City Living – Around the Block at Agassiz Circle

City Living – Around the Block at Agassiz Circle

A couple of weeks ago, as I drove on the 198 near Forest Lawn, I lamented to myself (again) about the loss of the once beautiful Humboldt Parkway. Yes, I do have occasion to use the controversial, but also well used highway that split our Delaware Park (and indeed a thriving neighborhood) through the middle. As do, I suspect, a lot of Buffalonians who wish the highway were still a beautiful ‘bridle path’ that ambled through the park and over to MLK Park.

But that’s not what I am writing about today. Suffice it to say that if the Scajaqada were torn out tomorrow, and returned to its former glory, I would rejoice right along with all the principled people who refuse to use it today. But for now, I occassionally need to, and do, use it. Just like I will when it’s returned to a tree lined two lane city street. (Hope!)

But on this day, it was the homes on Agassiz Circle that I was thinking about. Specifically the ones near Medaille College. Who lives along there now? And how does their view differ from the way it was back in the day? Curious, as usual, I decided to take a closer look.

Let’s Begin

As I left the house to head over to Agassiz Circle, I mentioned to my husband that I didn’t think I’d be able to continue my urban hikes posts through the winter because people are generally indoors at this time of the year. And let’s face it, the people I meet along the way are what makes these posts interesting.

Happily, I was wrong. On this hike, I met and spoke with four residents of this neighborhood who were friendly and willing to chat. Take a look.

The Homes on Burbank Terrace and Burbank Drive

I started this urban hike at the corner of Meadowview Place and Burbank Terrace.

Burbank Terrace

As I entered the street, this is the first home I saw. Just my style. Love everything about this house. I always marvel at how some homeowners get the color just right. The color of this house is perfect. Not fussy with the trim – just all one color and it looks like a classic craftsman style home. I especially love that the windows appear to be original. Love it.

As I start to move on, the homeowner comes out on the front porch to talk to me. Her name is Brittney (I apologize if that’s not the correct spelling) and she’s very friendly. I explain why I’m taking pictures on her street. We talk about her home, about the neighborhood, and about the cemetery. She tells me there have only been two owners of this home. And I believe she is correct. Well, two families that is. The first owner was A.J. Brady Jr, who worked for Brady Bros., which was run by his father and uncle, and was a lumber business located in North Tonawanda. His daughter Mary Louise was the previous owner to Brittney and her family. So two families.

Brittney invites me to the backyard to see their view of Forest Lawn and to take photos. The backyards are very small along this stretch. Here, it’s about having the wide open space of the cemetery on your border. Brittney says that her kids know Sarah Jones very well. At my look of confusion, she explains that Sara’s is the closest grave to their backyard. She speaks about Sarah almost affectionately. I find this to be very sweet, but also very realistic. It teaches children that death is a part of life. We’re all going there; am I right? Why shouldn’t we talk to our kids about it?

Moving On

Brittney also tells me that this home, below, was built on a bet. Apparently, the people who built it had it designed to fit into this tiny piece of property, because people bet it couldn’t be done. I think they did it very well. No yard here at all, just the wide expanse of cemetery out back.

I love this neighborhood already. Thanks Brittney!

As I walked away from Brittney’s home I took one more photo of it, and another of this one, below, when I met up with Patrick, who was walking his dogs. I handed him my card, and explained what I was doing. He seemed okay with it, but his dogs were definitely not interested in talking to me, so we continued off in opposite directions.

Patrick later emailed me and we’ve had a few back and forths, discussing the neighborhood and Buffalo in general. He loves living in the neighborhood. And why wouldn’t you?

More Homes

After walking to the end of Burbank Terrace, I turned around to head over to Burbank Drive. It was then that I met up with Jeff, and his super sweet dog, Trixie. She’s 15, but certainly doesn’t act her age! She’s a beautiful girl, isn’t she?

Isn’t she sweet?!

Jeff and I talked about how much he loves living on this street, he’s been here for 23 years. Everyone I meet mentions that everybody knows everybody in the neighborhood. I like that.

Burbank Drive

As I head on to Burbank Drive, I see a lovely Cape Cod. I have never seen this particular use of wrought iron on a porch, but I like it so much, I wonder why it’s not done more. I think this is one of the best Cape Cod style homes I’ve ever seen. It’s larger than it appears in my photo. It’s the kind of home that is grand, without being massive. Does that make sense? If there is such a thing, it’s a grand Cape. This is one that makes me think that I wish it were summer. I’ll have to come back.

There are a few more houses along here, but the owners expressed an interest in privacy, and always wishing to be respectful, I will not share photos of those homes. The homeowners were friendly, mind you. Just private, and I can understand that.

I decided to take a break at this point and head over to Medaille before starting up again on Agassiz Circle.

Medaille

The photo above is the main building of Medaille College, which is the former building that housed Mount St. Joseph’s High School.

As I walked towards Agassiz, the first home I saw was this one, below. This home is gorgeous. I love the little balcony above the front door. And the bay windows are really pretty.

It doesn’t, however, have it’s own address. It is (obviously) the office of admissions for the college though, so it probably shares the address of the college. It’s beautiful.

The Driscoll Home

Then I came to this house.

It was once owned by the Driscoll family. Daniel A. Driscoll was a member of Congress for four terms, beginning in 1908. He went on to serve as postmaster in Buffalo from 1934-1947. To that date, only one had served a longer term, Erastus Granger, who was our first postmaster.

Photo Credit: Unknown

Upon his retirement from government work, Daniel returned to active, full-time management of the family business, the Driscoll Funeral Home at 1337 Main Street, founded by his father in 1861. He was also the president of the Phoenix Brewery Corporation since its organization in 1934.

Driscoll was reportedly quite a character, was known for his quick wit, had a soft spot for Ireland, (his parents both arrived here from Ireland as small children) and was apparently not fond of the mortuary business. He never married, and passed away in the home (above) in 1955, after an illness of several months. He was 80.

Moving Along the Circle

The next few homes are stunners as well. This first one is lovely with that sunroom above the carport! Would love to sit out there on a sunny afternoon.

Here, below, I love the tile roof, and those low slung arched windows that match the arches on the porch.

This home, below, just sold in December of 2020, and interior photos can be seen here. My photo doesn’t do it justice. There is a storage Pod in the driveway presently which I tried to avoid in the photo. It appears to be a well lived in, lovely (large) home.

A Sad Story for Such a Beautiful Home

This home, below, is a quintessential city home, is it not? It’s got a sad story connected with it though. In 1933 the Albert Abendroth, Sr. family lived in the home. Their son, Albert, Jr. (19) attended Canisius College, and because he did well with his studies, his parents gave him a new car.

Shortly thereafter, on May 31, 1933, Al (as he was known) took the car, and along with his friend William (Bill) Shepard Jr. (18) headed over to Long Beach, Ontario, Canada, to a Canisius College class picnic.

At the picnic, the two headed out into Lake Erie in a canoe and were never seen again. The canoe was found during the search for the boys. It is presumed the two drowned. It is unclear whether their bodies were ever found.

In a cruel twist of fate, amid massive search efforts the day after the accident, there were reports that the boys were found alive, and were being brought into Detroit by a freighter. The families, and indeed the whole of Buffalo and Long Beach, Ontario, rejoiced!

But when the freighter arrived, the stunned crew knew nothing of the disappearance of the boys. The freighter did not even have radio equipment on board. (?) It would be June 23, before the obituary for Albert Jr. would show up in the Buffalo Evening News.

Nevertheless…

The home is beautiful and has been very well maintained. There is even a little free library out front, which you know I love. Note the wrought iron and glass crescent moon hanging above the library. Sweet.

Meadowview Place

This street was aptly named. When these homes were built their view was of a beautiful wood that overlooked the meadow side of Delaware Park. In fact, the view was Delaware Park. Let me tell you what I mean.

Before Humboldt Parkway was torn out and the 198 was put in, the Parkway ambled off to the northwest through Agassiz Circle and straight into what is now the Parkside entrance to Delaware Park. The parking lot at that entrance was much the same as it is today. The Parkway then veered off to the left and continued to amble through the park, over Delaware Avenue and along Hoyt Lake.

So, you see, Meadowview Place used to border Delaware Park. Now it is cut off from it. Essentially, all the space between Meadowview Place and Meadow Drive (what we all now call Ring Road) was a thinly wooded area, and meadow. Below is a view from Meadowview over into that parking area I just mentioned. Picture it, without any roads in between.

Must have been lovely.

The Homes

The homes are fantastic. Even with the 198. They’re mostly set back aways from the street, so there’s plenty of room.

Here’s the view from these homes, below. Not too bad in the middle of a Friday afternoon; I only see a couple of cars.

Then I came upon this home, below. It reminded me of one of the Sears homes that I found over on Tillinghast. But the dates don’t match up. This one was built in 1900, and Sears didn’t start selling kit homes until 1908. Boy, it really does look like one!

I keep thinking on this hike, I’ll have to come back to see this neighborhood in the summer when everything is in full bloom!

This one is lovely as well.

Perhaps the Most Interesting Home in the Whole Neighborhood

This home, below, probably has the most interesting story in the neighborhood. It looks like such a nice family home. And I’m sure it is. But it was not always the case, depending on your opinion, of course. I happen to revel in the history of this house. The audacity is awesome! Read on.

Back on January 4, 1933, there were two arrests made here for the illegal possession and manufacturing of, you guessed it, liquor and intoxicants. Remember this was the prohibition era. Harry H. Hall, owner of the home, and Joe Saco, renter of the ‘barn’ were both charged. Federal agents staked out the house for three weeks prior to the arrests and observed the business comings and goings during what was probably the busiest season for sales, the holidays.

Wonder if they waited until after the holidays to raid the place in order to let people have a good holiday (the customers, I mean), or would the charges be ‘greater’ with proof of so many sales? We’ll never know. But the scope of production was incredible. The government estimated that 500 gallons of 150 proof alcohol was being produced here daily. Daily! Moonshine anyone? Wow! That is a lot of booze!

How did they come to know about it, you ask? They smelled the mash while driving by one day. How could you not, with that much in production?

The ‘barn’ was built into the side of a hill. The upper floor held an apartment and lockers for the wealthy Buffalonians who rented riding horses from Mr. Hall. The horses were kept in the basement level where the still was kept and were brought up to the riders. The renters of the horses would have no idea that there was a large still in the lower level, unless they recognized the smell of the cooking mash.

The Operation

It was apparently quite the operation. There were seven vats that held 2,000 gallons each and one 5,000 gallon vat. Wow! The contents of the building, including 12,800 gallons of mash, and 2,000 gallons of syrup, and other distilling equipment were seized and taken to a government warehouse. Wow!

I believe the photo below is the “barn”. The road dead ends at this building. From the 198 a stone wall is visible on the side of a hill, constituting one wall of the lower part of the structure.

It is unclear if either of the two men arrested were found guilty or served any time. Mr. Hall maintained that he merely rented the “barn” to Mr. Saco. But he was the one renting the riding horses. How could he have not known?

Pretty interesting story, eh? Well, read on for another one.

Rock Stars on Agassiz?

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this because it’s pretty cool.

In one of my conversations with Patrick, he mentioned that Gregg Allman and Cher stayed on Agassiz Circle back in the mid 70’s. Allman was going through rehab here at BryLin at the time and the couple, along with Chaz (Chastity, at the time) and the couple’s son Elijah Blue, stayed for several months. I knew they were here back then, but I didn’t know they lived on Agassiz Circle while they were here.

On a personal note, the doctor who treated Allman was the brother-in-law of a friend of mine (I am aware that this statement is so Buffalo!). My friend loaned the couple a crib for Elijah Blue, who was a baby at the time. Can you imagine? Loaning a crib to a mega star like Cher?!

You can read a very interesting story about Allman and Cher’s time here in this Buffalo News Article. It confirms they were living on Agassiz, but I still don’t know which house. Anybody?

Also, while reading about it, I found another article about Gregg Allman playing a concert for Canisius High School while the couple was in town. It’s a great story, and is from the Buffalo News as well.

My Impressions

So happy I looked into this area! I’ve been wondering about it for quite a while now, and I ended up meeting some pretty nice people on this urban hike. I saw a lot of beautiful homes, and learned some more about our city.

I love the history here. From the story of a family who lost a beloved son, to an interesting postmaster, to bootleggers!

I’ll admit the story of the Abendroth family hit close to home for me, having lost a family member in a similar way, complete with a 5 day search. I know the devastation a death like this causes a family. So my heart really went out to the Abendroth family while reading about it.

But, I have to also admit that I did not expect bootleggers in this neighborhood. As I said before though, the audacity of that crime was amazing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seemed like a big operation. 500 gallons a day! Literally taking place just steps from the Buffalo Parks Labor Department, which I believe to have been there at the time. And even if it wasn’t there yet, anybody could have wandered up to it from Delaware Park, because remember, there was no 198 at the time! Oh Buffalo.

When I take these urban hikes, I always choose a neighborhood because of the homes. But on every hike, it always ends up being about the people. I met some really nice ones on this hike. And found some great stories about Buffalo as well.

Like I always say, take a walk Buffalo! You’ll see more of our city on foot than in a car any day! And you just may make a friend or two!

The Beck Family Home

The Beck Family Home

After writing and publishing a post about an urban hike I did in the Medical Corridor, I received an email from a reader regarding a home that used to be at 923 Washington Street, now an empty lot (photo above). What a story it turned out to be! 

I had originally reported in the post, that word on the street told me that there was a home on Washington Street at the corner of Carlton. And that the city had tried to take ownership for development. There were two sisters who were in their 90’s living there. They fought the city in court to keep their home. But eventually the sisters and the city came to an agreement to move the house. The person who told me the story didn’t know where the house had supposedly been moved to.

The address at 923 is now a vacant lot. I lamented that the two elderly ladies went through an awful lot of grief to make way for a vacant lot.

After publishing, I received an email from a reader revealing the real story. I did a little research on my own, and decided to write a whole new post about the Beck family home, because I think it’s important that we learn from our mistakes. And I believe that what happened in this case was a mistake. This is what I’ve learned.

The Original Home

The home in question was not moved off of the property on Washington Street, but had been moved to that location. But, let’s go back and start at the beginning.

The home was built sometime around the Civil War, by the grandfather of sisters, Anna and Veronica Beck. It was built on Ralph Street, or Ralph Alley as it was known at the time. Ralph Alley used to run parallel to and one block west of Michigan Avenue near Goodell.

Who Lived There?

Most of the people living on Ralph Alley throughout the late 1800s and into the 1900s were either German immigrants or descendants of German immigrants. Most of the men worked in some way, shape or form in Buffalo’s brewing industry.

Homes on Ralph Street (Alley), since torn down. Photo courtesy of Steve Cichon
Torn-Down Tuesday: Ralph Street has been wiped off the map

The occupation of Anna and Veronica’s grandfather is unknown. As is the occupation of their father, Frank Beck. I believe Anna lived in her grandfather’s home and took care of it on a full time basis. Veronica, however, according to census records, worked as a bookkeeper for Marine Bank. All of the family members, including Frank’s wife Lillian (mother of Anna & Veronica) lived in the home at 42 Ralph Alley. They were members of St. Louis Church on the corner of Main and Edward Streets.

Funny to think of that now. But back then, extended family members lived together much more often. Anna and Veronica lived with their parents, and probably their grandparents until the elders passed away. Think about that for a minute. I love my kids and everything, but I’ll admit I’m glad they don’t live with us anymore. And I’m pretty sure they’re happy about it too. Just sayin.

So, What Happened?

In the 1970’s most of the neighborhood around the Beck home at 42 Ralph Alley was razed as part of the Oak Street Urban Renewal Project. The project included the building of the McCarley Gardens apartments. The neighborhood was very densely populated with homes. Over a hundred were torn down. Anna and Veronica took the city to court in order to save theirs.

McCarley Gardens as they appear today at the corner of Michigan and Goodell.

It was a lengthy court battle, roughly two years, but the sisters won. Well, sort of. The city agreed to move the house from its original spot on Ralph Street, to the corner of Washington and Carlton, aka 923 Washington Street. Through tough negotiation, the sisters were deeded the land as well, and it was stipulated (by the sisters) that upon the death of the last family member, the home would be torn down and the city was to be given an option to buy back the land for $100. Both the sisters and officials for the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency signed the agreement.

From a Buffalo News clipping. Original photo by Sharon Cantillon

The sisters were happy with the outcome. And by that I mean I’m sure they would have preferred that none of it had happened, but they didn’t lose their home. And they could still walk to their beloved St. Louis Catholic Church, which was apparently one of the sticking points in the negotiations. They had lived in the shadow of the great spire of St. Louis their whole lives and didn’t want to leave it. Now, they wouldn’t have to.

View of St. Louis Church from the lot where Anna Beck’s home once stood at 923 Washington Street.

The sisters lived out their days in the home (Veronica passed away a number of years before Anna).

Anna Beck Dies

In 1998, Anna Beck, the last surviving family member passed away. Per the agreement entered into with the city, her will stipulated that the home be torn down and the city be given the option to purchase the property for $100.  

Well, guess what?  The city changed its mind.  To be fair, the common council of 1998 were somewhat more preservation minded than those of the 1970s.  The common council felt certain that the home was historic (although it held no such distinction) and so the city took the Estate of Anna Beck to court to block the demolition.

Attorney for Anna Beck, Mary Kennedy Martin, argued that Ms. Beck was adamant the house be demolished.

It seemed the City of Buffalo and the late Anna Beck had unfinished business.

What About the Home Itself?

The home itself was a veritable museum at this point.  It was reported at the time that it appeared that no updates had taken place in the home after the 1930s.  The contents included cooking utensils, an early Hoover vacuum cleaner, a refrigerator that was not much more than an ice box, a wringer washing machine, a treadle sewing machine (run on foot power!) and vintage 1930’s furniture.  All still being used in the 1990s! Anna cooked on the same cast iron stove her mother used before her.  The home was painted the same yellow color with green trim.

Amazing.

The Final Fate of 923 Washington

But, in a court of law, the will stood up to the challenge.  Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina ruled for Ms. Beck, as her will was very clear and ironclad. In what he called a very difficult decision, he had to uphold the letter of the law (as he is charged) and ordered that the executor of Anna’s estate go through with the demolition. The ruling itself is a fascinating read. (Believe me, I know what that sounds like!) Read it here.

Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina examines the cast iron stove Ms. Beck cooked on until her death in 1998. From a Buffalo News clipping. Original photo by Sharon Cantillon.

The executor, by the way, was the Rev. Louis Gonter, who was a parish priest for the Diocese of Buffalo. The bulk of Anna’s estate, amounting to roughly $150,000 was left to St. Louis Catholic Church, which meant so much to Anna and her family.

What Else?

Throughout my research into this topic, I found myself wondering about Anna Beck. Wish I could have met her. She must have been the definition of a complete minimalist. I think I live pretty simply. But not like Anna Beck.

I have so many unanswered questions. Why would she have been so adamant about having the house razed? Was it out of spite because the city forced her and Veronica off Ralph Street and over to Washington Street? Or did she really feel that no one else should live in her family home? Also, the way she never changed or updated anything in the home. If she was really so attached to the stuff of her parents and grandparents, why demolish the house?

The only photo of Anna Beck I could find. From a 1998 Buffalo News Story.

Also, what would cause a person to never update anything in their home at all? I get the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But…geez. A wringer washer? Who knows? It may have been living through the depression that was at the root of Anna and Veronica’s thrift. I don’t think it was money. Anna left a residual estate of $150,000 in 1998. She wasn’t loaded, but she wasn’t poor either.

I guess we’ll never know.

My Impressions

I have mixed feelings about this story. On one hand, I’m a preservationist at heart. To be able to see this home now, as Anna left it in 1998 would be amazing. The fact that we lost a home, much preserved back to the 1930s, is a real shame from a historical standpoint.

I’m sure that all of the items inside, or ones like them, would be able to be gathered to create the museum that was 923 Washington Street. But it wouldn’t be the same, would it? Just the fact that they were all under that roof, being used regularly until 1998 would make it a museum worth seeing.

The sidewalk remains in front of a home that is no longer there.

That’s such a big part of what we history nerds love so much. It’s the stories behind the buildings we so admire. Wondering about the people and the places they inhabited. Where they lived, laughed, cried, and loved.

This simple home told the story of three generations of a Buffalo family. It lasted far longer than most of the mansions on Millionaire’s Row over on Delaware Ave. I’d love to be able to see Anna Beck’s home today, just as it was when she lived there.

Deep breath.

On the other hand, I understand the law, and in this case, it was upheld to the letter. Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina’s ruling was fair, thorough and brilliant. He saw both sides of the argument, and no stone was left unturned in his decision. From the ruling: “Valid contracts cannot be so cavalierly breached.”* The City of Buffalo (Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency) and Anna Beck entered into a binding contract. Anna Beck executed her agreement with her last will and testament. The city of Buffalo was forced to uphold theirs.

And with that, we lost the home at 923 Washington Street, formerly 42 Ralph Alley. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.

Just One More Thing

There’s no real sense in spending a lot of time on it. What’s done is done. But at the beginning of the post, I said I thought that what happened here was a mistake. By that I mean that back in the late 70s, no one recognized this home for what it was. And in the twenty years following, still no one noticed. No move was made towards preserving the treasure that it was. To have a vernacular home from the 1860s, in the heart of the city, virtually unchanged since 1930…would be incredible.

The judge’s hands were tied in this case though.

We are better at this now than we used to be. We’re moving in the right direction. As a city, let’s not make this mistake again. Let’s move forward.

*Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mettina’s ruling

**Special thanks to Jerome Puma!

***Since the home was demolished, this lot has been owned by both Kaleida Health and Roswell Park Cancer Institute. It is now owned by 927-937 Washington Street LLC.

Our Lady of Victory Basilica & the Man Who Built It

Our Lady of Victory Basilica & the Man Who Built It

It’s the holidays, so I thought I’d write about one of Buffalo’s most notable churches, Our Lady of Victory Basilica. I’m writing on the suggestion of my husband, Tim. He’s been suggesting it for a while, and several months ago when I decided it was time to get organized with my schedule, I put the Basilica on for Christmas time. I thought it would be fitting to write about such magnificence during one of the happiest times of the Church calendar, the birth of Christ.

Let’s talk about the history and architecture of this building and the man who built it. It’s a big part of our city’s history.

We’ll Begin with Father Baker

As a Buffalonian, born and raised, I have been hearing about Father Nelson Baker my whole life. But who was he really? That’s a good question. So I did some reading, and he was a pretty interesting guy.

Nelson Baker was born in 1842, in the then growing city of Buffalo. He was one of four sons belonging to Lewis and Caroline Baker. He was baptized as a Lutheran at birth, the faith of his father. But for years Nelson attended daily mass with his mother, a ritual he very much enjoyed. At ten, he was baptized Catholic. That’s important, obviously.

A young Nelson Baker. Photo courtesy of OLV website.

His parents owned a grocery / general store downtown, and the family lived behind the store. Nelson completed high school and began working in the family business. He was good at it. He was smart, good with numbers, and enjoyed getting to know the customers.

When the Civil War broke out, Baker served in the 74th New York Regiment, with distinction.

After the war he went into the seed and grain business with a friend, and did very well for himself. At this time he was very generous with his time and money at a local Catholic orphanage in Limestone Hill (present day Lackawanna). The orphanage had a home for younger boys, and one for older boys on their campus, in addition to a parish church.

That Nagging Feeling

But something was nagging at him. He struggled to discern a priestly vocation. He made many excuses. Too old. Not educated enough.

Eventually he entered the seminary after a long conversation with a priest, Father Hines, at Limestone Hill. Baker was ordained a priest in 1876. His first assignment? The orphanage at Limestone Hill, alongside Father Hines.

Father Nelson Baker. Photo courtesy of OLV website.

Perhaps it was his business experience that frustrated him about this first assignment. Father Hines was no businessman. In fact, the orphanage and parish were deeply in debt. It had grown to $60,000. That’s a lot of money now, but back then it was astronomical.

Out of frustration, Father Baker asked for, and was granted a transfer. After just one year though, Father Hines passed away, and the Bishop summoned Father Baker back to Limestone Hill. There he would stay for the rest of his life.

The Turnaround

Creditors were after him immediately. He tried asking for extensions, to no avail. Not knowing what else to do, he simply withdrew every last penny he himself had from his business days, and paid off the debt.

It was at this point that Baker’s business acumen came into play. This is part of the story is important. He wrote letters to postmasters all over the country asking for the names of charitable Catholic women in their towns. (That certainly wouldn’t fly today!) He then started the Association of Our Lady of Victory, and wrote hundreds of letters to these women asking them to join the Association for twenty five cents a year, to benefit the boys in his care.

It worked! It wasn’t a lot of money (although some gave more) and so thousands across the country joined the Association. In effect, he was pioneering what we call today the direct mail fundraising campaign.

Life Gets In the Way

At this time, the idea for Our Lady of Victory Church was already in his mind, patterned after a church he had seen in Paris during his seminary days. But there were several other projects that took precedence. In addition to the many repairs and renovations to the two homes for boys on the property, there was the church to take care of, which at the time was called St. Patrick’s.

Father Baker at his daily rounds at the OLV Infants Home. Photo courtesy of OLV website.

When Baker heard that young, unwed girls were tossing their babies into the Buffalo River in order to save them from a life of poverty, he was horrified. For the mothers as well as the babies! He opened an Infant Home, which was to become a sanctuary for unwed mothers and their babies. Everyone was welcomed, no questions asked.

Baker spent what some considered too much money drilling on the land for natural gas. It took longer than normal, but they found it, and it was enough to heat all the buildings on the site, and roughly 50 homes that were close by. It is still being used today.

The Association continued to grow through it all. And so did the parish. The congregation outgrew the current church, St. Patrick’s, but everytime Father Baker thought he could begin, another emergency would come up and delay his plans.

Finally…

In 1916 St. Patrick’s Church suffered a fire and there was extensive damage. Many suggested rebuilding immediately. Father Baker ordered repairs done but didn’t initiate a new church. He waited until he thought the time was right.

The Great Dome. Photo courtesy of the OLV website.

Finally, in 1921, at a regularly scheduled church meeting, he announced to stunned church members his intentions to build a new church. He outlined his plan to build a large shrine to his patroness, Our Lady of Victory. He promised to complete the church with no debt, and he kept his word.

Our Lady of Victory is Built

Father Baker engaged a renowned architect, Emile Uhlrich for the design, and a local contractor to do the work. He spelled out plans to use only the finest materials and craftsmen to build a church fitting of his patroness. He hired only the most talented artists in the world to complete the work. Professor Gonippo Raggi, from Italy, and Marion Rzeznik (a Polish born Buffalonian) created the beautiful oil paintings throughout the church, depicting Mary’s life. Otto Andrle, a well known Buffalo artist, created the incredible stained glass throughout the church.

OLV as it was when built. The twin towers were shortened when a lightening storm damaged them in 1941. Photo courtesy of OLV website.

The Best of Materials

Forty-six different marbles were used. The pews are made of very rare African Mohogany. The artwork is exquisite. The stations of the cross were carved by the Italian artist Pepini, and it took him fourteen years to complete the project. The great dome depicting both the Assumption and the Coronation of Mary was the second largest in the country when it was built. The first being the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. There are angels everywhere inside and outside the basilica. It is estimated that there are as many as 2,500! Wow! There are four swirled red marble columns surrounding the Our Lady of Victory statue on the main altar.

Baker spent approximately $3.5 million – but with no debt at completion. He enlisted the help of the Our Lady of Victory Association, which now numbered in the tens of thousands. He ‘sold’ marble blocks for $10 each.

Each and every contributor’s name is listed in a book that was placed under the statue of Our Lady of Victory on the main altar. No matter how much or how little they donated.

The finished church is nothing short of magnificent! Just months after completion, the church was named a Minor Basilica by Pope Pius XI. Father Baker’s greatest dream was realized, his gift to Mary had been made.

Incidentally, OLV was only the second church in the country to be named a basilica at the time. The first was St. Adalbert’s Basilica right here in Buffalo, in 1907. Cool, Buffalo!

For the Pope

Because this church is designated as a basilica, it always stands ready to receive the Pope. Up near the main altar, pictured below, are a tintinnabulum (left), and a canopeum (right). The tintinnabulum is a bell mounted on a pole with a gold frame. It is to be used in any processions the Pope may take part in. And the canopeum serves to symbolically protect the Pope and remains halfway open awaiting the Pope’s arrival. Interesting!

The End of an Era

Father Nelson Baker passed away on July 26, 1936. His Cause for Canonization was approved in 1987. His body was moved from Holy Cross Cemetery and placed in a tomb inside the basilica, at the Grotto Shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes in 1998. By all accounts, Father Nelson Baker was a humble, quiet man who did great things in a humble, quiet way. The faithful of Lackawanna await his approval for canonization.

Our Lady of Victory Basilica is a thriving parish today, and the Association of Our Lady of Victory lives on in the Spiritual Association of Our Lady of Victory, one of OLV’s Charities, serving children and families in need.

My Impressions

To call Our Lady of Victory Basilica impressive is an understatement. It couldn’t be more impressive! I only wish the lights had been fully on in the church when I was there so that my photos could give you a true feel of the place.

Most Buffalonians at least have heard of Father Baker. How many children back in the day were coerced into behaving with the threat of being dropped off “at Father Baker’s”? A lot I would guess. I know my brothers were. But it was good to get to know this whole story. Sometimes these ‘legends’ become so big in our minds that we forget they were people. People who lived, loved and accomplished great things. And in this case, Father Baker did it humbly, and without fanfare. At least not during his lifetime.

The Millions Spent on Our Lady Of Victory

Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna stands as a testament to Father Baker’s faith in God, and his devotion to the Blessed Mother. And while it may be difficult for us to understand the expenditure of millions of dollars on a building when there are poor people who are in need of the basics, (this is something that I struggle with), it was pointed out to me this week, that it’s easy to think that way today. We already have so many treasured buildings of worship.

And back in the day, people equated sacrificing in order to give, as having true faith in God. And building great churches was seen as a magnificent sacrifice, or offering, if you will, to God. Back then, they felt it would please God to create something so grand in honor of him. If this is the case, then Father Nelson Baker certainly pleased his God, and his patroness, Our Lady of Victory, because this church is unparalleled in Buffalo, and I daresay the country.

I’ve seen OLV a thousand times, but every time I approach, it takes my breath away. It’s awe inspiring. I actually find it difficult to choose the right words to describe it. It’s one of those places that you have to see for yourself. Photos don’t do it justice. Especially mine. Either way, if you haven’t at least seen this church from the outside, make it a point to get over there and check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

I wish you good health, happiness and peace this holiday season and in the coming year!

What’s Happening at the Edward M. Cotter?

What’s Happening at the Edward M. Cotter?

Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of suggestions for blog posts from readers. My schedule is booked well into January, 2021. But just a couple of weeks ago my brother made a suggestion that made me change the schedule in order to fit it in. He suggested I write about “the Cotter”. Good idea, brother.

I always thought that most Buffalonians knew what you meant when you said “the Cotter”. I mean, it’s as much a part of the fabric of our city as say, the Bills. Well, okay, maybe not that much, but it certainly plays an important role on Buffalo’s waterfront, and most Buffalonians have at least heard about it. When I told a friend I was writing this post, he didn’t know it. But when I showed him a photo, he said, “oh, that boat. I’ve seen that around forever!”

He’s right about one thing. The Edward M. Cotter has been around forever. Well, practically.

The side wall at Engine 20, at 155 Ohio Street

Let’s talk about it.

A Little Bit of History

I’ve talked in other posts about Buffalo’s location at the convergence of the Buffalo River, Lake Erie and the Niagara River. Back in the day, most of Buffalo’s industry was built on the waterfront utilizing those natural resources. I’ve also talked about the fact that fires were all too common in cities throughout the 1800s and into the 1900s. Buffalo was no exception. Although we had two fireboats in service already (working out of Engines 23 & 29), they did not have ice breaking capabilities rendering them essentially useless in the winter. So, at the turn of the century, it was decided that Buffalo would benefit from a third fireboat.

The Edward M. Cotter was built in 1900, and was christened the William S. Grattan, named for the first paid fire commissioner in Buffalo. Thus, Engine 20 in the City of Buffalo was born. She is the oldest active fireboat in the world. That’s right, in the world! She is 118 feet long and originally had two steam engines and coal burning boilers. Her prow (or front of the hull) is 1-1/2 inch thick steel, making her perfect for ice breaking. Now, an inch and a half doesn’t seem like much but the current Captain of the Cotter, John Sixt, compared the thickness of the Cotter’s hull to that of the Little Rock, which is 1/8 of an inch thick. Woah. Okay, that puts it into perspective.

Disaster Strikes!

In July of 1928, while fighting an oil barge fire in the Buffalo River, the Grattan caught fire and was severely damaged. The firefighters on board were forced to abandon ship and swim to shore. The boat’s chief engineer was killed, and seven crew members were injured.

The boat then sat for eighteen months while the city decided what to do. They had two choices, replace the Grattan at a cost of $225,000, or completely rebuild her for $99,000 ($8,000 more than the original cost to build). All I can say is that sometimes these decisions go our way. This is one of those times.

The Grattan was rebuilt at the Buffalo Dry Dock Company in 1930. It was at this time her boilers were converted from coal to oil, foam fire retardant firefighting capabilities were added, and her engines were rebuilt.

Some of the Cotter’s Updates

In 1952, the William S. Grattan was sent to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin for some much needed modernization. Her steam engines were replaced with two diesel engines, twin props replaced the single propeller, and the firefighting platform was outfitted with hydraulics. She was now capable of pumping 15,000 gallons of water per minute! I once read that this boat could fill an average backyard pool in roughly 40 seconds! Holy smokes, that’s a lot of water!

She was returned to Buffalo in 1953, and was given a new name, the Firefighter. In 1954 she was renamed again, and became the Edward M. Cotter. This time she was named for a Buffalo firefighter who was a very popular leader of the local firefighter’s union, and had recently passed away.

In the spring of 2019, the Edward M. Cotter was sent to Toronto for two months, to receive much needed repairs to her hull and the installation of two new propellers. These repairs were paid for with grants received through the Cotter Conservancy. And speaking of which…

The Fireboat E.M. Cotter Conservancy, Inc.

The Fireboat E.M. Cotter Conservancy, Inc. was formed in January of 2016 to raise money so that the Cotter will be with Buffalo for a long time to come. It’s a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization, committed to raising $25,000 a year in order to continue keeping the Cotter in the water.

The Cotter was named a National Historic Landmark in 1996, joining less than ten other National Historic Landmarks in Buffalo. This opened up the Cotter to much needed funds to maintain the aging boat. The conservancy takes the lead in securing these funds.

The Conservancy is run by volunteers, and is led by Sandford Beckman. The group is also supported by the Buffalo Fire Historical Museum, the Fire Bell Club of Buffalo, the Local Union 282, and WNY Retired Firefighters. See the conservancy’s website for more information regarding donating to the Fireboat E.M. Cotter Conservancy, Inc.

The Cotter and the Canadian Connection

About 15 years ago, my husband and I were in Port Colborne, Ontario which is located on Lake Erie at the Welland Canal. Every August, this port town celebrates a Canal Days festival. While there, walking along the canal, we suddenly came upon the Cotter. At first we questioned whether it was actually ‘our’ Cotter. But as we got closer we realized we were indeed correct. It was. We spoke to some of the crew, and were welcomed aboard for a tour.

While we were there, the crew told us a piece of Cotter history we weren’t familiar with at the time. On October 5, 1960 an explosion and a massive fire broke out at the Maple Leaf Mills on the Welland Canal in Port Colborne. Two days later the fire still burned out of control, and the town requested help from the Buffalo Fire Department. The Edward M. Cotter, escorted by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, made the nighttime voyage and within four hours of her arrival, the fire was out.

In appreciation of this, the Cotter is invited to Port Colborne every year to help the town celebrate their Canal Days Festival. Pretty cool.

The Edward M. Cotter on the scene of the Maple Leaf Mills fire in 1960. Photo courtesy of Niagara Falls, Ontario Public Library

A Few Things

There are a few things that stand out for me in this Port Colborne story. The first is that the Cotter needed an escort for this trip because it was never outfitted with deep water navigational equipment, simply because it never needed it prior to this. Interesting. Captain Sixt assured me that an escort is no longer necessary!

The next is that the trip to Port Colborne, which on the lake is approximately 25 miles, took two hours. You see, the Cotter is not built for speed. As a matter of fact, the top speed of this vessel is 11.5 knots, which is just over 13 miles per hour. So two hours is just about right.

Lastly, this event is believed to be the first time a U.S. fireboat crossed an international border to assist with firefighting. Cool, Buffalo!

What Else?

Through the years, the Cotter has assisted with numerous fires both on the shore and on the water. She is, however, limited to where she can go and what she can do in and around Buffalo. Captain Sixt explained that when a relatively small craft catches fire, the Cotter cannot get involved. Her fire pumps are just too powerful, and would sink smaller boats. Sure, the fire would be out, but…

And because of her size, the Cotter has to be in 11 feet of water to stay afloat. Drafts at 11 feet, 13 or 14 feet is even better to be safe. For this reason she cannot travel very far into the Erie Basin Marina, because the water is not deep enough. For the same reason, she cannot enter the small boat harbor. So she simply cannot fight fires from those locations.

She does, however, have the ability to assist with other types of emergencies. For instance, in 1977 the Cotter assisted the U.S. Coast Guard cutter, Ojibwa. The cutter had lost her steering and was taking on water. The Edward M. Cotter helped by towing the Ojibwa to the base and kept her afloat while repairs were being made.

In 1978, the Cotter assisted the U.S.S. Little Rock (permanently docked at Canalside) when the ship began taking on water. The Cotter continuously pumped water from the Little Rock, keeping her afloat for five days during repairs.

There are more stories just like this. The Cotter towed a Polish tall ship (Zawisza Czarny) off a sandbar during a 1984 visit. She assisted an Army Corp of Engineers tugboat, the Nash, by pumping out water to stabilize the tug when it suddenly began to list to one side.

The list goes on and on.

A Typical Day in the Life of the Cotter

The Edward M. Cotter’s crew of two, Captain John D. Sixt, III, and Chief Engineer Jack Kelleher, work diligently to keep the Cotter in top shape. And it was clear they’re doing a fantastic job when we boarded the boat last week. Working aboard the Cotter is no small task. In addition to working a full daily schedule, the two are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you doubt the necessity of the Cotter, just think about all the changes on Buffalo’s waterfront. More and more people are living right on the waterfront, including the Buffalo River. In case of fire, it is as imperative now, as it always has been, that the fire department have access to these fires from the water.

Captain Sixt tells me that in summer, the Cotter is busy with various duties. There is constant maintenance on a boat like this. Daily maintenance. Weekly maintenance, and monthly maintenance. That is all year round.

In addition to that, and firefighting duties, the Edward Cotter is busy as an active museum. Pre-covid, the fireboat was open during regular business hours for tours of the boat itself. I would imagine those would typically last an hour or more each. In addition, also pre-pandemic, the Conservancy would set up tours of the Buffalo River and Lake Erie aboard the Cotter.

Every June, for a dozen or so years now, the Cotter travels to Dunkirk Harbor for their Spring Festival, where the Edward M. Cotter is a key attraction in the harbor helping to kick off Dunkirk’s summer season.

In August, it’s back to Port Colborne for a long weekend for their annual Canal Days Festival.

What About the Winter?

Remember earlier when I mentioned the thick prow of the boat? She was made that way in order to break through ice. Winters see the Cotter out daily breaking up ice in the Buffalo River, alleviating the chance of flooding both in the city and the neighboring suburbs. While also keeping the river open for any necessary winter traffic, whether it be for firefighting duties or ships coming in and out of port.

This is what the Cotter was built for, to cut through up to 2 feet of ice. It’s a slow, arduous process, but the Cotter is up to the task. I’m told six to eight inches is more common, but even that is not easy. It sometimes takes up to eight hours to travel the half mile from the Michigan Street Bridge to the Skyway while ice breaking! Eight hours!

Ice breaking is especially important when there is a chance of a thaw. That’s when the ice is likely to shift, move and then pile up in certain spots, causing flooding when the river can’t keep flowing. So, it’s incredibly important work. It’s a matter of watching the weather, and taking your time. And trusting that one and a half inch thick Swedish steel will get you through.

A Quick Personal Story

Here’s a quick personal story about the Edward M. Cotter. Remember The Pier restaurant/bar that was out in the outer harbor years ago? I was there with my husband, my in-laws, and a few other people for a party around St. Patrick’s Day. It was cold. And everything was covered with snow plus a thin layer of ice. My mother-in-law, Barb, saw the Cotter through the window, and decided to go take a closer look.

Well, we were all having a good old time, when someone asked where Barb was. We were suddenly alerted to the fact that we hadn’t seen her in quite a while. Someone mentioned that the Cotter had left. My husband and I bundled up and went out to look for her. We caught up to her just as the Cotter was pulling back in. Imagine our surprise when we found her getting off the boat, laughing away and thanking the crew for the ride!

Apparently, when she went out to look at the boat, she started talking with some of the crew. They were going out for a quick run and asked her if she wanted to go for a ride. She said, “Sure, but let me tell my family where I’ll be.” The crew stated that they had to go, and they’d be gone by the time she got back. This was pre cell phone days, so Barb made the quick decision to go for it. She had a ball cruising around the outer harbor with the crew of the Cotter!

I love telling this story, because that’s who my mother-in-law was, in a nutshell.  She believed that if you have a chance to do something you want to do, you should do it.

My Impressions

The Edward M. Cotter is fascinating to me. The many crew members that have served with her. Who were they? What were they like? The small and the large disasters she has witnessed and assisted with, along with her crew of hardworking firemen.

And all that ice breaking! I’d like to go out on an ice breaking day, just to see what it’s like. I think I might love it. But maybe not in January. When the windchill is 30 below though.

Oh, who am I trying to kid? I’d go out on the Cotter in any weather. It’s a piece of Buffalo history. And, like my mother-in-law, I’d say why not? And climb aboard!

That’s one of the things that keeps me hiking around the city. Because I can. I recently heard from a reader who told me he can no longer walk for more than a couple of minutes at a time due to health reasons. And that he enjoys my posts so that he can see all the things he can no longer go out and see for himself. That’s enough to keep me going.

Be curious, Buffalo. And get to know your city, while you still can.

The crew of the Edward M. Cotter hopes to be able to go back to a regular tour schedule once we return to pre-pandemic conditions. Once that happens, if you can, get out to see the fireboat. You’ll be glad you did.

*Special thanks to Captain John D. Sixt, III, for taking the time to give us a tour, and for willingly answering our many questions! I appreciate it more than you know.

**Get the book! They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!).  Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!

City Living – Lincoln Parkway

City Living – Lincoln Parkway

Several weeks back, I began working on a post about Soldiers Circle. While out at the circle one day taking photos, I noticed a house for sale on Lincoln Parkway. Now I never before thought of writing about Lincoln Parkway, and I didn’t even think about it that day either. But after I saw that house, the post began to form itself in my mind. It kept coming up in conversation. I saw photos of the young Lincoln statue on social media. And a couple of readers asked me questions about two of the homes on the parkway. So, here we are.

The photos above are of two statues of Lincoln. Young Lincoln is out in front of the Rose Garden overlooking the south end of Lincoln Parkway. Older Lincoln sits overlooking Mirror Lake behind the Buffalo History Museum. You could say older Lincoln overlooked Lincoln Parkway too, before the 198 was put in. But that’s another story for another day.

Now, the stretch of Lincoln Parkway between the art gallery and Bird Ave has been part of my regular walking route for quite sometime now. When you become very familiar with your surroundings, you tend not to notice them anymore. You know what I mean, when you’ve seen something so many times, that you forget to really look at them. I’ve learned quite a bit about these homes over the past, well, never mind how many years! Ha! Let’s say several. Okay?

But today, I headed out to take a look at Lincoln Parkway with fresh eyes.

A Bit of Pontificating

Seriously, this street is the stuff that dreams are made of. How many of us have walked along these streets and wondered what it was like to live in one of these homes ‘back in the day’? My guess is, a lot of us have.

Like most history nerds, I’d like to travel back in time to when the homes along this grand parkway were entertaining Buffalo’s movers and shakers. But I’d like to go back as one of the upper crust. Not the second generation Irish / Polish immigrant that I’d have been back then. What I mean is, if I’m going to time travel, I’d like to do it as one of the people who lived in one of these mansions. Not as a servant who worked in one. And I know that money didn’t necessarily make these people happy, but I’d like to check it out for a day or two. You know what I’m saying?

So, for those of you working on time travel, be smart about it, please. Let us choose where we go and who we’ll be. And I look forward to being one of your test subjects some day.

History Along the Parkway

Now, you know I cannot talk about the gorgeous homes along Lincoln Parkway without discussing some history. And I’ll tell you what I know about specific homes along this historic stretch as I move along the street. Since I’ve covered the Larkin homes on the east side of the parkway in another post, I won’t be discussing those here.

Lincoln Parkway was designed in the latter half of the 1800s when Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Buffalo’s Parks and Parkway System. The idea was that instead of just having one park in the city, Buffalo was to have a park system, with a series of parkways in between, connecting the parks. Olmsted and Vaux also utilized traffic circles to connect the parkways to each other. The system was designed to make you feel like you hadn’t left the park while travelling the parkways. Anybody who has walked the center median of any of these parkways has experienced the genius of this design. If you haven’t done that, give it a try. I’m pretty sure you’ll be glad you did.

At the time most of these homes were built, Lincoln Parkway was considered one of the most sought after addresses in the city, second only to Delaware Avenue. Some of Lincoln Parkway’s early residents actually moved from Millionaire’s Row, to the Parkway. I would imagine it would have been more quiet and peaceful on the Parkway, so I can understand this move.

Let’s See Lincoln Parkway

I’ve decided to begin across the street from Delaware Park near the art gallery. This is the first home we come to. And what a home.

It’s an unusual example of the Arts & Crafts style. It was completed in 1908. The architects were Essenwein and Johnson, who were very popular and talented architects in Buffalo. And many, many of their designs still exist today, including the Electric Tower downtown. In my opinion, they were second only to Green & Wicks, who were the premier architectural firm in Buffalo back in the day.

I love the entryway here, with its gabled roof being supported by oversized brackets, and leaded glass windows and some stained glass too. If you look closely, you’ll see that some of the windows have an Art Nouveau design. Just beautiful. It’s all these little details that make a house stand out.

I would love to see the inside of what appears to be a conservatory on the right of the home (center photo above). Note the French doors with those gorgeous curved transoms and the wide sidelights. Spectacular. Wish the landscaping allowed us to see these a little better.

152 Lincoln Parkway

This next home was built in 1912 for David and Bertha Gunsberg. The Gunsberg family had interests in mines in Canada and owned several oil wells. The home is an exquisite eclectic design, and seems chateau-like in both its size and appearance. The tripartite window in the dormer is lovely. And on the second floor windows I see an architectural detail that I don’t think I’ve ever talked about in any of my posts. Above the windows are what is called splayed lintels. These are where the lintels above the windows spread (or splay) outward at each end, like these do. These are particularly nice.

This home was bought in 1964 by what is now SUNY Buffalo State College and is used as the home to the president of the college.

I love the side view of this home best. But I also love the cast iron awning above the driveway side entrance, supported by beautiful wrought iron brackets. Why don’t these get more attention? They’re veritable works of art. I’m going to celebrate them in this post!

Then there’s this one. I admit I don’t know much about it. I wonder if the portico was closed off later like the one at the Goodyear Mansion on Delaware Ave? Come to think of it, this one reminds me of that home. Less grand perhaps, but lovely all the same.

Moving Right Along

Next we come to the Spencer Kellogg Jr. home. I was bewitched by this house when I was young. I loved the front walk with the ornate stone walls and gate leading to what I used to think was church-like doors. Now that I’m looking afresh at the home, I don’t disagree with that assessment. There is something church-like about that front door. Must be the archway.

This home is classified as a Tudor Revival design, evidenced by the mimicking of a medieval estate home. The use of stone here is fantastic! And incidentally, the architects are Green & Wicks. Love this home.

The Kellogg family in Buffalo made their fortune in Linseed Oil. Who would’ve thought? The company goes back to the 1820s. Spencer Kellogg Jr worked in the family business (as a vice president), but later opened a book shop and printing house called Aries Press. Interesting. He did his duty to his family, but was also able to realize his dream in other pursuits as well. Cool.

I’m a little concerned that one of the four lions who guard this house appears to be missing. See the left side of the gate in the center photo above.

120 Lincoln Parkway

This is the Henry W. Wendt Home and it was built in 1923. It’s also a Tudor Revival style. This one reminds me of the George Rand home on Delaware Avenue (now Canisius High School). It’s stately and castle-like.

Check out the puppies who came out to greet me! Okay, they were not happy I was there and were barking like crazy! But they’re still cute!

Henry W. Wendt and his brother William, started Buffalo Forge in 1878, to build blacksmith forges. They eventually expanded to several other products including air conditioning, which was invented by one of their employees, Willis Carrier. Apparently, William had a good head for figures and marketing and Henry looked after the manufacturing and human resources end of things. They made a good team, because Buffalo Forge was a very successful business, and still maintains a presence in the area as Buffalo Machine Inc., located in Lockport. Cool.

This home was built in 1923 and designed by Franklin J. and William A. Kidd, and guess what? The George Rand home on Delaware Ave? Same architects, and completed in the same year! I wasn’t far off the mark. Love when that happens!

Century House

The home at 100 Lincoln Parkway was dubbed as the Century House due to its address at number 100. The home was designed by Essenwein & Johnson (another one on the block!) for Harlow and Ethel Curtiss. Harlow was an attorney, and later a real estate developer. This couple lived in a Delaware Midway Rowhouse, a mansion at 864 Delaware Avenue, and then this home on Lincoln Parkway. They also owned a summer house in East Aurora. Movers and shakers, these two.

The couple lived in this home until selling it in 1919. There were several owners over the next two years (!) until Frank Goodyear purchased it in 1921. He sold it to Albert and Sylvia Wende in 1923.

The Wende family changed the fate of this home for many years to come. They set about converting it into three separate luxury apartments, and lived in the first floor themselves. The idea was to house members of extended family and/or eventually tenants. They added the two story sunrooms to the front of the house and converted the stable into a garage.

The Wende’s two daughters lived in the home at various times. Albert lived in the home until his death in 1963 and Sylvia stayed until 1968. Since then, the apartments (over 3700 sq. ft. each) have been sold separately.

What Else?

These. Check out that cast / wrought iron and glass awning. Wow!

This next one has been one of my personal favorites for as long as I can remember. It’s exquisite. This home was built in 1911 for Edward B. Holmes, president of E. & B. Holmes Machinery Company. Here’s an interesting little tidbit ladies, when Edward passed away in 1934, his wife Maud became the president of the company. She ran it until, having no children to pass it to, she sold it to two long-time employees in 1950. Cool.

This home is a great example of my kind of Arts & Crafts design, with it’s overhanging eaves, decorative finials on the cross gabled roofs, and the double (or paired) support brackets, on what I consider to be an incredible patio. You all know how I love a good patio. And those leaded glass transom windows on the first floor! Must be very bright inside.

Whoever owns this home now keeps it in excellent shape!

And this beauty next door. Note the awning. Gorgeous!

Essenwein & Johnson Make Yet Another Appearance

This home was built in 1910 and designed by, yep, you guessed it, Essenwein & Johnson. It was designed for Louis Kurtzman, president of the C. Kurtzman Piano Company. It’s considered a Spanish Colonial Revival style home. Note the terracotta hipped roofs, and the battered pillars (meaning that they are wider at the bottom) on both the porches and the corners of the home itself.

I find this home stunning.

The Bush Family

The same architect, Lansing & Beierl, built these next three homes for various members of the Bush family. This first one was for William and Katherine (Bush) Hotchkiss. William was a partner in the law firm of Hotchkiss & Bush.

The home is a craftsman style with half timbering. Note the use of ‘clinker bricks’, which are overfired bricks with textured surfaces. Before I noticed these bricks on this house, I had never seen them before. They’re very unique.

This next one was built for Myron (Katherine’s brother) and Carrie Bush in 1902. This is a Colonial Revival style home. Note the use of Flemish bonding in the bricks on this home. Flemish bonding is the process of arranging the bricks in each row so that the bricks alternate being laid the long way, and the short way in each row. On this home, it is not every other brick that is turned, rather there is an interesting pattern to it. Nice!

The home at #6, (below, the one that started this whole post) was designed and built for John W. Bush, Myron and Katherine’s father in 1903. It is the only Beaux Arts Classical home in this post. What a house! Really, all three homes built for this family are completely different designs, but were all executed beautifully by architects Lansing & Beierl.

There is so much to look at on this house.  It’s ornate, but somehow, not overdone. There is white glazed terracotta ornamentation, well, all over this house. A red terracotta roof and Flemish bonding on the brick, and the wrought iron is fantastic.

Oh, and it’s for sale, in case you’re looking.

Note the side awning. This one is fantastic!

Let’s Cross the Street

As I cross the street at Soldiers Circle, I see that the first home on the opposite side of the street is very well hidden behind the landscaping. Wish we could see what appears to be a beautiful home a little better, but I understand that some people value their privacy.

This next one is amazing! It was designed by Essenwein & Johnson in 1905 for Walter B. Trible, a graduate of Cornell University and a manufacturer with Buffalo Lounge Company.

It’s a beautiful example of the Colonial Revival style, with broken pedimented dormers with dentil moldings and keystones above the windows. Note the ghost decorations in each of the dormer windows. Cute. That front entryway is so welcoming, and this home is very well maintained. I especially love the stone pathway leading up to the front patio. Perfectly executed!

The McKinney Home

This next one was built for Thomas J. McKinney and his wife. The architects were none other than Essenwein & Johnson. The McKinney fortune was made in the oil business. No expense was spared in the building of this home. It reportedly cost $800,000 to build, and the furnishings cost another $200,000. By way of comparison, the previous Colonial Revival (above) cost $18,000. Wow!

Craftsmen and rare building materials were brought in from several countries to hand carve ornate woodwork, the wrought iron fence and gate are some of the most intricate designs seen anywhere in Buffalo. It’s a shame that I couldn’t get a better photo of the house itself, but the leaves are still on the trees, and the yard is very, very private.

Note the wrought iron and copper awning. Beautiful!

Sadly, Thomas and his wife were killed in a car accident in Florida just four years after moving into this home. Their 11-year old son survived the accident. The home was sold a year later for a mere $110,000, but the purchaser never moved in! Unbelievable, but it sat empty until 1949 when the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo purchased it for $35,000! They, unfortunately, sold some of the statues and otherwise removed some of the other artwork citing it was too ‘pagan’.

Antique dealer Jeffery Thayer purchased it in 1985. In 2001 Clem and Karen Arrison purchased the property. They began a long and painstaking restoration project. They have received an award for “Restoration” from Preservation Buffalo Niagara in 2011 for their work. Their work is reportedly second only to the Martin House for preservation, and is the single largest privately funded residential restoration project ever completed in Buffalo. What an amazing couple!

Boy would I love to get inside this house!

Find Out more

A more complete history of the home, including early photos, can be found at this link. There are photos of the extensive (and almost unbelievable) gardens. It really is quite an interesting story!

My Impressions

Wow. Where to begin? Would I be aging myself by using a reference to the old TV show “The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?” This street still blows me away every time I walk it. If I’m paying attention, that is. Between the Larkin family, the Kelloggs, the Goodyears, the Bushes and all the others, this was definitely the place to be at the turn of the twentieth century. And it doesn’t seem to me that people came here if they ‘couldn’t afford’ Delaware Ave. They came to Lincoln Parkway because that’s where they wanted to be.

Did anyone else feel like this post is the Essenwein and Johnson story? Their firm was very, very prolific here in Buffalo, with over 1,000 designs in all. Including the famed Temple of Music for the Pan American Exposition, where President McKinley was shot. They also designed the Electric Tower, the Calumet Building and others. Not to mention numerous homes, as evidenced here.

And how about those awnings? I don’t ever really read too much about them, but there are some spectacular awnings on this block, and in this city!

And finally…

Nowadays, we just cannot imagine the way of life that some people enjoyed in Buffalo back in the day. I for one am grateful that we still have these mansions so that the rest of us can get a glimpse into that world occasionally. I wish the walls of these homes could speak, to tell us all that they have witnessed. Some of it we would love to hear from a historical, architectural, or even just a human perspective. Some of it, I am quite sure, we would not. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this life, it’s that all the money in the world cannot buy true happiness and fulfillment.

This is the stuff I think about when I walk these historic parkways. Who lived here? Who were they, really? Were they happy? Did they love, and were they loved? I wonder.

I guess that’s what keeps me going out on these urban hikes. My natural curiosity about all things human.

If you can, get out and get to know your city, Buffalo.

**Get the book! They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!).  Click here or on the photo below to purchase.

*All photos in this post are mine, unless otherwise noted.

City Living – Woodward Ave.

City Living – Woodward Ave.

On Monday as I sipped my morning tea planning out my week, I decided to get back into Parkside for a hike. And I thought of Woodward Ave and how enchanted I was with the street several years back when friends of ours from Indiannapolis visited. We had a wonderful visit, and while they were here, they stayed at the Parkside House Bed & Breakfast at number 462 Woodward. Before that, I didn’t even know it existed. But what a gorgeous place it turned out to be. I wanted to go see it again.

I called the owner, Chris Lavey, and he agreed to meet with me. So Woodward Ave it is this week.

Parkside B & B

We might as well start with Chris at the Parkside House Bed & Breakfast, because it’s where I started. What a pleasant, engaging person Chris is. I can picture him making friends with most of the people who stay at his house. And speaking of the house, it was built in 1898 as a duplex for two sisters. Which makes it perfect for a B & B. Chris lives on one side and operates the B & B on the other.

He has painstakingly restored this home over the course of a dozen years, pulling down drop ceilings, restoring woodwork. Blending old world Victorian charm with all the creature comforts we are used to today. Everything you’d want in a B & B. And he did it beautifully.

The front porch and second floor back patio alone are a good reason to stay at this place, they’re just lovely! I could easily see myself enjoying these outdoor spaces. Especially when traveling, those quiet moments in the morning, or at the end of the day. Just the kind of outdoor spaces you need, cool in the summer, comfy and cozy in the spring and fall.

When we spoke on the phone, Chris mentioned that Covid-19 has affected his business exponentially. But he is grateful to have had the visitors he did have this summer. Like everyone in the hospitality business in 2020, he is hopeful for the return of travel and tourism in 2021. I for one, would much rather stay at a small, intimate place like the Parkside House than a large, chain hotel.

What Else is on Woodward?

A lot. A real lot. Let’s check it out. The homes are amazing, but the people are friendly too. I walked up one side of the block between Crescent Avenue and Jewett Parkway, and back down the other, beginning and ending at the Parkside House. I passed what I would call many people. Some walking, some on bikes. Others sitting on their porches, some working on their homes. Everyone said hello. All of them.

Look, you know I walk all over the city. I say hello to everyone I meet. Everyone. Some say hello back, but some don’t. For whatever reason, some just don’t feel comfortable responding. That’s okay. I get it. But on Woodward, every single person I said hello to, responded. Every single one. I love that about a neighborhood.

So we’ve established that Woodward has friendly neighbors. But the homes! These houses are what attracts people to a street like Woodward. The friendly neighbors keep them here. The two together is what city living is all about!

The homes are a nice mix of architectural styles. Queen Anne, Victorian, Shingle, Romanesque Revival, Bungalow and Colonial Revival styles are all represented, with the occasional Tudor thrown in. The paint colors can be described as everything from traditional to eclectic. I never would have been able to dream up some of the color combinations, but almost all of them work. Take a look.

Check this Little Guy Out

Then I reached this house where I asked the woman on the second floor patio if I could take photos of the house, she said yes immediately. Note the tie rod and anchor holding the chimney secure to the roof. It’s a nice one. I like the windows here too.

It was then that I realized that her cat was watching me from the picture window. He then looked to her. Cutest photo bomb ever! We laughed and chatted for a few minutes before I moved on down the street.

After that, I was meeting people left and right. Like these two guys – very willing to mug for the camera. Thanks guys!

This would be a good time to mention that I saw several homes along Woodward getting some sort of work done. That’s also another good sign in a neighborhood. People are taking care of their homes. Love the tripartite windows on the third floor of this one, and that wide entryway on the second floor. It’s not often you see that. This home is lovely.

And these. Love the way these homes are being cared for.

Then I Met Mike

A bit further down the road, I met Mike. Unlike the Mike I met last week at Colonial Circle, Mike is his real name. His house is not technically on Woodward, it’s on Jewett. But the bulk of the land is on Woodward. Plus it’s spectacular, so I’m including it.

When I met him, Mike was doing what some men (my husband included) do best. He was puttering. And I mean that in the most positive way possible. Literally, he told me he was playing around with some Ambrosia Maple wood he had left over from a building project (a table) he had recently completed. If that’s not puttering I don’t know what is!

But seriously, people who putter have the best looking houses. And Mike’s is right up there. Just take a look at this beautiful bungalow.

Those are habanero peppers growing in the front garden – love it!

The Home has Received Some Notoriety

Mike tells me the house was featured in American Bungalow Magazine (at least I think he said American Bungalow). Specifically, the windows. And they are spectacular. He pointed out that the porch was enclosed in the 70’s for an attorney who made it his office. Mike didn’t seem to love that part of the house, but I think considering it was done in the 1970’s, it looks pretty good.

We go into the yard and around the home looking at all the little details. It’s fantastic! The wrought iron detail in the gate is repeated in the side yard on the entryway, in a frame at a window at the back of the house, and on the front trellises. Mike tells me he got it from his brother, who was getting rid of an old wrought iron fence. Great reuse.

The brick pavers were salvaged from Ft. Niagara. Love the wear on these. Another great reuse.

It’s all these things that bring a house to the next level. This home is fabulous, and the yard is a veritable oasis. Thanks for the tour Mike, and for being so friendly.

As I leave Mike’s driveway, he goes back to his puttering. I expect to see some Ambrosia maple accents on this house soon. It’ll be perfect!

Frank Lloyd Wright on Woodward

As I cross the street, in between the houses, I see the Darwin Martin Complex on Jewett Parkway. That, my friends, is for another post. But not today.

Today, I will only mention the Gardeners Cottage. It’s part of the Martin Complex, but fronts on Woodward. It was designed along with the Darwin Martin House, as the gardeners cottage and is of the same style as the house, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School design. With much less detail, and lesser materials, but a stunner nonetheless.

Here, I have a personal story to tell. In 1962, my parents were looking to buy their first home. The Gardener’s Cottage was for sale, and they looked at it. They didn’t buy it for two reasons. One, it was $3,000 over their price range (!) and two, my father thought the wide eaves made the interior too dark.

When my Dad told me this story, oh, I would say within the last five years or so, I couldn’t believe it! I could have grown up in a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home! But it was too dark, and for a lousy three grand?! Oh the missed opportunity! Just kidding (sort of).

To be fair, three grand was a lot more money back then, and I’ve heard that Darwin Martin’s wife, Isabelle, didn’t love living in the big house because it was so dark inside. You see, she was nearly blind, and light mattered. The Martins lived there over 20 years. Wonder if she was nearly blind before, or after twenty years of living in the dark house? Mom and Dad may just have dodged a bullet there…

Moving Right Along

Here are some more beauties on Woodward. All fabulous in their own way!

St. Mark’s R.C. Church and School

You can’t walk this section of Woodward without noticing St. Mark’s Church and school complex. Honestly, I was a bit taken aback by the size of the property. I never noticed how large it is.

Roughly 850 families are registered as parishioners, and 400 children attend the school. The parish was founded in 1908, with the first Pastor being Rev. John J. McMahon (later Bishop John J. McMahon). The church building you see here was built in 1914, and the school was opened in 1921. And apparently, according to Business First, St. Mark’s school is ranked the #1 private school in Buffalo. Nice!

Just a Few More

Here are some more homes to round out my hike today. Note the use of color, flowers and landscaping. All of these make a difference in how you see a home as you pass by. Not to mention the architectural details. Take a second to look at the roofs, the windows, the entryways, the brickwork and the whole esthetic. Each of these homes is fantastic in its own right.

My Impressions

I cannot believe how difficult it was to choose which photos to include and which to leave out. So many great homes on one street. And I didn’t even walk the whole length of the street. Buffalo is full of beautiful homes! We only need to get out and walk to notice them. This street, I’ll admit, was a bit overwhelming. There were so many to choose from.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the colors of some of these homes. The orange / yellow colors especially. When I first saw them, I didn’t want to like them, but I couldn’t help it! The colors blended so well with the trees and the landscaping, and with this particular neighborhood. My newest favorite house colors!

Next time you’re looking for a walk where you want to be wow’d by the homes, check out Woodward Avenue over in Parkside. The homes are amazing, and the neighbors are friendly. I’d live here. The homes draw me in, and the people would make me stay. Plus it’s close to the zoo, the History Museum, Delaware Park, the Art Gallery. The list of advantages goes on and on.

And, keep the Parkside House B & B in mind when you have friends and family come to town to stay. It’s immaculately maintained. Your friends and family will thank you.

Take a hike Buffalo. Get to know your neighborhood, and your neighbors!

*Get the book! They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!).  Click here or on the photo below to purchase.

**All the photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.

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