was cut that connected Concord up Eighteen Mile Creek, which created a firm foundation for the major highway that linked Springville to Buffalo.
However, these roads were dirt with little or no foundation under them. If you travel that route between Springville and Boston, you know washing out of the road is common—just think of the mud with horse and oxen and wooden wheels. I am sure many a wooden axel had been broken on this road.
A great advancement came when the Springville and Boston Plank Road Company began. From a contract for work on the plank road that was dated April 18, 1851: “that the road would be 320 rods long; the bed was to be 16 feet wide on the surface, and the grade to be of such rise and fall as the directors shall appoint—a ditch on each side of the road the bottom whereof shall be two feet below the surface of the road and 18 inches wide at the bottom.”
The work also called for culverts of wood to be put under the road whenever necessary. Mr. Johnson Tyrer of Concord was listed as the contractor for the work, with the road to be finished in September. This was a private company that ordered the work and charged tolls for the continued maintenance of the road. The road planks made travel easy and more expedient than dirt roads with mud and ruts. The plank road followed the same route as the previous roads and eventually connected in Hamburg to Hamburg Buffalo Plank Road. (In North Boston, it would have followed up Abbott Road.)
Unlike Genesee Road, when the Holland Land Company gave land for a road, it is unknown if the directors were the landowners or if right of way given by landowners along the road. According to Briggs, the plank road opened in 1852 and was maintained and operated for 12 years as a toll road.
I do not know much about the intermittent years between the 1870s and when it became a state road. From the picture in the late 1890s, we know that the state was maintaining it as dirt road. It eventually became Route 219 and followed the plank road path into Springville up until 1956 when the high-level bridge opened.
With the opening of the Expressway in 1981, that section of the Springville Boston Road was renumbered 391. It is at this time when Springville-Boston Road became a county road maintained by the Erie County Highway Department.
Well, Erie County has had charge of the road for over 35 years and at one point it was a privately owned and maintained toll road. So I guess it always has been a case of political ping-pong.