89 Niagara Street,
located in Buffalo, NewYork, is the last example of a
residential building in what was Buffalo’s preeminent residential
square during the 19th century. In the 20th century, the square has
become the site of civic buildings. The site of 89 Niagara Street is
proposed to be the site of a new federal courthouse
. 89 Niagara Street is threatened with demolition. This site intends to document the historic significance of the building.
The building is part of a local historic district known as the Joseph Ellicott District
However, the building may be eligible individually to be listed on the
National Register of Historic Places. One of its early owners, Henry Chandler
was a prominent engineer, inventor, businessman and artist. He had a
business located in the same building that the Buffalo Morning Express
was located, edited by Mark Twain. The building is potentially eligible
for National Historic Register status for being an exemplary building
of the Italian villa style
of architecture and is the sole surviving structure of residential
architecture that marked the period of its initial development.
Beams of sunlight cascade radiantly on
89 Niagara Street, the last residential structure left remaining on
Niagara Square in Buffalo, New York, the City of Homes. The house has
graced Niagara Square for over 150 years.
Early view of Niagara Street Baptist Church. 89 Niagara Street is visible on left side.
Niagara Square Site History
19th Century aerial
view of Niagara Street Baptist Church. 89 Niagara Street is visible on
left side of church, (on the right side of the photograph).
Early stereo scope image of Niagara Street Baptist Church. 89 Niagara Street is visible on left side.
Before Niagara Square
was the home of government buildings, it was the
site of many prominent homes built during the City of Buffalo’s early
development. Niagara square was part of the original plan of the
Village of New Amsterdam as surveyed for the Holland Land Company by Joseph Ellicott
in the first decade of the 19th Century.
Niagara Square contained eight small fenced-in triangular parks entered by turnstiles
and was admired for its shade trees. It soon became the location of the
finest houses in Buffalo and the most fashionable part of the
town. (Ball, Charles H., "Older Buffalo")
The two chief landowners of Niagara Square at
the time of its creation were Ebenezer Johnson
and Samuel Wilkeson
, men who would later become mayors of the City of Buffalo.
Lithograph of Niagara Square when it was a residential district. The
site of 89 Niagara Street is to the left of the Niagara Square Baptist
Church, distinguished with the twin towers. Source - Niagara Square,
The City of Buffalo, New York, from Sketches by Jno. R. Chapin.
The first notable home built on the site of City Hall was the mansion of Judge Samuel Wilkeson
constructed in 1824. (
Buffalo Express, January 22, 1888. )
Wilkeson, a trendsetter, led
other prominent Buffalonians to construct notable homes on Niagara
Square. Wilkeson is best remembered as the builder of the Buffalo
Harbor and as the man who secured the terminus of the Erie Canal
at Buffalo. In 1836, Wilkeson also served as Mayor of the City of
Buffalo. His life can be summed up by the Latin words inscribed on his
tombstone, urbem condidit
- “he built the City.”
There can be no mistaking that Niagara Square was originally the
showplace of Buffalo homes. The Wilkeson house, perhaps the best
documented house was noted as being “magnificently furnished,” and
housing collections of rare “small Barye bronzes and
bibelots.” (Wall, Carl B. “The Wilkeson House Stood for Race of Fighting Men, Charming Women,” Buffalo Times, Jan. 8, 1937.)
The house was surrounded by a stone wall
on three sides. Boxwood bordered walks and sentinel trees flanked the
home’s wide lawn. The home was remembered by many for the fabulous
parties given there. Only the most exclusive set of Buffalonians were
in attendance at these events. Kate Burr, a writer for the Buffalo
, documented the home in 1931 as a testament to one of the best
homes in the City of Buffalo and Niagara Square, noting that Buffalo is
“a city of beautiful homes.” (Burr, Kate. “Vision and Labor of Pioneer Stemmed Black Rock’s
Rivalry and Made Queen City Harbor Possible.” Buffalo Times, May 27,
The Wilkeson family home was lived in by members of the family until it
was razed in 1915 (stipulated in the terms of a will). From 1915 until
1929 when the present City Hall was built, it became the site of a gas
It is interesting to note that when the Wilkeson house (photo
) was first
proposed for demolition for the construction of municipal buildings in
1908, the site was supposed to be ideal as it was far enough away from
the business district to be “quiet,” and yet not too far from Main
Street and Court Street. It appears as though the residential character
of Niagara Square was the first reason of choice for becoming the site
of future government buildings. (“Homestead on the Square,” Buffalo Express, March 8, 1908.)
Because the homes on Niagara Square were built during the early to
mid-19th Century, they represented the diverse architectural styles
popular during the early Victorian period
. Homes in the Federal
Revival Gothic Revival and Italianate
styles were built in the most
opulent examples of their respective styles.
The Wilkeson home (built
in 1824) was designed in the Greek Revival
style, while 89 Niagara
(built about 1850) is designed in the Italianate
notable on the square was the Gothic Revival
mansion that served as
home to U.S. President Millard Fillmore
after he completed his U.S.
Presidency in 1858.
Fillmore was sensitive to Gothic Revival
architecture as he was a
follower of the architectural principles of Andrew Jackson Downing
even employing Downing to design the park mall in Washington, D.C.
Although forever associated with Fillmore, the mansion
built for James Hollister. Hollister lived in the home from 1848 to
1858 at which time Fillmore bought it. Fillmore lived there until his
death in 1874.
It is interesting to note that in 1848 when this Gothic Revival castle
at the northeast corner of Niagara Square and Delaware Avenue was
built, an earlier home was already on the site, built for Albert H.
. Rather than demolishing the house, it was moved down Niagara
Street. (Ball, Charles H. “Older Buffalo.” Buffalo News, May 18, 1921.) The house was moved to 83 Niagara Street
where it became the parsonage for the First Unitarian Church.
To the left of the Fillmore mansion was the home of Smith Salisbury,
first editor and publisher of a Buffalo newspaper and later the home
and studio of artist Lars Sellstedt
. (Burr, Kate. “Changing Town,” Buffalo Times, Nov. 12, 193_.) Both the
Fillmore and Sellstedt home were demolished for the Statler Hotel
currently on the site.
is notable that when Niagara Square began to be built with
governmental buildings, Buffalonians began to lament the demise of its
beloved residential square. One resident noted that Niagara Square was
not a “civic center,” but a “social center of brilliant entertainers
and famous houses.” (Cook, Anna Hoxsie. “When Buffalo Was Young - Long
Before It Became a Civic Center, Niagara Square Was a Social Center.”
Buffalo Evening News, February 29, 1936.)
Other famous residents of Niagara Square included Stephen G. Austin
Austin’s home on the southeast corner of Delaware Avenue and Niagara
Square stayed in the Austin family until Mrs. Truman G. Avery
of Stephen Austin moved into her new mansion on Symphony Circle in the
1890s [later demiolished for Kleinhans Music Hall
Opposite the Austin house on the southwest corner of Delaware Avenue and Niagara Square was the mansion of Judge Herman B. Potter
(and later son-in-law George
R. Babcock) which stood until it was replaced by the Women’s Union
1892 designed by architect Richard A. Waite
(present site of City Court
). The Potter house was built about 1836 and designed by the
prominent New York City architectural firm of Ithiel Town and Alexander
J. Davis in the Federal
style. The house is the first Buffalo building
believed to have been designed by a nationally known architectural
firm. ( Kowsky, Francis R., “Delaware Avenue,” The Grand American
Avenue 1850-1920, Jan Cigliano and Sarah Bradford Landau, editors.
Pomegranate Artbooks, San Francisco, 1994.)
The house was demolished and replaced by the Women’s Union in the 1890s, which was in turn replaced by the City Court
building in 1974.
Closer to 89 Niagara Street was the Sizer Mansion
on the northwest
corner of Delaware Avenue and Niagara Square, erected in 1836 and built
by Benjamin Rathbun
. When first built it was considered to be the most
elegant mansion in Buffalo and the first house in Buffalo to use
manufactured gas introduced in the city in 1848.
Niagara Square was
noted as being brilliant in the 1850s and early 1860s with dancing
parties and lively gatherings of various kinds held at the Sizer
Mansion. Mrs. Sizer is said to have brought the custom of afternoon tea
to Buffalo. In a well-documented wedding held at the Sizer mansion held
during the day, the rooms were darkened and illuminated by two bronze
chandeliers ornamented with acanthus
leaves. Guests were in awe of the
artificial gas light. The Sizer Mansion was enlarged and used as the
office building of Spencer Kellogg & Sons
(an oil company) before
being demolished in the 20th Century.
Another important house on Niagara Square was the home of General David
, Indian agent. His house was one of the most conspicuous buildings
in Buffalo and once had John Quincy Adams as a guest. The house is now
the site of Walter Mahoney State Office Building
at the southeast
corner of Niagara Square at Court Street
89 Niagara Street
The house at 89 Niagara Street is significant as it is the last house
from period when it was a residential site. The site itself of 89
Niagara Street is very historic. It was at the intersection of Mohawk,
Niagara and Morgan streets that Margaret St. John
defied a British
general when Buffalo was burning in December 1813. She demanded and
received protection for her Main Street home (now demolished but
formerly located at 460-470 Main St.).
Niagara Square Baptist Church
By the late 1840s, the Niagara Square Baptist Church
owned the land 89
Niagara Street was built on and sold for residential use. The church
itself was built next to the site of 89 Niagara Street in 1848 and
demolished in 1902. (Ball, Charles H. “Older Buffalo”)
89 Niagara Builder: Philo Balcom
In 1850, Philo Balcom
, who owned a brick business at the corner of Main
and Ferry purchased land adjacent to the church from the Niagara Square
Baptist Society in the amount of $1,000. It was an irregularly sized
lot, that had 42 feet frontage on Niagara Street, (with other sides
measuring 33 feet by 63 feet by 95.5 feet in size). It appears the
property backed up to another separate lot which fronted on Flint
Alley. The alley was first named as Best Alley in 1857 and renamed to
Flint Alley in 1871. (This street will be eradicated under the GSA plan
for the new Federal courthouse planned for the site.)
The house was constructed circa 1852 of bricks made by Philo Balcom on
speculation. It should also be noted that Balcom was a trustee of the
Baptist church next door on Niagara Street. Balcom and his wife Mary
sold the house on January 15, 1855 to Fidelia and Alden Barker
, a land
and insurance agent for $4,500, a price which indicates a house existed
at the time of sale at 89 Niagara Street.
Advertisement from 19th Century Buffalo City Directory.
The Barkers owned the house for about 10 years, at which time they sold
it to Henry Chandler on 8/29/1864 for the amount of $5,200. It was
probably during Chandler’s ownership that the Second Empire style tower
was erected (late 1860s or early 1870s) or the tower received its
Henry Chandler (born February 23, 1830 - died December 21, 1896), 89
Niagara Street’s most famous resident, was a poet and artist and
partner in the firm Jewett and Chandler. Chandler was one of Buffalo’s
best known printers and engravers. (
Bailey, George M. Illustrated Buffalo. The Queen City of the Lakes. Its
Past, Present and Future. Acme Publishing and Engraving Co., 1896. Page
He came to
Buffalo about 1850 and worked at the Commercial Advertiser as a
typesetter. In 1853 he originated relief line or wax engraving and made
many experiments in electrotyping. In 1859, Henry Chandler originated
the relife line or wax process of engraving and played an important
part in its subsequent development. (“Well-Known Engraver Dead” Buffalo Morning Express)
Mr. Elam R.
Jewett of the Commercial Advertiser formed a company based on the
invention called Jewett and Chandler. They secured the Patent Office
illustrations every year until 1872. (“Henry Chandler Dead,” Buffalo News, December 27, 1896.)
dissolved in the late 1870s and Chandler was later identified with the firm of
Matthews and Northrup. For many years, Mr. Chandler’s engraving and the
Buffalo Express came from the same building.
Chandler was a poet and author, and several of his poems were published
in an 1890s volume of Buffalo poetry called the Poets and Poetry of
Buffalo. A copy of the volume is located in the Rare Book Room of the
Central Branch of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. Chandler
had a reversal of fortune in the 1880s which forced him to sell the
property at 89 Niagara Street and move to York Street.
In 1939, “Chandler Street” in Buffalo, which runs from 235 Military
Road to the New York Central Railroad tracks was named for Henry
The house at 89 Niagara Street is a 2 1⁄2 story brick Italianate gabled
house with a three story tower in the Second Empire/mansard roofed
style. The porch, which is not original, has cast iron supports.
The house originally had a long veranda with an iron rail that was
wide enough for one chair. Rooms in the house were called “interesting”
by descendants of Henry Chandler. The favorite room in the house was
the library, where Henry Chandler maintained a large collection of
books. The house also had a bathroom (off the library) that was
considered an unusual luxury back in the 1870s and 1880s. (“Chandler
Street Perpetuates Name of Engraver-Inventor,” Courier Express, Dec.
The main house has segmental arched windows, two over two lights, and a
relieving arch. The gable has paired round arched windows and paired
brackets under the eave.
The tower has a first floor bay window with segmental arched windows
with slender engaged columns flanking. Dentil molding and modillions
are located under cornice. Second floor has a segmental arched window.
Third floor has round arched windows and semi-circular pedimented
89 Niagara Street gable detail.
89 Niagara Street tower detail.
Niagara Street. Depth of tower can be viewed.
89 Niagara Street is an imposing structure on Niagara Square.
Map Circa 1850 showing foundation of structure.
1894 Map showing structure of 89 Niagara Street.
1880 Three Dimensional Site Map. 89 Niagara Street is to the left of the church.
Deed: Niagara Square Baptist Society to Philo Balcom, Liber 112, Page
Deed: Philo and Mary Balcom to Fidelia Barker, Liber
153, Page 579, 1/15/1855
Deed: Alden Barker and One to Henry Chandler,
Liber 236, Page 102, 8/29/1864