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A Look Back: The Town that Never Was

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Looking back in the newspapers and maps that we have in our archives at the Lucy Bensley Center, and you will see towns and hamlets that no longer exist. I found one such town that was planned and never was.

George M. Bailey, a former city editor for the Buffalo Express, and a few other investors organized the Gatling Ordnance Company. The company was to manufacture heavy ordnance for coast defense and naval purposes. Guns of 6 to 12 inches caliber would be made under the patents held by Richard J. Gatling.

On June 3, 1893, Gatling — the inventor of the Gatling machine gun — laid a cornerstone for the new plant that would employ a thousand men producing the heavy steel guns, using a new casting process, an invention that he, Dr. Gatling, invented. Surrounding the plant were neatly laid out streets with electric power supplied by Niagara Falls. A town was to be named after him… Gatling, New York.

The site of the proposed town was well chosen and commands a fine view of all the surrounding country. The town is cut in half by Eighteen Mile Creek, which was one of the reasons it was selected, as water was an important asset in creating the plant and guns.

Coal and lumber were said to be much cheaper here than anywhere else. A natural gas well was going to be drilled for use. About 30 farms were purchased, some of them for as little as $95 an acre. By January, 1,028 acres of land contracts were transferred to the Gatling Town Site Company.

After the purchase of the land was completed, the engineering firm of Ricker & Wing moved in to survey the property. They worked daily in all kinds of weather as streets, parks and boulevards were laid out. Section 1 nearest to the railroad tracks was divided into 45 blocks of 1,861 lots, each 33 feet by 120 feet in size. These lots would sell for $250 to $750 each.

The plant itself had 20 acres. Another 100 acres were reserved for other factories, including a shoe factory, a brickyard, a planing mill and a stone yard.

The city of Gatlin was to be a model industrial town. No liquor would be sold within in it. Buyers were promised no taxes for two years. There was a plan for a 30-room Gothic-style hotel on the banks of the creek. A lot was donated to the Layman’s Missionary League of Buffalo for an Episcopal Chapel. They sold stocks in the Gatling Town Site Company at $100 per share.

One of the advertisements read, “You can live in Gatling and work in Gatling. There is every convenience now, Telegraph, Telephone, express messenger service, frequent trains, beautiful drives, pure air, pure water, perfect drainage.”

Lots sold on weekly on monthly payments. On June 3, 1893, the dedication ceremonies were held at Gatling. Over 3,000 tickets were distributed, a special train left the Central Depot on Exchange Street in Buffalo with ten cars crowded with people. Visitors were witnessed to the firing of 500 blank cartridges from the Gatling gun which had been on display in Buffalo for several weeks.

The Lehman Company shoe factory, which employed 50 men, was to be in operation that day, but never opened even though the machinery had been installed. Inventor Captain Lina Beecher was selling stocks in his newly formed Beecher Single Rail Company, that manufactured a new type of streetcar or railway car that ran on one rail.

A large tent was set up, and a free lunch of sandwiches, crackers, cheese, hot coffee and lemonade was served to the crowd. Music was provided by the Buffalo Cornet Band. After lunch, sales were started with the first lot being sold for $250. The carriage rolled forward to the next lot, where the bidding started and continued until over 30 lotswere sold.

By the end of June, the excitement had quickly died out. Rumors had started that the Gatling Ordnance Company was in financial trouble. Little or no payments were made on the land, and stocks in the company soon became worthless. In August, Walter H. Hopkins obtained a judgment against George Bailey in the superior court.

By September, there had been little change. The shoe factory and railroad switch were sold at a sheriff’s sale, leaving nothing to mark the site of the city of Gatling except the casting pit and a granary. The train station at Gatling was reverted to its previous name of Idlewood, which no longer exist.

The shoe factory was sold to George Heath of North Evans, who tore it down and used the lumber to make a house for his berry pickers. Later he tore that building down and used the lumber once again for an addition to his home.

In 1895, one section of the property was sold to the Queen City Cycle Company, which built and operated a large bicycle factory that lasted into the next century when the cycling craze died out. Most of the property reverted back to the original owners after they returned the deposits that had been paid to them.

This town that was dreamed of, then planned and designed to be a one-of-a-kind town, slowly lost all that was there to show where it was. But Hamburg, the little town that was nearby, thrived and grew.

What can you find out when you come and read our materials in our archives? What stories can you share with us? Stop by to the Lucy Bensley Center, located at 23 North Buffalo St. in Springville on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., or send us an email at lucybensleycenter@gmail.com. Call us for more info at (716) 592-0094.

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