NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: John T. Darrison, flour-feed supplier and civic leader

In Lockport, Mahar and Sons occupied the site of the old John T. Darrison Company flour and feed supplier on Buffalo Street prior to the building's demolition in 1974. (Contributed image)

As mentioned last week in Niagara Discoveries, in Lockport, John T. Darrison took over the flour and feed business from his father in 1882 due to John Sr.’s frequent absences.

John T. Darrison was born October 20, 1855, the same year his father is said to have started the flour and feed business on Buffalo Street. The younger John attended local schools and at age 16 he became an apprentice in the composing department of the Lockport Daily Journal. He did not stay there long. Two years later he was working in his father’s store learning the feed, seed and flour trade.

Darrison married a Lockport girl, Laura Lambert, in 1880. Two children were born to them, Ralph Lambert in 1882, and Miriam Laura in 1889. The same year his son was born, Darrison took over his father's business, renaming it the John T. Darrison Company. The business was so successful that in 1886 Darrison built a new three-story brick and stone store on Buffalo Street that stood until the 1970s. The building had his name and the completion date engraved at the top. Directly behind the business, at 29 Walnut Street, was Darrison’s home, which was torn down in the late 1940s for an expansion of St. Mary’s Catholic School.

Darrison was a well-respected businessman and civic leader in Lockport. He was elected alderman from his district in 1886 and also was a member of the county board of health. He served as a civil service commissioner, railroad commissioner and school board trustee. He was a vestryman and Sunday School superintendent at Grace Episcopal Church. In 1892, Darrison was elected on the Republican ticket to two terms as Mayor of Lockport. He was treasurer of the Lockport & Buffalo Railway Company (later International Railway Co.) as well as vice president of the Farmers’ & Mechanics’ Bank. He was elected to the first of four one-year terms in the New York State Assembly in 1898 and represented Niagara County from 1899 to 1902. He belonged to several civic and fraternal organizations including Niagara Lodge No. 375, F. & A. M.

In the business files at the History Center there are receipts from various city agencies for products bought at Darrison’s in the early 20th century. During the last two weeks in July 1911, Lockport Fire Department purchased 700 pounds of hay, 200 pounds of bran and 25 pounds of oats costing a total of $24.18. This was when horses still pulled the fire equipment. In February 1920, the city streets department ordered 200 pounds of salt at a cost of $2.30, and in May 1925, Lockport City Hospital ordered pastry flour, bran and salt for $17.35.

Darrison died of heart failure on February 4, 1922, at the age of 66, still working at his store. He was lauded in the papers as a man of “broad and liberal views and of large sympathies; he was affable and courteous in all the relations of life…there was no affectation or insincerity about him…in politics Mr. Darrison was a republican but never unduly partisan…” It was “these qualities [that] drew to him an usually large number of friends by whom he was loved and by whom he will be sincerely mourned.”

The business was carried on by Darrison's son Ralph for the next five years until his death in July 1927 in Peterboro, Ontario. He had been hit by a car and although his injuries did not appear life threatening, he died of an infection in his leg a week after the accident at the age of 45. He left behind a wife and three young children.

For the next 20 years John T. Darrison Company was operated by Roscoe Sillesky, husband of Miriam Darrison. The business closed in 1947. The building was later occupied by Mahar and Sons Appliances until it was taken down in 1974 for urban renewal.

The small triangular park at the intersection of Walnut, Genesee and Saxton streets was established in the 1880s and named for the Darrison family who lived nearby. From 1911 to 1931 it was home to the Lockport fire tower.

Miriam Darrison Sillesky lived to be 102 years old. The Darrisons are buried in Glenwood Cemetery.

The History Center has files on many businesses that are or were in Lockport since the mid-19th century. These files are available for public perusal at 215 Niagara St. Please call 716-434-7433 to make an appointment.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.

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