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Tonawanda is a city in Erie County, New York, United States. The population was 15,130 at the 2010 census. It is located at the northern edge of Erie County, south across the Erie Canal (Tonawanda Creek) from North Tonawanda, and north of Buffalo, New York. It is part of the Buffalo-Niagara Falls metropolitan area.
According to William Bright the best that can be said of the origin and meaning of the place name “Tonawanda” is that it is “probably from an Iroquoian source, but of unclear derivation”. One theory is that it is a loanword from Tuscarora: Tahnawá•teh meaning “confluent stream.” The Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora are one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) in the 18th century. They and the Oneida were allies of the American colonists in the American Revolutionary War.
Post-Revolutionary War European-American settlement at Tonawanda began with Henry Anguish, who built a log home in 1808. He added to the hamlet in 1811 with a tavern, both on the south side of Tonawanda Creek where it empties into the Niagara River. The hamlet grew slowly until the opening of the Erie Canal, completed in the course of the creek in 1825. The Town of Tonawanda was incorporated in 1836. The Erie Canal and the railroads that soon followed it provided economic opportunity. By the end of the 19th century, both sides of the canal were devoted to businesses as part of a leading lumber processing center. In the mid-19th century, the business center of Tonawanda was incorporated as a village within the town. The village united in a corporation with North Tonawanda across the canal. This corporation fell apart, and in 1904 the village was incorporated as the City of Tonawanda.
On September 26, 1898, a tornado struck the City of Tonawanda. After crossing over the river from Grand Island, the tornado damaged the old Murray School as well as several homes along Franklin and Kohler streets. Its worst havoc was wreaked along Fuller Avenue, where a dozen homes were severely damaged, several being leveled to the ground. No one was killed by the fierce storm, but there were numerous injuries.