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FEB 17 - FEB 24, 2015

Historian Trying to Pin Down NT Urban Legend Oliver Street Said to Have Had the Most Bars

By Donna Zellner Neal
Executive Director
North Tonawanda History Museum

February 17, 2015

Located at 881 Oliver Street in North Tonawanda, the East Avenue Tavern was in business more than 100 years ago and may have been counted among the taverns that might have broke the record for most bars on a street.

In the February 16 Niagara Gazette article "Bringing Back Oliver" by Mia Summerville, she mentions an oft-told "urban legend."

Although it makes fun reading, the North Tonawanda History Museum has spent the entire eleven years of its existence attempting to find the source of the "urban legend" about Oliver Street having had the most bars on either a single street, a four mile section as some versions go but never say what four miles, or a certain number of blocks which also change depending on the person relating the tale.

We have never been able to verify a source of the claim, nor the accurate version if there is one. We did request verification from both the Guinness Book of Records and Ripley's Believe it or Not in 2007 and both responded that they had never made such a designation. We have a number of Guinness Books of Records in our reference library and have pored through each one searching for such a record to no avail.

What we did determine through research was that, in the summer of 1897, a couple of months after North Tonawanda was chartered as a City form of government, replacing its status as a chartered Village within the Town of Wheatfield, the State of New York did a survey. The survey was of how many taverns per 1,000 residents each "city" in the State had. Because we were the newest "city" in the State, we were part of the survey. We weren't the "city" with the most taverns per 1,000 people, but we did beat out New York City (which also wasn't the one with the most per 1,000 people) by 0.1% of the number per 1,000 people. At that time, just as is true today, New York City had a seriously larger population than North Tonawanda!

Taverns in those days were not what today's bars are. They were more like a community center for the working class and their families. We refer those interested in a better understanding of what a tavern was in the past to our 2007 book, "North Tonawanda: The Lumber City."

It is possible that some such record existed other than the only one we have verified. We would be grateful for verification, with a source to back it up of any other such "record."





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