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Unknown Stories of WNY: Through eminent domain controversy, remembering Buffalo's last blacksmith

Cobblestone District building that is the center of a fight over its future while we look at it's past.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The future of 110 and 118 South Park Avenue in Buffalo's Cobblestone District is very much up in the air. Developer and property owner Darryl Carr is pushing for demolition so he can build a high rise, while the city is considering taking the property over through eminent domain. A public hearing on the matter was held on Jan. 10, while a demolition request was adjourned on Jan. 20 in housing court.

As the battle over its future continues, beneath the scaffolding and crumbling bricks lies a story. A story of, not only the Queen City's last operating blacksmith shop, but more importantly, the blacksmith himself, Edmund Rudnicki. Ed's son Paul Rudnicki remembers the shop. 

"It had a dirt floor. It was anything but beautiful, even in its best days," Paul said. He also remembers his father as a terrifically hard worker.

The elder Rudnicki passed away in 2001 at the age of 82, but Paul says he lived a life doing what he loved. 

"He was an industrial blacksmith, his specialty was sharpening tools and making tools. It was just a pleasure to watch him at work, taking a piece of flat metal and when he was done having a construction tool," Paul said.

Paul also remembers his dad as a perfectionist. 

"He wouldn't leave that shop, you know, even if it was late at night. If it was just a construction tool, it had to be just right. If he had to warm it up and do it again, he warmed it up and did it again."

Ed got his start in the 50's, working on lake freighters. In fact, in the early 70's a freighter came up the Buffalo River with a rush order to repair some chains. What made this ship different was its trip into infamy shortly after the work done in Rudnicki's shop. That very same ship sunk a short time later, on Lake Superior, as the gales of November came early as the song goes. Paul says his father was immediately nervous when he heard. 

"He did some work on the chains for the Edmund Fitzgerald, and always worried that one of the chains gave way and he had done something wrong." Much to his relief, his repairs had nothing to do with the disaster.

But Ed's skills were also put to work on some other famous projects according to historian and preservationist Tim Tielman. 

"He did belt buckles for the Gemini and Apollo programs for astronauts." Which all plays into Tielman's passion for these buildings. They are now at the center of controversy, but, he says, they once sat at the center of commerce.

"This set of buildings, right here, that we're looking at, that are the subject of this eminent domain hearing, they're the sole, remaining buildings from the Erie Canal era, on the Buffalo waterfront," Tielman said.

According to the city records, 110 South Park Avenue was built in 1852 as a bakery and is one of the only pre-Civil War era buildings near the foot of Main Street. 118 South Park Avenue was built in 1869 as the Brown & McCutcheon Brass Foundry, and up until 23 years ago, was Rudnicki's Buffalo Blacksmith Company, which he operated for nearly 5 decades. 

And that is something that both Tielman and Paul say needs to be preserved. 

"They're the reason we created the Cobblestone Historic District," Tielman said. 

"That's a part of Buffalo that we really shouldn't let go of," Paul said.

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