Tonawanda (formally City of Tonawanda, from Tahnawá•teh meaning "confluent stream" in Tuscarora) (Cayuga: Tganawai:ˀ) is a city in Erie County, New York, United States. The population was 15,130 at the 2010 census. It is located at the northern edge of Erie County, south across the Erie Canal (Tonawanda Creek) from North Tonawanda, and north of Buffalo, New York. It is part of the Buffalo-Niagara Falls metropolitan area.
According to William Bright the best that can be said of the origin and meaning of the place name "Tonawanda" is that it is "probably from an Iroquoian source, but of unclear derivation". One theory is that it is a loanword from Tuscarora: Tahnawá•teh meaning "confluent stream." The Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora are one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) in the 18th century. They and the Oneida were allies of the American colonists in the American Revolutionary War.
Post-Revolutionary War European-American settlement at Tonawanda began with Henry Anguish, who built a log home in 1808. He added to the hamlet in 1811 with a tavern, both on the south side of Tonawanda Creek where it empties into the Niagara River. The hamlet grew slowly until the opening of the Erie Canal, completed in the course of the creek in 1825. The Town of Tonawanda was incorporated in 1836. The Erie Canal and the railroads that soon followed it provided economic opportunity. By the end of the 19th century, both sides of the canal were devoted to businesses as part of a leading lumber processing center. In the mid-19th century, the business center of Tonawanda was incorporated as a village within the town. The village united in a corporation with North Tonawanda across the canal. This corporation fell apart, and in 1904 the village was incorporated as the City of Tonawanda.
On September 26, 1898, a tornado struck the City of Tonawanda. After crossing over the river from Grand Island, the tornado damaged the old Murray School as well as several homes along Franklin and Kohler streets. Its worst havoc was wreaked along Fuller Avenue, where a dozen homes were severely damaged, several being leveled to the ground. No one was killed by the fierce storm, but there were numerous injuries.
Spaulding Fibre became a manufacturer of leatherboard (made from leather scraps and wood pulp), transformer board, vulcanized fibre, bakelite (under the trade name Spauldite) and Filawound (fiberglass) tube. Operating in Tonawanda from 1911 to 1992, it became the major employer in the city. The company was founded in 1873 with a leatherboard mill by Jonas Spaulding and his brother Waldo in Townsend Harbor, Massachusetts. They did business as The Spaulding Brothers Company. Jonas Spaulding had three sons: Leon C., Huntley N. and Rolland H..
With industry expanding, Jonas established leatherboard mills at Milton and North Rochester, New Hampshire, in part to allow his sons to join him in the business. The New Hampshire mills operated under the name J. Spaulding and Sons. After Jonas Spaulding's death in 1900, his sons (by then living in New Hampshire, where they had corporate headquarters at Rochester) continued to operate these mills successfully. They brought the Townsend Harbor mill under the J. Spaulding and Sons banner in 1902.
With continued success, the three Spaulding brothers added a vulcanized fibre operation in Tonawanda, New York in 1911. They added a fourth leatherboard mill in Milton (second in this community) in 1913. The mayor of Tonawanda, Charles Zuckmaier, had solicited the Spaulding brothers’ business in Tonawanda. An official ground-breaking ceremony was held on July 17, 1911, for the new plant, a $600,000 investment by J. Spaulding and Sons. Operations at the plant began on April 1, 1912, with 40 employees. The daily capacity of the plant at that time was five tons of fibre sheeting and one ton of fibre tubing.
Around 1927, the sons changed the name of the company to the Spaulding Fibre Company. In the 1930s, they added a second product at the Tonawanda plant: Spauldite, a "me too" phenol formaldehyde resin material made to compete with Bakelite. The trademark now owned by Spaulding Composites can be applied to laminates made with other natural or synthetic resins as well.
After Huntley Spaulding, the last of the three brothers, died in November 1955, the Spaulding Fibre Company became part of a charitable trust previously set up by Huntley and his only sister, Marion S. Potter. The trust was created to disburse their remaining wealth within 15 years of the death of the last sibling. Marion S. Potter died on September 27, 1957.
The company in Tonawanda flourished under foremen, superintendents and workers from the local blue collar workforce. It also attracted new residents who came for the jobs. One was Richard Spencer, who left the oil fields of Bradford, Pennsylvania, to be a superintendent for two decades. He managed through several labor strikes and periods of economic unrest for the company.
In 1956 the Tonawanda plant completed an expansion that doubled the paper mill and the vulcanized fibre-making capacity of the plant. In addition, after the death of Huntley Spaulding, corporate offices relocated to Wheeler Street from Rochester, New Hampshire. In the 1960s, the Tonawanda plant added a third product line, Filawound (fiberglass) tubing.
The 50th anniversary of the Wheeler Street Plant in 1961 was marked by a special 22-page section in the Tonawanda News. The Wheeler Street Plant reportedly covered , employed 1500 workers, and had an annual payroll of $9,000,000. The company paid $153,818 in city taxes that year and was Tonawanda’s largest tax payer. The plant was nearing its peak, but there was more expansion to come.
In 1966, the charitable trust sold the Spaulding Fibre Company to Monogram Industries. The Tonawanda plant began a slow decline during a period of industrial restructuring and product and manufacturing changes. In 1984, Monogram Industries sold the Spaulding Fibre Company to Nortek. In 1988, Nortek changed the company name to Spaulding Composites. Spaulding Composites closed the Tonawanda plant on August 24, 1992.
By the time the plant closed, employment had declined to 300. Since the closure of the Tonawanda plant, Spaulding Composites twice filed for bankruptcy. The plant site had a footprint of . It fell into disrepair and, because of the wastes of the industrial processes, was classified as a brown field site under environmental regulations.
In 2006, the Erie County Development Agency contracted for demolition of the derelict facilities. It was punctuated by the felling of the -tall smoke stack that dominated the site. (This event is documented with a handful of videos on YouTube.) Cleanup of the site was declared complete in August 2010.
The following are historic sites in Tonawanda of such significance as to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places: