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Buffalo's first German-American settler remembered in new historic marker

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Michael Mroziak, WBFO
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A New York State Historical Marker now sits outside the Buffalo Police Department's B District headquarters on Main Street near East Tupper. That sign marks the vicinity where Buffalo's first German immigrant settled, more than two centuries ago.

The blue sign wtih gold trim posted in the sidewalk outside the Police Station introduces viewers to Samuel Helm, who was born in Germany, lived in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and then settled in what was then the Village of Buffalo in 1806.

"He purchased lot number 144 from the Holland Land Company, hence our unit's name," explained Erich Reidell, chairman of the Samuel Helm Unit 144, the Buffalo-based branch of the German-American fraternal organization Steuben Society of America. "He scrimped and saved and built his home here in 1809."

Helm harvested Buffalo's first lettuce crop, sold produce door-to-door and also served as a ditch-digger. But then tragedy struck. The War of 1812 broke out and in December 1813, after British troops sacked what was then the Town of Black Rock, they moved further inland. 

"The citizens of Buffalo knew that the British were coming but they didn't know that there was a Native American force attacking from the north. They encountered very little resistance as they came through and sacked this whole region here."

Helm was killed while trying to escape. His house, like many others, was burned to the ground. 

The heritage sign was funded through a grant by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation. 

The Samuel Helm Unit 144 meets every third Wednesday of each month for a dinner meeting and what is known as a Stammtisch,  a gathering where participants are encouraged to speak some German if they know it.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.