Humphrey House – A North Tonawanda Treasure
One of my favorite haunts is the North Tonawanda Farmers Market. I love knowing where my food comes from, so I’ve been to many of WNY’s farmers markets. NT’s is one my personal favorites.
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t always take the same route to get to a place every time I go. I like to mix it up and look around a bit. I’ve noticed the beautiful old Victorian homes in North Tonawanda many times on my trips to the market. Like a lot of people, I’ve often wondered what they’re like inside.
This past Wednesday, I had my chance when a friend offered to take me through one.
Namely the Humphrey House. It was built in 1889, for Paschal Smith Humphrey as a wedding present. It cost $7500 to build. That may not seem like much but you have to remember that in 1900, eleven years after the house was built, the median family income in the U.S. was just under $450 a year.* So yeah, $7500 was a good bit of money in 1889.
A beautiful example of Victorian Era Shingle Style residence.
Paschal Smith Humphrey got his start as a young man in the lumber business, a trade that was very common in North Tonawanda. He also went into banking and real estate, but was most well known as the principle of the insurance firm of Humphrey and Vandervoort. He went on to become a very prominent member of the town. He passed away, in the house, in 1937 at the age of 86.
The architect for Humphrey House was Charles Day Swan, a Buffalo architect who lived and worked in Buffalo’s Allentown neighborhood for most of his career. He was born in 1855 and when he was a teenager, his family moved to Jersey Street, to a large Italianate home. This home may have been what sparked his interest in architecture.
In the late 1870’s architect Richard Waite took him on as a draftsman in his very successful Buffalo architectural firm. This type of apprenticeship was the way most architects were still trained in the latter half of the 1800’s. Architecture was viewed more as a trade than a profession at this time.
Coincidentally, Louise Bethune, who was the first professional woman architect in the country and who designed the Lafayette Hotel, also apprenticed with Waite at just about the same time as Charles Swan.
Swan opened his own practice in 1880 and soon became very successful either working by himself or with a partner, John F. Falkner. He became especially adept at the Shingle Style home, which is considered to be a very American residential style that was popular in the 1880s. Put very basically, the Shingle Style is a Queen Anne home (Victorian Era) wrapped in shingles. Humphrey House is in fact, of the Victorian Era Shingle Style.
Interestingly, this style was largely popularized by H.H. Richardson, who is considered one of the top three architects our country has ever produced. Richardson designed several Buffalo buildings, including Hotel Henry (the Buffalo Psychiatric Center).
Charles Swan achieved some level of notoriety among Buffalo architects when he had two of his designs published in Scientific American Architects and Builders Edition, which published more house plans than any other publication of it’s day. It was considered quite an honor in 1890.
Together, Swan and Falkner designed many homes, buildings and churches on such sought after streets in Buffalo as Oakland Place, Delaware Avenue, Richmond Avenue, Linwood Avenue, North Street and Symphony Circle.
And Charles Day Swan also designed at least one incredible Shingle Style Victorian Era home in North Tonawanda.
And what a home.
Humphrey House itself is beautiful, inside and out. And unlike most homes from this time period, it is largely unchanged. Like the Coit House, it was used for a long time as a boarding house which probably accounts for it being largely intact. Had a family moved in during the mid 20th century, they probably would have changed it to fit their needs and their more modern tastes.
This leaded glass design is repeated in several windows in the house.
Like most Victorian era homes, this one has elaborate oak and cherry wood paneling in several rooms, including the hallways and the main staircase. Original working pocket doors abound, and some are oak on one side and cherry on the other, to match facing rooms. There are also several stained glass windows, including one on the main staircase located on the east side of the house. I’m told it’s magnificent when the morning sun reaches it.
The window on the east side of the house in the main stairwell.
Close-up of the same window.
Note leaded glass detail in the transoms.
Example of the woodwork on the main floor.
Wandering through the rooms on the first floor, it’s easy to imagine the Victorian Era parties that are rumored to have taken place here. The doors thrown open to the wide wrap around porch, the women in their elaborate dresses, the men in their top hats, the dancing. The Humphreys, you see, had a daughter, and Mr. and Mrs. loved to entertain both their daughter and her friends. When I think of things like this, I am certain I was born 100 years too late.
Front room with door to the wide wrap around porch.
We head out back to where the original stable still stands and now serves as apartments. It rivals the house in it’s beauty. All in all, both buildings are in incredibly good shape, a testament to the current owner, and her love and care for the property.
Stable out back, now apartments. Pretty nice stable.
Now, this is normally the time I would tell you where to go see this historic treasure, but I will respect the privacy of the owner, and just tell you to check out North Tonawanda sometime. There are some real hidden gems there. Thanks again Dave! Humphrey House is now in my top 10.
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