John W. Clark was a doctor and graduate of Fairfield Medical College who moved to Buffalo New York to seek his fortune. At the time of the creation of this collection, Buffalo, New York, was a growing frontier town. Surveyed and laid out by the Holland Land Company in 1801, Buffalo grew slowly until the advent of the Erie Canal in 1819. John W. Clark arrived in Buffalo in 1823, at the beginning of Buffalo's population explosion. As a single young doctor, educated at Fairfield Medical College in western New York, Dr. Clark recognized in the growing village of Buffalo an opportunity to establish himself as successful doctor and businessman.
Clark's hopes for Buffalo were not foolhardy; in 1822, the canal commissioners decided to make Buffalo the western end of the Erie Canal. This decision and the completion of the Canal in 1825 insured Buffalo's transformation from an isolated village to an important center of commerce. In 1825, Buffalo's population was 2,412 and by 1830 it had grown to 8,668. The village offered Dr. Clark and his first partner, Dr. Chapin, abundant business. They profited from the needs of the growing population and often solicited work from the Native American groups in the area. Nevertheless, Clark soon abandoned medicine for real estate. In 1825, Clark began buying land in Buffalo, often developing and then selling the properties. Clark's letters and city directories imply that he was also active in civic affairs. In 1828, the Buffalo Literary and Scientific Academy was established, and Clark became the treasurer and a trustee. Many of his letters include passages about the creation of municipal buildings and centers of learning.
It seems that Clark's enthusiasm for Buffalo was contagious; many of his sisters and their families moved to the area. A large part of this collection consists of the correspondence between Clark and his brother-in-law and fellow graduate of Fairfield, Dr. Bryant Burwell. When the Burwell's moved to Buffalo in 1824 they shared a house with Clark. Dr. Burwell and his son George would eventually open a medical practice on Pearl Street in downtown Buffalo, and Clark's sister Anjulina and her husband Dr. Green lived not far away in Lodi.
Evidence of Buffalo's prosperity in the 19th century is clear: the population exceeded 10,000 in 1832. Five newspapers circulated in the city, and over 3000 vessels passed through Buffalo annually. The 1832 Buffalo city directory notes seven houses of worship, two banks (including a Federal Bank) and three firehouses. Located in the city's center were several taverns and hotels. Clark's success is not as obvious, however. Unlike Dr. Burwell, He does not appear to hold any civic appointments after 1832. His letters never affirm the financial triumphs he so often promises, and later issues of the city directories indicate that he began practicing medicine again.