Saint Vincent's Female Orphan Asylum - Table of Contents

Saint Vincent's Female Orphan Asylum
Nomination for Local Landmark Listing

Reprinted From
1989 Application for Landmark Site Status

Submitted by:
Preservation Coalition of Erie County
Research Team: Angelo Brucklier; Barbara Brucklier; R. Steven Janke, Ph.D; John Montague, Ph.D.; Hilary Sternberg; Alex Morris, Photographer



The St. Vincent's Female Orphan Asylum, also known as the former Erie County Community College - City Campus, is located on the block bounded by Main, Riley and Ellicott Streets.

The complex is comprised of four separate buildings:

The significant charitable and educational contributions which St. Vincent's Manor has made in the Buffalo community through its care of thousands of girls and young women make the complex worthy of landmark designation as an historic site. The quality of the buildings which long served the institution in achieving its goals add further luster to the nomination. Each one marks a distinctive high point in Buffalo's architectural development from the 1860's to the 1930's. Individually each building is worthy of landmark status; together they form a unique complex of outstanding architectural and historical significance.

Criteria for Landmark Designation

1. It has character, interest, or value as part of the development, heritage or cultural characteristics of the city.

St. Vincent's Female Orphan Asylum was founded in 1848 at a time in Buffalo's history when the Protestant establishment controlled the City's schools and public institutions. Catholics in these institutions were not permitted to be ministered to by Bishop Timon or any priest. Consequently the Bishop created a separate Catholic educational and welfare system. St. Vincent s Female Orphan Asylum was just one part of that system which included the introduction of Catholic schools, hospitals, foundling homes, homes for the elderly, and orphanages.

2. It exemplifies the historic, aesthetic, architectural, archeological, educational, economic, or cultural heritage of the city

Over the years St. Vincent's housed and educated more than 10,000 orphaned and homeless girls at its Main and Riley Street address. A Buffalo institution for over 100 years, St. Vincent's was an integral part of this City 's historic, educational, economic and cultural heritage.

3. It is identified with a person or persons who significantly contributed to the development of the city.

Two of St. Vincent's buildings are the former homes of prominent Buffalo citizens.

The Robinson-Squier Mansion, the oldest building in the St. Vincent's complex, was built circa 1860 by Alanson Robinson a prominent Buffalo banker and founding trustee of Westminster Presbyterian Church.

In 1864 George L. Squier bought the house at 1313 Main Street.

Squier was a manufacturer of plantation equipment sold to coffee, rice and sugar growers primarily in Latin America. The Kirby mower and reaper, which Squier manufactured and was an invention of a Buffalonian, was one of the most important American agricultural machines after McCormick's reaping machine. The George L. Squier Manufacturing Company, later acquired by Buffalo Forge, was one of the industries which made Buffalo great. Squier and his family lived in this house for 21 years.

The Shingle-style house at 1305 Main Street, built for G. Barrett Rich, about 1890 was the home of the Rich family for over 30 years. Rich, like his father and grandfather, was President of the Bank of Attica, the oldest bank in Western New York (est. 1836) and an 'important Buffalo financial institution. Rich was active in the community and held positions of responsibility in the following organizations: B u f f a 1 o Public Library, YMCA, North Presbyterian Church, Masons, The Buffalo Club and the Historical Society.

4. It embodies distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style valuable for the study of a period, type, method of construction or use of indigenous materials

Each one of St. Vincent's four buildings represents a distinct architectural style which is valuable for the study of that type.

5. It is the work of a master builder, engineer, designer, architect or landscape architect whose individual work has influenced the development of the city.

The two buildings which were commissioned by St. Vincent's are both the work of architects who have had substantial influence in Buffalo architecture.

The Ellicott Street Orphanage is the work of Buffalo's leading architectural firm at the turn of the century. Green and Wicks are known for such buildings as the Dun Building, the Buffalo Savings Bank, First Presbyterian Church, the Market Arcade, and Albright Art Gallery.

The gymnasium, the latest of the four buildings, was built by George J. Dietel. Dietel, who with John J. Wade was the architect of Buffalo's magnificent City Hall (1929-31). He also designed many Catholic churches in Buffalo and the surrounding area, as well as St. Mary of the Angels Home and the first addition to Sisters Hospital.

6. It embodies elements of design, detailing, materials, or craftsmanship that render it architecturally significant.

Each of these four buildings represents a distinctive high point in Buffalo's architectural development from the 1860s to the 1930s. The architectural styles include Italianate, Italian Gothic, Shingle-style and Art Deco.

7. It is in a unique location or contains singular physical characteristics that make it an established or familiar visual feature within the city.

Three of St. Vincent's buildings are prominently located at Main Street at Riley. The former site of the old Erie County Community College, it is a well known landmark to E.C.C. graduates, St. Vincent's girls and Buffalonians alike.

Robinson-Squier Mansion: Architectural Description

The Robinson-Squier Mansion is significant not only as the home of two prominent Buffalo citizens, but more importantly as the last surviving example of the numerous Italianate mansions which were built along Main Street during the 1850's and 1860's.

The house was built about 1860 of orange brick.

The main body of the house measures 44' x 32.5' being set on a granite ashlar base.

The building is three stories in height, although the upper story is disguised by the cornice and eaves.

The roof is characteristically pyramidal and of low pitch, the pyramid ending in a horizontal platform approximately 10' x 10' which once supported a cupola of 12 arched windows topped by a similar pyramidal roof and finished off with a pinnacle. The four chimneys, now removed, pierced the roof in a line flush with the north and south end walls.

The facade is symmetrically arranged and classically proportioned with a central arched entrance with double doors. There are two sets of rectilinear windows on each side of the door on the ground floor.

On the second floor there are five arched windows and over which are five small windows set horizontally within the bands of the cornice.

The cast iron lintels and window arches are one of the most striking features of the building. The lintels over the first floor windows which are supported by palmate brackets, rise to form symmetrical scrolls at the center which terminate in rosettes. From these scrolls acanthus vines extend across the lintels. This free interpretation of classical motifs is further embellished by the addition of a finial over the center of each lintel.

Second story windows

The second story windows are even more richly ornamented with cast iron arches set on acanthus scroll and shell brackets. The voussoirs of the arches are ornamented with repeated acanthus leaves while the key stone in turn forms an oversize double acanthus leaf in high relief. These cast iron ornaments are used on all the second story windows as well as on the west (Main Street) and south facades on the first floor. There is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that these cast iron ornaments were manufactured locally. They also appear in photographs of several similar buildings since destroyed.

First story windows

The windows on the first floor are of a simple four pane configuration while those on the second floor are arranged as triforium arches with a circular pane beneath the key in Italian Gothic configuration. The arched recessed entrance way is also finely detailed with delicate spiral jamb columns and arch orders. The walls, double doors and arched window lights of the entrance are all treated with relief molding.

The facade is finished off with a classically proportioned cornice which embraces small third story windows over which run a row of dentils surmounted by the protruding wooden scroll brackets which support the eaves.

North wing

The symmetry of the structure is broken by the addition of a north wing which continues the scheme of the main body of the house only at a diminished scale. The frieze portion of the cornice is eliminated and the window lintels on the first floor are executed as simple slabs. These restrictions in ornament are compensated for by the addition of an elaborately decorated verandah of three bays supported by cast iron Corinthian columns. Not only are the spandrels of oval arches articulated with molding, but the ceiling is as well. A similar order of dentils and brackets are continued on the verandah while the wooden key stone ornaments introduce a new escutcheon design perhaps also used in the lost cupola.

The Green and Wicks Orphanage: Architectural Description

The firm of Edward B. Green and William Sydney Wicks was the leading architectural firm in Buffalo at the turn of the century. They are known for such buildings as the Dun Building, the Buffalo Savings Bank, First Presbyterian Church, Market Arcade, and Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

They were also responsible for the orphanage on Ellicott Street. Constructed in 1898 and 1899, the building is a fireproof, T-shaped structure of orange brick trimmed with a paler brick and with stone.

The massing of this building, the measured regularity of its windows, and the prominence of its overhanging roof with bracketed supports betray Italianate characteristics, which, though different in detail, establish a harmonious relationship with the Robinson-Squier Mansion and its 1886 addition.

The main facade, with a 200' frontage on Ellicott Street, is a handsomely articulated tripartite design in which the plane of the flanking pavilions advances from that of the broader central section, where a porch protects the main entrance.


Each of the five stories receives a different window treatment.

The secondary facades, with a depth of 160' and paralleling Riley Street, repeat the features just described, although the spacing is altered.

Rear wing

The rear wing differs from the rest. Only two levels of windows occur in the east portion containing the dining hall and the chapel (the windows of which contain stained glass). The system changes more markedly in the west portion housing the kitchen; that portion is strictly utilitarian. A polygonal stair tower is an original feature of the north wall of this service section, but the elevator shaft on the rear of the principal or Ellicott Street wing is a recent addition.

The G. Barrett Rich Mansion: Architectural Description

This 2 and 1/2 story shingle-style house was built circa 1889-1890.

The sweep of the gable roof continues to the first floor level providing cover for the (originally unenclosed) porch.

The roof line is pierced by an eyelid dormer which has been altered by replacing the window with aluminum and is penetrated by a vent stack. A polygonal roofed turret has three windows at the third floor attic level and paired 2nd floor windows. A dormer has a hip roof with tri-part window. Two pink sandstone chimneys have broken bond irregular ashlar masonry in contrasting colors and sizes.

The first floor porch which wraps around the south side of the house was enclosed sometime after 1979. The original shingled, slightly flared skirt of the porch balustrade can be seen in the first four courses of shingles. Original porch columns were also shingled.

The north side of the house features an irregular fenestration which includes a bay window and two oriel windows-- one of which is three sided and one of which is two sided--on the 2nd floor.

In 1957 a two story red brick addition was added to the rear of the house.

The Dietel Gymnasium: Architectural Description

In 1935 a gymnasium was added to the St. Vincent's complex on the northern edge of the property bordering Riley Street. For this project the Sisters of Charity selected another prominent Buffalo architect George J. Dietel, who with John J. Wade was the architect at Buffalo City Hall (1929-1931).

The art deco frontispiece of the gymnasium echoes the aforementioned building while the remaining exterior ornament complements the Italian Gothic forms of the Green and Wicks structure on Ellicott Street.

The gymnasium is a two story, flat roofed building. The pavilion front section has three art deco styled pilasters. Two pilasters flank either side of the doorway and are yellow brick with cut stone capitals decorated with linear and floral reverse relief carvings. The center pilaster has a linear design topped with four X's in imitation of the porch capitals on the Green and Wicks orphanage. It rises from a sculpture niche containing a stone carved figure of St. Vincent with a small girl which is directly above the entrance.

The roof line is marked on the frontispiece by a simple stone cornice which changes to a copper band on the main part of the building, below which lies a decorative band of angled yellow brick forming a saw-tooth pattern, again echoing embellishment on the Ellicott Street orphanage. The walls are entirely half lapped red brick on the front, while on the sides and rear of the building every sixth course of bricks is heading bonded.

The north side, parallel to Riley Street, has five windows set in recessed Gothic relieving arches, the springing lines of which have three bands of yellow brick and two bands of red brick. A cross pattern is formed in the yellow bricks with red headers. A stone lozenge decorates each spandrel. The rear wall facing Ellicott Street is embellished with two large yellow brick rectangles, the brickwork line of which is composed of a header and stretcher.

A history of the St. Vincent's Female Orphan Asylum Complex

In 1848, five months after his consecration by Pope Pius IX as the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Buffalo, the Very Reverend John Timon, who belonged to the order of St. Vincent de Paul, went to Baltimore. There he obtained the promise of two communities of Sisters to help him establish an orphanage and a hospital in Buffalo. While the City of Buffalo was already in possession of such institutions, they were controlled by the Protestant establishment, and as such, would not permit priests to minister to Catholics. Because of this Bishop Timon created a completely separate religious, educational, and welfare system specifically (but not exclusively) for Catholics. These institutions included schools, hospitals, foundling homes, homes for the aged and orphanages.

Sisters of Charity

On June 3, 1848 six Sisters of Charity arrived in Buffalo. Three Sisters established the orphanage and three the hospital. The orphanage, located at Ellicott Street and Broadway in the residence adjoining St. Patrick's Church, opened during the cholera epidemic of 1849. Originally the orphanage was for both sexes, but within a short time St. Joseph's Male Orphan Asylum was created and St. Vincent's became exclusively for girls.

The need for the orphan asylum, which cared for destitute girls as well as orphans, grew quickly, aided by a series of. cholera epidemics in 1849, 1851, 1852 and 1854. Cholera, a common and often fatal disease, was caused by contaminated water. The medical profession did not know how to prevent or treat it. These series of epidemics resulted in an increased number of homeless children who had lost one or both of their parents.

In 1855 the St. Patrick's church building was remodeled and incorporated in to the orphanage. Need for such expansion was editorialized in a 1857 issue of The Catholic Sentinel.

The almost unprecedented severity of the times has thrown upon our hands a large number of destitute children whom widowed mothers are no longer able to provide with the common necessities of life and who must perish if we do not come to their relief.

After 30 years of providing housing and care for girls at the Ellicott and Broadway location, St. Vincent's facility had become inadequate. Thus the Sisters of Charity set about to acquire a new location, presumably one in a less densely populated neighborhood which would allow for expansion as needed, and provide a more commodious environment for the girls.

Robinson Squier Mansion and addition

In 1885 the Sisters of Charity purchased the Robinson Squier Mansion at Main and Streets for $30,000--the same price received for the sale of the old orphanage. Recognizing that despite its size, the mansion was inadequate for the needs of the institution, the Sisters of Charity had a compatible addition constructed at the rear of the building at a cost of $30,000.

Orphange Uniqueness

St. Vincent's was unique because it not only housed the girls but educated and provided them with technical training so that they could become self-supporting. This was considered an innovative concept. When a girl reached age sixteen she was provided training, mostly dressmaking and cooking, for employment. When she finished high school the Sisters would not allow her to leave unless employment and a future home was secured and approved by Catholic Charities. In 1899 Sister Gabrielle reported to The Buffalo Illustrated Express:

Many of those who have been instructed in dressmaking in St. Vincent's are now earning $1.25 and $1.50 a day and their board sewing in private families...that is a good deal better than being a shop girl at $2 of $3 a week.

The same article reported that:

...half a dozen wealthy women, prominent in Buffalo society wore gowns at the recent Charity Ball which were designed and made in the dressmaking branch at St. Vincent's industrial school ...(the girls are) constantly filling orders for trousseaux and garments for the women of Buffalo.

By 1898 St. Vincent's had again outgrown its space. A fund raising circular explained the need for expansion as twofold: they were currently turning away children because of a lack of space; and they saw the need to enlarge the technical school.

Green and Wicks-designed Orphanage

Buffalo's architectural firm of Green and Wicks was hired in 1898 to create a new building. Christian W. Schaefer was the general contractor for the work which was underway behind the existing building and fronting on Ellicott Street. Additional contractors included: John C. Jewett Manufacturing Company and Jones Iron Works. Completed in 1899, this five story structure provided nearly 13,000 square feet of additional space for dormitories, classrooms, workrooms, kitchen, dining room, chapel, and other smaller rooms. It also freed up space in the old building for expansion of the technical school.

An article in The Buffalo Illustrated Express discussed at unusual sanitary feature of the new building:

A novel feature is the arrangement of marble wash slabs, which admits of each child washing himself in running water, instead of using a wash basin; preventing the possible use of water a second time. This is the first introduction of the feature in Buffalo institutions.

The cost of this building was $101,385.43 which did not include alterations attaching the rear wing to the old building. Almost 40 years after its creation, Pam Alles remembers living in the Green and Wicks building:

We had funny windows on the third floor, wide and short. There were no screens on them and the summers would be so hot because we were on the 3rd floor. Sometimes bats would fly in and we were terrified that they would get in our hair. What a lot of commotion!

G. Barrett Rich house

In 1922 St. Vincent's purchased the adjacent residential property, a Shingle-style house built for G. Barrett Rich about 1890, and sold by him in 1921 after his wife's death. The house was used as a convent for the Sisters of Charity.

Dietel-designed gymnasium

Ten years later in l935, St. Vincent's undertook what was to become its last building project. The gymnasium was built at a cost of $25,000 along the northern edge of the property bordering Riley Street. The gym was designed with a stage at its east end so that it could double as a auditorium. It was built by local architect George J. Dietel, who with John J. Wade, was the architect of Buffalo City Hall. Dietel also designed many Catholic churches and served as building maintenance advisor to the Sisters of Charity.

Pam Alles recalled some experiences in the gym: In the gymnasium we learned alot of corny dances.

A Mrs. Mahoney was the gym teacher ... she took herself very seriously but we always laughed behind her back ... we often played basketball against the kids from St. Mary's Deaf School.

The gymnasium stands as a testament to St. Vincent's financial solvency at the time. It was what might be considered a nonessential school building built in the middle of the depression when not much building was going on except that which was sponsored by the WPA.

By St. Vincent's centennial in 1948 more than 10,000 orphaned and homeless girls had called the property at Main and Riley Street home. A Buffalo Courier-Express article marking St. Vincent's 100th birthday celebration described the girls living situation:

The children live in groups calculated to resemble a large family. Each group has its own attractively furnished living room, its own baths and sleeping quarters. Here, a Sister, the "group Mother," presides and looks after the spiritual, physical and mental development of each girl.

Bishop O'Hern High School

On February 26, 1952 an article in The Buffalo Evening News announced plans that the Bishop O'Hern High School was to be opened in September in the former St. Vincent's. All that was mentioned of the occupants of 66 years was "girls in the home were moved to the new residence in the Wade Stevenson property on Bryant Street."

Also mentioned was George J. Dietel who was in charge of remodeling the new school to be located in the Green and Wicks orphanage on Ellicott Street. The gymnasium was to remain for the same purpose and the Rich Mansion (which was enlarged with a two story brick addition attached to the rear), was to be used as a convent for the teachers. The Robinson-Squier Mansion was to become the home of the Bishop's Committee for Christian Home and Family.

Erie County Community College-City Campus

Subsequently from 1971 through 1981 these buildings became the home of the Erie County Community College-City Campus. They have remained vacant since 1982 when the college moved downtown to the recently renovated Old Post Office. Of the four buildings only the Rich Mansion, sold in 1984 to the Franciscans, is being used. It is now the Little Portion Friary.

The Robinson-Squier Mansion, c.1860
A history prior to its association with St. Vincent's

Alanson Robinson

The Robinson-Squier Mansion is the earliest building in the St. Vincent's complex. It was built circa 1860 by Alanson Robinson, a prominent Buffalo banker and a founding trustee of Westminster Presbyterian Church, a powerful congregation whose many members contributed greatly to the development of Buffalo.

His obituary describes him as a self-made millionaire who donated generously to charity.

In addition to his banking interests, first in Buffalo and later in New York City, he was one of the charter party of the Buffalo and Erie Railroad, a director of the Lakeshore Road after it merged with the aforementioned company, and a director of the Erie and Pittsburgh and the Chicago and Northwestern Railroads. Railroad expansion and development aided industrial and manufacturing growth in Buffalo because goods could be easily shipped to the West.

George L. Squier

In 1864 Robinson sold the property at 1313 Main Street for $22,000 to George L. Squier, who had come to Buffalo in 1857 and married Francis C. Pierce of Waverly, New York that same year. Together they had four sons.

Squier was a prominent manufacturer of plantation equipment sold to coffee, rice, and sugar growers primarily in Mexico, Latin America, and 48 other foreign countries. The Kirby mower and reaper, which Squier manufactured was the invention of Buffalonian William A. Kirby. It was one of the most important American agricultural machines after McCormick's reaper.

In 1884 three years after the death of his brother and business partner Henry, George Squier, along with two of his sons, formed a stock company with $200,000 capital under the name of the George L. Squier Manufacturing Company. It was then located at 424 Niagara Street having moved from the original site at 53 Carroll Street.

In 1900 the Wendt family, who founded Buffalo Forge, acquired the George L. Squier Manufacturing Company as a business for their son Edgar Wendt, who had just graduated form college; it remained a distinct subsidiary of Buffalo Forge until 1968.

Squier and his family resided in this house for 21 years from 1864 until 1885 when he sold it to the Sisters of Charity.

The Robinson-Squier Mansion is a unique survivor from among a number of related Italianate houses which wealthy Buffalonians built along Main Street marking the prosperity and growth of the City in the decade immediately preceding the Civil War.

The G. Barrett Rich Mansion, c.1890
A history prior to its association with St. Vincent's

In 1922 St. Vincent's Female Orphan Asylum purchased the adjacent residential property, a Shingle-style house built for Buffalonian G. Barrett Rich about 1890 and sold by him in 1921 after the death of his wife.

Like his grandfather and father, G. Barrett Rich was President of The Bank of Attica, the oldest bank in Western New York (est. 1836), and an important financial institution in Buffalo. He served also as President of its successor The Buffalo Commercial Bank. He was one of the incorporators and directors of the Commonwealth Trust Company and also a trustee of the Erie County Savings Bank. An article in The Buffalo Morning Express Describes Rich's military record as:

... prominently connected with the National Guard of the State of New York...He entered the service as first lieutenant on the brigade staff in 1871, and after many advances was finally elevated to the high office of Paymaster-General of the State on the staff of Gov. Cleveland in 1883, which position he held for three years.

General Rich held numerous positions of trust and responsibility in the community including: member of the Executive Committee of the Buffalo Public Library; life member of the YMCA; trustee of the North Presbyterian Church; member of the Masonic fraternity; President (in 1901) of the Buffalo Club; and member of the Buffalo Historical Society Board of Managers who were responsible for the erection of the New York State Building, now the Historical Society, for the Pan-American Exposition.

On October 1, 1873 General Rich married Cornelia Perrine. Their children were Gaius Barrett (III), a Yale graduate and Spanish-American War veteran, whose business interests were identified with the Frontier Telephone Company, and Harold Perrine who died at the age of 16 in 1894.


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