Watson House / Buffalo Club - Table of Contents

History of 388 Delaware Avenue
The text below is excerpted from Buffalo's Delaware Avenue: Mansions and Families, by Edward T. Dunn. Pub. by Canisius College Press 2003

Ed. note: Because of the problem of plagiarism, footnotes are intentionally left out. Serious researchers will go to Dunn's book.

The Buffalo Club's third and final site was #388 Delaware at Delaware Place. The site was a lot 100' by 284' with a stable to the rear on another 100' square lot. Total cost was $63,000 ($1,098,090 in 1997 dollars). The old clubhouse on Buffalo and Chippewa was sold to Mrs. Mary A. Brayley for $25,000.

Click on illustrations for larger size

S[tephen] V. R. Watson and wife

Erie County Savings Bank,

Watson Grain Elevator

The Buffalo Club was built for a home, not a clubhouse. In the large brick building at Delaware and Trinity remodeled four times to meet the demands of increasing membership and expanding activities, the trained eye can detect the brick mansion of architecture suggestive of French Renaissance design, once one of the city's most elegant homes.

In 1870, the mansion was completed and occupied by the late
S[tephen] V. R. Watson, his wife, and their three daughters. Mr. Watson was a founder of three institutions that have played an important role in the development and life of Buffalo for three quarters of a century - the street railway system with cars drawn by horses while he was president, the Erie County Savings Bank, and the Buffalo Public Library. In 1860, Mr. Watson represented this city's interests in the StateLegislative Assembly.

This man's interests included the
Watson Grain Elevator, extensive local real estate [on the East Side where he sold house lots particularly to German immigrants], and Great Lakes shipping. He enjoyed thoroughly every phase of living, among them organizing and developing business enterprises, heading civic projects and planning original entertainment for his family and friends.

Society entertainment

The entire third floor of S. V. R. Watson's mansion was given over to recreation. The ballroom on that floor was the scene of some of the most beautiful balls ever given for Buffalo society.

The theater was complete with stage, curtain, scenery and footlights. Its seating capacity was 300. Mr. and Mrs. Watson were hosts at three theater parties in their home each year.

Plays were presented by the well-remembered Buffalo Amateurs. The night after Christmas 1872, the play "Look Before You Leap" was presented in the Watson home.
Maria Love read the prologue whichwas written by E. Carleton Sprague. The cast included Tom Viele, Trumbull and Charles Cary, Jennie Cary, who became Mrs. Lawrence D. Rumsey, and Annie Watson, later the wife of Samuel S.Spaulding. The play was directed by S. Douglas Cornell, grandfather of Katherine Cornell.

Following the performance, guests visited the mirror-paneled drawing room. Its exquisite crystal chandeliers shed soft light on a Christmas tree and other holiday greens. Red hollyberries added to the festive atmosphere while mistletoe hung from doorways. In the building of his home, S. V. R. Watson spared no expense. The woodwork of the drawing room was rich English walnut inlaid with walnut burls. The latter odd pieces of wood are attractive with natural swirls.

Watson Descendents

The two daughters of Watson, besides Annie, were Jennie, who became the wife of Porter Norton, and Gertrude. Gertrude did not marry. Music and philanthropy were the interests most important in her life. She was an accomplished pianist whose recitals delighted her friends in Buffalo and Pittsfield, Mass., later her home, and won praise from music critics. At Pittsfield, Gertrude Watson established Camp Onota, one of the first vacation resorts made available for low cost to working girls of New York City.

Descendants of S. V. R. Watson living here include Daniel Barton Streeter, Porter Norton Streeter, Mrs. Robert Lowell Putnam, Jr., Edward R. Spaulding, Mrs. Albert Gurney, Samuel S. Spaulding, S. V. R. Spaulding, Jr., Allen Spaulding, Mrs. George Foreman Goodyear, Mrs. William Meadows, William Gregory Meadows, Jr., Rufus Meadows, Mrs. Albert Dold, Mrs. Langdon Albright, Jr., Miss Charlotte Albright, and Watson Albright.

Samuel Fletcher Pratt

Residence of Samuel F. Pratt when he died in 1872

The Pratts

Watson died in 1880, and his mansion was sold to the widow of Samuel F. Pratt. No Buffalo families had better Yankee credentials than the Pratts, the first of whom, John, had come to America in 1639.

Samuel Pratt, born in Townsend, Vermont, in 1787, was the son of a veteran of the Revolution, Captain Samuel Pratt, who had come to Buffalo early in the 1800s and died there shortly after the outbreak of the War of 1812. His widow fled to Vermont after the burning of Buffalo, but returned and died in 1830.

The captain's son, Samuel, Jr., had not accompanied his family to Buffalo but came out in 1807 with his wife, Sophia Fletcher, daughter of a veteran of both the French and Indian War and the Revolution. In Buffalo Samuel, Jr., engaged in mercantile pursuits with his father and was appointed sheriff of Niagara County in 1810, served as adjutant to General Peter Porter during the War of 1812, and died at Buffalo in 1822.

Samuel Fletcher Pratt was born to Samuel, Jr. and Sophia in 1807, just before the family moved here. In 1819 he began three years clerking in a general store in Canada, returned to Buffalo, and in 1828 got a job in the hardware store of George and Thaddeus Weed, later known as Weed & Pratt. In 1836 Pratt purchased the Weed interest and in 1832 with his brother, Pascal Paoli Pratt, and Edward P. Beals, formed Samuel Fletcher Pratt & Company, which dealt in hardware, bar iron, sheet iron, tools, contractors' and railroad supplies, and coach and saddlery ware.

In 1848, with Pratt & Company continuing in its old line, a new firm, Pratt & Letchworth, was organized to deal exclusively in carriages and saddles. Partners were the Pratt brothers and William P Letchworth from Auburn, where he had used convict labor in a like enterprise. Manufacturing was done at #165 Main where inmates of the nearby jail did the work.

It was also in 1848 that Samuel F. Pratt bought into Buffalo Gas Light, of which he became president until his death. He was the first president and long-time trustee of the Buffalo Female Academy. He died in 1872.

1912 photo of Buffalo Club

Buffalo Club

His widow, Mary Jane Pratt, bought the Watson home and was living there in 1880 with three grandchildren. In 1887 she sold it to the club, whose doings occasionally made the national news:

In the Autumn of 1901, the year of the Pan-American Exposition, while President McKinley lay battling for his life in the home of John Milburn, several members of the Presidential Cabinet were lodged in the Buffalo Club. The directors' room was reserved for their use. A private telegraph line connected this room with the White House inWashington. During that anxious period the Buffalo Club was the center from which the nation's business was conducted.

Earlier, during the switchmen's strike of 1892, when freight cars were being derailed and burned, passenger trains uncoupled and stoned, strikebreakers terrorized, and more violence threatened, the club had played a minor role in forcing a solution. As Horton wrote with populist exaggeration:

At this juncture the seat of government in city and county shifted to the Buffalo Club.There the railroad lawyers, Daniel H. MacMillan, Frank Brundage, Wilson Shannon Bissell and Eben Carleton Sprague met with Sheriff Beck and Mayor Charles Bishop and after a long consultation succeeded in overcoming the Sheriff's reluctance to request Governor Flower to send the entire National Guard of the State of New York to Buffalo. The telegram to effect this had been already prepared by the lawyers. Mayor and Sheriff had but to sign it. Their signatures brought a military force of about 8,000 men to the city. The force was smaller than had been requested, but it was sufficient to give the lawyers and persons of property in general a sense of security.

The downtown men's club completed and strengthened the socialization of America's late nineteenth century elite. As an unfriendly observer of the process writes:

When the gilded youths at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton finally left the protected world of the "Gold Coast" to seek their fortunes in the Wall Streets and executive suites of the nation, they naturally joined one or another exclusive men's club. Here they dined with others of their kind, helped each other to secure jobs and promotions, and made friends with influential older members who might some day be of help to them in their paths to the top. Proper club affiliation was, after all, the final and most important stage in an exclusive socializing process.

But more than socialization was involved in the process:

In the 1900s the metropolitan club became far more important than the country club, the private school and college, or the exclusive neighborhood as the crucial variable in the recruitment of America's new corporate aristocracy. Family position and prestige built up as a result of several generations of leadership and service in some provincial city or town,were gradually replaced by an aristocracy by ballot [new members were voted in by old members], in the hierarchy of metropolitan clubdom.

Building changes

Changes to the Buffalo Club occurred over the years. In 1889 an addition was made to the rear for a billiard room, dining rooms, kitchen, and servants quarters, paid for partially by selling the stable and lot to the Buffalo Widows' Asylum. The board approved a gymnasium annex with six sleeping rooms in June 1898. In 1907 a wing was built on Trinity Place.

The property next to the club at #396 Delaware was acquired in 1919. In 1925 part of this was sold for $136,000 to reduce the club's debt. However in 1929 at the start of the Depression the purchaser defaulted.

In 1947 the Club bought the infant asylum at Elmwood andEdward and promptly sold much of it, retaining only the part next to the parking lot. In 1958 a north wing was added with an entrance on the ground floor. In August 1966, "the Club purchased, for cash, the adjacent property to the north on #4101 Delaware Avenue and razed the building thereon to provide additional parking space and for future protection against undesirable neighbors."

See also: Watson House / Buffalo Club for more illustrations and history
Page by Chuck LaChiusa
| ...Home Page ...| ..Buffalo Architecture Index...| ..Buffalo History Index....|.. E-Mail ...| ..