Queen City Chronicles - Swannie House

Posted at 12:18 AM, Dec 01, 2014

Ethnic and cultural clashes were commons occurrences back in the late 1800s to early 1900s, Buffalo's early history. But this one had a great ending. This is the story of a business surviving and thriving and a story that involves helping sick kids along the way. This is the story of the Swannie House.

Standing on the shore of the Buffalo River is a tavern founded by Gibson Williams and his business partner John Swanerski back in 1886. Serving sailors on one of the busiest ports in the world meant business was good but unfortunately Williams' health wasn't and in 1892, Williams passed on.

When he passed on his son and daughter who were very wealthy became philanthropists. And what they did is they sold the Swannie House and a hotel on Broadway to Swanerski's son, John Jr. He came down to Buffalo and wanted to put a second and third floor on the one-story building. He couldn't get the permits to do that because the waterfront was controlled by the Irish and they didn't want a Polish guy to own a bar because all the hiring came out of the bars., and that would mean competition.

The stalemate might have stopped this enterprise altogether if not for the fact that Swanerski's family controlled a liquor distribution company and basically cut off the entire area from procuring booze.

With the help of the Williams, who had international influence, they shut off the liquor from Canada. The inner harbor went dry. The waterfront went dry. The dispute lasted about two weeks until the Irish agreed to give John Jr. the permits, but Swanerski had to change his name to Swannie. The two Williams children, the philanthropists, took the sale money from the Swannie House and from the hotel they sold the Swanerskis on Broadway and Main and they started Children's Hospital, which was one of the first children's hospitals in the nation.

You would think that being a part of Children's Hospitals birth would be a sufficient role in our area's history but the Swannie House wasn't done yet.

Working on the bridge was a full-time job. The men were there year round, but when the boats were moored and everything was iced up, there was nothing to do. One day, Jim Connely meandered across the street into the Swannie House until somebody ran in and said a boat broke loose. He tried to run out and another guy grabbed him and says, 'It's too late, Jim!' And boom! The bridge went down after being struck by the Tewksbury.

It's almost as if you can see the entire history of Buffalo from the top of the Swannie House. Over the years it went into disrepair and there's some question as to whether you can get title to it.