Significant History at Mason and Breckenridge Streets

Mason Street, a short industrial stretch just west of Niagara Street in Buffalo's Blackrock District and directly north of Rich Products, is a historically significant block within Buffalo's past. In the early 20th century, Mason Street became home to the Sterling Engine Company, essentially wiping out most of the remaining homes on the strip and leaving 19 Mason as the last residential structure left (which is still used as a home today). Breckenridge Street, home to the historic 1827 Union Meeting House (lead image), is a beautiful example of the once popular cobblestone streets that were common within Buffalo. The Union Meeting House at 44 Breckenridge Street was built on land donated by Major General Peter Porter, an important figure in the War of 1812, the first congressman from Buffalo, and John Quincy Adams’s secretary of war among his other accomplishments. The structure is a very rare Federal Style, and the only Federal Style Church still found in Buffalo today. The street name Breckenridge came from the maiden name of Porter's wife. Most importantly, this immediate area is believed to have played a role within the Buffalo Underground Railroad route. The source I used for the history in this article and within the captions is courtesy of Chuck LaChiusa of Buffaloah.com

A view looking north down Mason Street from Breckenridge Street. Note the last remaining residential house at 19 Mason (white house three buildings down).

Looking east down Breckenridge Street towards Niagara. 

A view of 1280 Niagara Street, from the corner of Mason at Auburn. This complex formerly housed The Buffalo Gasoline Motor Company. The company produced marine engines and combustion engines for automobiles. The company maintained their manufacturing enterprise at this address until 1946.

The west side of the Union Meeting House

The side of 1246-1260 Niagara St, a small piece of the building which formerly houses the Sterling Engine Company. Neighboring properties on the block between Breckenridge Street and Auburn Avenue, and along Mason Street were residential. By 1925, Sterling Engine’s address had expanded to south to include 1246 Niagara Street. More significantly, by ca.1925 Sterling Engine had usurped the entire residential area on Mason Street and had constructed a second factory building at 42 Breckenridge Street, which ran the entire length of Mason Street adjacent to the rail way lines.

As early as 1908, Sterling Engine was utilizing interchangeable parts in its marine engine construction. At that time, Sterling Engine’s “only goal” was marine construction, but by 1946, the company was producing engines for ships, airplanes, cars, and trains. Sterling Engine produced engines that powered ships, such as the 83 Footer and landing craft in World War II. In the late 1950s Sterling Engine was purchased by Phillips Petroleum Company of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and the production facility moved to Paola, Kansas.

Notice the ghost sign in between the rows of windows. The first word is certainly Buffalo, I believe the next word is Gasoline, which would make sense given that this is the side of the former Buffalo Gasoline Engine Company at 1280 Niagara Street. The construction of this building started in 1903 and houses the plant until the mid 1940's. 

** Update: The ghost sign reads "Buffalo Gasolene" - thank you to reader Vince for the confirmation!

Another old ghost sign. Unfortunately I'm not able to make out the original lettering for this sign. If you happen to know, please send me a note! 

** Update: The ghost sign is believed to read "Kitchen Distribution" - Thank you to reader Vince for the note on this!

In 1883 New York Central Railroad constructed a railroad that encircled the City of Buffalo and connected to the main railroad network. The Belt Line, as it was called, was a fifteen-mile loop that transported people and goods around the city, and provided connections to the larger railroad system that connected Buffalo to the rest of the country. Industry and neighborhoods developed along the loop. Black Rock saw the growth of factories and working class neighborhoods. The Belt Line was in operation for approximately thirty-years, gradually fading out of existence due to competition from trolley lines and automobiles. This original Belt Line Bridge sits at the foot of Auburn and Mason. The track is currently used by the CSX.  

The top of the former Sterling Engine Company Building.

A factory window from the former Sterling Engine Company Building. 

A closer look down Mason Street. The lone two-story side gable residence at 19 Mason is the white house on the right side of the image. The first noted resident of this house was Fred Ledor, a maltster who lived in the house in 1889.

"Black Rock Mural," by Wilson "Steve" Stephens, painted next to his house at 19 Mason St.  The man on the left side of the mural is General Porter, who is purposively pointing to the 19 Mason residence. Behind them is Niagara Falls. In the center of the mural is a maroon and white structure, symbolizing the Union Meeting House at 44 Breckenridge. Two small slaves appear to the left of the House, hinting that the House was likely a stop within Buffalo's Underground Railroad before they reached nearby Broderick Park. The trees in the top right represent Squaw Island, another likely part of the Underground Railroad. 

The side & rear corner of the Union Meeting House at 44 Breckenridge.

Panel door details from the Union Meeting House at 44 Breckenridge.

Additional details of the Union Meeting House at 44 Breckenridge. 

Additional details of the Union Meeting House at 44 Breckenridge. 

The 1827 Breckenridge Church at 44 Breckenridge Street is an outstanding example of the Federal style, rare in Buffalo, and the only Federal church surviving in the city today. The building predates the era of architects and exemplifies the earlier builder's tradition where designs were passed from builder to builder via publications such as those of Asher Benjamin.

In the beginning operated by the Episcopalian; Presbyterians, and Methodists, the Union Meeting House was transferred in 1831 to the Presbyterians, who formed the First Presbyterian Church of Black Rock, This therefore became the second Presbyterian church to be established within the limits of the present city of Buffalo. About 1871 the name was changed to Breckenridge Street Presbyterian Church of Buffalo, though for elusive reasons, it was for a time listed in the city directory up until 1865 as Church of the Puritans.

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