Old German Section of Buffalo
Holds Charm in Changing World

Buffalo Times -December 6, 1938

For generations, the heart and center of Buffalo's old German culture --and of the "German vote" --has been a residential neighborhood lying east of Main St., within arrowshot of downtown Buffalo. Hardly touched by the march of time, "The Orchard" -sol called because of the quaint fruit-tree names of its streets --today holds its old power and charm. Its story is told in a new series, of which this is the first.
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By Oviatt McConnell

Michael ("Uncle Mike") Schiesel of Mulberry St., ripe and mellow as a good lagered brew, sat in his comfortable living room and looked back through more than four-score years with the satisfaction that only a neighborhood man can know.
Across the table sat his good wife Mary, at 78 as vigorous and keen as the glass of beer she drinks every night for a night cap.
She filled in chinks of one of Buffalo's most romantic stories --they story of a neighborhood in shifting, upsey-daisey Buffalo that for a century has defied the marring hands of time.
"Beer," said Uncle Mike, "was eight cents a quart, and when we were children there were seven saloons in this very block of Mulberry St. between Virginia and Carlton.
"Beer you know is the staff of life to Bavarians, and we were Bavarians. Not all, for there were Prussians, and some Mecklenbergers, and my wife here is a Swiss."
"I was a Helbing," said Mrs. Schiesel. "When my people first came here there was nobody to talk to, for they could not understand. They stayed here a year in silence and went to Milwaukee, but then they came back. My father built this house at 159 Mulberry St. 80 years ago.
Memories flooded them, diffused their faces and voices in soft reminiscence as they viewed in the minds eye the scenes of long ago --and drew a picture of a life lusty, wholesome and vigorous when Buffalo was a young sprawling country town drawing rich blood streams from the heart of old Europe.

All Spoke German
Mulberry St. was then the central axis of the Main St. of the high-lying sector where the Germans made their home. "The Hill" they called it as often as "The Orchard" and there they re-created the life they had known in old Bavaria.
Everybody spoke German, the soft, broad lowland dialect which made the northern Prussians feel superior. For Mulberry St. was Munich, (no, Munichen) and its people were the Bavarians (Baiern.)
America was their new home, it was to claim them wholly, but its freedom and liberality offered no bar to the keeping of their beloved tongue and their beloved customs.
Old St. Boniface Church built 90 years ago, was the magnet that drew the German Catholics to Mulberry St. from near and far. They walked in from Cold Spring, from the broad acres that lay to the north and east, from the "Jasmmerthal" or stone quarry region on Michigan Ave.
Sunday morning they swarmed in soon after dawn, or even before it for early mass.
"There was an old saying that a local parishioner with a nickel could have his pint of beer for four cents, and have a penny left over for church," said Uncle Mike.
"I remember a new priest at st. Boniface laughing over the story when he first heard it. But there was more truth than joke about it."
They could stop at Forster's of at Dusel's, or Abel's or Helbing's or Baecher's.
Said Mrs. Schiesel: "You understand that drinking beer always has been a great part of the life of our people, who were very sober, industrious and god-fearing.

 

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The Orchard -now called the Fruit Belt
The Old Orchard which was near old Brewery Hill in Buffalo.

Beer by Gallon
"A family would come in --father, mother and children -- and order maybe two quarts of beer, or a gallon. It would be served that way, and glasses and mugs provided for drinking. A pretzel was one cent, or you could have molasses cookies with raisons.
"There were 16 or 17 saloons the length of Mulberry St., and all doing business at good times. But the saloons were groceries, too, selling butter and sugar and coffee and all such good things."
Said Mr. Schiesel:
"My mother had six children, and we had a saloon, a grocery, a bake-shop, and pigs and chickens, and my mother tended to all that. Where could you get a woman today that could or would do it?
"She was up every morning at 5 to open the saloon, and she closed up at midnight.
"I remember when I was a boy of six or seven there would be card games in the saloon. We had a little kerosene lamp on the wall to provide light, but often it would go dry, and then I would have to get a tallow candle and hold it so the players could see the cards.

Mud Road
"I would walk round and round the table with it, going from man to man as they ordered me, 'Halst du hier.' What did they play? Why, Sixty-six, or sometimes pinochle, or solo."
Mulberry St. was a mud road, a morass in wet weather through which humans waded in competition with the chickens and an occasional horse and rig. But few of the people had their own rigs for they were poor people who worked in the mills and shops and farms of the older inhabitant.
"My father was a stone-mason," said Mrs. Schiesel. "He walked every morning to Michigan and Scott and did his ten hours of work, then came home. We also had a saloon.
"At first he earned 50 cents a day, but finally he became a foreman over 54 men and he earned $25 a week. It was an unheard of salary."
Mr. Schiesel fell into thinking of other royal drinks of three generations ago, for the saloons had other offerings than beer and groceries for those who insisted. You could buy whisky, or kimmel, or Napoleon bitters, or port wine. How much? Why five cents a glass of course. Who would be so foolish to pay more?
"And for children there was raspberry juice," he said. "Raspberry was a great drink for us. You would take a little raspberry, and a lot of water, and that would be your ice-cream soda. I remember a crowd of us once bought a gallon of raspberry and drank it. How much did we add? Oh, maybe a barrel."
Today Mulberry St. still runs like a hub through the Orchard with its family brauhausen still blooming in the night and old St. Boniface's drawing the young people of the neighborhood to wholesome and healthful pleasures, as well as to those sacred hours of worship.
While the Schiesels were talking of the long ago, the windows of the towering face of St. Boniface's School were lighted and from upper floors of the building came the rattle and whine of a jitterbug orchestra.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE ON THE OLD ORCHARD

 

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