Dennis Bowen, a prominent Buffalo attorney, in addition to being one of Buffalo’s original Park Commissioners, was a member of the Board of Commissioners of The City and County Hall, helping to guide the construction of that building, while continuing his Buffalo Parks Commission duties and his busy law practice.
Bowen was born in the town of Aurora, New York, south of Buffalo, on 4 April 1820. He studied law as a clerk in the Buffalo firm of Fillmore, Law and Haven, and was admitted to the bar in 1842. Later that same year he formed a partnership with N. K. Hall, and continued to practice law, with different partners, until his death on 21 April 1877. His practice was largely one of personal counsel, and while he did not often appear personally in court, he advised perhaps the largest number of clients in the city.
It is of interest that Grover Cleveland, future Mayor of Buffalo and President of the United States, studied law in Bowen’s firm (Rogers, Bowen and Rogers, later Bowen, Rogers and Locke), for four years and remained with the firm for another four years after he was admitted to the bar in 1859.
He represented the Tenth Ward in the Buffalo City Council in 1855-1856. He was a Commissioner for the construction of the State Normal School at Buffalo, and one of the Commissioners for the revision of the Buffalo City Charter in 1869. He was a trustee of the Buffalo Female Academy. With D. P. Rumsey, he was a founding member of the Falconwood Club, which had a clubhouse on Grand Island. He was also a Trustee of the Buffalo Horticultural Society.
He was married to the former Mary Eliza Potter, and the couple had six children. Sadly, only one of their children survived Mr. Bowen at the time of his death.
Often the public figures of Bowen’s era are marked as great industrialists, entrepreneurs, politicians or military leaders. They were often immigrants, from either a foreign land or another section of this country, who overcame difficult circumstances to make their way upward. Bowen was cut from a different bolt of cloth. He was a quiet, hard-working, and trustworthy man whose counsel was widely sought regardless of his reticence, whose character spoke loudly when he himself did not.
The Buffalo Courier eulogized him thus: “His life was an uneventful one. There is no story to be told of severe struggles in boyhood or of fierce combat with the world in early manhood. He figured neither as advocate or statesman, nor was he in any sense a politician, although endowed with rare judgement and remarkable administrative ability. He was rarely seen in the courts, and we cannot learn that in his thirty-five years of practice he ever addressed a jury. There was nothing of the orator in his composition, and he shrank from the idea of addressing an assembly of any size or kind, but his knowledge of the law was profound, his judgement was accurate, his reasoning faculties were quick, clear and comprehensive, his conscience dominated his character, and his opinions, to the minds of all who knew him, were invested with all the importance that attaches to the decision of the highest court. He commanded the confidence of his fellow-men as easily as the sun shines; he had prodigious capacity for work and used it to its utmost; he carried vast responsibilities with an ease and grace that were marvelous; and he never betrayed a trust. No man in Buffalo ever bore in his mind or on his shoulders such a multitude of important interests, and no man could unravel an ugly legal complication with greater dexterity. His character was broad, deep, firmly planted and generous. He was as simple and modest as he was grand; as quick and luminous of faculty as he was straightforward and honest; as tender-hearted and patient as he was profound; and as inflexible for the right as he was strong in the prime of his manhood.”
He sounds like the kind of man you’d like to know. The Buffalo parks are a lasting part of the legacy of this man of character.