Weekly Feature

2017-02-15 / Local News

Tewksbury Lodge a microcosm of city’s rebirth

Clarence Editor

The Tewksbury Lodge, located at 249 Ohio Street and introduced in June 2016, is situated next to Buffalo River Fest Park, offering diners the ability to sit on a back patio that leads directly to the Buffalo River. 
Photo by Chuck SkipperPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com The Tewksbury Lodge, located at 249 Ohio Street and introduced in June 2016, is situated next to Buffalo River Fest Park, offering diners the ability to sit on a back patio that leads directly to the Buffalo River. Photo by Chuck SkipperPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Above the fireplace at the Tewksbury Lodge is a stone engraving that reads, “Enter as a stranger, leave as a friend.”

Few phrases would more adequately describe the restaurant’s dynamic. A varied selection of sandwiches, wraps, burgers and breakfast options, many named after South Buffalo historical icons, are delivered from the open kitchen to the tables while founder Margaret “Peg” Overdorf and her brother, Gene, an Old First Ward historian, recount the history of John F. Carroll, one of 17 known people in medical history to have reached a height of 8 feet.

The two then transition into stories about Jimmy Collins, a Buffalo native who in 1903 managed Boston in the first World Series between the American and National leagues.

At times, it seems as if the Overdorfs wanted to create less of a restaurant than a recreation of their inviting living room. The unique ambiance and décor provide the perfect gathering place amidst what has become one of Buffalo’s most rapidly revitalized areas.

The Tewksbury Lodge, located at 249 Ohio St. and introduced in June, is situated next to Buffalo River Fest Park, a now-staple of the city’s entertainment and leisure sector.

The brick restaurant, modeled to look like an old train depot, offers diners the ability to sit on a back patio that leads directly to the Buffalo River while enjoying a drink under the silhouette of the grain silos. It’s also worth mentioning that the patio provides what may well be the best view of the Buffalo skyline. Yet the site, like many similar locations in the city that have been readapted and rehabilitated, did not always display the elegance it presents today.

“All of Ohio Street was a mess. There was really nothing but piles and piles of industrial rubble,” said Peg Overdorf. “When we opened this place in June, I thought it would be appropriate that we name it for some historical reason, and I always loved the story of the Tewksbury.”

The name of the restaurant honors one of the Old First Ward’s most infamous events that occurred on Jan. 21, 1959. The “Tewksbury Incident” as it’s often referred to, was facilitated by days of extreme cold and heavy snow that packed the Buffalo River with ice. A sudden thaw on Jan. 21 broke up the ice, and at roughly 10 p.m. the pressure of the shifting floes snapped the mooring lines of the freighter MacGilvray Shiras, which was tied up for the winter beside the Concrete Central Elevator at the foot of Smith Street.

The nearly 100-yard ship drifted downriver before ramming the Michael K. Tewksbury, which was tied up at the Standard Elevator. Both ships continued downstream, passing beneath the Ohio Street bridge, which was raised for the winter. The bridge crew, however, were allegedly taking a liquid lunch at the Swannie House and could not raise the Michigan Avenue bridge in time.

The Tewksbury smashed into the bridge at 11:17 p.m., destroying it before wedging itself across the river, blocking the flow of the water. The freezing water and ice rushed into the neighborhood and flooded an 18-block area, which contained hundreds of homes.

In keeping with the idea that the Tewksbury Lodge could serve a second purpose as a platform for historical seminars, the Overdorfs commemorate the anniversary of the incident each year on Jan. 21 so that people who were in the neighborhood on the fateful day can gather to offer one another some reflection and insight.

Peg Overdorf, who has been the executive director of the Valley Community Association for 40 years in addition to organizing the Old First Ward St. Patrick’s Day Parade, originally planned the Tewksbury Lodge to be an ice cream stop for those enjoying the Buffalo River during the summer. They quickly saw the opportunity for banquets and a full-scale bar.

Overdorf was assisted by Bob Kresse, a trustee for the Margaret Wynn Foundation, in gaining the necessary financing to develop the site. The foundation provides funding for projects that support the arts and historic preservation, as well as for community development.

Through the help of City Comptroller Mark Schroeder and Rep. Brian Higgins, Overdorf was able to write 17 grants totaling $5.4 million for the development of River Fest Park. What has transpired is a complete turnaround for an area that was little more than an afterthought just a few years ago.

“The community was failing, and I live here, so it was tough to see. But now, houses that would have sold for maybe $20,000 10 years ago, sell for $200,000 now because they’re near the river, and it’s a destination.” Now, Overdorf says that she has so many ideas for the future of the park that her “head is spinning.” She is currently looking for sponsors for the ever-growing Buffalo River Fest, which takes place this year from June 16 to 18. On June 1, weekly concerts begin at the park, and Overdorf is now in the process of booking bands.

Next week at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 24, the Overdorfs will hold a fundraiser for the annual “Old Neighborhood Saint Patrick’s Day Parade,” set to take place this year at noon on Saturday, March 11. The fundraiser will be held at the Valley Community Center, 93 Leddy Street, Buffalo, and both the Valley Center as well as the Tewksbury will hold post parties on the day of the parade.

At 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25, the Tewksbury will welcome the brewmaster from Sullivan’s Brewing Co. for a public presentation on the intricacies of the brewing process. The Irish brewery announced in December that it had selected Buffalo as the first U.S. city where its famed Maltings Irish Ale will be sold.

The Overdorfs’ schedule, to say the least, does not feature many gaps.

As they finish decorating the inside of the lodge with historical photos of the Old First Ward, Gene Overdorf is busy preparing for upcoming seminars, one of which was completed on Jan. 15, which delved into the people and the places that left a mark on the neighborhood.

To Peg Overdorf, the restaurant and its prominent place along the Buffalo River is a microcosm for the rebirth of the city as a whole. The river has become a haven for boaters and kayakers while new restaurants and venues such as RiverWorks, located directly across the waterway from the Tewksbury, are increasingly seeing the water’s location as prime real estate.

“Once the park was built, there seemed to be this wave of confidence that swept over everybody,” said Peg. “People in the neighborhood started gaining some pride back. All of this really has happened in a matter of 10 years when I first had a vision for the park. But to see where it’s going from where it came from is truly something.”

The Tewksbury Lodge is open for brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; and for dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays only.

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