This week I’m bringing you a pictorial post of one of my quarantine walks. This particular walk was to Larkland. I thought it would be fun to take photos while walking, and write a little something about what I see. Yeah, sure. Have you ever had one of those moments when you’ve thought to yourself, “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”? Well, this is turning out to be one of those times.
Let me explain, you see, I walk all over Buffalo, and where I go depends on a lot of things. My mood that day, if I’ve heard about something that I want to go see, and sometimes I get suggestions from you. But there are also places that I love so much that I go back over and over again. Like for instance, Buffalo’s residential parks. I go back to these a lot. Delaware Park, same. Actually, there are quite a few places that would go on this list.
Larkland is one of them too. It’s right near Delaware Park and I suppose you might consider it a residential park too, of sorts. The idea is still good. It’s my choice of walks that has me thinking twice. This walk may have been a little overambitious, to say the least. Not in terms of the walk itself, it’s pretty short. But in subject matter. To tell you about the Larkin family and their homes could take up a whole book! But that’s been done. (And I have just ordered one.) So in this post, I’ll just cover the basics for you.
Let’s start at the beginning of the walk.
107 Lincoln Parkway – The Heart of Larkland
I started at the corner of Lincoln Parkway and Rumsey Road. This is the northwest corner of Larkland, a city block purchased by John D. Larkin in 1909 for himself and his wife Frances, whom everyone called Frank. John was the founder of the Larkin Soap Company (later the Larkin Company) and was one of the most successful businessmen Buffalo has ever seen. It was at this corner that he built his mansion.
The address of this mansion was 107 Lincoln Parkway, and it was set back from the road in the midst of many trees. Must have been magical to see in person.
When I turned away from the street signs, this is what I saw, where the mansion used to stand. Not a bad house. Actually it’s a pretty great mid century modern design. But I can’t help wishing I was looking at that mansion.
Note the low slung wall set just a few feet from the sidewalks. This wall runs all the way around the block, and is the boundary to Larkland. Which is what the family called their ‘compound’, for lack of a better word. And I guess residential park doesn’t really fit the situation here, because this was private. Anyways, I decided to follow the wall up Lincoln Parkway to see what I could see.
The Many Gates of Larkland
This is the first of many gates in the wall. It originally would have led to John Sr. & Frances’s home pictured above. This place always gives me a real sense of history. I wonder about all sorts of things when I walk here. For instance, what was the relationship between John Sr. and Frances like? They got married in 1874, and John probably spent most of his time building an empire. But what did Frances do with her spare time? Did she love having her children living this close? I mean, was it her idea? Or was this all the brainchild of John Sr., who was in his 60’s when they built this place? (John was about 10 years older than Frances.) Sort of a lasting family legacy? And on and on. This is how my mind works.
Next up is this gate.
Buffalo Seminary now owns two pieces of property within ‘the walls’. In the mid 1950’s they acquired John Jr.’s house, which was used as their headmaster’s residence, and for social occasions. They sold the house itself to private owners in 2007, but retained use of their two practice fields. This gate looks into the larger of the two fields.
This field would have been the location of the carriage house, garage, and greenhouses for John Sr.’s home. The carriage house and garage had an apartment over it where a chauffeur lived with his family. In fact, all the homes on this property had garages with apartments above for the chauffeurs, and basements below which housed the boiler systems for the respective houses. There are tunnels underground that carry the pipes from the garages to the houses. Cool.
65 Lincoln Parkway – Home of John Larkin Jr.
Next, we come upon John Larkin Jr.’s home which he shared with his wife, Edna Crate and their three children. This is the house that Buff Sem acquired in 1954.
Just a quick note about this house. In 1981 it was the very first Decorators’ Show House in Buffalo. I was a high school student at the time and toured the house as part of a design class I was taking. I’m not gonna lie, I had never seen anything like it! I clearly remember the staircase and how huge front entryway seemed to me. And all the woodwork! The home seemed so spacious and open to me back then. Maybe that field trip was the spark that ignited my flame for grand, old homes.
Here’s a look back towards Delaware Park before rounding the corner on to Forest Ave. That wall!
And a quick look up Forest Avenue towards Windsor Ave.
As I round the corner and head up Forest, this comes into view at the side of John Jr.’s house. The conservatory is actually L-shaped but I would have had to go up the driveway to get a good photo of it. See that hedge at the right? It’s actually three times the size it looks here, and there’s another at the other side of the driveway that prevents good shots of the garage too. Since it’s a private residence now, I wasn’t comfortable walking up the driveway. If it still belonged to Buff Sem, I would have done it.
160 Windsor Avenue – Home of Harry Larkin
As I turn left onto Windsor Ave., this is the incredible view.
This home is beautifully maintained. It was originally built for Harry Larkin, and his wife Ruth. Harry’s younger sister, also named Ruth, and her husband Walter Robb lived here from 1939 – 1975. Ruth and Walter Robb moved into 107 Lincoln Parkway with John Sr. after the death of Frank in 1922. During the depression, Ruth and Walter were forced to demolish the mansion, and had to move into this home. Having never seen the mansion, I don’t see this as too much of a step down. Just sayin.
I love the entryway of this house. And I’m not really a column person.
In between this house and the next are the garages for both of them. These garages are also equipped with basement boilers and tunnels to the house to carry the pipes. The apartments above appear to be lovely. Nice.
176 Windsor Ave. – Harold and Frances Larkin Esty Home
A little further up the wall, I come upon the only home built for one of John Sr. and Frank’s daughters. Her name was Frances Elberta, but was called Daisy. She married Harold Esty, and their daughter Elberta Larkin Esty lived in the home until 1986. The home sold in 2016 for a cool $1 million. It’s appears less grand from the street than the home at 160, but we can’t see most of it from here. I especially love the enclosed patios on the north side of the house, and it appears there are more at the back.
175 Windsor Ave. – The Home of Charles Larkin
Although Charles was the eldest of the Larkin children, he appears to be the least involved in any family affairs. He moved into the home built for him (outside the walls on the other side of Windsor Avenue) with his wife, Mary Alice Whitin. But in 1919, they moved to California.
As I cross back over to the walled side of the street, I look back up Windsor toward Forest.
And down Rumsey Road in the direction of Lincoln Parkway.
These next few shots are of the newer homes that were built inside the walls, in the mid 20th century. I focused on the gates because I think it’s cool that almost all the owners kept them. Some appear to be original, some are obviously not. Either way, they’re awesome. And here they are.
And finally, I wanted to share this photo of an aerial view of Larkland, so you can get an idea what it looked like inside the walls back in the day.
And these photos of the two who presided over Larkland.
If I had to choose my favorite of the five houses of Larkland, I’d have to go with the one at 160 Windsor. Something about it speaks to me. It seems like a true family home. And since there is a small playground visible from the street, I’m happy to know there is a family enjoying it at this moment in time. Which is your favorite? Comment below, I’d love your opinion!
The Larkin family fascinates me. From John D. and Frances, to the Larkin Soap Company, to Frances being Elbert Hubbard’s sister, to Larkland. And I know I’m not alone because every once in a while, part of their story pops up in the news, in a magazine or online. Their lives seemed to be one of Buffalo’s own Camelot stories. I know a fair bit about the Larkin Family, and the The Larkin Company. But after writing this, I am inspired to find out more. I have unanswered questions. Can’t wait for that book to arrive!
When you take your quarantine walks, really look at what you’re passing. You might be surprised. And if you find yourself at Delaware Park near the Rose Garden, take a quick walk around Larkland. But beware ensuing daydreams.