Well I figured I would officially kick off this blog with the topic I know the most about…ME! I am Julianna Fiddler Woite, a born and bred Amherst girl who happens to serve on this Bicentennial Commission. My emotional investment in Amherst is obvious…this town is LITERALLY a part of who I am. As the great great granddaughter of Michael Snyder, namesake of Snyder NY, my attachments and my interest are unwavering. I became hooked on local history thanks to Mr. David Kinnin’s 7th grade Social Studies class at Amherst Junior High School (shout out to the Class of 1987) and it has consumed me ever since. I have written a few books, given countless lectures and tried to make everyone I meet respect their history as much as I do. I have even made it my profession to help other people discover and preserve their family history (shameless plug: https://www.everybodyshistory.com). As my kids will tell you, I am a card carrying “history geek” and will over-share old stories with anyone who will listen. So since I have a captive audience, I will inaugurate this blog with some thoughts on one of my favorite subjects…you guessed it…Snyder!
The funny thing about the hamlet of Snyder is that were it not for a tragic twist of fate, this region would invariably be known by some other name. Why? I guess I should start at the beginning.
Abraham and Veronica Snyder, along with their young sons John (7 years) and Michael (3 years), came to Amherst from Dauphin County Pennsylvania about 1823 and settled in a vacant log cabin at the southwest corner of present day Main Street and Harlem Road (Key Bank). The Snyders, as many pioneers, made ends meet by farming and selling firewood to the City of Buffalo. By 1832, the Snyders welcomed a third son, Jacob, and had saved enough money to buy some property in the Harris Hill region of Clarence. Apparently a move was imminent and, if it weren’t for one heartbreaking event, the Snyder family would never have remained in “Snyder” long enough to sponsor its name. As we unravel the family history, we learn that Abraham Snyder never arrived at Harris Hill to make his transaction and never returned home either. After being presumed dead for several years, Abraham’s remains were eventually unearthed by workmen excavating for an addition to the Eagle House. As the Eagle House hosted a stage coach stop in those days, it is presumed that Abraham was robbed and murdered while waiting for the Harris Hill coach.
In his father’s absence, twelve year old Michael Snyder began his iconic development of the wilderness around the Snyder homestead. By the time he was 17 Michael had built his mother a plank house at the northwest corner of the intersection (Bagel Jays) and was operating a mercantile with his Uncle Jacob Schenk from the front room. While the Snyder’s maintained their living quarters in the back of the house, the second floor was used as a ballroom and eventually a courthouse.
Over the next several years Michael would construct and operate a rug looming shop, vinegar works and band hall. He built a blacksmith shop and wagon works that he leased to members of the community and, most notably, opened and operated Snyder’s first US Post Office. While it is the distinction of being Snyder’s first Post Master that lent his name to the hamlet, Michael also served as Justice of the Peace, Town Auctioneer and Amherst Town Supervisor.
To me, it is unfathomable to picture what my hometown would look like were it not for my great great grandfather, Michael Snyder. Honestly, it would probably look a lot like Clarence since I might never have been an Amherst girl at all. I wonder if my great grandfather Solomon, his daughter Beulah and my father, Robert Fiddler would each have put their roots in Clarence as they did in Snyder. So in a way, my ancestor’s greatest tragedy is also their greatest gift. I’m sure losing his father at 12 and being thrust into adulthood was not what Michael had pictured for himself when he was a young boy playing in the Amherst wilderness. As someone who lost her own father at 16, I feel a unique sort of bond with Michael in that regard. Life doesn’t always work out how you plan…and sometimes childhood ends just a little sooner than you imagine. The true test of character is what you do with those challenges. Michael chose to honor his father by building a village and creating a community. As for me, I will continue to honor mine by telling his family’s story to anyone who will listen. Sorry kids!
So like I said, through my work, my beliefs and my bloodlines, this town is literally a part of who I am. I am Amherst; but guess what? So are you. You don’t need to share genetics, have 50 years of memories or even an Amherst address to be a part of our community. As of February 1st our website had hits from across the United States as well as 10 foreign countries. Hometown ties are everywhere and a true Amherst love never dies. So now it’s your turn. Send us some pictures. Sketch out a blog. Isn’t it time you took your place in history?