The Old First Ward was settled in the early and mid-nineteenth century by Irish immigrants who worked in the local coal and lumber yards and especially the grain elevators along the Buffalo River. The first settlers in the early 1800’s took up residence at Times Beach at the foot of Michigan Avenue-also known as Buffalo’s Bohemia, The Island, Wall Street, The Seawall, or The Beach. It was a seawall shantytown, a waterfront fishing village that was home to a community of squatters, one end being Irish, the other Portuguese. This was considered the most colorful section of a city that included canal-side taverns and immigrant enclaves bright with the culture of Europe.
In the meantime, the Old 1st Ward had become a bustling neighborhood of solid workingman’s homes, corner groceries and taverns. With the Buffalo River to the west, and the rail yards and foundries to the east, the Ward became a self contained village. Many of the residents worked as “scoopers,” shoveling grain from the lake freighters into the huge grain elevators that line the waterfront.
Today, the Old 1st Ward remains a tightly knit community. The gardens of Our Lady of Perpetual Help are a sanctuary on O’Connell Street. Neighbors out for an evening walk stop to discuss the news of the day. Many families have lived here for four or more generations, and many more will boast of their roots in the Ward.
The Old First Ward Community Association was founded in 1978 by residents to provide a Community Center with senior programs and youth activities. The Association also provides housing and community development services, such as owner occupied rehab, community improvements and home buyer services.
The mission of the Old First Ward Community Association is to address the community’s needs including housing and human services, economic redevelopment and community building with a “vision for a new renaissance.”