NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Transit Road barn property had only 3 owners in 180 years

A maps shows the first property owners of a Transit Road lot just north of Robinson Road - John Stahl in 1852.

As you drive south on Transit Road, on the right (west) side of the street between the Valu Home Center and the Hi-Way Garden Center, there is a barn that now seems out of time and place on this busy thoroughfare. Over the years, we have been asked about this barn. With Transit Road continuously evolving, and the barn slowly deteriorating, now is a good time to review the history, not only of that barn, but the property that it stands on.

The first Niagara County map that contains property owners names dates from 1852. On that map, just north of what is now Robinson Road, appear the names of John Stahl, John Stahl (“sen” for senior) and S. Stahl. Other nearby names are Shook, Keck and Hitchins, all well-known families in Lockport history. In the 1830 U.S. census, John Stahl, Sr. is listed as a male between the ages of 50 and 59 (he was born c. 1774 in Pennsylvania). He is married to Catherine and there are four other people in the household. Other names on that census page include Hill and Perry, both of whom are also on the 1852 map as neighbors of John Stahl. On the 1840 census, John Stahl, Jr., appears below his father, along with William Stahl and Samuel Stahler (this could be a misspelling and he may be the S. Stahl on the 1852 map). It is unclear how William (or Samuel) is related to the father and son Stahls. Like numerous other families, the Stahls had the habit of giving their sons the same names over several generations, particularly John and William, many of whom were cousins. By 1840, John Jr. (born c. 1811) was married to Susan and had started a family. They would have six children, two dying in infancy. John, Jr. died in 1859 of “brain disease.” Susan and the remaining children moved to the village of Lockport. Their son, John S. Stahl, later owned a shirt factory (Cook & Stahl), as well as a boatyard in Lockport and was active on the School Board. John, Jr., Susan and all their children are buried in the Stahl plot in Cold Spring Cemetery. Catherine Stahl died in 1853 and John, Sr. continued to live on the Transit Road property with William Stahl (possibly another son) and his family. He was still there in 1860 but was not on the 1865 NYS census. When John Stahl, Sr. died is uncertain, and unlike all the other Stahls, there is no record of him being buried in Cold Spring Cemetery. William was still on the property in 1869 but was gone by 1875. It is doubtful that the barn that is there now was built during the Stahl ownership of the property.

John S. Donner was born in Germany in about 1836 and came to the United States as a baby. It is unclear where Donner lived after arriving in the United States. In 1870, John and his wife, Josephine, were living in Cleveland, Ohio where he was a butcher. In the early 1870s, the Donners moved to Lockport and purchased the Stahl farm on Transit Road. Donner operated the farm but in April 1878, he also advertised the opening of a new meat market at 47 Locust Street in the city of Lockport. In 1880, his residence was recorded as the Locust St. address, but in some of the city/county directories he is listed as living at both places. In the 1880s, he gave up his city shop but was alternately listed as a butcher or farmer or both on future censuses and in directories. A curious news item appeared in the Amherst Bee in 1885. “Flora Wyman has undertaken another big job of moving the Catholic Church in Lockport. Also a house for John S. Donner, on the Transit Road, in Lockport.” The Donners had no children. Josephine died in 1906. In 1910, John Donner was living on the property with his niece and nephew. He died on Oct. 12, 1912. The Donners are buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery.

In 1913, Henry Prahler purchased the Donner property. It is not clear when the remaining barn was built. The late John Hall, a longtime Lockport historian, wrote that the barn was “over 100 years old” in 2011, however, Prahler’s daughter thought it was built by her father when he purchased the property in 1913. She said there were two barns on the property already and that her father built this barn to connect the other two. That would make it over 100 years old today. There will be more about the Prahler family’s ownership next week.

I would like to thank Jean Linn, Town of Lockport Historian, and Judy Naylor, Henry Prahler’s granddaughter, for assistance with this article. Judy’s mother, Ruth Prahler Naylor, is the last surviving child of Henry Prahler.

Next Week: The Prahler family’s ownership of the property.

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

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