McCann House - Table of Contents
Chloe A. McCann House
20 Norwood Avenue, Buffalo, New York
History of 20 Norwood Avenue
By Arlan Peters
The land on which 20 Norwood sits was a part of the Holland Purchase. The first individual owner was Alvin Dodge, who purchased it from the Holland Company on March 13, 1813. The exact size and boundaries of this purchase are not clear, nor is it known where any buildings may have been located on the property. Presumably the land was used for farming purposes, since it was well outside the city.
A number of owners listed between 1813 and the time the land was divided into lots for residential use included several names familiar as current street names in the area: Alvin Dodge (1813), William Hodge (1835) and Levi Allen (1836). Later owners were Robert McPherson (1843), William Thompson (1848), and Alanson Robinson (1853).
On April 13, 1872, George Howard and Myron Bush, who were partners in a leather business located at 105 Main Street, purchased the property which was later to become 20 Norwood with the help of a loan from Dexter Rumsey. In 1876 Bush sold his share in the property to Howard. (The story of George Howard’s rise to wealth can be found in History of Buffalo and Erie Co., Vol. II, Appendix 1.)
Exactly when the property was subdivided into building lots isn’t clear. The Buffalo Common Council Minutes from February, 1889, record a “petition to light Howard Avenue with gas, Summer Street to Auburn Avenue,” suggesting that all of that area was in the city by that time. In the Council Notes for November 9, 1891, the Council approved “new sidewalks, e. side of Howard Avenue.”
The name of the street was changed from Howard to Norwood Avenue on March 20, 1893, perhaps to avoid confusion with Howard Street, which still exists on the East Side of the city.
The McCanns build 20 Norwood
John A. McCann
Source: Men of New York, 1899
George Howard died in August, 1886. Oddly, his will is included in the title abstract for 20 Norwood. His heirs sold 20 Norwood Avenue to Chloe A. McCann on September 30, 1889. Chloe’s husband, John A. McCann was not named on the deed. Indications are that there was not yet a home on the property, and that the McCanns had the home built, beginning in 1890 or 91. The Sanborn map published in 1891 shows the house on the property at that date, either completed or under construction. A piece of molding removed from the stained glass window on the stairway when it was restored in 2006 has the name McCann written on it. At any rate, John and Chloe McCann were living at 20 Norwood in 1892. (The year before they were at 72 Howard.)
Information about John McCann is included in the book, Men of Western New York, published in 1898. John Alexander McCann was born in Batavia, NY in 1850. He was first “engaged in mercantile pursuits,” but his main business interests at the time he lived at 20 Norwood seem to have been in publishing. He was owner and editor of several publications, including The Buffalo Times, The Saturday Tidings, and The National Coopers Journal. An article containing this information also mentions that he was at the same time involved in “large and successful real estate operations and improvements,” and “he has acquired for himself a handsome residence in the beautiful Elmwood district of Buffalo.” (McCann married Chloe Anna Deane of Buffalo on September 9, 1886.)
The McCanns did not live at 20 Norwood for very long, and apparently moved from the city in the mid 1890’s. In 1896 no resident is listed at the address; in 1898 and 99 the house was occupied by Marshall J. Root, according to the social register, The Buffalo Blue Book.
Source: Who's Who in Buffalo, pub. by The Buffalo Times, 1918
In 1901 the property was sold to Annie S. Ingham. She was the wife of Clark Ingham. It seems to have been a common practice to put a home in the wife’s name, perhaps to protect it from loss if the husband’s business should fail, though there seems to have been no danger of that in this case. Clark Leonard Ingham was another enterprising young Buffalo businessman. He came to Buffalo in 1893 and within a short time formed a prosperous real estate business. His company was involved in constructing the Lenox Hotel on North Street among many other ventures.
After only five years the Inghams also moved from Norwood after selling their house in 1906 to Edmond and Mary Hayes. They, in turn, sold the property in 1921 to Thomas and Mary Heath. The Heaths owned it until 1935, but seem to have had money problems and eventually lost the house through foreclosure in September of that year. The owner after that is shown as “H.P.G. Corporation,” which a few months later transferred ownership to the Abstract Title and Mortgage Corporation. That company retained ownership until August, 1944. No record has been found to indicate who occupied the house during that period.
At some point, perhaps then, it was converted to a rooming house, a use which certainly took place under the next owner, Bessie Woods. It is believed that Bessie lived in the house or a part of it during the time she owned it. When Bessie Woods sold the property in 1966, the real estate listing described it as a “single” home, but also says that in addition to a 2 bedroom apartment on the first floor, it had a “1 BR. Apt. bath. Plus. 3 BR. bath.” on the second floor and “4 rooms” on the third floor. The asking price was $13,500.
On June 16, 1966, Walter Klein became the new owner of 20 Norwood. It was to be the start of a particularly turbulent period in the house’s history. Walter had grand plans for his new acquisition and the plans showed little regard for the home’s past. His aim, Walter said, was to make it into a “French chateau.” I first met Walter and saw the house three years later, in 1969; by then he had made substantial changes, not all for the better, unfortunately. The front porch was gone (His dubious claim was that it was beyond repair.) The stone piers which had supported the porch columns were removed and used to build part of a new rear wall for the house. The new wall of stone and brick was left unfinished. Much siding was missing on the first and second floors, having been removed and never replaced when a number of windows were changed.
Langdon Albright House on the John Albright estate, 666 West Ferry St.
Designed by John Albright's close friend E. B. Green, of Green & Wicks, 1914.
Source: Courier Express, August 16, 1966, p. 18
Origianl location of the many Tudor style doors now in 20 Norwood Avenue
Inside, too, changes had been started, but not completed. In August, 1966, before the last of the homes on the John Albright estate on West Ferry [#666, the house owned by John's son Langdon Albright] was demolished, Walter Klein bought many architectural elements of the E.B. Green-designed residence and immediately began to add them to the Norwood house, notwithstanding the fact that they were Tudor elements being put into a Victorian home that he wanted to make into a French chateau.
Unfortunately, Walter’s tendency to begin projects but not finish them extended to paying for them. When I learned he was considering selling the property I attempted to buy it, but then learned that there were several liens against it. Before anything was resolved, I learned that the bank holding the mortgage was about to foreclose on it.
The Peters and DeFillippo Era
On May 25, 1971, I purchased 20 Norwood at a foreclosure auction at Erie County Hall. Other than the representative of Marine Midland Bank I was the lone bidder.
Dom [DeFillippo] and I immediately began work to make the house habitable. It had not been lived in for at least two years. It also had not been heated in the winter while the water was turned on, so one of our first priorities was to have major plumbing repairs done, although Walter had replaced all the plumbing only three or four years earlier. We concentrated our efforts on the inside, repairing and replacing walls and woodwork that had been damaged or removed.
We made the decision early to retain the Albright doors and windows that had been brought in because they are quality features, even though they aren’t entirely compatible with the overall design of the house. By hiring help to repair and paint the exterior, we were able to complete the essential repairs by Christmas of 1971. In the years after, with the exception of small areas of the basement and third floor, every square inch of the house, outside and in, has been given attention, and has been stripped, dismantled, rebuilt, repaired, painted, repainted, varnished, papered, or unpapered at least once.
The interior of the house was featured in Buffalo Spree Magazine in 2001 and in 2003 the exterior was pictured on the cover of that magazine. In addition, work on the front and back gardens has been ongoing from the beginning. We have become a favorite destination during the annual Garden Walk. In 2002 the front garden was judged by Buffalo In Bloom as the best residential front garden in the City.
That, of course, is not the full story or the end of the story. At the time of this writing (2011) we are approaching our 40th anniversary in the house, having lived in it longer by far than any other resident. We continue our work as caretakers of the house, always respecting its integrity and trusting that future owners will do so as well and will come to treasure it as we have.