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Unknown Stories of WNY: The monument that never happened

A larger-than-life statue memorializing General Philip Sheridan was planned for Sheridan Drive near Delaware Avenue.

TOWN OF TONAWANDA, N.Y. — Many of the names for our streets and highways pay tribute to a hero from the past. That appears to be the case with a major roadway in the Northtowns, but you would never know it from the monument that marks its path through the Town of Tonawanda. You wouldn't know much by that monument because it sits in a spot where it is nearly impossible to read. 

Sheridan Drive serves as a major commercial artery through the Town of Tonawanda and Amherst, it is loaded with business and traffic. It was built in the 1920's before the I-290 and the bigger highways that we travel today.

But historian and urban planner Angela Keppel points out that it wasn't the first Sheridan in Western New York. 

"The original Sheridan was Sheridan Terrace which was named by Frederick Law Olmsted when he designed Front Park," Keppel said.

A portion of that road still exists as a part of the exit ramp from the I-190 near the Peace Bridge, connecting to Niagara Street.

Keppel says that historians have been conflicted over how Sheridan Drive got it's name. 

"When they were building in Sheridan Drive in the 1920s they wanted to use that name because the name had kind of gotten big because there's also Sheridan in Chicago," Keppel said.

Which is also named after General Sheridan, either way, you may have noticed the obscure monument that sits in the median between Delaware Road and Delaware Avenue. Unless you have binoculars, or risk your life running through traffic, it is nearly impossible to read the inscription, or know what it is intended to honor.

The reality is that the monument was supposed to be much bigger, featuring a larger-than-life statue of General Sheridan on horseback atop the base. Those plans that were scrapped halfway through when taxpayers began questioning why they were spending so much money for a monument dedicated to a man who never lived here, in the middle of what was at the time farmland.

But it was not totally an exercise in futility. That statue was ultimately cast, and stands proudly today in Sheridan's proclaimed home town of Albany. The horsebacked Sheridan greets visitors as they walk up to the NY State Capitol building.

Angela Keppel's day job is an urban planner with Buffalo Place, but feeds her hunger for history by operating her own website called "Discovering Buffalo: One Street at a Time."

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