Wwhen people in Western New York hear the name “Schoellkopf,” they might associate it with many different things: the Schoellkopf Power Plant that collapsed into the Niagara River in 1956; Geological Museum Schoellkopf; the Schoellkopf Health Center with the adjacent Schoellkopf Park; or Schoellkopf Hall at the former DeVeaux School. There were several generations of Schoellkopfs who left their mark not only on Niagara Falls but also in the Buffalo area.
The first to arrive in western New York was Jacob, who came to Buffalo in 1844. His business interests were in tanneries and he established several throughout the United States. His first venture at Niagara Falls was the purchase and reactivation of the Hydraulic Canal in 1877. Jacob used this canal to generate electricity to operate the flour mills and breweries that were along the canal.
Despite his business ties to Niagara Falls, Jacob continued to live in Buffalo, first in a house in Franklin near Allen Street and then in a lavish high-Victorian mansion with turrets and turrets in 1882 at the southeast corner of Delaware Avenue and Allen Street. That house was demolished in 1936 to make way for a gas station. Although it is not the original, there is still a gas station there. His house on Franklin Street survived. Jacob died in 1899 leaving his widow, Christine Durr Schoellkopf, and five grown children (of 11) including his third son, Arthur, who is the subject of today’s Niagara Discovery.
Arthur Schoellkopf was born in Buffalo on June 13, 1856. His early education was in Buffalo, but when he was 9 years old he was sent to the Kirchheim Academy in Germany for the next four years. After returning to the USA, Arthur completed his education at St. Joseph’s Academy in Buffalo. He then attended Bryant & Stratton Business School, and after graduation went to work for Frontier Mills in Buffalo. When his father purchased the Hydraulic Canal in 1877 and formed the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power & Manufacturing Company, Arthur became secretary and treasurer of the company.
Within two years, Arthur was wealthy enough to build a large stone house on a triangular property bounded by Main Street, Pine Avenue and Park Place (the house was torn down in 1935 for a tire store, but the stone wall of the property is still there). In 1880, Arthur married Jessie Gluck, daughter of Alva Gluck, one of Niagara Falls’ most prominent citizens and builder of the Gluck Building, a Niagara Falls landmark from 1892 until a fire in 1959. The couple had two children, Paul and Beatrice. A year after their wedding, Arthur, his father Jacob and Charles Brush founded and operated the Brush Electric Light Company, which used 16 arc lights to illuminate the falls at night. He also constructed and operated the first street car system at Niagara Falls in 1882.
Another aspect of Schoellkopf’s business interests was his ownership of Niagara View Farms. It was located on what was then open ground in the city of Niagara, but is now within the city of Niagara Falls. The farm’s modern boundaries are Hyde Park Boulevard (then Sugar Street) to the west, Ontario Street to the north, Linwood Avenue to the south, and Gill Creek to the east. It was a stud farm and bred some of the best horses in the United States, including the champion trotter “Niagara King.” It is hard to imagine this farm in an area that is now covered with residential streets.
At the time, Schoellkopf also served on the board of directors of the Niagara County Savings Bank, the International Hotel Company, and the New York Mutual Savings & Loan Association. He was president of Power City Bank, Cliff Paper Company and Park Theater Company. In March 1896, he was elected mayor of the city of Niagara Falls. His campaign slogan was “municipal government is business, not politics,” and he was elected by a landslide in every district in the city.
According to an 1897 Niagara Falls Gazette article, Schoellkopf’s administration was characterized by “no scandal, no chatter in the Common Council; the sessions were business-like and didn’t last all night…he became the best mayor we had.” However, after one year in office, Schoellkopf decided not to run for a second term. Stating that “his private business would not allow him to devote the necessary time to city affairs,” he declined the Republican nomination for mayor in 1897.
After serving as mayor, Schoellkopf continued his business and philanthropic work in the city. In 1895, he was one of the founders of the Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital and the Niagara Falls branch of the YMCA. In 1906, Schoellkopf was approached by Peter A. Porter about donating a small triangular lot across from his residence at Main and Pine for use as a city park. Schoellkopf gave the property to the city and in 1920 the parcel became the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines Memorial Park. Since then, other monuments to veterans have been added.
In the 1910s, although only in his mid-50s, Schoellkopf’s health was impaired by “complicated disorders”. He sought relief from his illnesses by spending winters in Florida. He was in Miami on February 3, 1913, when he died unexpectedly of complications from a “severe illness.” He was 56 years old. After the funeral at the First Presbyterian Church on First Street in Niagara Falls, Schoellkopf’s remains were placed in a vault at Oakwood Cemetery instead of the family plot in Forest Lawn, Buffalo. The family decided to rest in the city that was his home and where he had so many connections. Schoellkopf and his wife Jessie, who died in 1928, are buried in a mausoleum at Oakwood Cemetery.
Schoellkopf Park, along Portage Road between Pine and Walnut avenues, was a gift from Mrs. Schoellkopf in memory of her late husband. Schoellkopf Hall at DeVeaux School (now DeVeaux Woods State Park) is named for Arthur’s son Paul, and the Schoellkopf Geology Museum (now defunct Niagara Gorge Discovery Center) is so named because it was built on the site of the former Schoellkopf Power Plant that fell into the Niagara Gorge in 1956 .