McKinley Markers Part 3: The McKinley Monument
Niagara Square

Niagara Square in 1901 was in decline. No longer a residential neighborhood, it was home to a hotel, school, YWCA, Women's Union, Working Boys' Home, and a church that would be abandoned within a few years. In 1897, the Parks Commission was granted jurisdiction over the square which consisted of wedge-shaped plots of land intersected by four streets. Despite a large number of concepts, including one drawn up 25 years earlier by Olmsted, nothing had yet been done to beautify the square by the time President McKinley was assassinated.

In 1903, the model of the McKinley monument was exhibited in the City Hall rotunda "with its base resting where President McKinley's body lay in state and was viewed by thousands."

By September 16, two days after President McKinley died, the Buffalo Evening News was posting letters suggesting that a monument to McKinley be erected in Niagara Square. One writer suggested that a statue of McKinley be placed in Niagara Square, "the figure of the President to face north toward the Exposition grounds and the place of his demise."

New York state was asked to permit unused Exposition monies to be redirected toward a monument. Governor Odell replied that if Buffalo felt shame over the President's assassination, Buffalo should pay for her own monument. News publisher William Butler communicated that the governor's upcoming re-election race might be more difficult without an endorsement by the News. The McKinley Monument Bill was passed and signed by the governor. It provided $100,000 for a monument and set forth terms for the creation of a five-member McKinley Monument Commission. It also required that the land for the monument be deeded to the State which would also own the monument itself.

The Commission quickly determined to consult with famed architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham who was able to stop on his way home from New York City to Chicago. He toured Niagara Square and suggested that an obelisk would be best for the site.

John M. Carrere, of the firm Hastings & Carrere which was in charge of the Exposition's architecture, agreed to work on the monument's design at no cost, relieving the Commission which made it clear that $100,000 was a small amount for the job at hand.

Final stages of monument construction, 1906. Image source: private collection

Carrere said of the site, "The peculiar beauty and opportunity of this site seems to me now to be utilized to their utmost. The original plan of the city with this point of view led up to from every direction seems to have had a monument in view. Not only does it seem to me that this is the best spot in Buffalo for such a monument, but I cannot recall any similar opportunity in any other city in this country."

To reach the point of construction, title had to be obtained for all the property from the numerous utilities and streetcar companies. Site preparation included impelementing the final plan for Niagara Square with wide traffic lanes created. This required the trees to be cut down on the wedge-shaped plots. In all, eight-seven trees were cut, causing great public complaint.

Construction of the monument spanned June 20, 1905 - July 1, 1906. The Buffalo Parks Commission report summarized the monument thus: " The shaft is built of carefully selected Vermont marble. From the base to pinnacle there is not a flaw. Four lions, chiseled out of Italian marble and weighing fifteen tons each, are constantly on guard at the base. They face the points of the compass. The base is twenty-four feet high. The shaft is seven feet square at the bottom and tapers symmetrically to the top. It is sixty-nine feet high. Flanking the base are pools of crystal water, which sparkles unceasingly from graceful fountains. Altogether the splendid pile cost $105,000."

Dedication Day, September 5, 1907. Image used courtesy of the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society.

Although the monument was finished in 1906, dedication was delayed until September 5, 1907, the anniversary of McKinley's visit to Buffalo. The date also coincided with Buffalo's first Old Home Week. Memories of 1901 were everywhere, most noticeably on the monument itself. The same huge American flag used on the Exposition grounds six years earlier was attached to the monument's peak. View the same flag at the Pan-American Exposition here.

In a pouring rain, speeches were given by the GAR commander, Governor Hughes, the past commander of Spanish American war veterans, Buffalo Mayor Adam, Mrs. McLean of the DAR. The Buffalo Evening News, whose publisher had been so instrumental in obtaining funds for a monument, describes the moments after the last speech: "At the conclusion of Mrs. McLean's address, President Butler gave a signal and Mrs. Avery pulled the cord loosening the flag that hung from the top of the monument. Down glided the grand old colors, and the gleaming white shaft of the monument was displayed. Buffalonians have become accustomed to seeing it, but their enthusiasm was great, while out-of-town visitors led in the applause that rolled through the throng as the sun's westering rays gilded the spotless marble."

Panoramic view likley taken from the Working Boys Home. Use slider bar to move back and forth.
Locations of modern buildings in red.

1940s Postcard aerial view of Niagara Square. Image source: private collection.
Note that the monument fountains are not filled with water. City Hall is coated with grime
from its first two decades in an industrial city.

For some years the pools and fountains of the McKinley Monument had not been functioning and other repairs to the base were needed. In September, 1976, with no public notice or input, brown brick walls began to rise 5 and 6 feet high around the monument. Monies made available by the federal Economic Development Administration had prompted the city to create a project to repair the fountains and pools of the McKinley Monument, and city architect Robert O'Hara created a design for a pattern of brick walls that he intended would mitigate the winds for those who desired to linger around the monument. When criticism first surfaced, architect O'Hara was adamant that his design would stand the test of time. "I stand by my design. My reputation is on the line," he said. Local businessmen and preservationists gathered more supporters every day.

In a series of events that seem astonishingly swift by Buffalo standards, Mayor Makowski halted construction barely two weeks after the first criticism, and a citizen's committee developed a plan by October 15 to remove the walls. On October 26, 1976, wrecking crews began dismantling the walls.

The monument in 2008, viewed from City Hall. The Lafayette Square Soldiers and Sailors monument is visible along Court Street.

In 2009, it is common to see people having their picture taken
beside Phimister Proctor's lions, regardless of the season or winds.


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