Lewis Falley Allen - Table of Contents

Allentown's Namesake, Lewis Falley Allen, Never Actually Lived Here
But he was resourceful, talented and interesting, and owned the land that’s now our neighborhood

Reprinted from
The Allentown Neighbor, March-April-May 23015, Vol. 50, Number 1
by The Allentown Association Inc.

This story is primarily sourced from
Christopher N. Brown’s research paper “The Downing Brothers and Lewis F. Allen.”

LEWIS FALLEY ALLEN, the man for whom Allentown is named, never actually lived in this neighborhood.

But he was a sort of nineteenth century Renaissance man we’d be proud to have as a neighbor today.

He was a cattle rancher, hardworking farmer, amateur architect, civic leader, author and publisher and made a fortune from a variety of business endeavors including real estate.

Allen was born on New Year's Day, 1800. At age 27, he and his bride of two years, the former Margaret Cleveland (1801-1880), an aunt of Grover Cleveland,  moved here from Massachusetts. The village of Buffalo then had just 4,000 residents, but the Erie Canal had opened two years earlier and Buffalo was being catapulted into a period of extraordinary growth.

In 1829 Allen paid $2,500 for 29 acres of land located about a mile north of Buffalo's downtown, extending from Main Street west to Hudson Street. Today that’s the bulk of Allentown. Back then, it’s where Allen domiciled his short -horn cattle. According to oral tradition, as the cattle trod from Main Street to the pasture at what is now Days Park, the meandering path they created eventually became Allen Street.

In 1832, when Buffalo was incorporated as a city, the wagon trail known as Old Guide Board Road (now North Street), became the city's northernmost boundary. The swelling population of the city began looking northward for land, and Allen began selling off portions of his 29 acres, making a tidy profit and bringing in the earliest residents of our neighborhood.

But our neighborhood wasn’t his main focus by any means.

In 1836 Allen bought the home and 31⁄4-acre estate of War of 1812 hero Gen. Peter B. Porter on the banks of the Niagara River between West Ferry and Breckenridge streets. It was a Federal-style house with parapet gables, four chimneys symmetrically arranged, and an elliptical window between the chimney pairs on the gable end.

Grover Cleveland was living there as a teenager when Allen convinced him not to move to Ohio, but to remain in Buffalo to pursue a legal career which led to politics and eventually the White House.

Once called the “most historic house in Buffalo,” the Porter-Allen home was demolished in 1911 for a factory. At the time, the Buffalo Evening News called the demolition “the crime of 1911.”

Allen also owned an 800-acre farm on Grand Island called “Allenton,” which is now part of Beaver Island State Park. Allen’s Grand Island villa, River Lea, a gracious frame Italianate built around 1849, was nearly demolished in 1962 when the State Parks Commission attempted to expand Beaver Island’s golf course. Through the efforts of preservationists, the house was spared and today operates as a museum.

Allen planted thousands of fruit trees on his Grand Island farm - by his calculation, 2,000 apple trees, 1,000 pear, 600 quince, 400 cherry, 300 plum and 200 peach.
In 1851 he introduced something new to Buffalo - Bartlett pears.

Long before Garden Walk and Buffalo in Bloom, the Buffalo Horticultural Society existed. It was formed in June 1845, and Allen was its first president. Soon he relinquished the post to become president of the New York State Agricultural Society.

In 1851, Allen wrote the book “Rural Architecture” with assistance of Buffalo architects Otis & Brown and got it published in 1852.

In 1853, Allen pursued landscape ideas from leading figures in the field such as Englishman Charles Smith. He published Smith’s work called “Landscape Gardening” and added his own notes for adapting Smith’s vision to American soil.

Allen retired from active management of Allenton in the 1860s, after which it was managed by his son.

That gave him time to do other things. He lectured at Yale on apples, where he pronounced New York’s Wayne County as the best apple producing region in the world. He published two books within four years, “American Cattle” in 1868 and “History of the Short-Horn Cattle” in 1872.

Allen died in 1890. Earlier in life, he had founded a cemetery on Delaware Avenue near North Street and later became a trustee of Buffalo’s premier Victorian rural cemetery, Forest Lawn. He planted a number of trees in Forest Lawn, where he is buried.

His association with trees was noted in his obituary in the Buffalo Express which said: “It is largely due to his efforts and to the zeal displayed by him that Buffalo was so well provided with beautiful shade trees.” The newspaper said Allen should be remembered for his love of the City of Buffalo and his ardent promotion of its progress.

Although during his lifetime he was known for his abrupt speech, he was also honest, kind, noble, generous, and a man who “could not do a mean thing” according to his obit in the Buffalo Courier.

Allen and his wife had six children, but only two lived to adulthood: William Cleveland Allen, and Margaret Gertrude Allen.

And although Allen himself never lived in Allentown, his granddaughter, May Constance Allen, was a proud resident during the 1960s when the neighborhood first experienced resurgence. The furniture she owned once belonged to Allen and she said it allowed her to feel connected to him.

She was 12 years old when Allen died. Of all the memories May had of her grandfather, her most vivid had to do with trees. She recalled being driven in a very handsome carriage with a big bay horse to Forest Lawn cemetery with her grandfather. With great satisfaction, he pointed out to her the great variety of trees he had planted there and told her how much he had enjoyed watching them grow.

Page by Chuck LaChiusa in 2015
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