Buffalo’s Rowhouses – The Midway on Delaware Ave.
I’ve been wanting to write this post about the Delaware Midway Rowhouses for some time now, and since I was literally around the block last week learning more about Franklin Street, I decided this was a good time.
Over the past several years, I’ve learned quite a bit about these rowhouses, been in a few of them, and have read quite a bit about them. I’m not even sure why they fascinate me so much. I don’t think I’d like to live in one. I like my patio and my yard too much for that. But I get it that a lot of people don’t want a yard. Let me explain.
You see, in the 1890s, the city of Buffalo was getting crowded with both industry and residences. The wealthiest among us were moving north of the city to escape the soot of industry and overcrowding. They were beginning to build grand estates along Delaware Avenue. You’ve seen them. All those big beautiful homes along Millionaires Row. We’ve lost some of them, but quite a few are still there today.
What you may not know is that most of them had extensive real estate attached as ‘green space’, or yards. For example, the mansions along the west side of Delaware had yards that extended all the way to where Richmond Avenue is today. This was, of course, before Elmwood Avenue existed.
Time for a Quick Daydream
I’ve wished, more than once, that I could have seen the Rumsey Estate on Delaware Ave between Tracy and West Tupper back in the day. Take a look at the photo below. This is Bronson Rumsey Sr.’s backyard on Delaware Avenue. And this isn’t even one-tenth of the property. It must have been an amazing sight to see!
But think of this. A tremendous amount of time and effort goes into caring for all that property and everything that went along with it. I mean, we’re talking extensive patios, gardens (both flower and vegetable), orchards, woods, creeks, ponds, and more. And sure, the wealthy employed small armies of people to manage and maintain the properties, but the buck stops with the owner in the end. And there had to be constant issues relating to all that responsibility.
That brings me back to reality. End daydream.
Enter the Midway Rowhouses on Delaware Ave.
The building of these remarkably upscale rowhouses was an incredible idea. These homes allowed wealthy socialites to enjoy life in a mansion, but without all the property to maintain. I always thought that back in the day, one of these homes would be perfect for a single man, or a single woman, or maybe the widow of a wealthy businessman. It would allow them easy access to their socialite friends, genteel living, and also that coveted Delaware Avenue address.
If that’s what matters to you of course. And back when these houses were built, those things mattered to almost all the movers and shakers in Buffalo. These rowhouses gave that to them, without all the hassle of the upkeep.
And, these homes were designed by some of the best architects our city had to offer. Green & Wicks, Marling & Johnson, George Cary to name a few. They were all built in the 1890s. The architects showed amazing talent by working within the constricts of the other designs to create a cohesive, beautiful row of some of Buffalo’s best homes.
Let’s get into talking about some of these homes.
The One We Lost
On the south end of the block, there was originally a home where there is now a parking lot. It was at number 469. It was torn down in the late 1980s after the building suffered a small fire. Such was the way back then. Got a problem with a building? Just tear it down. This one was a real loss in my book. In my humble opinion, it anchored the entire row. What a shame to make it a parking lot.
Thankfully though, this kind of thing is not really happening in Buffalo anymore. We’ve come to appreciate the architectural treasures that grace our streets, and steps are taken to preserve them. For this, I am grateful.
471 Delaware Ave. – Dr. Ernest Wende House
This house was built for Dr. Ernest Wende and his wife Frances Cutler. They lived in the home with their children, Margaret, Hamilton and Flavilla until 1910, when Dr. Wende’s brother, Grover (Dr.), his wife Elizabeth and son David moved in. They stayed in the house through the 1920s.
Scott Croce purchased this building in 2016 and his plans were to renovate the first three floors as office space, with residential space on the top floor. Oh, and a possible rooftop patio. That would be sweet!
Looks like Croce has moved forward, on the outside as least. I don’t know about you, but I love the new paint job. Remember the mustard-y yellow some of the trim was before? The white really allows the details to pop!
475 Delaware – One of My Favorites
So this amazing example of a Renaissance Revival home was built for John Strootman. It is now owned by Scott Croce as well. He bought it in 2018, and plans were to build two large residential units on the upper floors, with office space below. With just over 9000 square feet to work with, there’s certainly room for it.
Love the lions!
This one is, by the way, available for lease at the writing of this post.
Next Up – the Birge-Horton / DAR House
This home was built in 1896 (the last rowhouse to be completed) for Henry Birge, one of Martin Birge’s sons who came into the wallpaper business with him. Although there is evidence that the actual purchaser was Henry’s wife, Fanny. The Birge Wallpaper Company was a hugely successful Buffalo business, so it is fitting that one of the Birge family members built one of the Midway Rowhouses. For some reason, this house gets called the George K. Birge House quite often. Not sure why. George was Henry’s older brother and built a mansion for himself on Symphony Circle.
Anyway, this house was designed by none other than Green & Wicks. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know they were perhaps the busiest and most popular architects in Buffalo at the turn of the 20th Century.
The Birges did not live in the house long. Henry’s health was failing and had to leave his position with the wallpaper firm in 1900. Henry and Fanny moved out of town, and shortly after, divorced. Henry passed away in 1904, leaving most of his estate to Fanny.
The home was rented to prominent Buffalonians for several years, including Peter Porter, Mrs. Frances Wolcott and her son Lyman Bass (a well-known attorney). In 1906, Katharine Pratt Horton moved in. She rented for 16 years before finally purchasing the home from Fanny. She stayed for the rest of her life. When she passed away, she left the home to the Daughters of the American Revolution. So, this home has only had three owners. City records still show Katharine and DAR as the current owners.
Interesting history on this one.
479 Delaware Ave – Harlow C. Curtiss House
This beauty right next door to the DAR home was built for Harlow and Ethel Curtiss. Harlow was an attorney and real estate developer. The couple only lived in the home for two years! They went on to live in a much larger mansion further north on Delaware Avenue and later on Lincoln Parkway. These two were certainly movers and shakers!
481 – 489 Delaware Ave – Rowhouse Bakery & Restaurant
This Colonial Revival was built for Dr. Bernard Bartow, who was one of the founders of our Children’s Hospital.
Which is cool, but the real story here is that amazing window! It was added in the 1930s and was designed by interior designer Frederick Pike. It was probably added because the building was going to be used for some type of commercial use. The two cast-iron figures are a craftsman and an artist. The whole window just works. It was done very well, and to my untrained eye, looks fabulous!
This home is one of four rowhouses purchased by the owners of the Rowhouse Bakery and Restaurant (closed). The group spent several years joining three of the four homes and renovating the interior. It was a beautiful space for a very upscale bakery and restaurant.
I relished my time there, sipping tea and eating scones in the most beautiful bakery in Buffalo. I must admit though, every time I was there, I wondered if they hadn’t spent too much time and money on the interior. Wish they could have made a go of it.
It was lovely while it lasted.
The fourth home is apartments and an antique shop. The antique shop is run by the owners of the bakery, and it’s unclear whether it will survive. I tried to reach the owners for comment, but their phone numbers are no longer in use. These four homes are ones to watch.
491 Delaware Ave – Charles Miller Morse House
As far as I can tell, this is a single-family home that had deteriorated pretty badly before being purchased by two businessmen, Walter McFarlane and Lenny Alba in 2013 for just over $302,000. It was originally built for Charles Miller Morse. McFarlane and Alba worked to restore the structure to its former glory even adding a custom stained glass window above the circular staircase with the Morse family crest in the center. Nice touch.
They then sold the home for $787,000 in 2015. I believe the new owner, the Newberry Construction Company, added the orange trim to the front facade and that it’s still a single-family home. Whether or not it’s being used as such, is unclear.
I must say, I like what they’ve done with the place. Can you picture yourself sitting out on that terrace in the morning with a cup of tea, or in the evening watching the sun go down behind the Cornell Mansion? I can. But then, you know my propensity for daydreams.
Take a look at photos of the interior before the home was sold in 2015 here.
493 Delaware – Herman Hayd House
This home was built for Herman Hayd but is now owned by Paul Jacobs Jr. It appears the building has two commercial tenants. It’s actually better looking in person, the photos I took don’t do it justice.
497 Delaware Ave – Stella Lowry House
This home was built for Mrs. William H. (Stella) Lowry, who moved in with her two daughters Stella and Lily. The three moved in and out of the home several times, moving to The Lenox Hotel, The Trubee (now The Mansion on Delaware), and the ‘Niagara’. All the while maintaining a heavy social schedule and leasing the property to various wealthy Buffalonians along the way.
Mrs. Stella Lowry passed away in 1914. Daughter Stella ended up back at 497 and lived out her days here, passing away in 1942. She is thought to be the last original occupant of the Midway to live there.
Now, the current owner. This is where it gets interesting. His name is Michael Meade, and he’s a Buffalo native. Last September he was named CEO of Sullivan’s Brewing Company USA. The brewery is a Kilkenny, Ireland based brewery that is expanding into the US, beginning with Buffalo!
What’s the Big Deal You Ask?
It may not be a big deal to everyone. But to me, it is. Bear with me, please.
The reason I’m so happy about this is because my husband and I visited Kilkenny, Ireland a couple of years ago. It’s a small, but historic town. We took a bike tour and got talking with our guide, Ronan. He was a retired Smithwick’s brewer. Ronan told us about how the Smithwick’s Brewery in Kilkenny was closed by Guinness in 2013 (Guinness bought Smithwick’s back in 1965) and how many people lost their jobs and were still struggling in the small town. Long story short, we met up with Ronan at a pub later in the day and got to know him a bit. We kept in touch for a while.
I’m hoping some of the displaced workers from the wide layoffs in 2013 have been put back to work by Sullivan’s Brewing.
And, Michael Meade, the new CEO here in the US, launched the brewery’s USA debut from the Stella Lowry House! Meade intends to make it his permanent home.
And Buffalo has been chosen to debut all the brewery’s beer that they choose to export to the USA. It’s available now at several bars in town. Cool.
Sullivan’s and Smithwick’s breweries both started out as family-owned businesses, and Sullivan’s is family-owned again. By members of both families. The history of these two breweries are intertwined, as are their future. It’s just a great story. I guess that’s why I’m so happy their US CEO bought this house. Read details about the breweries here, and here.
Plus, this kind of thing fits in so well with Buffalo’s extensive brewing history, and the thriving craft beer industry in Buffalo today.
499 Delaware Ave – Bryant B. Glenny House
Back to the houses. This one was built for Bryant Glenny, son of William H. Glenny, the namesake for the Glenny Building on Main Street near Swan. Not too shabby for the son of an Irish immigrant, to live at one of the most prestigious addresses in the city back in the day. And in one of the most unique architectural treasures in the city.
The home is now 5+ apartments. It’s still a great northern anchor to the row.
My Impressions of the Midway Rowhouses on Delaware
Writing this post has given me a chance to take a fresh look at the Midway Rowhouses. I guess I got so used to riding past on my bike or driving by in my car, that I’d forgotten to notice the wonder of them. Another architectural masterpiece hiding in plain sight. It’s amazing how each home is completely different from the one next to it, and yet it works. It just does.
Now, is every one of them in perfect shape? No. But none of them are falling down either. I like that some are a mix of offices and apartments, but I also like that a couple are still single-family homes. I’d like to see rooftop terraces on one or two of them too. You never know, it could happen.
And, as a city, we’re getting better at saving our great homes and buildings. Like I said earlier in the post, for this I am grateful.
Next time you’re out and about, plan a walk past the Midway Rowhouses on Delaware Avenue. See it from both sides of the street. Look at the homes with fresh eyes and enjoy the brilliance of the architecture. Really see your city. It’s beautiful. And you never know what you might learn!