I found myself in Allentown the other day with no rush to be anywhere in particular, so I decided to take a walk. It was a beautiful day and there were a lot of people out and about, so I donned my mask, and off I went.
I was on Allen Street at Rick Cycle Shop and started walking towards Delaware. I turned left onto Irving Place. If you haven’t been on this street, you’re in for a treat. It’s like a little oasis. Named for the poet and short story writer Washington Irving, each home is different, the gardens are at times spectacular, and best of all, it’s quiet. Only the rustling of leaves (in summer) and the birds singing. Hard to believe it’s just a short block from Delaware Ave. and off Allen Street, albeit the ‘quiet end’ of Allen.
You should know, I have a thing about front doors. They draw me in. Love it when a homeowner puts a little bit of effort into theirs. Going to include the front doors alongside some of the homes on Irving Place for you to enjoy, because I know I’m not alone in my fascination with them.
29 Irving Place – A Bit of Allentown History
I had a couple of destinations in mind when I set out. The first of which is right on Irving, at number 29. It’s the home where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived for a short time when his family lived in Buffalo. You know, the same F. Scott Fitzgerald who wrote such classics as Tender is the Night, The Great Gatsby and more. It’s a pretty house from the street, and is much larger than it appears from the front. I like that it’s been kept up so nicely.
I once read an article that the people who bought the house in the early 1970’s had a big party when the movie The Great Gatsby, starring Robert Redford was released. This would have been 1974. They bought a block of tickets from the theater, invited friends and family to join them in the celebration, complete with period dress, and Gatsby themed cocktails and appetizers. The story goes that they boldly invited Robert Redford to join them! Apparently Hollywood offered up a much lesser known actor, but the owners of the house refused. Robert Redford or no one at all! Ha! I love it! I also love that the owners celebrated the history of the house like that. I’d like to time travel to that party…
The Lenox Hotel
So, Fitzgerald lived here in Buffalo off and on during his youth. His family first lived in the Lenox Hotel on North Street, at the corner of Irving Place. My second destination of the day. It’s Buffalo’s oldest continuously run hotel, opened in 1896.
At first it was a hotel with luxury suites that some Buffalonians used as apartments. Many of the ‘suites’ were large enough that they had servant’s quarters! It became a fashionable place to live, especially for the rich who wintered outside the Buffalo area. And why not? The Lenox was at the time, surrounded by elegant mansions. The lone survivor of which is the Williams Butler Mansion on the northwest corner of Delaware & North.
In 1900 the Lenox was transformed into a hotel exclusively, probably to take advantage of the visitors to the Pan-American Exposition, which took place in Buffalo in 1901. 2020 finds the Lenox being used as it was intentionally designed, as a hotel and suites combination. Perhaps not quite as grand but still, I’m happy with it’s modern day appearance. Although I would love to have seen that great cornice, and the front porch (for lack of a better word). It also appears in the photo above that there was an outdoor patio above the porch?
The Lenox Hotel & Suites also boasts a five star bar and grill, The Lenox Grill, with excellent reviews of the food, the atmosphere and the service.
As I turned from the Lenox I was immediately drawn to Mayfair Lane on the other side of North Street. Technically this is across the street from Allentown, but to me, this is one of Buffalo’s best kept secrets. I mean, every once in awhile, one of the homes goes up for sale, and there have been articles out there about the place, but it’s so private, it seems mysterious and elegant at the same time. There’s just something about this place.
Mayfair Lane was built between 1926-29 and was designed by E.B. Green, Buffalo’s most prolific architect. It was pretty innovative for it’s day, in that it was done condominium style, or townhouse-like, with a single parking garage for each home below. And while that may seem modern for the 1920’s, the upper level looks anything but modern. The Tudor homes face each other with a sandstone lane between resembling a very charming English garden.
The homes are spacious and comfortable and the lane leads away from North Street to the small castle at the end of the lane, complete with drawbridge. This is where E.B. Green Jr. lived. Mayfair Lane is perhaps the single most unique living space in the city! I never get tired of seeing it.
Back to Irving Place
I tear myself away from Mayfair Lane and head back down Irving Place. These are some of the treasures I saw along the way.
As you can see, there is no shortage of gorgeous homes on this street. Here are a couple of special ones though…it’s all in the details.
This. Note the matching bird house. Sweet! Check out the windows on the side of this house!
Below, note the close up of the windows just to the left of the sandstone arches. Cool! Plus, I want to go through those arches to see that building behind the house!
A Secret Garden
While on this quarantine walk, I headed into one of my favorite little pocket parks in Buffalo. I’ll share some photos, but it’s location shall remain a mystery. Too much traffic is bound to cause trouble in this secret little garden.
I love a good pocket park, especially when it’s an unexpected find. For me, this was very unexpected the first time I saw it! Shout out to the woman who showed it to me, you know who you are. 😉
My Impressions of this Hike in Allentown
For me, walking has become even more important during this time of quarantine. Without my daily walks I don’t know what kind of shape I’d be in right now, both physically and mentally.
Hiking through this neighborhood has cheered me up. Allentown has great history, the escape of a secret garden for that little bit of magic, and the allure of the unique and mysterious Mayfair Lane. Not to mention the homes! It’s urban exploration at it’s best. And this was only one small part of Allentown. Pick a street, or two or three, and go for an urban hike. Or check out the Allentown Street Art, for some fantastic sights! (Note: Some of the art at the link is already gone, check it out!)
Enjoy your city Buffalo. Be safe and stay healthy.
Oh, if you’re interested in seeing the inside of that castle, here is an amazing glimpse.
Buffalo has got some old homes. But none are older that the unassuming Coit House, located at 412 Virginia Street. I say unassuming because the history behind it, and the history that must have taken place inside it, is nothing short of incredible. And yet compared with some of the grand mansions in Buffalo, this home seems unassuming.
Let’s take a closer look.
The house itself is of the Federal style, with at least two additions added by the Coit family. There is some discrepancy over the actual date the home was built, but in general it is accepted that it was built not long after Buffalo was burned in 1813, during the War of 1812. The City of Buffalo records show 1818 as the date built, but the historical marker erected outside the home by the Allentown Association states 1815. There is evidence to prove both dates correct. Most people agree that either way, it is still the oldest residential structure in the city.
Photo from “The Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo,” by Frank H. Severance
The house originally stood at the southeast corner of Swan and Pearl Streets. It’s a great example of Buffalo’s ‘pioneer-era’ residences, and in fact was quite typical of the structures built by the wealthier Buffalonians at the time. It was built when everything was still done by hand. All the woodwork was hand hewn. Hard to imagine that now. So labor intensive. Very soon thereafter, it would have been built much differently due to fire codes that stated that no new residences could be built of wood, and machining of woodwork became the trend.
George Coit, the original owner, added on to the house at least twice, adding a third floor, and extending the home lengthwise. He also changed the interior somewhat during the years he and his family lived there. But the home remains largely intact as he left it. Even though the home has been through several owners who rented the property throughout the years, breaking it up into several apartments, and, eventually putting it back closer to its original design. Some believe that because the house was rented out for so long, a single family didn’t move in and make any major changes to the structure itself to suit their own needs. This almost certainly would have happened had a single family bought the home to live in during the mid twentieth century.
Let’s talk about George Coit himself. He is originally from Norwich, Connecticut. George and his lifelong friend Charles Townsend came to Buffalo in 1811, where they immediately rose to the forefront of the community. You see, they arrived with 20 tons of provisions, some of the first people to do so.
In 1812, they bought a piece of property on Swan Street, between Main and Pearl Streets. They opened a drug store in an existing building on that sight. It would be the first of many joint business ventures the two undertook in the fledgling community of Buffalo, NY.
In 1813, they lost the store when the village was burned during the War of 1812. But they had managed to escape with some of their goods the day before the fire, and returned to rebuild.
George married and had eight children with Charles’ sister, Hanna. Coit and Townsend were such good friends, the two named their firstborn sons after each other. Coit built a house for his young family at the corner of Swan and Pearl Streets. Coit House.
Coit and Townsend continued in business together.
Seemingly against all odds, and after most of the city’s investors backed out, George Coit and Charles Townsend worked with Oliver Forward and later Samuel Wilkeson to build the Buffalo Harbor, eventually winning the battle for the terminus of the Erie Canal to be located in Buffalo. Which as we all know, resulted in increased business in shipping (which Coit and Townsend immediately went into together) and eventually railroads, grain processing, motor vehicles, aerospace and all the smaller supporting businesses that go along with those giants. This effectively catapulted Buffalo to one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the country.
Without the Buffalo Harbor, none of that would have happened.
Even when Buffalo’s industrial core moved north from the canal to Swan Street and beyond, and most prominent families were moving north of the city center, George Coit stayed at the corner of Swan and Pearl Streets in his somewhat humble home, considering his wealth, with his family. Hannah had passed away with the birth of their eighth child in 1835. George went on to marry twice more before passing away himself in 1865.
To say that George Coit was an important Buffalonian is an understatement to be sure. Through it all he remained an unassuming, humble man. Buried at his request in Forest Lawn, overlooking Delaware Avenue in one of the largest plots available, purchased by Coit himself for his family, with only a simple marble marker placed on his own grave.
In 1867, the home was moved to its present resting place on Virginia Street.
Next time you take a stroll through Allentown, wander over to number 412 Virginia, and take a moment to imagine the meetings of our city founders that undoubtedly went on in this house. The entertaining of great Buffalonians. Not to mention the births and sadly, the deaths of Coit family members, including George Coit himself. Contemplate the man who not only built a home for his growing family, but helped to shape the city we call home.