Several months ago, a family member was in Buffalo General Hospital over on High Street in the Medical Campus. For about the one hundredth time, I admired Kevin Guest House as I drove by. But this time I noticed all the other homes around it. I thought, what the heck? How have they survived? I mean, in this little corner of Buffalo, smack dab in the middle of the medical corridor, there are not a lot of homes left. It’s all hospitals, medical labs, the medical school, parking lots and more like it. Buffalo General Hospital, Oishei Children’s Hospital and Roswell Park Cancer Institute are all within view of these homes.
This little block intrigues me. Several houses still stand in the middle of all of this development. It’s time I learned a bit more about them. Come hike with me.
Let’s Get Startedwith Kevin Guest House
Through the years I’ve wondered about the origins of this house. Who built it? Who’s lived here? What were they like? You know, my usual thoughts as I hike around the city looking at different homes and buildings. So I bought a book about it through the Kevin Guest House website. Very interesting and easy read.
The home was built in 1869 for Jacob B. Fisher, who was a brewer. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my reading about Buffalo, it’s that back in the day brewers did very well here. And I think they are again. Just sayin’.
In 1904, the home was purchased by Theophil Speyser, a cabinetmaker, for himself and his family. Speyser and his wife, Ernestine, had three children, Louis, Clara and Mathilda, who all lived in the home. Theophil opened a coffin and furniture making company and also purchased a coffin factory. He incorporated in 1906 under the name Buffalo Trunk Manufacturing. The factory building at 127-130 Cherry Street (now Evergreen Lofts) is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Cool.
Mathilda married Louis Beer and the home stayed in the Speyser/Beer family until 1971. Interior photos of the home are available at the Kevin Guest House website.
Who Was Kevin?
Kevin Garvey was born in 1958 in Sharon, PA, to Cyril and Claudia Garvey. Kevin was one of eight children, and his family gave him the nickname Heart. Just after his sixth grade year, in July 1970, Kevin arrived at Roswell Park for treatment of Leukemia. Kevin was, by all accounts (in the book), an example and model to everyone who knew him. He never lost his faith in God throughout the 18 months he lived with the disease.
On January 14, 1972, Kevin passed away.
His family soon after founded the Kevin Guest House, a hospitality house for patients and their families who have to travel long distances for medical treatment in one of Buffalo’s hospitals and treatment centers. Through the years, it has grown to a campus of four houses. The family remains somewhat involved in Kevin Guest House today.
A Source of Inspiration
In my humble opinion, Kevin’s family were (and still are) models and examples to everyone as well. The good work they have done across the country and right here in Buffalo is a testament to the love they have for their son and brother.
Incidentally, Kevin Guest House was the inspiration for the first Ronald McDonald House, which was in Philadelphia, and has served as a model for many others across the country as well. Another Buffalo first – by guests of ours back in 1972. Amazing people if you ask me. To take a loss so great, and turn it into something that has helped countless people through the years. Simply incredible.
766 Ellicott Street
This home too, is part of the Kevin Guest House campus. It is called the Russel J. Salvatore Hospitality House on Kevin Campus. Schroeder, Joseph & Associates sold the property to Kevin Guest House in order that they may expand their services to more families in need.
As of 2016, Kevin Guest House was serving roughly 1200 families every year, but 400 more were being turned away. This home is already going a long way toward helping these families. To date, in 2020, 2,000 families have been sheltered during their time of need.
Being a history nerd, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the history of this home. This beautiful Second Empire home was built for Albert Ziegler, who was also a brewer.
Zeigler’s story is well known in Buffalo brewing circles. When his brewery on Genesee Street burned to the ground, it was resurrected on Washington Street as the Phoenix Brewery. Ziegler named it for the Egyptian mythological figure that rose from the ashes. That second building has now been redeveloped by Sinatra & Company as residential units.
The home was eventually owned by August Feine, who was a talented craftsman working with iron. He embellished the home in several places with his hand forged ironwork. This home is magnificent!
Moving Right Along
As I move down the block and turn onto High Street I see this building.
I wonder what’s going on inside, looks like construction. So I called Ciminelli Real Estate and spoke to Denise Juron-Borgese, Vice-President of Development & Planning, who tells me that the building was aquired by Ciminelli during their work on the Conventus Building across the street and adjacent to Oishei Children’s Hospital. It was used as a sort of headquarters during construction.
Ciminelli has no immediate plans for 33 High Street at this time. I’m no expert, but I would guess there’s a lot of potential here.
Denise and I also had a very interesting discussion about the Conventus Building. Look for a post about it in the new year. Thank you, Denise.
The Homes Along Washington Street
As I turn left on Washington Street, I see the UB Jacobs School of Medicine on the right. But what I’m interested in are the homes on the left. They appear to be from the 1850’s and are beautiful to my eye, with lots of little details that you wouldn’t necessarily notice if you were just driving by. And they’ve got quite a bit of wrought iron, which makes me wonder if August Feine did some iron work for his neighbors back in the day. This is not your run of the mill ironwork. Some of it is exquisite.
The homes are owned by the Medical Campus (927-937 Washington Street LLC). Word on the street has it that there are asbestos issues that will need to be taken care of, but when I was there the other day, new roofs were being put on all of them, so that’s a good sign. Nice to know we won’t be losing them.
The St. Jude Center
As I continue east on Carlton Street, I come upon the St. Jude Center.
I have never heard of it. I have, however, passed it many times though, on the northwest corner of Carlton and Ellicott Streets.
So, here’s what I’ve learned since then.
The St. Jude Center was started by Msgr. Edward J. Ulaszeski in 1969, in response to the need for better pastoral care for people experiencing the pain and suffering of illnesses, by either themselves or a family member. It is easy to see why the center is located where it is, in the heart of Buffalo’s medical campus.
The director now, Fr. Richard Augustyn, tells me that when he came here to work as a chaplain at Buffalo General Hospital, in 1975, the neighborhood was so rough that they had police escorts for emergency visits to the hospital. One block away! He also tells me that the neighborhood has done a one-eighty. It’s now very safe. Patrolled regularly by police. I know I feel safe when I’m in the area.
The Center serves the community in several ways. Fr. Richard is a full time chaplain at Buff Gen. The center offers mass twice a day on weekdays, twice a day on the weekends. And mass every day at Buff Gen too. This is in addition to the regular chaplain duties of offering emotional and spiritual support to patients and their families in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
There are several programs offered in the St. Jude Center as well, including bereavement programs, prosthetic support, and wellness support. They also train all chaplains who work at the hospitals in the medical corridor.
The home is an old Victorian era house with a carriage house behind. The City of Buffalo lists the house as being built in 1890, but Fr. Richard tells me it was built in 1856 for the Hock family, who lived in the home while running the Victoria Hotel Bed & Breakfast out of it. Interesting story.
The home sat abandoned for quite some time and was pretty rough when Msgr. Ulaszeski bought it in 1969 for the St. Jude Center. A lot of the interior details are still there, although most of the woodwork has been painted. Fr. Richard graciously invited me into his home for some photos.
Check out these chandeliers, which were there when Msgr. Ulaszeski purchased the home, although I’m pretty sure they don’t date to 1856. They are different from any other lighting fixtures I have ever seen! Note that the home is decorated for Christmas, so the ornaments are not normally on the one fixture.
And the living room. This archway and pocket doors are the only woodwork that is not currently painted. And this chandelier (below) was added by Fr. Richard. There are five marble fireplaces intact in the home.
The Carriage House
The day I went to see Fr. Richard was the feast of the Immaculate Conception, so I attended mass at the Shrine to St. Jude which is in the old carriage house, and we met immediately following the mass.
Now, I’ve been to mass in more churches and chapels than I can count, and literally all over the world. I wouldn’t say that I’ve traveled extensively, but I have traveled. And when I travel, I still attend mass. So I’ve been in some really different churches. Like the church in Puerto Rico that didn’t have any windows, just hurricane shutters which are almost always thrown open.
But I have to say that this chapel is different from anything I’ve ever seen. I first walked through the brand new, modern vestibule, which, I admit seems out of place here. But immediately, I saw these doors, and forgot all about that. Note the carriage kicks at the bottom on either side of the door frame. These would prevent carriages from losing wheels if they bumped the door frames. I love it that they’re still there.
And one from the inside.
When I walked into the chapel I immediately felt an overwhelming feeling of peace. If you read my blog, it was akin to the feeling I get at Corpus Christi Church. There were more people there than I expected (don’t worry they’re following all the Covid rules), one of them said hello to me from her pew and another smiled at me through her mask. I felt comfortable immediately. I don’t know if it’s the lighting in there, or the immediate acceptance of the people when I walked in, but I got a good feeling in this chapel.
Take a look. Note the openings in the upper wall, covered now with wrought iron, this was the hay loft. The brick work on the walls here has been repaired over and over. But it’s beautiful. Through the wrought iron doors is where the Sanctuary Lamp and the Tabernacle are kept. It is where the horses were stabled. I absolutely love the humbleness of this chapel. It’s very real.
More Wrought Iron!
And the wrought iron. It’s everywhere on this property. It is so beautiful and so appropriate here. It just works.
A Quick Story
While I perused the St. Jude Center website I noticed they have a Hungarian mass on Sundays. When I asked Fr. Richard about it, he told me a little story.
A woman he knows through his work at Buffalo General seemed a little down in the dumps, and when Fr. Richard asked her about it, she told him that her home parish church was closing. She is a first generation Hungarian immigrant, and would miss her Hungarian language mass every Sunday. Fr. Richard told the woman to invite her priest in to St. Jude’s on Sunday for mass. As he says, he “squeezed them in” between the 8:45am and the 11:15am masses. And so, the 10am Hungarian mass was born at St. Jude’s.
When, sadly, the Hungarian speaking priest passed away, Fr. Richard learned to say the mass in Hungarian so the congregation could continue with their Hungarian masses. When I expressed amazement that he would do this, Fr. Richard downplayed it. He explained that he doesn’t say his homilies in Hungarian, and that he cannot speak Hungarian. He merely learned to say the mass in that language. Still. It was an awesome thing for him to do.
I have a feeling a lot of things like this Hungarian Mass story goes on here at St. Jude’s.
First of all, I don’t think I have ever seen so much incredible wrought iron within one city block! So beautiful! I still wonder about the August Feine thing. Whether he did wrought iron for his neighbors…I guess we’ll never know.
The homes are gorgeous and historic. Wish I could have seen this block a hundred years ago, when there were more homes just like these. And wish I could meet the people who lived in them. To hear their stories.
But I remain grateful that these few still stand, for a glimpse of the past in our midst.
Secondly, I want to convey to you how blown away I was by both the Kevin Guest House story, and the story of the St. Jude Center. Here are two awe-inspiring entities, sitting quietly in an unlikely, but very fitting, setting. As the medical corridor grows up around them, they remain. Continuing their quiet, but oh so important work. Forever tied to the medical community, and the people they both serve.
Humble is the word that comes to mind. And when people are humble, they often achieve great things for their fellow human beings. This is happening here in Buffalo, on this little block in the middle of the Medical Corridor.
Next time you’re in the area, take a closer look.
And if you can, and you’re looking for a way to give back, or pay it forward this holiday season, I bet they’d both appreciate a donation. 😉
*Special thanks to Fr. Richard Augustyn, The St. Jude Center; Denise Juron-Borgese, Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.; and Betsy Stone, Kevin Guest House.
p.s. Somebody at the St. Jude Center is a Bill’s fan! Go Bills!
I’ve been admiring Soldiers Circle, or Soldiers Place, since well, I guess since the first time I really noticed it. I used to work for the Government of Canada here in Buffalo, and the Consul General’s official residence was on Soldiers Circle. The Canadians purchased the mansion in 2009. There would be parties held there on occasion and I remember it being a beautiful home that was surrounded by other beautiful homes.
For some odd reason, I never really noticed this circle before that time. I mean, I had driven through it many times. But after the first party at #196, I started extending my walks in Delaware Park to include Lincoln Parkway and Soldiers Circle. We are so fortunate to have so much gorgeous architecture to look at on our daily walks. And to be fair, this circle is wide. Might be why I never noticed the homes until I went in one. What I mean is that the homes are a good distance from the circle itself, with lots of green space and trees in between. And when you’re driving or biking through, you really have to pay attention to traffic.
Let’s get to it.
A Bit of History at Soldiers Circle
When Frederick Law Olmsted designed our parkway system, he put Soldiers Circle at the center of the three main parkways, Lincoln, Bidwell and Chapin. These three parkways lead to all the others, which lead us to all the other parks. Sadly, not all the others have survived. But we’re not here to discuss that today.
Today, it’s all about the circle itself. Originally, Soldiers Circle was meant to be home to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument which ended up being placed downtown in Lafayette Square. History isn’t clear how or why that happened, but here we are. Instead the circle originally had three Navy Parrot Guns, which were Civil War cannons, and stacks of cannonballs.
Word on the street says that from the beginning, Buffalonians couldn’t resist stealing the cannonballs. I guess some sold them for scrap, some sold them to collectors, and some simply kept them. Still others would roll them up and down the parkways. Oh, Buffalo…
Either way, all of it was removed in 1937 by then Parks Commissioner Frank Coon, who said they were traffic hazards. Apparently, more than once, people ran their vehicles into the cannons. (Was this a precursor to people driving into buildings in Buffalo?) Seriously though, this is not the first time I’ve heard that early drivers had trouble maneuvering through traffic circles. Anyway, and ironically, the cannons and their accompanying cannonballs were sold for junk at that time.
The Homes on Soldiers Circle
I headed over to Soldiers Circle on an absolutely beautiful October day. The sun was shining, the sky could have been a bit more blue, but it was a crisp, pretty, autumn day nonetheless.
I entered the circle at Chapin Parkway heading towards Bidwell. The first thing I see is this building (above) that was originally a hotel, built for the Pan American Exposition in 1901. It’s since been turned into townhouses and apartments. I’ve seen photos of the interior of a couple of the townhouses and they’re beautiful!
I’m not sure what’s going on with the brick though. I doubt it was originally a mix of yellow and red, which shows at some point there was at least some neglect, but it appears to be well maintained now. I love that almost every window still has the original leaded glass transoms above. And there are so many windows!
On this particular day, I noticed a lot of things I’ve never noticed about this building before. Like what are those openings in the peaks? Are they patios? If they are, how lovely! And I love the transoms and sidelights at the main entryways! Gorgeous!
The Oldest Home on the Circle
The very next house I come to I meet the owner on his way out with his dog. He tells me his is the oldest home on the circle. It’s an 1885 Eastlake Victorian, and I daresay it’s one of the nicest examples of the style I’ve seen.
An Eastlake Victorian differs from other Victorians, from what I understand, by the ornamentation. Named for Charles Locke Eastlake, the Eastlake style home has more subdued ornamentation than other Victorians. Charles disdained flamboyant decoration, and it showed in his designs. The use of color is more subdued as well. In this case it makes for a gorgeous home. To my eye, the colors are spot on, and the ornamentation is a perfect compliment to the home. The windows are original and open out from the bottom, see photo. I find the whole house to be very charming. I’d love to see the inside.
But alas the owner and his super cute Labradoodle have already left for places unknown.
Am I in Allentown?
This whole section here has a real Allentown feel. It’s quite different from the other ‘sections’ of the circle. Now that I think about it, each section of this circle has its own distinct feel. You’ll see what I mean as I move along.
This one is Allentown. Lovely homes that have a real comfortable feel. Like that feeling I get in Allentown. Look at this house below. Doesn’t it just look comfortable? Like you want to be on that second floor porch reading away the afternoon. Or sipping wine with friends into the late hours on a summer evening. How about that? Sound good? You know it does.
Yes, this section is gorgeous and unpretentious.
Lipke House, Jody Douglass House, & Niscah House
Next I came to one of several homes in this area that Buffalo Seminary owns. Most of the homes are used to board students, but a couple are home to Head of School, Assistant Head of School and the like. Pictured below, are three in this stretch owned by Buff Sem. They are Lipke House, Jody Douglass House, and Niscah House.
For clarity, Buffalo Seminary is a non-denominational, day and boarding school for college bound girls. It has its roots in early Buffalo history (1851), and is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning for females in the country.
First up, Lipke House (1896). This one is home to the current Assistant Head of School. What a great example of the Colonial Revival Style. Just look at those four pedimented dormers complete with dentil moldings. Also, notice what is called pebbled dash inside the triangular section of the dormer. I don’t believe those would have originally been painted, but I can’t say for sure in this case. Most were simply mortar with medium size ‘pebbles’ placed at irregular intervals throughout. Interesting!
Next, are Jody Douglass House (1905) and Niscah House (1910), respectively. Both are for students boarding with Buff Sem. Indeed, as I came upon them, a handful of teenage girls came out of the houses, and headed over to the school. What an idyllic setting for this school. It helps that all of their buildings are incredibly well maintained.
The building below the two houses is Buff Sems’ West Chester Hall. It faces Soldiers Circle. Another beauty and it’s perfectly maintained.
As I Cross Bidwell Parkway
As I cross Bidwell, I get distracted by a house I see, and I’m not sure whether it’s on Bidwell or Soldiers Circle. So I walk up to it, and I find it’s not either. Check it out.
First of all, this is one of the best gates I’ve ever seen! It’s awesome! Second, note the address above the door. Lincoln Woods? It’s then that I remember seeing a small lane off Bidwell Parkway on a map several weeks ago. I make a left to see if I can find it.
I pass this…another home with a Lincoln Woods address.
Sure enough, there it is…
So, even though it appears private, it doesn’t say so. I make a right and I start walking up Lincoln Woods Lane. I don’t go far, out of respect, and because of the fact that there is no city street sign. In fact, there’s a concrete driveway out onto Bidwell. This is what I’m thinking as I take photos of one more Lincoln Woods Lane home.
It was at that point that I felt like I was intruding on people’s privacy, and I always try to respect that, so that’s as far as I went. When I came home, I looked at a map. There’s at least two more homes back in there. Maybe more. Secrets off Bidwell. Well, I guess it’s not really a secret. I mean, there’s a sign there announcing it! The things you notice when you’re walking!
Back to Soldiers Circle
As I head back into Soldiers Circle, these are the homes I see. All lovely. A bit newer than I expected, (1960-ish) but just lovely. The backyards of these homes are on Lincoln Woods Lane. Nice.
And Then, There’s This
Yep. Frank Lloyd Wright is represented on Soldiers Place with this stunner! This home was built for William Heath, who, like Darwin Martin, worked for the Larkin Company. Heath was an office manager, and eventually a vice-president, and was able to engage Frank Lloyd Wright to build this home on Soldiers Place at Bird Ave.
Here’s what I know about it. Like Darwin Martin’s house, it was built in 1905. It’s one of Wright’s Prairie School designs, shaped to fit on this narrow, long lot. Wright achieved privacy for the Heaths by building up the lot so that the first floor windows are above street level. Indeed, when you walk by, you cannot see inside the home. But still, it draws your attention to the art glass windows, the low slung, hipped roof with projecting eaves, that large, private porch, and just the sheer perfection that this home is.
There is an apartment above the 5+ car garage that has the sweetest second floor patio you can imagine. You know how I love a second floor patio. The home itself is still a private, single family residence, with the exception of that apartment above the garage. This home adds a lot to the appearance and ambience of the circle.
And it’s unique that a Frank Lloyd Wright home sits on a Frederick Law Olmsted designed traffic circle. We are fortunate to have such an amazing design among our Buffalo homes, on one of our historic parkways.
The Other Side of Bird Ave.
As I cross Bird Ave, this is what I see. I don’t even know where to begin! This house is just so – pretty. It’s in impeccable shape. While I’m snapping photos, the owner comes out with his morning coffee and a newspaper. We start to talk and I tell him how much I admire his home.
The symmetry of this Georgian style home is what does it for me. I’m an admirer of symmetry. When things don’t match up, I get uneasy. Not really, but when they do, it pleases me. The bay windows on the Bird Ave side of the house are perfect, and the Palladian windows both on the front and the sides of the house are spectacular. And that entryway! Classic!
If I have one criticism of this house it would be lack of access to the front porch from the outside. It’s one of my pet peeves. I understand why people do it. Especially on property such as this, where the home faces a circle. But it’s somehow, unneighborly. That being said, the owner was very friendly and willing to chat for a few minutes. And to be fair, he did not build the porch. So, please understand that I mean no disrespect to him. I still love the house regardless, save for that one thing.
Two More Homes on This Stretch
This slice of Soldiers Circle is set up a little bit differently. Instead of facing the circle on an angle, the homes all face what would be the continuation of Lincoln Parkway, and are stepped somewhat. In the photo below, to the left you can see the previous home set back somewhat from this home, placed further away from Lincoln Parkway. And the next one to come is closer still to the Parkway. The feeling here is one of privacy, and peace.
So, there are just three homes in this section.
This one welcomes you right up to the front door.
I love the use of Flemish brick bonding on this home. It’s a way of arranging the bricks in each row so that the bricks alternate which side of the brick itself faces the outside. With one being laid the long way, and the next is laid the short way. In the case of this house, a darker brick is used for the bricks with the short end facing out. I love the effect. In fact, all three homes on this section of the circle use this technique of Flemish bonding. It’s fabulous on this particular home.
I also love the entryway. It’s simple, but stately and elegant. The leaded glass sidelights are perfect for this house. And finally, the use of black paint really allows the architectural details to pop. Love it. Why isn’t that done more often?
And then there’s this one, below. I love how the front walk curves out to the common sidewalk. I admit I wanted to walk up it. Love the brick pavers. The landscaping is beautiful, if a little overgrown at this point in the year. Understandable.
And the house itself. To me it’s a unique design that has great arts and crafts details. The hipped roof with wide, un-enclosed eaves, the exposed roof rafters (these may be decorative). And the rounded porch with its exposed beams and square columns. Love the whole effect.
I picture this as a family home. Unassuming and well lived in. Just as a home should be.
Moving Right Along
As I cross Lincoln Parkway, I notice that this section of the circle is the only one with a separate road on the circle side of the homes. Convenient, if a little less private I guess. Google Maps calls it Soldiers Place. And all the addresses of the homes on the circle are listed at “Soldiers Place”. I should take a moment right now to say that Soldiers Circle is sometimes called Soldiers Place, Soldiers Way and Soldiers Walk. I have no explanation or reasoning for this, except that in Buffalo, we tend to call things whatever we want, and sometimes we end up with a little confusion. This is one of those times.
Getting back to the homes on the circle, check this out. This home is of the American Renaissance Style, and it’s one I’m not very familiar with. It appears to be a precursor to the Arts & Crafts movement. This particular home has that central dormer with a hipped roof, the terracotta, keystone lintels at the windows and the Doric columns on the offset porch. The wrought iron on the upper patio is fantastic! Right down to the landscaping, this home is perfect. To me anyway.
As I move to the next home, this is what I see (below). It’s official. I’m a fan of the Tudor style. I don’t know why I ever thought I wasn’t. Going out on a limb in this election year, and changing my mind. I like Tudors. Especially this Tudor Revival. It features half timbering over shingles, and a brick first level. Love the chimney.
It was built in 1906 for Albert de La Plante and his wife Margaret, who came to Buffalo from Canada in 1898. Albert worked for Twin Cities Lumber Company. Their son Walter, was Treasurer and Manager of the Peace Bridge later on. Cool! As far as I know they were the first Canadians to live on the circle. But not the last.
Did Someone Say Statler?
Then, suddenly and without warning I’m looking at a 1961 Cape Cod Ranch (below). Here’s another style I wouldn’t have known offhand. Apparently the pitched roof elevation and dormer windows are typical of the Cape Cod style, while the horizontal lines, and large windows lend themselves to the ranch style. Hence, a blending of the two. I never knew ‘Cape Cod Ranch’ was a thing.
This home was built on part of the property previously occupied by the estate of Ellsworth Statler. There is a low-slung wall on the far right of this photo that still exists from the Statler era, and the Medina Sandstone paving was reclaimed from elsewhere on the property. While I inwardly mourn the loss of the Statler house, I absolutely love the look of this home. I think it’s a nice compliment to the more modern homes on the opposite side of the circle.
The Last Section of the Circle
As I cross Bird Ave (again), I see this beauty. I love the symmetry here. The three dormers with broken pediments are lovely. I wish the windows were original, but I fear that they are not. Note the curved arches above the windows, and the keystones. I love when a second floor window copies the front entryway door with its sidelights, like this one does with a smaller version of the surround. I also love, love, love this porch. The curved roofline is just so nice to look at! It softens the rest of the straight lines of this house. Lovely.
And these two. I love the wrought iron on the front door and sidelights of the first house. And the one below that, is just beautifully built. It appears perfect in every way, with the exception of the complete lack of landscaping. It strikes me as odd in this neighborhood. I’d love it if the walls could talk in this house, because I wonder what’s going on inside.
The Government of Canada on Soldiers Circle
Like I mentioned earlier, the Canadians purchased this mansion on Soldiers Circle in 2009. I say the Canadians purchased the property because the Consul General at the time, Marta Moszczenska, always said that the home did not belong to her, but to the people of Canada and their locally engaged staff.
Here’s a funny story. A friend of mine was at the home for a holiday party. While at the party she spilled red wine on white carpeting in an upper hallway. She was mortified and didn’t mention it that night. But by the following Monday, she felt so bad about it, she went to Marta’s office to confess. True to her word, Marta told her not to worry, that it didn’t bother her in the least, and that she would take care of it. It was, after all, not her home. She was only the caretaker. By the end of the conversation, they had made arrangements for the wine spiller to house-sit the following week. That, in a nutshell, what it was like to work for the Government of Canada here in Buffalo.
Let’s Take a Look at the Interior
Elizabeth and Stephen Hays now own the home, and they were gracious enough to invite me inside and into the backyard. My memory was correct. It’s a beautiful home that’s got great flow from the front foyer all the way around the interior and back again. It’s spectacular!
I thought perhaps that over the years, I had built the home up in my mind to be something more than it really is. But no, it’s genuinely a great home. It’s got wide open rooms that are great for big gatherings, and small little nooks to hide away and read a book in peace.
Liz and Stephen have five children and I have to tell you that I like that a large, busy, fun-loving family now fills these rooms. It’s what big homes should be about. Where nobody cares (too much) if you leave a blanket and pillow on the floor. Or forget to pick up your socks. Basically, who cares if someone actually sees that people live here? That attitude seems alive and well here. And I love it. Here’s the family.
Oh the parties I could give in this backyard. Just sayin. Only thing that bothers me here is all the utility wires criss-crossing it. Sort of annoying in the yard of a mansion. I’m sure that could be remedied though.
I hardly know where to begin with my impressions this week. From the history of this circle including Frederick Law Olmsted, to Frank Lloyd Wright himself, to the Government of Canada, this circle has so much going on.
Between the three circles I’ve written about now, Soldiers Circle, Symphony Circle and Colonial Circle, this one by far feels the most affluent. Most of the homes are mansions. But there are also the humble Eastlake Victorian, the 1960s Capes and the smaller homes on Lincoln Woods Lane, which are probably larger than they appear.
This circle is also the only one surrounded by Parkways, and that makes it feel affluent as well. Right in the middle of Lincoln Parkway, Bidwell Parkway and Chapin Parkway. Three of the most sought after addresses in the city.
And Soldiers Circle takes up a lot of real estate. Seriously. From the circle itself, it’s difficult to see any of the homes lining it. I both like that, and don’t like that. Know what I mean? It does make it park like for the homeowners.
And to be fair the sidewalks do run pretty close to the homes. So, I guess Soldiers Circle, or whatever you prefer to call it, makes a great argument for urban hiking. If you want to see stuff, get out and walk. But isn’t that what I always say?
Take a walk over at Soldiers Circle. You’ll love what you see just like I did!
*Get the book! They make great keepsakes, or gifts for friends and family. Click this link to order, or click on the photo below.
**Special thanks to Elizabeth and Stephen Hays for sharing your home with us! Follow Liz on Instagram @lovelizhays
***All photos in this post are mine, unless otherwise noted.
I have a confession to make. I don’t get downtown very often anymore. Working from home is great, but I admit I miss the action. I only get downtown a handful of times each month. Everytime I do, I get that old familiar feeling. That “I love this town” feeling. I don’t know how to explain it. Downtown Buffalo is just a part of me.
And I think I may be rubbing off on my granddaughter Aoife (pronounced ‘eefa’). To be fair, my son, Aoife’s father, works downtown in the Brisbane Building so that may have had an influence too, but either way Aoife loves downtown.
So, a couple of months ago I had one of my favorite photos of city hall (below) put on canvas. When it arrived, I showed it to Aoife and asked her if she knew what it was. With a big confident smile, she said, “Yes. It’s a castle!” She’s three. So I said, “You’re right, it’s a Buffalo Castle.”
Since then, Aoife loves to ‘go walking’ downtown to see all the Buffalo Castles. I was downtown this morning walking along Main Street, and thought of how Aoife looks with awe at our Buffalo castles. I was inspired to share them with you.
Let’s Get Startedwith City Hall
Buffalo City Hall. It’s one of the largest municipal buildings in the U.S, at 32 floors and over 560,000 square feet. That aside, it’s an exquisite example of Art Deco design. The architects are Deitel & Wade, and it was completed in 1932. I love this building.
When she’s a little older, I’ll teach Aoife about all the little details that are everywhere on this building. The frieze above the front entryway depicting the history of our city up to the year it was built. The details on the windows. The Native American designs at the top of the building. And the statues on either side of two of Buffalo’s presidents – Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland. Those two may or may not be there when she’s old enough to learn about them. But for now, to Aoife, city hall is the original castle. We both love it.
I especially love the way the building presides majestically over Niagara Square and the McKinley Monument. And speaking of that…
The McKinley Monument
This monument is of course here in honor of President William McKinley who was fatally shot at the Temple of Music, an attraction at the Pan American Exposition in September, 1901. The architects were Carrere and Hastings, and the animals were sculpted by A. Phimister Proctor.
From all accounts, Buffalo deeply mourned the death of McKinley and great thought was given to the design of the monument. It has been said that the sleeping lions were included as a sign of strength, a nod to McKinley’s presidency and the turtles (yes, you have to look for them, but they’re there) were included as a symbol of eternal life, which is what the city at the time hoped for President McKinley.
The monument was dedicated in 1907, six years after McKinley’s untimely death. It underwent its first restoration in 2017. The square itself has changed around it many times, but the monument is here to stay. Not necessarily a castle, but Aoife loves the animals and the fountain, so it’s going on the list!
The Statler Building
In the shadow of the McKinley Monument, it’s easy to see the Statler Hotel, one of my other grandchildrens’ favorites. Apparently Miles learned about it in first grade in a social studies class and was awed that one man owned a building so giant (his words). I talked about Ellsworth Statler in another post, including what’s going on in that building now. He had great influence on downtown life in Buffalo back in the day. I guess you could say that he helped to create the downtown vibe that I love so much.
The hotel itself is definitely one of our castles.
Robert H. Jackson United States Courthouse
Just west of the Statler building, is the U.S. Courthouse. Not all of our ‘castles’ are old. This one was built in 2011. At that time, I worked in the Seneca One tower on the 30th floor, and my office overlooked Main Street. So I watched the courthouse being built. Robert H. Jackson is a Western New Yorker who served as a Supreme Court Justice, so it is fitting that the building is named for him.
Not normally a fan of very many modern buildings, I didn’t expect to like this one. But I do. There’s something very pleasing about the design. The architects are Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates out of New York City. The lower glass wall visible in the photo has the entire U.S. Constitution etched into it. Pretty cool. Castle worthy.
Old County Hall
And then there’s this. This building speaks to me, like some do. It gives me a real feeling of history in Buffalo. Built in 1876, it’s the oldest of the downtown ‘castles’. The center clock and bell tower is 270 feet tall – must have been an amazing sight to see in 1876! Especially since the clocks were back lit by gas lamps at night.
Picture this. It’s 1876. When it gets dark at night, it gets really dark. Not like today with street lights ablaze and illuminated buildings everywhere. It got really dark back then. The nightly lighting of the clock tower became an evening destination for the citizens of Buffalo. Rich and poor alike would take their evening walks or carriage rides to the Old County Hall to behold this clock tower. It still impresses today.
I devoted an entire blog post to this building because it’s one of those that makes me wish time travel could be a thing so that I could shoot back to 1880 or so to see the clock tower lit up without the distraction of all the other lights in the area.
While walking near this building Aoife asked me who the ‘people’ were on top of the tower. Good question. They respresent Justice, Agriculture, Mechanical Arts, and Commerce. That explanation, of course, meant nothing to her, but it meant a great deal to the people of Buffalo in 1876. Enough that they would put them high above us on pedestals to guard over the city. This, is a Buffalo castle.
The Guaranty Building
As we walked away from the Old County Hall, Aoife looked up and said, “Oh Nana, I like those circle windows.” She was, of course, looking at the Guaranty Building. Good eye, kid.
As we approached the Guaranty Building on the opposite side of the road, on Church Street, I started to tell Aoife the story of this building. How it was built in 1895-96, how it was the tallest building in Buffalo at the time, and how it was designed by a very famous architect named Louis Sullivan. Aoife couldn’t have cared less about that. Did I mention that she’s three?
In the meantime, we had crossed Church Street and stood at the base of the corner of the building looking up at the tree of life carving which drew our eyes up to the cornice. That she was interested in. Along with the other Art Nouveau details in the terra cotta exterior, and she was also impressed with the gargoyles. We went into the lobby, where we gawked at the Tiffany-like ceilings, the mosaic walls, and the bronze elevator cages. All are simply gorgeous.
As we walked away from this Buffalo treasure, Aoife said, “That was definitely a castle.” I agree.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Right across the street from the Guaranty Building is St. Paul’s Cathedral. If all those spires don’t make you think of a castle, I don’t know what would!
This church was built in 1851 and was designed by Richard Upjohn, who was well known for his English Gothic church designs. Beautiful inside and out, it is definitely one to go take a look at. I am always struck by how, no matter where on the street you are looking at this building, it appears that you are looking at the main entrance (which is actually on Pearl Street).
The Ellicott Square Building
Now, I don’t really think the Ellicott Square Building resembles a castle, but Aoife sure does enjoy all the faces on the facade. I’ll admit that after I pointed out the Medusa heads lining the cornice of the building, they scared her a little bit. So I told her they were little girls welcoming her into their building. She accepted it.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
The architect was Charles Atwood of Daniel Burnham and Company, one of the most prestigious architectural firms in the U.S. What a fantastic example of Italian Renaissance design this building is!
But to me, it’s the interior of the building that puts it on Aoife’s list of Buffalo castles. Whenever I walk into the atrium, I can’t help but look up and around the room. The staircases, the Italian marble mosaic floors, the elevators! It’s still stunning after all these years. 124 to be exact, having been completed in 1896. At that time it was the largest office building in the world. In the world!
It’s definitely castle worthy.
The Old Post Office / ECC City Campus
Back out on the street, I take Aoife through an alley over to the Old Post Office. She takes one look and states, “I think this one is a castle, Nana.” I agree. What do you think?
It was completed in 1901, and had three government architects, Jeremiah O’Rourke, William Aiken and James Knox Taylor. It’s a mix of styles between Victorian Gothic and Richardsonian Romanesque.
And to a kid this one is perhaps the most castle-like of all. It’s a real stunner! And like city hall, there are a lot of details to look at here. Gargoyles, eagles, lynx and bison. And, like the Ellicott Square Building, the inside is amazing! In Aoife’s words, “Woah…”
One M&T Plaza
As Aoife and I head back to Main Street, we see One M&T Plaza. She tells me she doesn’t think this one is a castle. But the closer we get, I can see the wheels turning. And I think she’s changing her mind.
Then we see it. The fountain. That puts her over the edge. It goes on the list. It’s a castle to Aoife because of the fountain. Ah! To be three and have your only responsibility be the discovery of everything around you. That fountain made her so happy.
I’m beginning to think Aoife does have a great eye, because this fountain was designed by Harry Bertoia, and I’ve heard his larger sculptures now sell for upwards of a million dollars! It is a beautiful fountain, and its curves are a nice contrast to the modern, straight lines of the building.
So One M&T Plaza was designed by Minoru Yamasaki and was completed in 1966. He was finishing up this building while starting his next job, the World Trade Center (Twin Towers) in New York City. I don’t have to tell you what happened to that building. Let’s suffice it to say that I am grateful that we still have this building to show off to our grandchildren.
One M&T Plaza is the Buffalo Headquarters of M&T Bank here in Buffalo. And I gotta tell you, they have been Buffalo boosters since their inception in 1856. They’ve stayed true to Buffalo all this time. And they continue to do so. No, I do not work for M&T. I just happen to think that they’ve been good to Buffalo.
The Hotel Lafayette
As we head into Lafayette Square, Aoife points out the Hotel Lafayette and says, “I pick that castle, Nana.” I was wondering what she meant, when she went on to say, “It’s a good one! Just look!”
She’s right. Just look at it.
Completed in 1904 (with two additions to follow), it’s an awesome building. And it was designed by the first working woman architect in the country, Louise Blanchard Bethune. She was a Buffalonian! And apparently she was quite a woman. She reportedly would be shouted at in the streets for riding her bicycle, something that was considered unseemly for a woman in the 1880s and 90s. Can you imagine? No, I can’t either. I would have been in trouble all the time back then!
Read my post here for more about Louise. She was really an interesting woman.
The Hotel Lafayette is now a mix of apartments and hotel rooms, banquet halls, a coffee shop, full service restaurant, and a working brewery. That’s a mouth full. The Lafayette is excellent, inside and out. Castle worthy.
The Rand Building
The Rand Building is, to me, a beautiful building that I don’t think gets enough respect. In fact, I wrote a post about it, where I give my humble opinion about why it doesn’t get the respect I think it deserves. Because I think this building is cool. Strong, solid, and true.
It was built for the Marine Bank and named for George F. Rand Sr., who was at one time the President of Marine Bank here in Buffalo. It was completed in 1929 and was the last commercial building to be built in Buffalo before the stock market crash and the depression began. True to its time period, it’s a decent example of Art Deco design. But you’ve got to really look at it to notice all the subtleties of the design.
I love it, and so does Aoife. Come to think of it, so does Aoife’s father, my son. All fans of the Rand. It’s a castle.
Buffalo Savings Bank / Goldome Bank / M&T Bank
This is probably Aoife’s least favorite Buffalo Castle. I don’t have a clue why. What child wouldn’t be impressed with that shiny gold dome atop this incredible neoclassical, Beaux-Arts style building?
Well, Aoife apparently. She told me that she likes it, but she doesn’t love it. To be fair, we didn’t go inside. That would have elevated its status, I’m sure. The inside is nothing short of magnificent. I love it.
It’s a Green & Wicks design and was completed in 1901 as the Buffalo Savings Bank. It was billed as the working man’s bank. You see, up until this point, banking was reserved for the rich. It gave regular people incentive to save their money for whatever it is they desired. Cool.
Interesting side note: the dome was not originally gold. 24-carat gold leaf was added when Goldome Bank took over the building. The cost to cover the dome with 140,000 sheets of gold leaf was $500,000. More than it cost to build the original building!
It’s a Buffalo castle! I don’t care what Aoife says!
My Impressions of Buffalo Castles
Well, I’m exhausted! Aoife wore me out ‘going walking’ looking at all the Buffalo castles. You know, there’s a reason why people have babies when they’re young! I’m just kidding. Aoife was exhausted too! But not too tired to pose with Daddy at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the center of Lafayette Square.
Sometimes I think it’s a good idea to look at something through someone else’s eyes. And sometimes it’s great to see things through the eyes of a child. We walk, ride and drive around the streets of downtown Buffalo and totally miss the amazing architecture all around us.
These buildings that Aoife and I have deemed ‘castles’ are not by any means a complete list. These are just some of our favorites.
Take an urban hike. Look around. Really see our city. Choose your own castles. If you’ve got children or grandchildren, take them with you and look at the city through their eyes. It’ll be like seeing it for the first time. And they may surprise you with their insight and their opinions. Even Aoife, at three, offers these. The way she fell in love with the fountain, or the Hotel Lafayette. It was pretty cool to see.
Get out and enjoy your city Buffalo!
*Get the book! They make great keepsakes or gifts for friends and family. Click here or on the photo below. They make great gifts!
*All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.
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.
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.
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.
With all the traffic circles popping up all over Western New York, it got me to thinking about circle living. Symphony Circle is an incredibly busy and friendly place, and there’s a lot of great history there, but I couldn’t help but think that there’s not very many houses. And I do love a beautiful home. That was when I decided to write about another one of Buffalo’s Circles. Colonial Circle.
Now, Colonial Circle has houses. Lots of them. And they are close together. But the circle feels spacious! Like there’s plenty of room to spread out. And the homes are large and for the most part, very well kept. In my head I picture the view out the front window of any one of these homes, with a few inches of freshly fallen snow and maybe there’s still some flakes in the air. Gorgeous! Or with all the fall colors in the trees! Gorgeous again! You get the idea.
But back to reality.
A Bit of Background about Colonial Circle
Colonial Circle was created by Frederick Law Olmsted when he designed our Parks and Parkway System. This circle serves to connect Bidwell Parkway to Richmond Ave which leads to Porter Ave and Front Park. Our Parkways, including Bidwell, were meant to be an extension of the parks, so that you could travel from one to the other, and never feel like you actually left the park. The plan is ingenius and indeed, when traveling along Bidwell Parkway, you feel like you’re in a park.
Olmsted originally called Colonial Circle ‘Bidwell Place’ after Brigadier General Daniel Davidson Bidwell. He was a very active Buffalonian, and is credited with starting the first police force in the city. He fought in the Civil War, in famous battles including Gettysburg, and was named Brigadier General in August of 1864. That was just two months before being mortally wounded at the Battle of Cedar Creek, in Virginia. Bidwell Parkway is named for him. That’s him astride his horse in the center of the circle.
Residents petitioned for a name change to ‘Colonial Circle’, and in 1909 the parks department made the change official.
So, come on, let’s hike.
I approached from Richmond, and headed east onto the sidewalk. The first house I came to is a Green & Wicks design, it was built in 1900 and what a perfect Colonial Revival home. I love the side lights (windows) on either side of the front entry door. This is repeated in the window above the entry porch, and it works. But of course it does, it’s E.B. Green!
Check this one out…number 9. This was built in 1910, and I’m told still has most of the original woodwork and leaded glass. My favorite part about this house? The windows. I can’t tell if all of them are original, but there are so many. Talk about natural light. And I’m a sucker for curved glass. Just imagine the view of the circle through those front windows! I also love the overhanging eaves, and I was also told there is an in-law apartment on the third floor with a separate entrance. Not sure if it’s being used, but I like it.
And this. I don’t know about you, but I am loving the new paint job here. It used to be that country blue, and it was nice, but this is much more classic and fitting with the arts and crafts style. This home was designed by Essenwein & Johnson who are, in my book, number two in historical architectural firms in Buffalo (second to Green & Wicks). It was built for Emily Swift and stayed in the Swift family until 1959. Wish I knew what color it was to begin with. This is the kind of stuff I think about when I go on an urban hike.
My Personal Favorite
Moving right along, we come to my personal favorite on the circle. It’s not typically my style. You know I prefer an open front porch. But I just love the shape of this house! I couldn’t take my eyes off it! Although, the first thing I’d do if this were my house, is remove all the curtains in those amazing front windows (French doors?). Let the light in! In the side view, look at the windows in the dormers. Beautiful. And the transoms above all those French doors. It’s Friday, I’m in love.
Of course, those French doors don’t lead anywhere…but who cares? It’s gorgeous! I wanted to go in. But alas, it didn’t appear anyone was going to invite me in on this particular walk.
Here’s a link to some interior shots. I wouldn’t have painted all the woodwork, but what do I know?
And this. It’s fabulous. I love that center dormer on the third floor. Look at how it mimmicks the tripartite window on the second floor, which flows right down to the entry door with its side lights. I’m told this is a multi-family home with at least 4 apartments. It sure is well maintained.
And a Couple More…
Here are a couple of others I see along the way. Number 15 has a massive silver maple tree on the front lawn (visible in the photo). At some point someone put in a garden surrounding it, and it’s done very nicely. My photos of it didn’t turn out, I was battling the sun for photos this morning, as you’ve no doubt noticed.
And number 33 has so much detail! Look under the eaves, and at the details on the center second floor window with its triangular pediment. Look at the shape of the dormers, and the windows in the dormers! Yes, this one is lovely.
St. John Grace Episcopal Church
As I cross Lafayette, I come upon St. John Grace Episcopal Church. There’s something about this church that I really like. It’s……unassuming. And pretty. I love the cross atop the bell tower. It’s so delicate compared to most that you see.
The building you see here was built in 1907, but the church was first located at the southeast corner of Washington and Swan Streets. Among its founders were William Bird (Bird Avenue), William Fargo (Wells Fargo & American Express), and Joseph Masten (Buffalo Mayor and later Buffalo Superior Court Judge).
The building itself is built of Onondaga Limestone from the quarry that used to be in Delaware Park! Two later additions completed the church we know today. I love that Medina sandstone is still leading up to the main entrance. Historic!
It’s while on the sidewalk in front of the church that I meet a nice neighbor who was willing to chat. We start talking and he told me quite a bit about the circle. Openly. He was humble, unpretentious, well dressed, and seemed like a nice guy. I’ll call him Mike, because he didn’t want me to use his name. He told me a few things I didn’t know. I’ve checked, and he was right on all counts. He doesn’t live in the circle but lives nearby, and walks and bikes the circle daily.
He’s not alone. In the hour or two I spent walking around taking pictures, a lot went on. There wasn’t as much car traffic here as there was on Symphony Circle, but there were more cyclists, runners and walkers. Come to think of it, most were headed towards Bidwell Parkway and all that Elmwood Ave has to offer. And who could blame them?
Moving Right Along
Between Bidwell and Richmond is this lone house at number 77. I love the front entry door, and the ellipse windows on the second floor. Although something tells me that at least one of those windows looks different on the inside than it does on the outside. Could use some updating, but this house has great bones.
And on the Northwest Side of the Circle
As I cross Richmond, I am struck by how I’ve never noticed that there is so much foliage on this section of the circle, and by how overgrown a lot of it is. I guess your eye is drawn to the things you can see as opposed to what you have to look for. But you know me, I go looking for things. Here’s what I found on the northwest side of the circle.
Love this beautiful Tudor Revival that’s first up, and I especially love its portico. Tudors are not usually my thing, but I love this one!
Mike is Right; I am Wrong
This next one, (below) Mike told me about. It was built for the Davis family, who were owners of a general type store on Niagara Street (the building is still there at number 1888). The home stayed in the family through 1949. The current owners bought it in 2000. Love, love, love the porch!
I saw a photo of this house from 2004, and it had ivy growing on the left side and up onto the roof. Exactly where you see the damage to the shingles. Coincidence? I don’t know. Either way it looks to me like the original roof might have been slate, because the sides of the dormers appear to be slate. I always thought slate roofs lasted practically forever, but I looked it up and I’m wrong. Apparently, a soft slate roof can last as little as 50 years. So, it’s plausible that this roof used to be slate, but soft slate. Interesting.
And next up, take a look at this! That gable with the fantastic windows, fifteen panes each! Love this entryway too. It’s very wide and the side lights are wide enough to walk through. And if you can, zoom in on the front door to see the family dog who came out to greet me! Love it!
The Tree House
I had a bit of trouble getting photos of this one. So much foliage. I can tell you that I love the Sycamore tree! But I also acknowlege that it needs care. From what I can see of the house, it appears to be my style and I like it. The dentil molding on the dormers, and under the eaves. The brick foundation for the porch which matches the first floor, and appears to be in decent shape.
It looks like there may be some work being done on the house at this point. This is one to watch.
Let’s Cross the Street
Coming back around now to the southwest side of Colonial Circle and this is what I see. Guess I’m starting to like Tudors, guys. But only if they have Arts & Crafts detailing apparently. The leaded glass is spectacular! This one really caught my eye because of the porches. I can see myself on either of these having my tea in the morning or cocktails in the evening. Nice.
Here are two more pretty ones along this section.
And then I come upon this one. New Orleans style! Of course, it’s apartments. Whenever I see it, I wonder what it would be like to live on the third floor. I’d be out on that porch all the time!
And last, but certainly not least, this stunner! It’s in great shape, and it was built in 1897! I would probably choose a different color scheme but it’s done properly. Mike tells me it’s apartments, but owner occupied. So that explains why it’s kept up so well. Just beautiful!
So, there you have it. Colonial Circle. I can’t help but compare it to Symphony Circle. They are both part of vibrant, bustling communities. But somehow, Colonial Circle seems more affluent. Maybe it’s just the feeling I get because the circle itself is larger and so much more spacious than Symphony Circle.
I can tell you this. If I had to choose which circle to live on, it would come down to the home itself. Because Symphony Circle is walking distance to Allen Street and all it has to offer in terms of shopping, restaurants, art, and night life. Not to mention Kleinhans. And Colonial Circle is walking distance to the Elmwood strip and all it has to offer in terms of the same things. Homes aside, you could flip a coin, since they’re just a quick bike ride apart, with great homes and more to look at in between.
Take an urban hike (or bike) over to Colonial Circle and check it out. If it’s a Saturday morning, head to the Bidwell market afterwards, then on to Elmwood Ave. for a bite to eat and some shopping. Some of our best locally owned restaurants and shops are there. And if you see Mike, tell him I said hello!
*All the photos in this post are mine. I’m not proud of all of them, but they are, indeed, mine. 😉
Several years back now, my parents were looking in to senior housing. There were some new builds going up adjacent to Amherst State Park that they went to take a look at. A few days later my Mother and I were going somewhere, and we made a slight detour to drive through the parking lot just so I could see the place. They had already decided they didn’t want to move there, but I was (of course) curious anyway.
When we pulled into the lot, I said, “What is this place?” My Mom explained that the new, and at the time, incomplete buildings off to the right hand side, were what they had looked into. But the other, older building straight ahead is what I was interested in. She went on to say that that building used to be the Motherhouse for the Sisters of St. Francis. But that now there was a state park on most of the grounds of the convent.
A state park? What? In Amherst? Just a stone’s throw from Main Street in Williamsville? Yep.
Best kept secret, ever. At least to me.
It’s been a long time coming, but I finally made it over to the park several weeks ago for one of our quarantine hikes. Great decision, it’s a sweet find.
St. Mary of the Angels Convent
My fascination with old buildings immediately drew me to the old convent. Of which I had already done a little bit of research.
I learned that it’s Gothic Revival style is pretty common among convents, and was designed by Deitel and Wade. The same architects who designed our own city hall. At around the same time too – 1928 for this building. 1929 – 32 for City Hall. This building is impressive.
Most of the Franciscan Sisters who lived here were involved in health care and education throughout Western New York. They ministered at such institutions as Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Niagara Falls, local colleges, high schools and grammar schools. Including my own grammar school.
Nuns have always been the butt of many jokes told by people of all walks of life. And maybe I was at the right age for this, but the sisters who taught me were mostly very nice, and at times sweet ladies. Of course there were one or two that stood out for being ‘mean’, but there are also one or two lay teachers who stand out for the same reason. In my 30’s I had occasion to work with some Felician Sisters, and it was then that I realized for the first time, that sisters are people. (!) They each have their own personality. Some are gossipy, some are pious, some are funny, some are quiet etc. Just people though, trying to get through life just like the rest of us.
Anyway, what a beautiful contemplative place this must have been for them to retreat to, once the rigors of work brought them home in the evenings.
Amherst State Park
The Business End
Roughly 80 acres of the convent land was put up for sale in 1999. New York State and the Town of Amherst acquired the property after splitting the $5 million price tag, in 2000. The agreement states that the town maintain the property which is to be used for conservation and passive recreation only.
And that is exactly how it is being used.
The old convent building is now St. Mary’s Apartments for seniors 55 and over. Very affordable if you look them up. The apartments themselves appear small, but nice. Just think of the yard though! And you wouldn’t have to maintain any of it!
The Park that Brings on Daydreams
While hiking around the park, we came upon a set of old stone stairs. As I walked up them, I had a very clear memory of being of being here, many years ago. My grammar school class had a field trip in what used to be the convent orchard. A couple of us stole away, and when we saw some stairs, we snuck up them. The building we saw at the top was like nothing any of us had ever seen before! We stood at the top of the steps just staring at what we were sure had to be a castle! Are kids still this easily impressed nowadays?
The old orchards are evident in the still existing (apple?) trees. Ellicott Creek ambles in curving paths through the property, bringing peace as it rolls by. Water does that to us, brings peace. There are wooded areas, nature paths, and a bike path too. There are secluded areas, and wide open meadows, and even a pine forest! If this place is not the stuff of daydreams, I don’t know what is!
Graffiti Art and The Cemetery
Bet you’re not used to seeing graffiti art and cemetery used in the same sentence.
Well, while taking a bike ride on another occasion, we took the bike path to the south end of the land. There were some ruins of what appear to be outbuildings for the convent. Now, they are mostly covered in graffiti art, and no one is removing it. Love this.
But when we reached the end of the path, and indeed the property, we noticed a cool looking little chapel in the middle of a field. We, like the little kids who found those stairs years ago, kept going.
Well, it wasn’t a field. It was a cemetery. Specifically, Gethsemane Cemetery, and it appears to be for the sisters who lived and served the community here. The Sisters of St. Francis. I have to admit, it’s a beautiful, serene resting place. And just a stone’s throw to Main Street in Williamsville.
There are still Sisters on the property where we found the cemetery. And they are still serving our community in health care and education. How do I know? We ran into one of them out for an evening walk while I was taking photos of the chapel. She told us she didn’t know the age of the chapel, but she thought it was almost as old as the convent itself. It’s a beautiful little chapel.
My Impressions of Amherst State Park
We all know Glen Park. That gorgeous little park on Main Street in Williamsville with the waterfall. If you go to the parking lot on the other side of Glen Avenue, and follow the creek to the north, you’ll end up in Amherst State Park.
Come to think of it, some college friends and I used to go to that very parking lot on beautiful spring days, take off our shoes and walk the creek for what seemed like miles. It’s not miles to the state park, so I suppose we were on convent land at the time. Hmmm. Good thing the nuns didn’t know what we were up to… 😉 Or maybe they did, and just let us be. Who knows?
Anyway, Amherst State Park gives me a good feeling. It’s there for conservation and passive recreation. But really, in my book it’s for walking, hiking, biking, and for getting away from it all. It’s a real retreat from the day to day life right now. And let’s face it, we could all use a break right about now.
The main entrance is on the west side of Mill Street, about halfway between Glen Avenue and Sheridan Drive. If you haven’t been to the park, you should think about getting there this summer. It’s not crowded like a lot of our parks have been this summer. I hope you find it to be as peaceful as I do.